Ben Renick, “rock star” reptile breeder murdered; Missouri coroner says “This was not just a random act”
This story originally aired on March 12, 2022.
In the moments after snake breeder Ben Renick was found dead, investigators thought he might have been the victim of an attack by one of his prized reptiles.
On June 8, 2017, Lynlee Renick called 911 to say her husband was face down in a pool of blood. She said she found him in his snake facility, which was home to more than 3,000 reptiles, some worth thousands of dollars.
“Someone being killed by a snake is not something that happens every day, especially in Missouri,” coroner Dave Colbert tells “48 Hours.”
It turns out that someone being killed by a snake didn’t happen that day, either. That’s because Ben Renick was shot multiple times. But by whom?
A SHOCKING DISCOVERY
On a hot Missouri summer day in June 2017, Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies were called to a unique and potentially dangerous death scene — a literal snake pit — a building with more than 3,000 exotic serpents.
OFFICER 1 (body cam video): I don’t care if it’s a 5-inch-long snake if something tries to bite me, I’m gonna light its a– up.
OFFICER 1 (body cam video looking at snakes): Holy s—!
OFFICER 2: Something got him, so watch you’re a–.
The first responders aren’t sure if one of these snakes may have killed renowned breeder Ben Renick.
OFFICER 1 (body cam video): Who is?
OFFICER 2: Ben, uh, Ben Renick.
OFFICER 1: Oh.
OFFICER 1: Can we make sure there’s no snakes around the victim?
OFFICER 2: Yeah.
Coroner Dave Colbert had never seen anything like it.
Dave Colbert | Coroner: They’re holding shotguns in hand. There were guns out. You could just feel the anxiety amongst everyone there.
No one knew where the killer could be coiled or lurking. But while examining Ben’s body, the coroner made a surprising discovery. Ben’s body — lying face down—hid the true cause of death. He hadn’t been bitten by a giant snake. Ben had been shot eight times, once at close range.
Dave Colbert: This was something that was not just a random act.
LYNLEE RENICK (body cam video): That’s not a snake.
SAM RENICK: That’s a snake honey.
LYNLEE RENICK: That’s not a snake.
Nearby was Ben’s wife, Lynlee. She had discovered his body.
Dave Colbert: And she was visibly upset. What you would describe as somebody who was grieving and, you know, just lost a loved one.
OFFICER 1 (body cam video): This is Sam, that’s his brother, Ben.
OFFICER 2: OK.
Lynlee called Ben’s brother Sam, who rushed to the scene.
OFFICER (body cam video): Sam?
SAM RENICK: Lynlee got here before I did so I don’t know
Sam Renick: He was … shot in the back almost exclusively. I — I don’t think he saw it coming at all. … Ben had such a future ahead of him. You know, he was 29 years old. He was almost — almost 30. … A lot was lost.
Near a remote stretch of highway, about 80 miles west of St. Louis, once stood a world-renowned snake breeding facility, Renick Reptiles, where Ben Renick built his empire of serpents.
BEN RENICK VIDEO: “Welcome to the basement of Renick Reptiles. … we keep particular pythons — blood pythons, white lip pythons, green anacondas …”
Sam Renick: Ben had — his first snake at a very young age … And that become — somewhat of a passion for him. … became — a hobby to — build into business. And he was — he was very good at what he did.
At the time of the murder, Sam and Ben Renick were living in separate houses with their families on a 70-acre spread.
Sam Renick: We lived out there together. And raised our kids out there together. The — we went fishing on the weekends and — you know, we were close.
Ben and Lynlee first met when they were teenagers. They reconnected in 2011, says local attorney Katherine Berger.
Katherine Berger | Attorney: They hit it off right away. And their relationship got pretty serious, pretty quickly. I think they moved in together within the first year of dating.
Lynlee had a son from a previous relationship. Sam says Ben became a second father to the child. In 2014, Ben and Lynlee decided to tie the knot.
Sam Renick: They had a beautiful wedding. … It was … beautiful, a small family event … it was very special.
Soon, they had a baby of their own. A growing family to go with their booming snake breeding business.
Katherine Berger: Lynlee found Ben’s passion interesting. … She would work day and night helping Ben with the snakes, handling them, cleaning them, sorting them.
In 2016 they opened a second business, Ascensia Spa in Columbia, Missouri, a longtime dream of Lynlee, who once worked as a massage therapist.
Sam Renick: I know that when she started her spa business, it’s just something that she had always wanted to do that she — you know, that empowered her quite a bit.
By 2017, Ben Renick’s snake business was wildly successful. He was shipping his snakes around the world from the UK to Japan and was travelling to reptile conventions across the United States.
He was so successful, Ben realized, that if he sold a portion of Renick reptiles he could make some real money.
Sam Renick: Ben had planned on selling the majority of his ball python collection … for — from my understanding, it was about a $1.2 million. … Things were gonna be very good for — my brother and — and Lynlee.
The couple had received their first payment of at least $200,000, but then Ben was murdered.
Peter Van Sant: When you heard that he was dead, what did you think might have happened to him?
Dāv Kaufman: So, the first question that I asked was, “How many snakes were missing?” A facility like Ben’s — it — unfortunately, attracts a lotta bad people, bad people that see these snakes not as these beautiful, amazing creatures that they are, but see them as dollar signs.
To understand the world of snakes that Ben lived and worked in, “48 Hours” spoke with Ben’s friend Dāv Kaufman, who introduced “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant to a reticulated python, a snake Ben was known for throughout the world because of how he bred them in captivity.
Dāv Kaufman (holding snake): Ben loved these snakes because how can ya not love these (laughs) snakes? I mean, really, when it comes down to it. … They’re big. They’re beautiful. They’re personable.
Dāv Kaufman: She’s gonna go right over your shoulder and try to go on the cage behind you (laughs). Let’s see if I’m right. … no, she’s gonna wrap around ya.
Peter Van Sant: It’s my new scarf.
Dāv Kaufman: There you go.
Kaufman is also a snake breeder and a documentary film maker who also travels the world tracking rare and exotic reptiles for his YouTube channel.
Peter Van Sant (with snake wrapped around him): This is a first. It is a remarkable sensation.
Dāv Kaufman: It is.
Investigators looked into the theory that Ben’s murder may have been a robbery gone bad but ruled it out; no snakes were missing. Dave Colbert says it made sense to look more carefully at those closest to Ben.
Dave Colbert: We definitely didn’t want to exclude anybody from being a possible suspect. … I didn’t know if Sam was involved. Didn’t know if Lynlee was involved.
The day after his brother’s murder, Sam Renick was brought in for questioning.
SAM RENICK [police questioning] I uh, I don’t know where to start.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: OK.
And they also brought in Lynlee.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Do you have any questions for us?
LYNLEE RENICK: What happened?
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: We don’t know yet.
LYNLEE RENICK: What, I mean what do I do?
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Lean on your friends and family.
But soon enough, those same friends and family would have reason to question everything they thought they knew about Lynlee Renick.
Sam Renick: The Lynlee that we knew back then was — very sweet, kind. However, there was — there were other sides of her that we didn’t know.
WHO WANTED BEN DEAD?
With law enforcement discovering that Ben Renick had not been killed by a snake and quickly ruling out the possibility of a robbery gone bad, Sam Renick had one major question.
Sam Renick: Who would’ve wanted Ben dead?
A Missouri State Highway Patrol detective had the same question when he spoke with Ben’s wife, Lynlee.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Could you see anybody you know being upset with Ben to the point to where that may happen?
LYNLEE RENICK: No.
Both Lynlee and Sam were cooperative in their initial interviews.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Are you willing to submit to a shotgun or, not shotgun, a gunshot residue?
SAM RENICK: Yeah, anything you want, you got.
Sam says he understood why police would first focus on them. And he told investigators he could never imagine Lynlee being involved.
Sam Renick: I didn’t think that Lynlee would have been capable of murder like that.
Lynlee also agreed to a gunshot residue test. But in her one-on-one interview with a detective, Lynlee made a startling claim, saying that Sam might have had a motive to kill his brother.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Was there any family issues?
LYNLEE RENICK: Um, like between Sam and Ben? Yeah.
At issue, Lynlee said, was Ben’s plan to possibly sell the property where they all lived. She claimed Sam was upset about it.
Ben had inherited the property after another tragedy on the Renick family farm just five years earlier — the suicide of Ben and Sam’s father, Frank Renick.
Sam Renick: Ben found him. He came and got me, and we went there together and — it was a tough day.
Frank Renick shot himself in 2012 after being implicated in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme involving fraudulent stock certificates.
Sam Renick: There’s a lot of people that lost a lot of money, you know, due to my father.
Unaware that Lynlee was implicating him, Sam wondered whether Ben had been killed in an act of revenge against their father.
Sam Renick: We were concerned, however, that, you know, someone could have been upset enough to have waited and done something like this.
But that theory never took off and Sam, who had tested negative for gun residue on his hands, was ruled out after cooperating fully with investigators.
Sam Renick: I — provided them, you know, everything I had. My cell phone, the shirt off my back, my alibi as to where I was when the murder happened. I — I gave a polygraph.
As Highway Patrol detectives continued their investigation, the reptile community stepped up to help Ben’s wife and children. They held an online auction of donated snakes, raising more than $40,000.
Peter Van Sant: You guys banded together, and you got thousands of dollars to Lynlee to help her during this time of crisis.
Dāv Kaufman: Tens of thousands. Yea. We raised tens of thousands of dollars to help Lynlee and the kids.
Peter Van Sant: Because you felt she was a victim.
Dāv Kaufman: That’s correct.
But that supposed victim had a startling confession when Lynlee spoke with detectives again, just 11 days after Ben’s murder.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: So, have you been talkin’ to anyone, or did you have a relationship?
LYNLEE RENICK: Aric.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: How often did you guys hook up?
LYNLEE RENICK: Like, maybe once or twice a month.
Lynlee admitted she had been unfaithful.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: It was just — just sex?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yeah.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Did he think the same way?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yeah.
Detectives checked that man’s alibi and cleared him of any suspicion. Investigators then interviewed Ashley Shaw, one of Lynlee’s employees and a close friend, who she had confided in— which may have been a mistake.
ASHLEY SHAW [police questioning]: I mean I’m sure that you know she was having, um, an affair.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Uh-huh.
ASHLEY SHAW: A couple affairs, actually.
Ashley Shaw, the manager at Ascensia Spa, said that Lynlee had also been seeing another man named Brandon Blackwell who she had met on a dating website. She said Lynlee was hooking up with Brandon before Ben’s murder.
ASHLEY SHAW: I know Brandon was like really a short time before that …
Along with Lynlee’s affairs, investigators had discovered Facebook messages between Ben and Lynlee. They revealed that Ben had found out the spa was losing money, and that Lynlee had lied to him about it. Ben sent a message to Lynlee just hours before he was murdered:
BEN’S FACEBOOK MESSAGE TO LYNLEE: No more lying, no more keeping things from me, no more not paying people and thinking it’s okay to pay later.
Four months after Ben’s murder, Lynlee was in front of cops again and agreed to take a polygraph exam.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR [interrogation]: OK, how do you think you did Lynlee?
LYNLEE RENICK: I think I did well.
Not exactly. Lynlee’s polygraph test was a dismal failure.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR [interrogation]: So, the results of the polygraph show that you failed the test. … When I asked you” did you shoot that man?” you failed the test.
LYNLEE RENICK: I can’t explain why I just failed that, but I didn’t kill Ben.
But investigators suspected she did and may have had help from yet another man in her life. His name is Michael Humphrey, an old ex-boyfriend and ex-con fresh out of prison on drug possession charges, who she texted and called numerous times — including on the day her husband was murdered.
LYNLEE RENICK [police interview]: He was coming in for massages.
OFFICER: Yeah, but the thing is that that right there is very suspicious.
LYNLEE RENICK: (Cries)
It appeared Lynlee was close to breaking. But she continued to deny any involvement, dozens of times.
LYNLEE RENICK: I don’t have anything to do with this.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: There is so much circumstantial evidence against you in this case it’s mind-boggling.
But Lynlee’s gunshot residue test had come back negative. With no witnesses, no murder weapon found or direct evidence linking her to Ben’s murder, she left that interrogation room a free woman.
LYNLEE RENICK: I need to go get my children.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: I’ll walk you out.
The investigation went cold for nearly three years until, unexpectedly, someone came forward with everything Missouri Highway Patrol investigators were looking for.
A JAILHOUSE TIP
The boas are long gone, the pythons packed up, and the snakes are in new homes. The reptilian paradise-turned crime scene, now a vacant frozen field. Eight fatal shots unanswered.
Sam Renick: I wasn’t sure what to think.
Unaware that investigators suspected Lynlee, Ben Renick’s brother Sam was left more than a little uneasy.
Sam Renick: It was very, very tough knowing that someone was out there that had essentially gotten away with murder. I was concerned for my own safety.
And without an arrest, serpent lovers were also left rattled.
Dāv Kaufman: So, when the case went cold, we would all contact each other, asking if anybody had any information on what was going on. … It was frustrating, it was frustrating to have all this time pass and not have a culprit in custody.
All Dāv Kaufman knew for sure …
Dāv Kaufman: Humans do things other than what you expect. Snakes do not.
And the most unexpected behavior came from the human closest to Ben Renick: his widow Lynlee.
Sam Renick: We wanted to be as understanding as possible … However, in time, when she refused to talk to us, or allow the kids, or even receive my brother’s belongings, we knew something was wrong.
In fact, just weeks after Ben’s murder with her spa business failing, Lynlee had sold the family property, closed up shop and left town in a hurry.
Beth Mayberry: So, like one day she was there and the next day just left. … and then never came back.
Today, Beth Mayberry works at that same location. But back then, she was just one more true-crime buff in Columbia Missouri, riveted to a case without a conclusion.
Peter Van Sant: How much is this Renick case talked about around here among —
Beth Mayberry: It’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Peter Van Sant: …And what do people say? What do they think?
Beth Mayberry: Crazy — it’s crazy. … And people did start to wonder … Maybe Lynlee did it. Maybe she had someone do this. It did become a question.
A question without an answer. Until January 2020, when cops followed up on a jailhouse tip.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: We’re investigators with Highway Patrol. I’m here because you used to be dating Lynlee.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: That’s correct.
Dave McKenna: Outta nowhere comes what investigators would think is a godsend.
Journalist Dave McKenna was following the case for Defector Media, that was about to change fast for investigators.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Your dad gave me a call today and said that you wanted to talk to us.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: Yeah.
Dave McKenna | Journalist: Just lays out the whole story. And it is very detailed.
It was Brandon Blackwell. The man Lynlee met online — the lover she was hooking up with the very week Ben was murdered.
Dave McKenna: Her husband is freshly dead … body is still warm, and she’s found another warm body.
Only a year-and-a-half after Ben was killed, Blackwell and Lynlee had a child together. But Lynlee alleged Blackwell had become threatening, and they had broken up. Lynlee got an order of protection and he was then charged with violating that order and stalking her — charges he denies. He was jammed up, in jail, and looking to make a deal.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: My main concern is getting outta that cell …
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: Now you’re coming to us when you’re in a pickle so …
BRANDON BLACKWELL: Right.
Blackwell’s tale began weeks before Ben Renick was shot dead — when he says Lynlee and spa employee Ashley Shaw whipped up a toxic shake for Ben.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: He was given a protein drink one night that was laced full of enormous amounts of narcotics … and somehow lived through it, but the plan was for that to be the last day of his life.
A poison potion served to a husband, by his wife. Brandon says Lynlee confessed that, and much more to him.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: My information is out of the horse’s mouth.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: OK.
So, when pills failed to kill, Brandon says Lynlee turned to one-time boyfriend Michael Humphrey.
BRANDON BLACKWELL: They drove to the farm, he had gloves, he had a firearm, the plan was for him to do it. They get there he hands her the gun and says he doesn’t feel comfortable doing … it’s something she’s gotta take care of. She walks in with a gun … and just shoots him a bunch of times.
And according to Blackwell, Lynlee’s spa employee Ashley Shaw was once again involved.
Dave McKenna: Brandon Blackwell told the police that Ashley was in on it intimately from the start of the planning.
The cold case was blown wide open. On January 16, 2020, cops made their moves. Lynlee Renick and Michael Humphrey were arrested, charged with the murder of Ben Renick. Loved ones and friends never saw it coming.
Peter Van Sant: What was that moment like for you?
Dāv Kaufman: Disbelief. I thought they got the wrong person.
Sam Renick: It took us years to find out that Lynlee was lying and that she was living a double life. … Sociopath. If you look that up, Lynlee’s picture’ll be sitting right there with it.
But what motive could Lynlee have to murder the man she had built so much with? Some say it was as cold-blooded as a cobra. Money.
Sam Renick: Lynlee stood to gain millions from the death of my brother. Between the life insurance, the sale of the snakes, and the family farm that she would inherit … it was significant.
Still, investigators needed someone to flip. They arrested Ashley and fast let her know exactly what her future reality might look like.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR (to Ashley Shaw during questioning): Now is the time, you’re either on Team Lynlee or you’re on Team Missouri. And Team Lynlee’s going to jail. They’re going to prison for first-degree murder.
In exchange for leniency, Ashley turned on her one-time boss, starting with the toxic ingredients in Lynlee’s venomous smoothie. Ashley would say that Lynlee told her Ben had abused her.
ASHLEY SHAW: She asked if I could get any, um, thing, any prescription pills or anything in the amount that could, um, help her kill him and so I got her, um, perc, it was Percocet I’m pretty sure and there was, um, I think 15 of them.
According to Ashley, after the shooting Lynlee claimed Michael Humphrey was the triggerman. But, she says, a few days later Lynlee changed her story. Ashley now claimed that Lynlee confessed to being the killer.
ASHLEY SHAW: … and she said, “Oh, no, once we got there I, I was fine to do it and so he handed me the gun and I did it.”
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR: After the murder, she ever seem remorseful?
ASHLEY SHAW: Never.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL INVESTIGATOR:: She ever seem sorry?
ASHLEY SHAW: Never. No.
But as it headed to trial, Lynlee’s legal team insists that Michael Humphrey was the real shooter. And they argue the state’s case isn’t based on truth, but on the fearful, coerced testimony of Ashley Shaw.
Tim Hesemann | Defense attorney: “You’re either on Team Lynlee or you’re on team Missouri. And Team Lynlee is going to jail.”
Peter Van Sant: How would that impact somebody, a woman like Ashley Shaw, do you think?
Tim Hesemann: Well, if Ashley Shaw ever wants to leave that interview room for the rest of her life or for the indefinite future … She’s going to change her story.
Katherine Berger | Defense attorney: It was only after that threat that she changed her story and implicated Lynlee Renick.
WHO PULLED THE TRIGGER?
LYNLEE RENICK [police questioning]: I don’t know what happened with him. I don’t know
Sam Renick: It took a lot of time to just process, you know, the lies that we were given by Lynlee.
In late 2021, Sam Renick was bracing himself for the trials of his brother’s alleged killers.
Sam Renick: My biggest concern was keeping my composure during the whole time.
First up, Lynlee’s old boyfriend, Michael Humphrey. The prosecution said Lynlee fired the gun and that Humphrey was in on the plan.
Dave McKenna: Prosecutor said he was — in on the plotting, he provided the weapon. … he helped knock off her husband.
But that murder weapon had not been recovered. Humphrey’s defense argued that Humphrey had been lured to the snake farm by Lynlee, who claimed she wanted protection when asking Ben for a divorce. Lynlee had then surprised him and pulled out a gun and shot her husband.
Dave McKenna: They painted him as kind of — a fawning suitor of this pretty, blond, petite — snake salesman.”
The jury didn’t believe Humphrey’s story of being an innocent spectator. After deliberating for just five hours, jurors convicted him of first-degree murder.
Sam Renick: Lynlee is a manipulator. And I truly believe that he was manipulated into where he is right now.
Then, facing life behind bars, Michael Humphrey changed his story. Lynlee’s trial attorneys Tim Hesemann and Katherine Berger.
Peter Van Sant: He decides to flip. Why does he do that?
Katherine Berger: He’s convicted of first-degree murder after a jury trial. He agrees to cooperate with the state in the hopes that he might be able to parole out eventually.
Humphrey now admits that he provided the gun that Lynlee used to shoot her husband.
Katherine Berger: And he tells them where they can find it, which is in his girlfriend’s mother’s attic.
With the murder weapon in hand, jurors in Lynlee’s upcoming trial would have to answer one unresolved question: who pulled the trigger?
KELLY KING | PROSECUTOR: The defendant, Lynlee Renick, shot her husband, Ben, eight times, killing him … we’re going to come back and ask that you to find her guilty …
The prosecution painted Lynlee as cold-blooded as one of her husband’s snakes. A killer who shot Ben and then went about her daily routine as if nothing had happened.
KELLY KING: She goes to the school, picks up her two children, and drives them back to the place where she knows she is going to find their father’s dead body because she killed him.
TIM HESEMANN: Lynlee is being deceptive to Ben.
The defense counters by saying that while Lynlee lied and cheated on Ben, that doesn’t make her a killer.
TIM HESEMANN: She is not planning a murder. She’s planning a divorce.
They pointed the finger at the man already convicted of murdering Ben Renick.
Tim Hesemann: Michael Humphrey took it upon himself acting completely independently … took Ben’s life himself.
But But Lynlee’s employee and confidant, Ashley Shaw—now the prosecution’s star witness—swears Michael Humphrey and Lynlee were full partners in crime.
ASHLEY SHAW: Michael was going to come to the spa, and they were going to go together to her — her house, his business — to kill him at home, or at — at work.
Shaw says after the murder, Lynlee returned to the spa—not for a massage—but to wash away her sins.
KEVIN ZOELLNER | PROSECUTOR: So, Lynlee goes back there and she tells you to do what?
ASHLEY SHAW: To give her a shower … and she asked me to scrub her body and her hands really well.
Then, Ashley tells the jurors what Lynlee told her about what really happened at Renick Reptiles the day Ben was killed.
ASHLEY SHAW: She said that Michael got — too nervous, or didn’t want to do it, and so he handed her the gun, and she actually killed him, she said that she put the gun to his back and shot him several times.
But the defense claims Ashley Shaw—just like Michael Humphrey—made up this story in order to avoid life in prison.
TIM HESMANN: How are you able to be so calm when you’re being questioned about murders that you evidently claim to be so involved in, how is that Ashley?”
ASHLEY SHAW: I don’t know.
Tim Hesemann: There are so many aspects of Ashley Shaw’s story that simply are not credible.
And now, in a strange twist of judicial fate, the prosecution called an unlikely, key witness to the stand.
KEVIN ZOELLNER: Now, what am I holding up?
MICHAEL HUMPHREY: That’s my gun.
KEVIN ZOELLNER: That’s what your gun is?
MICHAEL HUMPHREY: Yes.
Convicted murderer Michael Humphrey, who now swears he’s telling the truth about how Lynlee killed her husband.
MICHAEL HUMPHREY: I heard a shot come out … so I kinda ducked a little bit, and I looked down through there. And she was at the end of the— corridor or whatever you want to call it, posted up like this with the gun.
As the trial neared its end, the defense took a chance, on a star witness of their own. Lynlee began by detailing the troubled and sometimes violent marriage she claims she was trying to escape.
KATHERINE BERGER: Lynlee, was there ever any other occasion where an argument with Ben turned physical?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yes.
LYNLEE RENICK: Ben and I had been arguing at the house. … and he grabbed my arm and pushed me into the refrigerator and was like” I’m not done with this, we’re gonna finish it now.”
Lynlee Renick never filed any police reports about the alleged physical abuse.
Sam Renick: Abusive is a word that I would not use with Ben … he was very kind, very loving.
Then, came her chance to explain why she asked Michael Humphrey to accompany her that fatal day.
LYNLEE RENICK: “Hey, my marriage is falling apart. Will you please just go with me just to make sure, like, you know, I’m safe and I can get some stuff and go?”
KATHERINE BERGER: Did you ask Michael to help you kill your husband?
LYNLEE RENICK: No.
KATHERINE BERGER: Set the scene for me and the jury.
LYNLEE RENICK: I walked up (exhales) right— right behind Michael. … And then (exhales) Michael turned around, and I saw a gun in his hands, and then I heard shots ring out. And I screamed and I ran outside. And then I heard more shots go off, and everything just went numb. And I remember staring at the trees, (exhales) and then Michael running out of the facility and pushing me towards the car and telling me, “We have to go, Lynlee, get in the car, we have to go now.”
Claiming to be in shock, Lynlee admitted she didn’t tell the truth to investigators, but said that didn’t add up to murder.
LYNLEE RENICK: And I understand what that means and how this looks. I just — I don’t know how to fully express that I — I never wanted Ben dead.
The prosecution was ready to strike.
KEVIN ZOELLNER: You were interviewed a bunch by a buncha cops. Correct?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yes.
ZOELLNER: And you lied to them every time.
LYNLEE RENICK: Yes.
ZOELLNER: But deep down in that heart of yours and in that brain of yours, you know who killed him. Correct?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yes.
Lynlee’s lies to cops included a terrible slander: accusing Sam Renick of killing his brother.
LYNLEE RENICK: And then anytime the police asked me who I thought, I just told them, “Sam.” (cries) I’m so sorry.”
Sam Renick: Her trying to apologize to me on the stand and garner sympathy with the jury didn’t sit well with me … there’s no low too low for — for that one.
KEVIN ZOLLNER: Why should these jurors now believe you? … You now want these 12 people to believe you. Correct?
LYNLEE RENICK: Yes.
KEVIN ZOLLNER: I bet you do.
Katherine Berger: While I regret that it took her two-and-a-half years to tell the truth … I think she was relieved that the full story had finally been told … and now it was in the jury’s hands.
A JURY DECIDES
It had been almost five long years since Ben Renick was murdered. Exhausted, Sam Renick waited for a jury to weigh the evidence against his younger brother’s bride.
And after 12 hours, the judge revealed the verdict.
JUDGE CRANE [reading verdict): As to count 1, we the jury find the defendant Lynlee Renick guilty of murder in the second degree … Verdict as to count 2, we the jury find the defendant guilty of armed criminal action.
In that moment, 33-year-old Lynlee Renick became a convicted killer.
Sam Renick: She really believed that she was gonna get away with all this. And she really believed that she was gonna get what she had planned after murdering my brother.
The time still to be measured … the length of her stay in a Missouri prison.
JUDGE CRANE (to jurors): You may now retire to consider punishment in this case.
For that, jurors gathered again, for a separate sentencing hearing. While life was an option, the jury would settle on something considerably less.
JUDGE CRANE: Punishment for murder in the second degree at 13 years. … Punishment for armed criminal action at three years.
Thirteen plus three years for Ben Renick’s life. Jurors never said why they chose such a seemingly light punishment. But six weeks later, Sam would tell the court that the sentence itself was an injustice.
SAM RENICK: I beg the common person to watch the trial again and ask themselves if my brother’s life was worth only 16 years. Sixteen years is why I’m here today.
He would recount that hideous day that changed everything.
SAM RENICK: The web of devastation travels far …
And spared no one.
SAM RENICK: She put the children through this experience. Here I am, covered in my brother’s blood, attempting to comfort the children despite them asking me if their daddy is dead.
Sam’s frustration at the sentence seemed to be shared by the judge. But under Missouri law, he could not increase Lynlee’s punishment.
JUDGE CRANE: You’re awful lucky ma’am. You’re gonna get out in your 40s. And my 40s weren’t too bad. I just hope you don’t kill again. That’s it.
Some reflected on the cast of bad characters: two convicted killers and Ashley Shaw, granted immunity after plotting with Lynlee twice.
Dave McKenna: These people, these creeps and dark characters … behaving very badly, and behaving inhumanely towards humans.
Ben Renick had created an Eden for serpent lovers. But it was people, not a snake that destroyed his paradise.
Dave McKenna: You can reduce it to a story of greed … it may be as simple as that.
Greed that left in its bloody wake children and a brother determined to carry on.
Sam Renick: The kids lost their father … My babies, and Ben’s babies, and — I’m here to … take care of them for the rest of my life.
And around the world, wherever reptiles coil, slither and slide, the loss of a superstar is still felt.
Dāv Kaufman: What happened to Ben was a tragedy that absolutely did not need to happen. And … (sighs).
Yet Ben Renick lives on, in a way he would surely have loved — celebrated, with a new breed of snake named just for him.
Dāv Kaufman: The Renick Ghost. And what ghost is is a slight reduction of blacks, color. It gives the snake a ghosty appearance to it. … And that is such a testament to what Ben meant to this community, that he now has a mutation of a snake named after him.
Peter Van Sant: You miss your friend.
Dāv Kaufman: Every single expo that we would see each other at, there is a vacancy there that will never be filled again.
The stalking and related charges against Brandon Blackwell were dropped.
Lynlee Renick will be eligible for parole by 2035.
Produced by Chris O’Connell, Jamie Stolz and Alicia Tejada. Elizabeth Caholo is the development produce. Marlon Disla, George Baluzy, Grayce Arlotta-Berner, Gregory F. McLaughlin and Jud Johnston are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer