Cops thought Snake King was killed by pets – until they saw eight gunshot wounds

Benjamin Renick had been passionate about wildlife all his life. He was particularly fond of reptiles and kept pet snakes. When he was older, his childhood hobby would inspire him to set up a lucrative business.

The Renick Reptiles facility was established on land in Missouri that had been in his family for decades and bred exotic snakes such as boas, ball pythons and anacondas. Some were so rare they sold for $25,000 each, which made Ben world-famous in his field.

By 2017, he was selling his 72-acre business in New Florence, Montgomery County, to a professional ice hockey player in a deal rumoured to be worth $1.2 million. Sadly, 29-year-old Ben’s personal life had not proved to be so successful.

He was married to Lynlee Renick, 31, who ran a spa in Columbia. However, unlike Ben’s company, his wife’s business was struggling financially and had mounting debts.

Their marriage was also under strain. They had a child together and Renick had another from one of her previous relationships.

She had been unfaithful at least three times and told people she wanted to leave Ben. Then, on 8 June 2017, Renick called 911, sounding frantic.

She said she had gone to see her husband at work and found that he had been killed by one of his snakes.

Emergency services rushed to the location. They were cautious, given the report of a dangerous snake on the loose. But when they arrived, the scene was not at all what they expected.

Ben was on the ground but the hundreds of snakes at the facility were all safely sealed in their enclosures – and his injuries were not consistent with a snake attack.

He had been shot eight times, with at least four bullets in the back. Some of the spent bullet casings were on the floor nearby.

Investigators believed that he had been killed by an intruder – although, strangely, nothing had been stolen. Police could see that Renick was in line to receive Ben’s $1 million life insurance payout and there was also the money from the sale of his reptile business and the snakes.

When she was questioned, Renick pointed the finger of suspicion at Ben’s older brother, Sam, and suggested that he was a suspect. But there was no evidence or motive – and a rift grew between Ben’s family and his widow.

Renick sold the reptile business and a series of battles began over the land, the snakes and the money. Suspicion over Ben’s death fell on Renick, who continued some of her romances. However, nothing could be connected to her.

The family had to wait until January 2020 for a breakthrough in the case, when police got a tip-off from Brandon Blackwell, a man who Renick had been dating.

They had a child together but then split up and he had been ordered to pay child support.

At the time he talked to the police, Blackwell was in prison on a pending case for allegedly stalking Renick. He told officers she had confessed to him that she’d been involved in Ben’s death. Suddenly, the plot began to unravel as Blackwell led police to Ashley Shaw, who worked at the spa with Renick.

When she was questioned, Shaw told officers Renick had claimed Ben was abusive – and that she’d even woken to find him raping her.

She said Renick had claimed she wanted to leave him, but was worried he would take the kids and their money. She told police that after that, the conversation turned to murder.

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Shaw said that in May 2017, she had helped Renick grind up Percocet pain-relief tablets and they had put them in Ben’s protein shake, hoping it would poison him.

She claimed that when the concoction only left him drowsy and feeling sick, Renick turned to her ex-boyfriend, Michael Humphrey, 35, who had a criminal record. Humphrey and Renick were arrested and in exchange for future testimony, Shaw faced no charges.

When Renick was questioned, she finally admitted she’d been lying – but she still pointed the finger of blame elsewhere. She claimed she had simply asked Humphrey to come with her to Ben’s facility that day because she wanted to ask her husband for a divorce and was worried about how he would react.

Renick said while she was outside, she heard gunshots and Humphrey ran out, telling her that they needed to get in the car and go.

She claimed that when she returned, Ben was dead.

Had Renick enlisted Humphrey to be her hitman? The police thought so and they were both charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

In October 2021, Humphrey went on trial after pleading innocent and was found guilty of first-degree murder. He then cut a deal with prosecutors and turned on Renick.

Humphrey finally admitted he had been involved and agreed to testify against Ben’s widow. He also led police to the location of the murder weapon, which was hidden in a property’s wall.

He admitted he’d supplied the gun but claimed he was only there to protect Renick, who had told him Ben was abusive – and he insisted it was Renick who pulled the trigger. In exchange for his help in the case, Humphrey’s rap was reduced to second-degree murder and he got life in prison.

Renick faced a jury at her trial in December last

year, which some of the press dubbed the Snake King Trial.

As Renick took the stand, she continued to insist she had brought Humphrey to the business that fateful day for support and he had turned into a killer. She alleged that Ben was “mentally abusive”, even though there was no evidence to support that.

“I walked right up behind Michael,” Renick said on the stand. “And then Michael turned around and I saw a gun in his hands. And I screamed and ran outside.”

Renick claimed she heard gunshots and that Humphrey came out and told her to get in the car. When asked about her changing story, she said, “I lied to protect myself and I told a lot of awful lies to do that.”

When it came to Shaw’s allegations about poisoning Ben’s drink, and Humphrey’s involvement, the defence said Shaw had told police what they wanted to hear to avoid charges and there was no record of Ben telling anyone he had felt ill.

Shaw took the stand and said it was Renick who had shot her husband. Shaw had even sent messages to Renick during the killing to establish an alibi.

When asked why she had helped her, Shaw said she didn’t know and admitted that it was the “biggest mistake” she’d made in her life.

The prosecution said Renick had killed Ben for his money and so she could keep custody of her children. Her spa was failing and so was her marriage.

And if Humphrey had suddenly shot Ben, why hadn’t Renick checked on him, or called 911? Instead, she had fled the scene with the man she claimed had pulled the trigger. Afterwards, she had even sent a message to her husband saying she loved him, as though nothing had happened. She also texted Humphrey.

The defence said she had made poor decisions during a time of trauma, which was why she had not called 911 straight away.

Renick said she didn’t want to believe Ben was hurt.

However, it was pointed out that she had been able to text Humphrey, her babysitter and Ben afterwards – despite the “trauma”.

While Renick cried, the prosecution called her the mastermind of the incident and reminded her that in the aftermath of the killing, she had cruelly pointed the finger at Ben’s brother.

“Do you know what kind of cold heart lies within you?” they asked her on the stand.

The most damning testimony came from Humphrey, dressed in his prison jumpsuit. He described Renick walking up to Ben while he was tending to his snakes and firing the gun repeatedly.

The jury deliberated for more than 12 hours before finding Renick guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. In January, she was sentenced to 16 years in prison – 13 years for murder and three for armed criminal action. She must serve 85% of her sentence before being eligible for parole.

“You’re awful lucky, ma’am,” Judge Kevin Crane told Renick. “You’re going to get out in your 40s.”

Ben was used to dealing with snakes but he never suspected he had taken such a cold-blooded, poisonous creature into his home.

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