The last reported sighting of Sharpless, who would be 33 now, was on Aug. 23, 2009, after she and a friend left the home of former Sixer Willie Green. The only hard evidence police received about her disappearance came two weeks later, when the license plate of her Pontiac Grand Prix was recorded by an automatic license-plate reader in Camden.
The letter claims that Sharpless died after getting in a fight with an unnamed Camden police officer. The writer claims to have helped ditch her car for money afterward.
The letter was sent to Eileen Law, a private detective from Kennett Square, who admits being obsessed with the case. Pictures of Sharpless, smiling in her nurse's uniform, fill Law's office.
Photocopied maps of Camden, Lancaster, Philadelphia and smaller towns are attached to her door and feature pushpins representing every reported sighting of Sharpless. Law keeps a $1 bill on her desk, the money she charged Sharpless' mother to take the case shortly after Sharpless disappeared.
"I've run out of pushpins," Law said, motioning to the maps.
On Aug. 22, 2009, Sharpless reunited with an old friend, Crystal Johns, for a night out in the city. The two spent hours drinking at the G Lounge with former Sixers guard Willie Green and his entourage. Green invited the women back to his house in Gladwyne. After more drinking, he allegedly asked them to leave about 5 a.m., after Sharpless became belligerent.
Johns said that Sharpless, who was taking medication for bipolar disorder, kicked her out of the car and drove off. Johns was the last known person to see Sharpless.
The letter writer, who claims to live in Philadelphia, was contacted "in the last few days of 2009" by a friend in Camden, asking whether he or she could move a car from Brooklawn, Camden County, to Boston. The writer would get $5,000 and the license plates.
The letter was mailed from Trenton on Nov. 29, and when Law received it, she barely noticed it among the Christmas cards and junk mail and drove off for a meeting. Then she saw the sender's name: "Tony Sharpless."
"I was shaking. I had to pull over and open it," Law said last week from her office.
There are some "holes" in the letter, Law admits, but the vehicle identification number (VIN) that the writer included for the Grand Prix was accurate.
The writer also claimed that this friend in Camden asked if he or she knew anyone who wanted to "paper-trip," meaning get a new identity, and gave the writer Sharpless' Social Security card.
"The only people who would know the term 'paper trip' would be the police or the bad guys who do this type of thing," Law said.
The writer claims to have driven the car to an auto-body shop outside of Boston, where he or she removed the license plate and wrote down the VIN.
"I came back to Camden a day later and [the friend] told me that the car was not stolen, but missing. He said a friend of his, a cop in Camden, got into a fight with a girl, she died and he needed to get the car out of Jersey," the letter states.
Law said she forwarded the letter to authorities, including the police in West Brandywine Township, Chester County, where Sharpless lived with her family, and New Jersey State Police. Authorities in Camden said they have not been contacted about the letter.
West Brandywine Police Chief Walt Werner said the department was investigating the letter along with phone calls they received from individuals who were pretending to be in law enforcement and inquiring about the case or giving false leads far from the Delaware Valley. Werner said there's no way to tell now whether the letter is a legitimate lead or a fake.
"We always run down all the information we're given," Werner said. "We've sent some stuff out for forensics to look at."
Lower Merion police were also involved in the investigation and said it was "dead" almost from the start.
"The only other thing that ever happened was the fact that in Camden, there was a hit on her car some days later," said Lower Merion Township police Lt. Frank Higgins.
Higgins said that Willie Green was "more than willing to cooperate" and that Johns, who was criticized by some of Sharpless' family members and friends, volunteered to take a polygraph at Lower Merion and passed. Higgins said Lower Merion has not worked closely with Law and was unaware of the letter.
Law said she's tracked down leads to Camden and Lancaster, where Sharpless worked at Lancaster General Hospital. Law has received phone calls from women as far away as Michigan, claiming that they had seen Sharpless. She also said she's been threatened recently with anonymous calls warning her to "back off." She said that someone had placed dead animals in her mailbox.
Higgins noted that Sharpless' car has never been found, and that after her disappearance, her cellphone was never used and her bank account never accessed.
"My fear is there's a reason we never heard from her, and it's something dark," Higgins said.
Green is now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers and through a team spokesman declined to comment.
Donna Knebel, Sharpless' mother, said she leaves the investigation to the authorities and to Law. It's difficult for her to deal with the highs and lows of new information. She's heard about the letter and realizes it could all be a hoax, so she focuses her attention on raising Sharpless' teenage daughter. Sharpless last used her cellphone on the morning she disappeared, to text her daughter, urging her to get some sleep.
"I never understood when people would say I need closure, but I do now," Knebel said. "It's like a big, dark hole in my life, and there's no end."
For more information about the case, visit missingtonisharpless.com.
On Twitter: @JasonNark