The 30th anniversary of an important chapter in one of northwestern North Carolina’s most highly publicized murders is this month.
Richard Lynn Bare, charged with murdering Sherry Elaine Lyall Hart by pushing her off the Jumpinoff Place cliffs along N.C. 16 in Wilkes near the Ashe County line, was discovered missing from the Wilkes County Jail on the morning of July 17, 1985.
Bare, 20 when he escaped from the Wilkes Jail, has never been found despite being on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted” list, being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” TV show and other publicity.
In a Journal-Patriot story about the escape the day after it occurred, Capt. Joe Owings of the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office said Bare was discovered missing when a head count was done for breakfast at 5 a.m. July 17, 1985.
Owings said he believed Bare hid behind a door during visiting hours (6-8 p.m.) on July 16 and then just walked out of the jail because the jailer on duty then didn’t realize he wasn’t back in his cell. Jail gates leading to the cells were left open during visiting hours and only one jailer was on duty per shift.
However, the jailer on duty until midnight July 16 told the newspaper then that he let Bare out of his cell to visit his girlfriend at 8 p.m. July 16 and then put him back in his cell at 8:30 p.m. when he let another inmate out to make a phone call.
There also has been talk over the years, including among law enforcement officers, about another jailer somehow helping Bare escape because he reportedly was dating Bare’s sister.
Kyle Gentry, who was Wilkes sheriff at the time, fired two jailers as a result of the escape.
Everything about Sherry Hart’s murder made it an Ashe County case except for the fact that it occurred in Wilkes less than a mile from the Ashe line.
Bare had a Jefferson address and Ms. Hart and her daughter had recently moved in with her parents in Ashe County’s Beaver Creek community after she got a a divorce. She was 24 when she died.
The sequence of events immediately preceding her death began on the night Jan. 15, 1984, when Ms. Hart met up with Bare and Jeffrey Scott Burgess in the parking lot of a grocery store in West Jefferson and agreed to ride around with them in Bare’s white Ford Mustang.
According to court record, Bare became angry that night when Ms. Hart turned down his sexual advances and struck her on the head with a pistol causing her to bleed profusely. Bare then had Burgess drive them to a spot in Wilkes on N.C. 16 near a bar called the Moonshine Inn and the Jumpinoff Place.
According to court papers, Bare exited the car with Hart, told Burgess to drive down the road and then pushed Ms. Hart off the cliffs at the Jumpinoff Place. Bare left with Burgess when he returned a few minutes later.
Burgess told investigators that Bare said he would kill him and his family if he ever told police what had happened.
Ms. Hart’s parents filed a missing person’s report when she didn’t return home and her father found her car in West Jefferson a few days later.
Ms. Hart’s remains were found at the base of the Jumpinoff Place on Dec. 10, 1984, by Ashe Sheriff’s Office deputies searching for a safe taken in a breaking and entering. The state medical examiner identified the remains using old X-rays.
A tip led investigators to Bare and Burgess soon after the governor’s office announced in March 1985 that it would pay a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Both men were arrested April 1. Burgess was taken to the Ashe County Jail, and Bare to the Wilkes Jail.
Burgess was expected to testify against Bare but was never tried in the Hart case. He served a four-year sentence for violating probation on a breaking-and-entering conviction and died in 2012.
Bare, on the other hand, has remained the subject of rumors and unproductive leads.
Dane Mastin, former Wilkes sheriff and deputy when Bare escaped, said authorities have received reports of Bare sometimes dressing like a woman to conceal his identity. Mastin said he traveled as far as to Maryland chasing down tips concerning Bare’s whereabouts.
“Bare has green eyes and reportedly dresses as a female,” reads a description circulated by the State Bureau of Investigation on a most wanted list. “He may have colored his dark brown hair red or blond. He may possibly have a tattoo of a panther on his right forearm.”
Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew, a Wilkes deputy when Bare escaped, said he’s surprised that Bare hasn’t been caught because all it should take is for him to get arrested for some unrelated offense and then have his fingerprints checked.
Prosecutors asked for the murder charge against Bare to be dismissed with leave in 1994, which meant they reserved the right to recharge Bare if he were ever located.
District Attorney Tom Horner said officials investigated information received in 2002 about a man living in Caldwell County being Bare. Horner said it was determined that it wasn’t Bare.
Law enforcement officials have received reports of Bare being seen in Ashe County as recently as this past Christmas.