The Ben Renick case: snakes, shootings and millions of dollars
MONTGOMERY CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
As prosecutors in Missouri begin making their case that two people killed Ben Renick in 2017, courts are still settling millions of dollars worth of deals he started before his death.
In the years since Renick, 29, was shot and killed at his Montgomery County home near New Florence, attorneys and family members have argued over his belongings. That includes his world-renowned snake breeding business, Renick Reptiles, which Renick was in the process of selling to a professional hockey player when he was killed.
His wife, Lynlee Renick, and her ex-boyfriend Michael Humphrey are charged with first-degree murder in Ben's death. Tim Hesemann and Jay Anielak, Lynlee Renick and Humphrey's attorneys respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.
An ABC 17 News Investigates review of available court records paints a timeline of events that shows Renick may have been getting out of the business altogether, and shows the financial strife his wife, Lynlee, was under.
Renick agreed to sell his snakes, ball pythons and anacondas, to NHL goalie Robin Lehner in early 2017 for $1.2 million. Lehner would pay Renick in quarterly installments of $200,000 throughout the year. Lehner made one such payment in February 2017.
At the same time, Lynlee Renick dealt with credit card debt and missed bills from construction crews that worked on her business, Ascencia Spa in Columbia. A lawsuit from Capital One shows Lynlee owed $2,203 in debt, with the last payment made on June 5, 2017. Two companies sued the spa in early 2017 over more than $8,000 in missed payments for work they did years prior.
A probable cause statement from the highway patrol said Lynlee feared Ben would leave her because she was "sucking money out of the business."
Ben Renick was killed at his home off Route RB on June 8, 2017. The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Renick was shot while taking trash out of one of the breeding facilities.
The patrol's probable cause statement said Lynlee worried that Ben would have enough money to take their children away. A former partner of Lynlee's told investigators that Lynlee justified this by saying Ben once tried to put drugs in her drink to make it look like she was an addict -- a story the informant said he didn't believe.
In Feb. 2018, Lynlee Renick requested two different payment types from Ben's estate - a homestead allowance of $15,000 and a monthly family allowance of $4,025. A hearing for Lynlee's request on the family allowance has been pushed back following her arrest.
Following Ben's death, two court cases began to settle Ben's financials -- an estate case in Montgomery County and the establishment of trust funds for Ben and Lynlee's daughter and a boy Lynlee had with another man before their marriage.
Charles Thal took over the estate, according to documents filed by attorney Steve Laiderman of St. Louis, who did not respond to requests for comment. Thal is also listed as the registered owner of Renick Reptiles.
The estate case has hit several legal snags. Renick Reptiles sued Lehner in St. Louis County in 2018 after Lehner stopped making payments for the snakes. In the summer of that year, Renick's property in Montgomery County sold to a couple for more than $740,000.
Ben's brother, Sam Renick, also made a claim with the court that he had partial ownership of the property in Montgomery County. Renick's estate and Sam Renick settled the claims in the summer of 2019, with the estate paying Sam $18,000. Additional terms of the settlement were not disclosed in court documents.
Lehner countersued in December of that year, claiming that he took on millions of dollars in costs taking care of Renick's animals. At some point after Ben's death, he said, the snakes "began breeding amongst one another in an unsupervised, uncontrolled manner." That caused the collection of snakes to lose value, but Lehner's attorneys did not specify by how much.
Renick Reptiles then claimed in July 2019 that at some point, Lehner "stole a collection of anacondas [from] Renick Reptiles' place of business (as well as taking the collection of ball pythons that Lehner refused to pay for)." The lawsuit does not say how many snakes were allegedly taken.
The two sides suddenly announced a settlement in November 2019. A filing in the Montgomery County estate case from that August said the two sides had reached a settlement, but wanted to keep the terms of it confidential. Laiderman wrote that both sides wanted to "complete [Lehner]'s purchase of the [snakes]."
Lehner's attorney Sean Cochran did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ben had a $1 million life insurance policy made out to the two children, each of which received $473,000 after paying for the work attorneys did to establish the case. Judge Stephanie Morrell placed the funds in the care of Evolve Bank & Trust in Memphis until the children turn 18 years old.
Lynlee Renick's next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 4 in Montgomery City. Humphrey's preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19.
Editor's note, 1/31: An earlier version of the story said Sam Renick made a claim for partial ownership of the snake business. The claim was for partial ownership of the Montgomery County property.
The story said Ben Renick was 27 at the time of his death. He was 29.