true crime

In 1985, Shari Smith was kidnapped from her driveway. Soon after, the phone calls started.

Shari Smith was 17 years old when she was abducted by a stranger at gunpoint on May 31, 1985. 

The teenager, just two days away from her high school graduation was only 700 metres from her house when she hopped out of her vehicle to check her mailbox. 

Moments later, her car was found abandoned with the engine still running and her mail scattered on the ground. 

Shari Smith's family. Image: Talk Murder With Me.


Shari's parents Bob and Hila Smith contacted police who launched an investigation immediately. 

The bright, blonde and bubbly teen whose life was only just beginning had been preparing for a class trip to the Bahamas following her graduation.

Sadly, her parents would never get to watch their daughter finish high school or send her off to college because just two days after before Shari mysteriously disappeared, they received a phone call from her abductor.

Taunting them, he told the family Shari was alive and well. He told them they'd receive mail soon that would reveal the teen's whereabouts.

A day later, a letter would come but not one the family was prepared for: a handwritten will and testament from Shari that made it clear she was about to die at the hands of her abductor.

Shari Smith's letter to her family. Image: YouTube.


She emphasised to her family how much she loved them and requested they not let what was about to happen to her ruin their lives. Disturbingly, she asked to have a closed casket at her funeral.

He enjoyed taunting the teenager's family and specifically requested to speak to Shari's mother and sister, Dawn. According to Forensic Files, Hilda had a "soft, feminine way about her" that drew her abductor in.

Less than two weeks later on June 14, 1985, nine-year-old Debra May Helmick was snatched from outside her home. Even then, the man behind the kidnappings continued to taunt Shari's mother and sister.

FBI criminal profiler John Douglas was brought onto the case to help and he realised quickly that the person behind the abduction was "no amateur".

"He was fairly criminally sophisticated and educated streetwise. You don’t start off with this type of case," the investigator told AETV"You would have a history of other sexual assaults and possibly abduction attempts."


Shari Faye Smith was 17 years old when she was abducted. Image: YouTube.

Eventually, he gave instructions on where to find Debra and Shari's bodies. Police believed Shari was murdered within 12 hours of being abducted.


Dawn described her sister "as so full of life" and said she had a great sense of humour.

"She was so talented, an amazing singer and she had the personality [where] she was a friend to everybody," she told the What It Was Like podcast.

"Our lives were so sheltered and this is not something that anything like this would happen to your family, your sister, to you," she continued.

Police ended up arresting four people for making false claims or trying to extort money from the families, but after examining the note Shari had written and addressed to her parents and siblings, they were able to to pick up an indentation of a phone number on the paper.

This revelation led to the police tracking down a south Carolina couple, Ellis and Sharon Sheppard, who were able to prove they were not the ones behind the abduction.

However, Ellis was able to listen to the audio from the phone calls and realised the voice behind it was Larry Gene Bell who had done some work for him as an electrician and house-sat for them.

On June 27, 1985, police stopped Larry on his way to work. They soon discovered that he had a history of making disturbing phone calls and was the perpetrator of other sinister crimes.

He, however, did not admit to their murders initially even though police brought in Hilda and Dawn to guilt him into confessing.


It wasn't until interrogators persuaded Larry into believing he had a dissociative identity disorder that he said "the bad Larry Gene Ball" had committed the crime.

The FBI crime profiler said that criminals like Larry "make it seem dreamlike. They did a crime, but they don't remember doing it. It's like two sides to their personality. They have a good side and the bad side."

While it's not clear when his history of assault, kidnapping and murder began, he did have a criminal history of attempting to abduct young women. 

For one crime where he attempted to grab someone, he spent three years behind bars. 

For the rape and murder of Shari, he was found guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. Larry was sentenced to death. In another trial for Debra, he received the same sentence.

When the trial ended, The State said "it was a little like the circus leaving town," as the convicted murderer had put on an elaborate act to make it seem like he had no control over his actions.

He cackled, and the jurors referred to his defence lawyer as a "professional teddy bear" who "takes care of me" and apparently "shook with laughter, cried silently, watched the courtroom clock, and cracked his knuckles," according to the Columbia Record.

Feature Image: YouTube.