When Lynlee Renick called 911 on June 8, 2017, her voice was frantic. She asked the dispatcher to send emergency services to help her husband — she claimed he had been crushed by a boa constrictor from his reptile farm. But when the county coroner and police arrived soon thereafter expecting to find a large snake on the loose, they instead found a dead body and spent ammunition.
Further inspection of the body confirmed their suspicions: Twenty-nine-year-old Ben Renick had been shot to death. Unless someone had taught a boa constrictor to pull a trigger multiple times, police had a murder case to solve.
The responding officers recalled that Lynlee was emotionally agitated and panic-stricken at the crime scene. They asked her to submit to a gunshot residue test of her hands, which she willingly allowed. On Ben’s phone, the officers discovered a text from Lynlee earlier that day — she’d written that she loved him.
But that wasn’t the only message she’d sent that day: She’d also texted another man, Michael Humphrey, asking him if he was on his way.
This wasn’t the first time the tiny town of New Florence, Missouri, was haunted by stories of violence, guns and death associated with the Renick family. Ben’s father, Frank Renick, 63, had had his life cut short just a few years earlier.
Frank was the owner-operator of Spectrum Pet Care, Inc., a successful pet product business that afforded his wife and two sons a good life. That is, until Frank was busted on federal charges of mail fraud. Frank stood accused of scamming his investors after he sold $7 million of investments in the company, but used “substantial portions” of the money for personal expenses. He was facing 60 years in prison. On June 17, 2012, Frank was discovered dead, with a single gunshot to the chest, which local police ruled an “apparent suicide.”
Five years later, Frank’s son also lay dead of a gunshot wound. Only this time, there was nothing apparent about the cause of death. The thing is, while it was evident to police that a snake hadn’t killed Ben Renick, they didn’t have any real leads. The investigation grew colder by the day until a local man named Brandon Blackwell was sitting in a jail cell and decided he was in the mood to talk.
Blackwell and Lynlee had started an affair while Ben was alive, and after his death, they had a child together. But things didn’t go well for the new family. In 2019, Blackwell was ordered to pay Lynlee $760 a month in child support. Not long after that, he was arrested for stalking Lynlee and violating an order of protection against him. While he was in jail, he spoke with Nathaniel Schaffer, the detective from the Missouri State Police who was still investigating the murder of Ben Renick.
Blackwell told Schaffer that Lynlee had confessed to him that she and an employee from her nail spa had conspired together to kill Ben. Schaffer finally had a worthwhile lead. Next, he arrested Amber Shaw, Lynlee’s employee from the spa. Originally, Shaw tried to deny any knowledge or involvement in the murder plot, but she soon folded. According to Shaw, she and Lynlee tried to kill Ben once before, slipping a Percocet into his protein shake. But it didn’t do the trick. A week later, they searched online for a hitman. When that proved difficult, they settled on Lynlee’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Humphrey.
Humphrey later testified against Lynlee at her murder trial, swearing that while he was on the reptile farm that fateful day, he was just providing emotional support. He also claimed he wasn’t holding the gun — and that he wasn’t even looking when the trigger was pulled.
Naturally, that’s not the same story Lynlee told. When she took the stand in her own defense, she testified that she had asked Humphrey to come out to her place, and that she did indeed want him there for emotional support since she planned to ask Ben for a divorce. But then she claimed, “I walked up right behind Michael, and then Michael turned around, and I saw a gun in his hands, and I screamed and ran outside.” Afterward, she said that Humphrey shouted that they needed to leave and that he hustled her into a car and that they drove away together.
The prosecutor, of course, asked if she was scared to leave her home with the man who’d just, according to her, murdered her husband. “I don’t remember thinking about anything,” Lynlee responded. “I remember at one point I sat up, and I just remember the trees and rolling the window down and smoking.”
After Ben’s death, Shaw said she and Lynlee met at the nail spa, and she helped Lynlee clean up any evidence of murder.
During the trial, the prosecutor focused on Ben’s million-dollar life insurance policy as the motive for murder. Lynlee’s defense focused on explaining why she’d lied so much to the police — starting with the claim that her husband had been killed by a large snake. On the witness stand, Lynlee admitted as much: “I lied a lot and I understand how this looks.”
Humphrey’s trial ended first. He was found guilty and convicted of the murder of Ben Renick. He now awaits sentencing. He’ll likely see less time since he cooperated with the prosecutors in Lynlee’s case, and, crucially showed them where to find the murder weapon. As for Lynlee, her trial ended earlier this month. After nearly 12 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and she was sentenced to 13 years in prison for second-degree murder with an additional three years for the charge of armed criminal action.
So in the end, Lynlee was right: There most certainly was a snake in this case; it just wasn’t of the reptile variety, although it certainly was cold-blooded.