By Katie McLaughlin
COLUMBIA, Mo. (Court TV) — Opening statements and testimony began today in the trial of Lynlee Renick, the woman accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband, Ben Renick — a prominent snake breeder who was beloved by the reptile community.
A SHOCKING DISCOVERY
Ben’s body was discovered on June 8, 2017 in a warehouse on the farm where his snakes were kept. Lynlee had dialed 911 and then called Ben’s brother Sam, who lived on the same piece of property — 72-acres of land that had been in the family for years.
Sam found Ben lying on his stomach. His skull had been crushed. Sam thought an anaconda had gotten loose and attacked his brother. Police showed up prepared to shoot the anaconda.
It wasn’t until he spoke to the medical examiner that Sam learned, to his shock, that Ben had been shot eight times. He had a contact gun wound to the head, meaning the muzzle of the gun was actually touching his head when the trigger was pulled.
Family and friends surmised that the only possible motive anyone might have for killing Ben would be theft. They thought maybe someone knew the value of his snake collection and that it had been a robbery gone wrong.
‘THE JOHNNY DEPP OF PYTHONS’
Just 29 years old at the time of his death, the tight-knit reptile community adored Ben. His death devastated them.
“He was like the Johnny Depp of pythons,” Ben’s friend Matthew Edmonds said in Mystery on a Snake Farm: A Court TV Special. “He could do no wrong. The guy was amazing.”
Ben designed species and his understanding of genetics allowed him to breed snakes of varying colors and patterns. So it stood to reason that upon his death, Ben’s reptile friends’ first question was: How many snakes are missing?
A FAMILY MAN FIRST
Ben, however, was described by those who knew him as a family man first and foremost. Raised in the small town of New Florence, Missouri, about an hour east of Columbia, he owned the family property.
Upon his death, investigators focused on Lynlee and Sam. Naturally, they were the first suspects because they were the people closest to Ben and they were there when the body was found.
Lynlee was the main suspect from day one, although the family was adamant that she was not involved. In fact, they thought Ben’s death might possibly be related to his family’s past.
Ben and Sam’s father, Frank Renick, ran a very successful pet food business by the name of Spectrum. Because of that business, the boys grew up wealthy.
But in 2012, Frank was indicted on fraud charges. He was alleged to have convinced hundreds of people to invest millions of dollars in Spectrum. Frank allegedly used that money for personal expenses as well as paying off other investors — a pyramid scheme of sorts. People lost millions.
Faced with a federal indictment on financial-related charges and the possibility of 20 years in prison, 62-year-old Frank died by suicide. His body was discovered on Father’s Day 2012.
Ben’s death was not connected to his father’s business dealings, but it wasn’t long after Frank’s death that Ben met Lynlee. Family and friends recalled that the two fell madly in love.
Lynlee had a son whom Ben accepted as his own, and the couple soon welcomed a daughter. Ben and Lynlee married in 2014. Lynlee got involved with the snake business but she was also a trained massage therapist and wished to open a spa. Ben funded it.
By all accounts, the family was living a peaceful, idyllic life — which is why Ben’s 2017 murder was particularly shocking.
While family and friends of Ben and Lynlee were convinced that she could never have harmed her husband, they did find some of Lynlee’s actions suspicious. She distanced herself from them, but they chalked her behavior up to the grieving process and figured it was her method of moving on.
Just six months after Ben’s death, Lynlee announced on social media that she was in a new relationship. She had another baby and sold the Renick family’s land for almost $800,000 — while Sam and his wife and children were still living on the property.
It wasn’t until much later that they learned that, according to Mystery on a Snake Farm: A Court TV Special, Lynlee had failed a polygraph in October 2017.
Ben’s family and friends were frustrated when two and a half years went by and no arrests were made. Sam checked in with the Missouri Highway patrol on a weekly basis to find out if there were any breaks in the case.
Details about Lynlee allegedly having cheated on Ben during their marriage started trickling in, but police still didn’t have the evidence they needed in order to make an arrest.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
A break in the case came when a man by the name of Brandon Blackwell approached the Missouri Highway Patrol. Blackwell told police that he was in a relationship with Lynlee both before and after Ben died. Blackwell also fathered a child with Lynlee after Ben’s death.
Lynlee and Blackwell broke up in the fall of 2019. The former couple were embroiled in a custody battle when Blackwell told police that Lynlee had recruited another former lover, Michael Humphrey, to kill Ben.
The motive was money. According to Blackwell, Lynlee thought Ben was going to leave her and take the kids because her spa business had failed and she was facing a mountain of debt and outstanding bills.
Additionally, Ben had a million dollar life insurance policy of which Lynlee was the beneficiary. According to prosecutors, Lynlee had inquired with the insurance company about a payout within 24 hours of Ben’s death.
At the time of his death, Ben was in the process of selling off a portion of the snake breeding business that was to amass him an additional $1.2 million.
According to Blackwell, Lynlee confessed her entire story to him: She and Humphrey confronted Ben in the snake warehouse. Lynlee decided she would be the one to pull the trigger.
Blackwell also told police that Lynlee and a spa employee named Ashley Shaw had attempted to kill Ben once before — they had laced his protein drink with Percocet. Shaw then helped Lynlee plot Ben’s shooting death. Shaw denied any involvement at first, but when faced with murder charges, she agreed to cooperate with authorities in exchange for immunity.
On January 16, 2020, Lynlee and Humphrey were arrested and charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Lynlee insisted she was innocent and maintains so to this day. Lynlee was released to house arrest under electronic surveillance.
There was no physical evidence to corroborate Blackwell and Shaw’s stories until another break in the case came in October of 2020. During a routine pretrial hearing, the prosecution announced that they’d found the murder weapon.
Meanwhile, Humphrey, who was convicted of first-degree murder earlier this year, has agreed to testify against Lynlee in exchange for a reduced sentence.
If convicted, Lynlee Renick, now 33, faces life in prison.
Court TV’s Anna Armas contributed to this report.