4 October1996 – Larry Gene Bell
His name is Larry Gene Bell and the American was sent to his death for murdering the sister of a former beauty queen hailing from South Carolina, among others.
28 days later
His evil activities spanned a mere 28 days and in that time, he did enough to earn the lurid title of serial killer in many people’s eyes. He would kidnap his intended prey, then rape them and ultimately kill them by suffocating them.
He was caught not a moment too soon, especially as he’d already managed to bag three victims, plus he had the assault of another victim, Dale Sauls, under his belt.
Bell was found guilty in 1987 of murdering his youngest victim Debra May Helmick, who was just nine and 17-year-old Shari Smith, who was the sister of Miss South Carolina, Dawn Smith Jordan.
In a cruel twist he even forced Smith to write her own will, which he promptly posted to her family before haranguing them with torturous phone calls about their beloved girl.
Poignantly, the girl wrote with a sense of foreboding as if she knew she was going to die:
‘I know y’all love me and will miss me very much but if you stick together like we always did – y’all can do it!’
She went on to ask that the casket be closed, ominously, in case something happened to her. And it did. Five days after she had first disappeared, Bell gave the family a bell and told them where the body was.
Bodies of evidence
Sure enough, they located the body and, according to Rita Y Shuler in her book ‘Murder in the Midlands’, she’d already begun to decompose due to extreme temperatures and the fact that she’d been dead a few days – probably killed the day after she’d first been abducted. Debra May Helmick was to follow.
So how was he caught?
Ironically it was Smith’s last will and testament that held the key to the perpetrator’s identity. According to ‘Palmeto Predators’ by Mark R Jones, the writing paper was put through an Esta machine, which threw up the imprint of some numbers. These numbers were matched to a phone number, which led the police straight to an address where Bell had been house-sitting.
The murderer was hauled in for questioning and the sheriff commented that ‘it was like a whitewash came over his face’. That was just 28 days after he’d started committing the crimes.
From then on it was a rollercoaster to trial just five months later. His initial trial was halted because there had been seriously bad publicity surrounding the gruesome activities, naturally. It was felt that this local publicity would have thwarted any hopes of a fair trial.
Two new trials kicked off elsewhere in January 1986 – one for Smith and one for Helmick and the jury in the former trial took a mere 12 minutes to send him down.
Hell’s for Bell
Naturally, the killer, who’d already proven how elusive he could be, began his spate of appeals, pleading the Sixth Amendment – ie he asserted that he’d been denied effective legal counsel – as well as being incompetent to stand trial, among other things. But his bid to diss his legal representation was rejected, as were all the other claims.
With all hopes of reprieve dashed, this left him with one decision: how to die.
Given the unenviable choice of lethal injection and the chair, 46-year-old Bell opted to be fried and ended his days in the fiery clutches of South Carolina’s Old Sparky.