Shari Faye Smith, 17, and Debra May Helmick, 9, were kidnapped and murdered in neighbouring South Carolina counties in the summer of 1985. For weeks, their assailant tormented police and the Smith family. However, Shari Smith’s killer was eventually found thanks to a piece of evidence she left behind.
When 17-year-old Shari Faye Smith and 9-year-old Debra Helmick were kidnapped and murdered two weeks apart in 1985, the state of South Carolina was terrified. The authorities suspected it was the same killer because he called the families and provided specific instructions on how to recover the remains, despite the fact that the victims were unrelated and from neighbouring counties.
‘Murder Calls: The Devil’s Voice,’ a documentary on Investigation Discovery, explores the terrible murders and demonstrates how outstanding police work helped investigators apprehend the offender.
Let’s look at the specifics of this incident and try to figure out where the murderer is right now.
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What Happened to Shari Faye Smith and Debra Helmick?
Shari Faye Smith was 17 at the time of her murder and lived in Lexington, South Carolina, with her family. Shari, who was described as a kindhearted girl and a talented student, was enamoured with life and looking forward to a bright future after graduating from high school.
Shari was also a talented singer who is still sadly missed. Debra Helmick, on the other hand, was a 9-year-old from Richland County. She was a vibrant and joyful young lady who was adored by both her friends and loved ones.
The unexpected and terrible nature of her death astounded locals, who couldn’t comprehend why somebody would harm a tiny girl.
On May 31, 1985, Shari Faye Smith went missing while returning home from a pool party. She successfully exited the party and even drove up to the end of her driveway, but she vanished when she went outside to check her mailbox.
Her father later discovered her car with the driver’s door open and the engine still running, but no trace of the missing girl. Despite Shari’s family’s haste in filing a missing person report, the 17-year-old remained unaccounted for three days until a mysterious phone call informed her that she had been kidnapped and that she would be receiving a letter through the mail.
The correspondence was later discovered to be a farewell letter, in which the killer had forced Shari to say her goodbyes to her loved ones.
The mocking calls from her assailant continued until her family was guided to a location in Saluda County, where Shari’s body was discovered. The perpetrator smothered Shari by wrapping duct tape across her face, and it was later discovered.
On June 14, 1985, 9-year-old Debra May Helmick was outside her Richland County, South Carolina, home, having fun with her brothers, when a car pulled up, and the driver snatched her in broad daylight. The authorities attempted everything they could to find Debra’s kidnapper and return her home safely, but they were unable.
Debra’s family began receiving harassing phone calls as well, until one of them gave detailed instructions on how to recover her body. Debra, too, was choked to death with duct tape across her face, which was surprising.
Who was Responsible for the Deaths of Shari Faye Smith and Debra Helmick?
Despite the fact that Shari Smith and Debra Helmick were unconnected, their killings followed the same pattern, leading authorities to think that a single person was responsible for both.
However, the initial inquiry took a long time because the abductor was diligent in concealing his tracks and looked to have meticulously planned every move. Furthermore, even when calling the victims’ relatives, the kidnapper changed his voice and utilised payphones to avoid being traced.
The sheet of paper on which the killer forced Shari Smith to write a farewell message provided authorities with a startling breakthrough as the investigation progressed. Officers were desperate for leads and scanned the paper for any leftover indentations, recovering numerous incomplete phone digits.
It took a long time for detectives to piece together the digits into a usable phone number, but one of the numbers was eventually traced to an old couple who claimed it belonged to their son.
However, none of them appeared to be capable of murder, so the cops decided to describe the killer’s profile that the FBI had devised. The elderly couple recognised the description right away and referred investigators to Larry Bell, an electrician who would occasionally house sit for them when they were out of town.
The cops quickly obtained a search warrant for Larry’s residence, where they discovered blonde hair strands that were microscopically identical to Shari’s. As a result, the police apprehended Larry and charged him with murder, confident in his involvement in the atrocities.
How Was Killer Larry Bell Executed?
Larry Bell tried to simulate insanity during his trial for the murder of Shari Faye Smith, according to the show. In 1986, however, a jury found him guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.
Larry was tried for Debra Helmick’s murder the following year, and he was found guilty for the second time of first-degree murder and kidnapping.
Larry was also a suspect in the disappearances of Sandee Cornett and Denise Porch, according to the episode, though he was never prosecuted with them.
When given the option of a fatal injection or the electric chair, Larry selected the latter, and on October 4, 1996, at the age of 46, he was electrocuted to death.
I can’t comprehend the Smith family’s nightmare, which is why Shari’s parents and siblings’ extraordinary response to this horrible tragedy leaves me speechless.
What may have ripped apart another family seems to bring Shari’s family closer together. Shari’s family established a scholarship in her honour, and Shari’s mother and sister penned moving books in her honour.
Shari’s father said it best when he said that Shari’s last will and testament gave more closure than any judgement or execution. He said, “She knew where she was going.” Shari confronted her dying with elegance and dignity, armed with her unwavering faith.
Her final altruistic gesture assisted in the capture of a murderer, and her dying words of peace and love are incredibly inspirational.
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