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James was living with two guardians, David Sharpe and Jennifer Lynn Snyder, in the 20 block of Manchester in west Youngstown at the time of his disappearance. Sharpe and Snyder had been granted temporary legal custody of him in April 2001. James's mother lives in Japan; James himself spent most of his early life there. His father was unable to care for him due to a drug addiction. Snyder is James's father's ex-wife's sister. A photograph of Sharpe is posted below this case summary.
James's guardians stated that they last saw him at their home on January 3, 2002. He has never been heard from again. In March 2002, Sharpe and Snyder were charged with child endangerment in connection with James's disappearance. The charge is due to the fact that they did not report him missing for twenty-eight days. There has been speculation that the reason for the delay was that Snyder and Sharpe were receiving benefit checks from the government for James's care and the benefits would have ceased if anyone realized he was no longer living with them. Snyder and Sharpe told several contradicting stories about their care of him; for instance, Snyder claimed she was homeschooling him, then admitted that this was not true.
James's loved ones claim Snyder and Sharpe did not permit anyone to see or talk to James for months prior to his disappearance, and they suspected that there were problems between him and his guardians. They stated that his guardians had a history of drug abuse and violent behavior and that James was seen many times with bruises on his body. Prior to his disappearance, Snyder and Sharpe had a dispute with James's doctors and stopped giving him his medication as a result. James's loved ones claim they made many abuse reports to the county social services office, but the office lost his casefile after his disappearance so it is impossible to determine what, if any, investigation was made.
No one has seen or heard from James since January 2002, and no one besides his guardians claimed to have seen or heard from him since August 2001. Sharpe and Snyder reported James as a runaway, but his relatives and the police suspected foul play was involved in his case.
In 2007, while Snyder was serving a year in prison for probation violation in an unrelated case, she went to authorities and stated Sharpe had drowned and dismembered James. She was charged with child endangerment, permitting child abuse, gross abuse of a corpse and evidence tampering related to James's presumed death. Several months later, Sharpe was charged with murder, tampering with evidence, endangering children, permitting child abuse and gross abuse of a corpse in connection with James's case. Authorities stated James had been drowned and dismembered on or around June 15, 2001. His remains were scattered in dumpsters throughout the Youngstown area and eventually ended up Carbon Limestone landfill in Poland, Ohio.
Snyder could have faced 23 years in prison if convicted of all the crimes she was charged with. In December 2007, she pleaded guilty to child endangerment and abuse of a corpse and was sentenced to four years in prison. In February 2009, a week before his trial was scheduled to begin, Sharpe pleaded guilty to reckless homicide, attempted tampering of evidence, and gross abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to the maximum term of seven and a half years in prison.
Investigators are searching for James's remains. Foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.
Mahoning County Sheriff's Office