16 - خدا می خواهد که به شری فی بپیوندیکتاب: شکارچی ذهن / فصل 17
16 - خدا می خواهد که به شری فی بپیوندی
- زمان مطالعه 55 دقیقه
- سطح سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
“God Wants You to Join Shari Faye”
Shari Faye Smith, a beautiful and vivacious high school senior, was abducted as she stopped at the mailbox in front of her family’s house near Columbia, South Carolina. She was coming home from a nearby shopping center where she’d met her steady boyfriend, Richard. It was 3:38 p.m. on a warm and sunny May 31, 1985, two days before Shari was scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Lexington High School graduation.
Only minutes later, her father, Robert, found her car at the head of the long driveway to the house. The door was open, the motor was running, and Shari’s purse was lying on the seat. Panic-stricken, he immediately called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
Things like this just didn’t happen in Columbia, a proud and peaceful community that seemed to embody the very notion of “family values.” How could this pretty, outgoing young blonde disappear from in front of her own home, and what kind of person could be involved in such a thing? Sheriff Jim Metts didn’t know. But he did sense he had a crisis on his hands. The first thing he did was to organize what became the largest manhunt in South Carolina history. Law enforcement officers from state agencies and neighboring counties came in to help, assisted by more than a thousand civilian volunteers. The second thing Metts did was to quietly rule out as a suspect Robert Smith, who had publicly begged for the return of his daughter. In any instance of a disappearance or possible crime against such a low-risk victim, spouse, parents, and close family members always have to be considered.
The anguished Smith family waited for some word, any word, even a ransom demand. Then they got a phone call. A man with a strangely distorted voice claimed he had Shari captive.
“So you’ll know this is not a hoax, Shari had on a black-and- yellow bathing suit beneath her shirt and shorts.”
Shari’s mother, Hilda, pleaded with him, making sure he knew Shari was diabetic and needed regular nourishment, water, and medication. The caller made no ransom demands, saying only, “You’ll get a letter later today.” The family and the law officers became even more alarmed.
Metts’s next move reflected his background and training. Both he and Undersheriff Lewis McCarty were graduates of the FBI’s National Academy and had an excellent relationship with the Bureau. Without hesitation, Metts called both Robert Ivey, SAC of the Columbia, South Carolina, Field Office, and my unit in Quantico. I was unavailable, but he got a quick and sympathetic response from Agents Jim Wright and Ron Walker. Analyzing the circumstances of the abduction, photos of the scene, and reports of the telephone call, the two agents agreed they were dealing with a sophisticated and extremely dangerous man, that Shari’s life was very much in jeopardy. They were afraid the young woman could already be dead and that the subject would soon feel the compulsion to commit another such crime. They surmised that what had probably happened was that the kidnapper had seen Shari and her boyfriend, Richard, kissing at the local shopping center and had followed her home afterward. Her bad luck was to stop at the mailbox. Had she not stopped or had there been cars driving by on the street, the crime would never have happened. The sheriff’s department set up recording equipment at the Smith home in hopes of further communication.
Then came a critical and extremely distressing piece of evidence. In all my years in law enforcement, with all of the horrible, almost unbelievable things I’ve seen, I have to say that this is about the most heart wrenching. It was a two-page, handwritten letter to the family from Shari. Written down the left side in capital letters was the phrase “GOD IS LOVE.” As excruciating as I still find reading this letter, it is such an extraordinary documentation of the character and courage of this young woman that I want to reprint it in full:
6/1/85 3:10 AM I LOVE ya’ll
Last Will & Testament
I Love you mommy, daddy, Robert, Dawn, & Richard and everyone
else and all the other friends and relatives. I’ll be with my
father now, so please, please don’t worry! Just remember my
witty personality & great special times we all shared
together. Please don’t ever let this ruin your lives just
keep living one day at a time for Jesus. Some good will come
out of this. My thoughts will always be with & in you!
(casket closed) I love you all so damn much. Sorry dad, I had
to cuss for once! Jesus forgive me. Richard sweetie—I really
did & always will love you & treasure our special moments. I
ask one thing though. Accept Jesus as your personal savior. My
family has been the greatest influence of my life. Sorry about
the cruise money. Some day please go in my place.
I am sorry if I ever disappointed you in any way, I only
wanted to make you proud of me because I have always been proud
of my family. Mom, dad, Robert & Dawn there’s so much I want to
say that I should have said before now. I love you!
I know y’all love me and will miss me very much, but if y’all
stick together like we always did—y’all can do it!
Please do not become hard or upset. Everything works out for the
good for those that love the Lord.
All My Love Always—
I Love Y’all
w/All My Heart! Sharon (Shari) Smith
P.S. Nana—I love you so much. I kind of always felt like your
You were mine!
I Love You Alot
Sheriff Metts sent the pages to the crime lab at SLED—the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—for paper and fingerprint analysis. Reading a copy of the letter at Quantico, we were reasonably sure the kidnapping had turned into a murder. Yet the close-knit Smith family, whose religious faith was so movingly reflected in Shari’s writing, clung to hope. And on the afternoon of June 3, Hilda Smith got a brief call asking if the letter had arrived.
“Do you believe me now?”
“Well, I’m not really sure I believe you because I haven’t had any word from Shari and I need to know that Shari is well.”
“You’ll know in two or three days,” the caller said ominously.
But then he called back that evening, saying that Shari was alive and implying he would release her soon. Several of the caller’s statements, however, told us otherwise:
“I want to tell you one other thing. Shari is now a part of me. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Our souls are now one.”
When Mrs. Smith asked for assurance her daughter was well, he said, “Shari is protected and . . . she is a part of me now and God looks after all of us.”
Ultimately, all of the calls were traced to public phones in the area, but in those days, “trap and trace” required keeping the caller on the phone for about fifteen minutes, and that was never possible. But the recording system had been set up, and copies of the tapes were rushed to us by the FBI field office. As Wright, Walker, and I listened to each recording, we were struck by Mrs. Smith’s strength and control in talking with this monster. It was clear where Shari had gotten it from.
Hoping there would be more calls, Metts asked us how he should advise the family to deal with them. Jim Wright told him they should try to react very much like a police negotiator handling a hostage situation. That is, listen carefully, restate anything of possible importance the caller said to make sure they understood his message, try to get him to react and reveal more about himself and his agenda. This could have several benefits. First, it might keep the call going long enough for a successful trap and trace. And second, it might “reassure” the caller that he was getting a sympathetic hearing and encourage him into more contact.
Needless to say, this degree of controlled performance is a tall order to a horrified and grief-stricken family. But the Smiths were amazing in their ability to pull it off, getting us important information.
The kidnapper called the next night, this time speaking to Shari’s twenty-one-year-old sister, Dawn. It had been four days since Shari disappeared. He gave Dawn details about the kidnapping, saying he had stopped his car when he saw her at the mailbox, appeared friendly, and took a couple of photographs of her, then forced her into his car at gunpoint. Through this and other conversations, he veered back and forth between being outwardly friendly, cruelly matter-of-fact, and vaguely regretful that the whole thing “got out of hand.” He continued his narrative: “Okay, four fifty-eight a.m.—no, I’m sorry. Hold on a minute. Three-ten a.m., Saturday, the first of June, uh, she handwrote what you received. Four fifty-eight, Saturday, the first of June, we became one soul.”
“Became one soul,” Dawn repeated.
“What does that mean?” Hilda asked in the background.
“No questions now,” the caller stated.
But we knew what he meant, despite his assurance that “blessings are near,” and that Shari would be returned the following evening. He even told Dawn to have an ambulance standing by.
“You will receive instructions where to find us.”
For us in Quantico, the most significant part of the taped conversation was his comment on the time: 4:58, then going back to 3:10 a.m. This was confirmed for us by the grim call Hilda answered at noon the next day:
“Listen carefully. Take Highway 378 west to traffic circle. Take Prosperity exit, go one and a half miles, turn right at sign Moose Lodge Number 103, go one-quarter mile, turn left at white-framed building, go to backyard, six feet beyond we’re waiting. God chose us.” Then he hung up.
Sheriff Metts played back the recording, which led him directly to Shari Smith’s body, eighteen miles away in neighboring Saluda County. She was wearing the yellow top and white shorts she’d last been seen in, but the decomposition of the body told the sheriff and medical examiner she’d been dead for several days—since 4:58 on the morning of June 1, we were pretty sure. The condition of the body, in fact, made it impossible to determine the method of killing or whether Shari had been sexually assaulted.
But Jim Wright, Ron Walker, and I were convinced her murderer had strung the family along with hopes for her return just long enough for critical forensic evidence to degrade. The sticky residue of duct tape was on Shari’s face and hair, but the tape itself had been removed—further indication of planning and organization. They don’t generally start out this well organized, which indicated to us an intelligent, somewhat older individual who was returning to the body dump site for some type of sexual gratification. Only when the body had decomposed to the point where a “relationship” was no longer possible would he stop going back there.
The abduction itself, in the middle of the afternoon in a rural, residential area, required a certain degree of finesse and sophistication. We pegged his age at late twenties to early thirties, and I definitely leaned toward the higher end. From the easy cruelty of the mind games he was playing with the family, we agreed among ourselves he’d probably been married early—briefly and unsuccessfully. At present, he’d either be living alone or with his parents. We expected some kind of criminal record—assaults on women, or at least obscene phone calls. If he had any murder priors, it would be children or young girls. Unlike a lot of serial killers, this guy wouldn’t go after prostitutes; he’d be too intimidated by them.
The precise directions and the self-correction about time gave us other important insights. The directions had been carefully thought out and written down. He had gone back to the scene several times and had done exacting measurements. When he called the family, he had been reading from a script! He understood that he had to get his message out and get off the phone as soon as possible. Several times on the phone, he’d lost his place when interrupted and had to begin again. Whoever he was, he was rigid and orderly, meticulous and obsessively neat. He would take notes compulsively and keep lists on everything, and if he lost his place in his notes, he would lose his train of thought as well. We knew he had to have driven to and from the abduction site in front of Shari’s home. I guessed from the personality that his car would be clean and well maintained, three years old or newer. All in all, a mixed presentation of someone whose outward arrogance and contempt for the whole stupid world out there conflicted continually with deep-seated insecurity and feelings of inadequacy.
In this type of case, the crime scene becomes psychologically part of the killing. The geography of the crime also suggested a local man, probably someone who had lived in the area for most or all of his life. For the things he wanted to do with Shari, then with her body, he would need time alone in a secluded area where he knew he would not be disturbed. Only a local would know where those areas would be.
The Signal Analysis Unit of the FBI Engineering Section told us the caller’s voice distortion was accomplished by something they called a variable speed control device. Teletype requests for assistance on tracking down manufacturers and retail outlets went out to field offices throughout the country. We decided from this report that the UNSUB had some sort of background in electronics, and possible employment in the home construction or remodeling field.
The next day, as Bob Smith was making final arrangements with the funeral home for the burial of his younger daughter, the killer called again, this time collect, and demanded to speak to Dawn. He said he would be turning himself in the following morning, and that the photographs he had taken of Shari at the mailbox were in the mail to the Smith family. He self-pityingly asked Dawn for the family’s forgiveness and prayers. He also implied that instead of turning himself in, he was considering committing suicide, lamenting again how “this thing got out of hand and all I wanted to do was make love to Dawn. I’ve been watching her for a couple of—“ “To who?” Dawn interrupted.
“To—I’m sorry, to Shari,” he corrected himself. “And I watched her a couple of weeks, and, uh, it just got out of hand.”
This was the first of several instances in which he would confuse the two sisters, not a difficult thing to do since both girls were pretty, outgoing blondes who looked strikingly alike. Dawn’s picture had been in the newspaper and on television, and whatever appealed to him about Shari probably applied to Dawn as well. Listening to the recordings, it was impossible not to be sickened by this sadistic and monumentally self-indulgent performance. But I knew at that point—as cold and calculating as it may sound—that Dawn could serve as bait to catch the killer.
In a call the same day to a local television anchorman, Charlie Keyes, he reiterated his intention to turn himself in, saying he wanted the popular Keyes to serve as a “medium” and promising him an exclusive interview. Keyes listened, but wisely remained detached and promised the caller nothing.
First of all, I told Lewis McCarty on the phone, he has no intention of surrendering. He isn’t going to kill himself, either. He told Dawn he was a “family friend,” and he’s just psychopathic enough to want the Smiths to understand and empathize with him. We did not believe he knew the family; this was just part of his fantasy of being close to and loved by Shari. He is totally narcissistic, and the longer this goes on, I counseled McCarty, the more reaction he gets from the family, the more comfortable and into the whole experience he becomes. And he will kill again, someone very much like Shari if he can find someone like that, another victim of opportunity if he can’t. The underlying theme of everything he does is power, manipulation, domination, and control.
On the evening of the day of Shari’s funeral, he called again and spoke to Dawn. In a particularly perverse action, he had the operator tell Dawn it was a collect call from Shari. Once again he claimed he was going to turn himself in, then went into a horribly casual and banal description of her death: “So, from about two in the morning from the time she actually knew until she died at four fifty-eight, we talked a lot and everything and she picked the time. She said she was ready to depart, God was ready to accept her as an angel.”
He described having sex with her and said that he’d given her a choice of death—shooting, drug overdose, or suffocation. He said she’d chosen the last one and he’d suffocated her with duct tape over her nose and mouth.
“Why did you have to kill her?” Dawn tearfully demanded.
“It got out of hand. I got scared because, ah, only God knows, Dawn. I don’t know why. God forgive me for this. I hope and I got to straighten it out or he’ll send me to hell and I’ll be there the rest of my life, but I’m not going to be in prison or the electric chair.” Both Dawn and her mother pleaded with the caller to turn himself over to God, rather than kill himself. In my unit, we were pretty damn sure he had no intention of doing either.
Two weeks to the day after Shari Smith was kidnapped, Debra May Helmick was abducted from the yard in front of her parents’ trailer home in Richland County, twenty-four miles from the Smith home. Her father was inside the house at the time, just twenty feet away. A neighbor saw someone pull up in a car, get out and speak with Debra, then suddenly grab her, yank her into the car, and speed off. The neighbor and Mr. Helmick immediately took off after the car, but lost it. Like Shari, Debra was a pretty, blue-eyed blonde. Unlike Shari, she was only nine years old.
Sheriff Metts launched another intense effort to find her. Meanwhile, things were starting to get to me. When you do the kind of work my unit and I do for a living, you have to maintain some degree of distance and objectivity from the case materials and subject matter. Otherwise, you go crazy. And as difficult as that had been in the Smith case so far, this latest horrible development made that all but impossible. Little Debra Helmick was only nine—the same age as my daughter Erika, also a blue-eyed blonde. My second girl, Lauren, was just barely five. Aside from the horrible, gnawing sensation of, “This could have been my child,” there is that understandable feeling of wanting to handcuff your kids to your wrist and never let them out of your sight. When you see what I’ve seen, not actually doing that—giving your children the space and freedom they need to live—is a constant emotional struggle.
Despite the difference in the Smith and Helmick girls’ ages, the timing, circumstances, and modus operandi indicated we were likely dealing with the same offender. I know that both the sheriff’s department and my unit agreed on that. So with somber acceptance of the probability that they now officially had a serial killer on their hands, Lewis McCarty flew up to Quantico and brought all of the case materials with him.
Walker and Wright reviewed all the decisions that had led to the profile and all of the advice they had given. With the added information from the new crime, they saw no reason to change their evaluation.
Despite the voice disguise, our UNSUB was almost assuredly white. These were both sexually based crimes perpetrated by an insecure and inadequate adult male. Both victims were white, and we had found it unusual to see this kind of crime cross racial lines. He would be outwardly shy and polite, have a poor self-image, and would probably be heavyset or overweight, not attractive to women. We told McCarty we would expect our man to be displaying even more compulsive behavior now. Close associates would notice some weight loss, he might be drinking heavily, not shaving regularly, and he would be eager to talk about the murder. Someone this meticulous would be following television reports avidly and collecting newspaper clippings. He would also collect pornography, with a particular emphasis on bondage and sadomasochism. He would now be thoroughly enjoying his celebrity, his sense of power over his victims and the community, his ability to manipulate the grieving Smith family. As I’d feared, when he couldn’t get a victim who matched his fantasies and desires, he went for the most vulnerable victim of opportunity. Because of Shari’s age, she had at least been reasonably approachable. But if he really thought about it, we didn’t think our guy would feel particularly good about Debra Helmick, so we didn’t expect any phone calls to her family.
McCarty went home with a twenty-two-point list of conclusions and characteristics about the subject. When he got back, he said he told Metts, “I know the man. Now all we have to find out is his name.”
As gratifying as his faith in us was, things are seldom so simple. Combined state law enforcement agencies and the Columbia Field Office combed the area, looking for any trace of Debra. But there was no communication, no demands, no fresh evidence. Up in Quantico, we waited for word, trying to prepare ourselves for whatever happened. The empathy you feel for the family of a missing child is almost unbearable. At both SAC Ivey’s and Sheriff Metts’s request, I packed my bags and flew down to Columbia to give on-scene assistance in what promised to be a breaking case. I brought Ron Walker with me. It was the first trip we’d made together since he and Blaine McIlwain had saved my life in Seattle.
Lew McCarty met us at the airport, and we wasted no time, familiarizing ourselves with the various scenes. McCarty drove us to each of the abduction sites. It was hot and humid, even by our Virginia standards. There were no overt signs of struggle in front of either home. The Smith body dump site was just that—the murder had clearly taken place elsewhere. But seeing the locations, I was more convinced than ever that our UNSUB had to know the area intimately, and even though several of the calls to the Smiths had been long distance, he had to be a local.
There was a meeting at the sheriff’s department for the key people on the case. Sheriff Metts had a large and impressive office—about thirty feet long with twelve-foot-high ceilings, and walls completely covered with plaques and certificates and memorabilia; everything he’d ever done in his life was up on those walls, from testimonials for solving murders to appreciation from the Girl Scouts. He sat behind his massive desk with the rest of us—Ron and me, Bob Ivey, and Lew McCarty—in a semicircle around him.
“He’s stopped calling the Smiths,” Metts lamented.
“I’ll get him to call again,” I said.
I told them the profile should provide a valuable aid in the police investigation, but I thought we also needed to try to force him quickly into the open and explained some of the proactive techniques I had in mind. I asked if there was a local newspaper reporter who’d cooperate with us. It wasn’t a question of censorship or giving him or her direct orders what to write, but it had to be someone sympathetic with what we were trying to accomplish who wouldn’t be all hot to break our backs, as so many journalists seem to be.
Metts suggested Margaret O’Shea from the Columbia State newspaper. She agreed to come to the office, where Ron and I tried to educate her about the criminal personality and how we thought this individual would react.
He would be closely following the press, we told her, especially any story featuring Dawn. We knew from our research that these types often went back to the crime scenes or grave sites of their victims. I told her that with the right type of story, I thought we could entice him into the open and trap him. At the very least, we hoped we could get him to start calling again. I told her we had had close cooperation from members of the press in the Tylenol poisonings, and that had served as a model of the way we wanted things to be.
O’Shea agreed to give us the kind of coverage we wanted. McCarty then took me to meet the Smiths and explain what I wanted them to do. What I had in mind, essentially, was using Dawn to bait our trap. Robert Smith was extremely nervous about this, not wanting to place his remaining daughter in jeopardy. As concerned as I was about this ploy, I felt it represented our best shot and tried to reassure Mr. Smith that Shari’s killer was a coward and would not come after Dawn amidst such intense publicity and scrutiny. And having studied the phone recordings, I was convinced Dawn was smart and courageous enough to do what I wanted her to.
Dawn took me into Shari’s room, which they had left intact from the last time she was there. As you might expect, this is common among families who’ve lost a child suddenly and tragically. The first thing that struck me was Shari’s collection of stuffed koala bears—all shapes and sizes and colors. Dawn said the collection was important to Shari, and all her friends knew that.
I spent a long time in the room, trying to get a feel for Shari as she must have been. Her killer was definitely catchable. We just had to make the right choices. After some time, I picked up a tiny koala, the kind whose arms open and close as you squeeze its shoulders. I explained to the family that in a few days—just enough time to get full newspaper coverage—we would hold a memorial service at Shari’s grave at Lexington Memorial Cemetery, during which Dawn would attach the stuffed animal to a bouquet of flowers. I thought we had a good chance of drawing the killer to the service, and an even better chance of having him return to the scene after the ceremony was over to take the koala as a tangible souvenir of Shari.
Margaret O’Shea understood just the kind of press we needed and had the paper send a photographer to the service. Since there was no gravestone yet, we’d had a white wooden lectern constructed with Shari’s picture laminated to the front. In turn, the family members stood at the grave and offered prayers for Shari and Debra. Then Dawn held up Shari’s little koala and attached it by the arms to the stem of a rose from one of the bouquets that had been sent to the cemetery. Altogether, it was an extremely emotional and moving experience. While the Smiths spoke and a group of photographers took pictures for the local press, Metts’s men quietly took down license numbers of all cars passing by. The one thing that bothered me was that the grave site was so close to the road. I thought such an unsecluded spot might intimidate the perpetrator from coming up close and also allow him to see what he wanted from the road. But we could do nothing about that.
Pictures appeared in the paper the next day. Shari’s killer didn’t come for the koala bear that night as we’d hoped. I think the proximity to the road did scare him. But he did call again. Shortly after midnight, Dawn answered the phone for another collect call “from Shari Faye Smith.” After establishing that it was, in fact, Dawn on the line, and making sure that “you know this isn’t a hoax, correct?” he made his most chilling pronouncement thus far: “Okay, you know, God wants you to join Shari Faye. It’s just a matter of time. This month, next month, this year, next year. You can’t be protected all the time.” Then he asked her if she had heard about Debra May Helmick.
“The ten-year-old? H-E-L-M-I-C-K?”
“Uh, Richland County?”
“Okay, listen carefully. Go One north . . . well, One west, turn left at Peach Festival Road or Bill’s Grill, go three and a half miles through Gilbert, turn right, last dirt road before you come to stop sign at Two Notch Road, go through chain and No Trespassing sign, go fifty yards, and to the left, go ten yards. Debra May is waiting. God forgive us all.” He was getting bolder and cockier, no longer using the voice-altering device. Despite the overt threat against her life, Dawn did her best to hold him on the line as long as possible, brilliantly keeping her wits about her and demanding the pictures of her sister he’d promised were coming but which had never arrived.
“Apparently the FBI must have them,” he said defensively, acknowledging his understanding of our role in the case.
“No, sir,” Dawn shot back, “because when they have something, we get it, too, you know. Are you going to send them?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied noncommittally.
“I think you’re jerking me around because you said they were coming and they’re not here.”
We were getting closer, but the responsibility of having placed Dawn in more danger was weighing heavily on me. While Ron and I helped the local authorities, the technicians at the SLED laboratories in Columbia were subjecting their only piece of hard evidence—Shari’s last will and testament—to every imaginable test. It had been written on lined paper from a legal pad, which gave one analyst an idea.
Using a device called an Esta machine, which can detect almost microscopically slight impressions made on the paper from sheets that had been higher up in the pad, he detected a partial grocery list and what seemed to be a string of numbers. Eventually, he was able to make out nine numerals of a ten-number sequence: 205-837-13_8.
The area code for Alabama is 205, and 837 is a Huntsville exchange. Working with Southern Bell’s Security Division, SLED went through all ten possible phone numbers in Huntsville, then cross-checked to see if any of them related back to the Columbia-Lexington County region. One of them had received multiple calls from a residence just fifteen miles from the Smith home, several weeks before Shari was kidnapped. This was the biggest lead yet. According to municipal records, the house belonged to a middle-aged couple, Ellis and Sharon Sheppard.
Armed with this information, McCarty took several deputies and raced to the Sheppard home. Its occupants were cordial and friendly, but other than that the fifty-odd-year-old Ellis was an electrician, nothing about him fit our profile. The Sheppards had been happily married for many years and had none of the background we had predicted in the killer. They acknowledged making the calls to Huntsville, where their son was stationed in the Army, but said they had been out of town when both horrible murders had been committed. After such a promising forensic lead, it was a disappointing outcome.
But McCarty had spent considerable time working with us and had faith that the profile was accurate. He described it to the Sheppards, then asked them if they knew anyone who might fit it.
They looked at each other in a moment of instant recognition. That would be Larry Gene Bell, they agreed.
Under McCarty’s careful questioning, they proceeded to tell the undersheriff all about Bell. He was in his early thirties—divorced with a son who lived with his ex-wife, shy and heavyset, he worked for Ellis doing electrical wiring at various houses and other odd jobs. Meticulous and organized, he had house-sat for them the six weeks they’d been away, after which he’d gone back to live with his parents, with whom he’d been staying. Sharon Sheppard recalled writing their son’s phone number on a writing pad for Gene, as they called him, in case anything came up with the house while Gene was there. And now that they thought about it, when he’d picked them up at the airport, all he’d wanted to talk about was the kidnapping and murder of the Smith girl. They had been surprised by his appearance when they saw him: he had lost weight, was unshaven, and seemed highly agitated.
McCarty asked Mr. Sheppard if he had a gun. He kept a loaded .38 pistol at home for protection, Ellis replied. McCarty asked to see it, and Ellis obligingly took him to where he kept the weapon. But it wasn’t there. The two men looked all over the house and finally found it—under the mattress of the bed Gene had slept on. It had been fired and was currently jammed. Also under the mattress was a copy of Hustler magazine, showing a beautiful blonde in bondage in a crucified position. And when McCarty played a portion of one of the telephone calls to Dawn, Ellis was sure it was Larry Gene Bell’s voice he was listening to: “No doubt about it.” At about two a.m., Ron Walker knocked on my door and got me out of bed. He’d just gotten a call from McCarty, who told us about Larry Gene Bell and asked us to come to the office right away. We all matched up the evidence and the profile. It was uncanny how accurately he fit. This looked like a bull’s-eye. Sheriff’s photos showed a car registered to Bell on the road near the grave site, but the driver had not gotten out.
Metts planned to have Bell arrested as he left for work in the morning and wanted advice from me on how to conduct the interrogation. Behind the office was a trailer the department had obtained in a drug raid that they used as an auxiliary office. At my suggestion, they quickly turned it into a “task force” headquarters for the case. They put case photographs and maps of the crime scenes on the walls and stacked the desks high with folders and case materials. I told them to man the trailer with busy-looking cops to give the impression of a tremendous amount of evidence amassed against the killer.
Getting a confession would be difficult, we warned them. South Carolina was a capital punishment state, and at the very least, the guy would expect a long prison term doing hard time as a child molester and killer—not exactly the optimum circumstances for someone who values his life and bodily integrity. The best hope, I felt, would be some face-saving scenario—either trying to put some of the blame on the victims themselves, as offensive as that would be to the interrogators, or getting him to explain himself away with an insanity defense. Accused people with no other way out often jump at this, even though, statistically, juries rarely go for it.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Larry Gene Bell early in the morning as he left his parents’ home for work. Jim Metts carefully watched his face as he was brought into the “task force” trailer. “It was like a whitewash came over his face,” the sheriff reported. “It put him in the proper psychological perspective.” He was Mirandized and waived his rights, agreeing to talk to the investigators.
The officers went at him most of the day while Ron and I waited in Metts’s office, receiving bulletins on the progress and coaching them on what to do next. Meanwhile, deputies armed with a search warrant were examining Bell’s home. As we could have predicted, his shoes were lined up perfectly under his bed, his desk was meticulously arranged, even the tools in the trunk of his three-year-old, well-maintained car were arranged just so. On his desk they found directions to his parents’ house written out in precisely the same manner as the directions he’d given to the Smith and Helmick body dump sites. They found more bondage and S&M pornography as we’d expected. Technicians found hairs on his bed that would match up with Shari’s, and the commemorative stamp used to mail her last will and testament matched a sheet in his desk drawer. And when his photograph was subsequently shown on the TV news, the witness to Debra Helmick’s abduction recognized him immediately.
His background quickly emerged. As we’d predicted, he had been involved in various sexual incidents since childhood, which had finally gotten out of hand when he was twenty-six and tried to force a nineteen-year-old married woman into his car at knifepoint. To avoid going to prison, he had agreed to psychiatric counseling, but quit after two sessions. Five months later he tried to force a college girl into his car at gunpoint. He received a five-year prison term and was paroled after twenty-one months. While on probation, he made more than eighty obscene phone calls to a ten-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty and only got more probation.
But back at the trailer, Bell wasn’t talking. He denied any involvement with the crimes, admitting only that he had been interested in them. Even after they played the tapes for him, he was unresponsive. After about six hours, he said he wanted to talk to Sheriff Metts personally. Metts came in and again advised him of his rights, but he wouldn’t confess to anything.
So, late in the afternoon, Ron and I are still in the sheriff’s office when Metts and District Attorney Don Meyers (called the county solicitor in South Carolina) come in with Bell. He’s fat and soft and reminds me of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Ron and I are both surprised, and Meyers says to Bell in his Carolina accent, “Do you know who these boys are? These boys are from the F-B-I. You know, they did a profile and it fits you right down to a tee! Now these boys want to talk to you for a little bit.” They put him on this white sofa against the wall, then they both go out, leaving us alone with Bell.
I’m sitting on the edge of the coffee table directly in front of Bell. Ron is standing behind me. I’m still wearing what I’d left the motel in long before daybreak, which is a white shirt and practically matching white trousers. I call it my Harry Belafonte outfit, but in this context, in the white room with the white sofa, I look kind of clinical; almost otherworldly.
I start giving Bell some of the background on our serial-killer study and make it clear to him that from our research, I understand perfectly the motivation of the individual responsible for these homicides. I tell him he may have been denying the crimes all day because he’s trying to repress thoughts he doesn’t feel good about.
I say, “Going into the penitentiaries and interviewing all these subjects, one of the things we’ve found is that the truth almost never gets out about the background of the person. And generally when a crime like this happens, it’s like a nightmare to the person who commits it. They’re going through so many precipitating stressors in their life—financial problems, marital problems, or problems with a girlfriend.” And as I’m saying this, he’s nodding as if he’s got all these problems.
Then I say, “The problem for us, Larry, is that when you go to court, your attorney probably isn’t going to want you to take the stand, and you’ll never have the opportunity to explain yourself. All they’ll know about you is the bad side of you, nothing good about you, just that you’re a cold-blooded killer. And as I say, we’ve found that very often when people do this kind of thing, it is like a nightmare, and when they wake up the next morning, they can’t believe they’ve actually committed this crime.” All the time I’m talking, Bell is still nodding his head in agreement.
I don’t ask him outright at that point if he did the murders, because I know if I phrase it that way, I’ll get a denial. So I lean in close and say to him, “When did you first start feeling bad about the crime, Larry?”
And he says, “When I saw a photograph and read a newspaper article about the family praying in the cemetery.”
Then I say, “Larry, as you’re sitting here now, did you do this thing? Could you have done it?” In this type of setting, we try to stay away from accusatory or inflammatory words like kill,crime, and murder.
He looks up at me with tears in his eyes and says, “All I know is that the Larry Gene Bell sitting here couldn’t have done this, but the bad Larry Gene Bell could have.”
I knew that that was as close as we would come to a confession. But Don Meyers wanted us to try one more thing, and I agreed with him. He thought if Bell were confronted face-to-face by Shari’s mother and sister, we might get an instantaneous reaction from him.
Hilda and Dawn agree to this, and I prepare them for what I want them to say and how I want them to act. So then we’re in Metts’s office. He’s sitting behind his huge desk, Ron Walker and I are on either side of the room, forming a triangle. They bring in Bell and sit him in the middle, facing the door. Then they bring in Hilda and Dawn and tell Bell to say something. He keeps his head down, as if he can’t bring himself to look at them.
But as I’ve instructed her, Dawn looks him straight in the eye and says, “It’s you! I know it’s you. I recognize your voice.”
He doesn’t deny it, but neither does he admit it. He starts giving them back all the stuff I’d given him to get him to talk. He says the Larry Gene Bell sitting here couldn’t have done it and all the other bullshit. I’m still hoping he’ll seize on the possibility of an insanity defense and spill his guts out to them.
This goes on awhile. Mrs. Smith keeps asking him questions, trying to bring him out. Inside, I’m sure everyone is sick to their stomachs having to listen to this.
Then suddenly, I have this flash. I wonder if Dawn or Hilda is armed. Were they checked out to see if they had a gun, because I don’t remember anyone doing this. So the whole time now, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, practically bouncing on the balls of my feet, ready to grab a gun and disarm either of them if one starts reaching into a purse. I know what I’d want to do in a situation like this if it were my child, and a lot of other parents feel the same way. This is the perfect opportunity to kill this guy, and no jury in the world would convict them.
Fortunately, Dawn and Hilda had not tried to smuggle in a weapon. They had more restraint and faith in the system than I might have had, but Ron checked afterward, and they hadn’t been searched.
Larry Gene Bell stood trial for the murder of Shari Faye Smith late the following January. Because of the huge amount of publicity, the venue was changed to Berkeley County, near Charleston. Don Meyers asked me to testify as an expert witness about the profile and how it was developed, and about my interrogation of the defendant.
Bell didn’t take the stand and never again admitted any blame. What he’d said to me in Sheriff Metts’s office was the closest he ever came. He spent most of the trial taking copious, compulsive notes on the same kind of legal pad that Shari Smith’s last will and testament had been written on. Yet the state’s case was pretty convincing. After almost a month of testimony, the jury needed only forty-seven minutes to return the verdict of guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. Four days later, upon the further deliberation and recommendation of the jury, he was sentenced to death by electrocution. He was tried separately for the kidnapping and murder of Debra May Helmick. That jury didn’t need much longer to come up with the same verdict and punishment.
From my perspective, the Larry Gene Bell case was an example of law enforcement at its best. There was tremendous cooperation between many county, state, and federal agencies; sensitive and energetic local leadership; two heroic families; and a perfect symbiosis between profiling and crime analysis and traditional police and forensic techniques. Working together, all of these factors stopped an increasingly dangerous serial killer early in his potential career. I’d like it to be a model for future investigations.
Dawn Smith went on to do impressive things with her life. The year after the trial, she won the title of Miss South Carolina and was a runner-up in the Miss America pageant. She married and pursued her musical ambitions and became a country and gospel singer. I see her on television from time to time.
As of this writing, Larry Gene Bell remains on death row at the South Carolina Central Correctional Facility where he keeps his cell remarkably neat and orderly. Police believe he is responsible for a number of other murders of girls and young women in both North and South Carolina. As far as I’m concerned, based on my research and experience, there is no possibility of rehabilitating this type of individual. If he is ever let out, he will kill again. And for those who argue that such a long stay on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, I might agree with them up to a point. Delaying imposition of the ultimate penalty is cruel and unusual—to the Smith and Helmick families, the many who knew and loved these two girls, and all the rest of us who want to see justice done.