Larry Gene Bell: The Sadist Who Abducted & Murdered Shari Smith and Debra May Helmick

In 1985, two girls were kidnapped and murdered by Larry Gene Bell. He then called their families for several weeks and described their killings. 

The lives of two different South Carolina families changed forever in 1985 when their daughters were abducted and gruesomely killed.

Investigation Discovery will air their case on an episode of Murder Calls on Thursday, March 24, 2018, at 9:00 p.m.


Sharon “Shari” Smith from Lexington and Debra May Helmick from Richland were abducted in broad daylight in front of their respective homes and tortured by Larry Gene Bell before he killed them.

Abduction and Murder of Shari Smith

Sharon “Shari” Faye Smith, 17, was just days away from her Lexington High School graduation.

On May 31, 1985, she drove home from a pool party and pulled up to her mailbox, which was several feet away from her house.

Her father was working in his home office and saw her car running outside. He waited for her to get inside the house, but when she didn’t, he went out to the mailbox.

He saw that her car door was open, and the engine was running. Her purse was inside, but his daughter was nowhere to be seen.

Because of her diabetes diagnosis, he knew that she wouldn’t go far without her medication.

Shari Smith was abducted at gunpoint on Platt Springs Road. Officials searched but had no luck.

Three days later, the Smith family received a phone call at around 2:30 a.m.

The caller apologized for abducting their daughter and said they would get a letter from her soon, which police found in the post office.

At the top of a sheet of yellow legal paper, Smith wrote, “Last Will and Testament.”

In the letter, Smith said that she loved her family and friends and wrote, “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.”

She had a positive tone and quickly quipped about having a closed casket.

Letter Written by Shari Smith

Letter written by Shari Smith (Photo:

According to reports, Larry Gene Bell, who previously served time in jail for rape and harassment, made eight phone calls to the Smith family. He often spoke with Dawn Smith, Sheri’s older sister.

Bell also told the family that the 17-year-old was alive, but he actually murdered her within 12 hours of the kidnapping. He also described how he sodomized and raped the teen, then wrapped her head in duct tape and suffocated her.

During a phone call, Bell told Smith’s mother, “Shari is now part of me. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, our souls are now one.”

Authorities tried to trace the call, which led them to a public phone 20 miles away. But there were no signs of the kidnapper, and the receiver was dangling off the hook.

On June 5, Bell gave the exact location and directions to Smith’s body. He described in detail how he murdered her.

The teenager’s body was found 18 miles away from town. It was in such bad condition due to decomposition that it was hard to determine her cause of death.

Autopsy results couldn’t figure out if she was raped as Bell claimed. However, it was believed that she suffocated to death or died of dehydration, possibly connected to her rare form of diabetes.

Even after she was located, Bell continued to call the Smith family. He taunted them with details of her captivity and discussed funeral arrangements.

Abduction and Murder of Debra May Helmick

On June 14, 1985, two weeks after Sheri Smith’s kidnapping, nine-year-old Debra May Helmick was outside her house, playing with her younger siblings.

A car drove up near Old Percival Road in Richland County, South Carolina outside her house, and a man abducted Debra in broad daylight.

Debra May Helmick

Debra May Helmick (Photo:

He called the Helmick family and gave detailed directions leading to the child’s body. It was also badly decomposed by the time it was located, making it difficult to determine her exact cause of death.

Debra May Helmick

Debra May Helmick (Photo:

How Authorities Finally Caught Larry Gene Bell

Bell took a lot of steps to ensure that authorities wouldn’t be able to find him. Officials had little information, except for the two-page letter Smith wrote to her family.

The FBI examined it, using an electrostatic detection apparatus to determine residual indentations left on the paper. They found incomplete phone numbers, one of which belonged to a local elderly electrician and his wife.

The couple often made calls to a number in Alabama that was also partially on the pad. They revealed that the number belonged to their son, a soldier.

Authorities were not unsure if this family was involved in the murders. When they described the killer’s profile, the couple gave Bell’s name.

He was an electrician who worked for the older man. He frequently house sat for the old couple when they went out of town.

The husband explained that he remembered jotting down the Alabama number on Bell’s yellow pad before they visited their son.

Larry Gene Bell Was Arrested on June 27, 1985

On June 27, Bell was taken into custody and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. During his testimony, he made weird comments, spoke continuously, and even refused to answer questions.

Bell even claimed to be Jesus Christ, something he reportedly maintained until he died.

The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to death. He decided to die by electric chair instead of lethal injection.

On October 4, 1996, Bell was electrocuted in South Carolina.

Larry Bell Was a Suspect in Two Other Disappearances

Larry Gene Bell was born on October 30, 1949, and had three sisters and one brother. He was described strange as a child who would fall into “psychotic trances.”

According to reports, he sexually abused his female relatives as a teenager.

Bell was considered to be a suspect in the 1984 disappearance of Sandee Elaine Cornett, the girlfriend of his coworker.

He was also suspected to be involved in the disappearance of Denise Newsom Porch, who was last seen in July 1975 and lived in an apartment complex close to where Bell used to live.

Both women disappeared in Charlotte, North Carolina, and are still classified as missing but presumed dead.