The kidnapping and murder of Shari Smith made national headlines in May 1985. “On the Case with Paula Zahn” revisited and spoke to family members and law enforcement about it, which aired on Feb. 24.
Viewers were reminded of what happened to Shari and how the killer, Larry Gene Bell, tormented the family with phone calls and assurances that their 19-year-old daughter was still alive. However, when the body was discovered, it was apparent that he killed her the same day he took her.
One of the points that the host of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” discussed with Shari’s sister, Dawn Smith (her name is now Dawn Smith Jordan,) was the last will and testament that Bell mailed to the family. Dawn read the letter and despite Shari Smith knowing she was going to die, her letter had some very touching points. She asked that her family not be sad, but that they remember her witty personality and the good memories. She also wrote that she was going home to her Father and viewers found it amazing that she held on to her faith and her love for God even when she was facing a cruel and senseless death.
The case took another devastating turn when it was discovered that in the next town, another girl was kidnapped. Debra May Helmick was taken by Larry Gene Bell next. The 9-year-old was taken just like Shari, in broad daylight. There was also suspicion that he had something to do with the disappearance of Sandee Elaine Cornett, who was the girlfriend of one of his co-workers.
Comments on blogs and forum discussions hint that Larry Gene Bell may have more victims that were never reported missing or that a connection between them and the murderer was never made. However, those claims cannot be validated at this time. Ben Clanton commented on the blog, “Execution of the Day,”
“Just found an article while looking up another case in Charlotte NC LGB lived near another victim, Denise Porch, who disappeared on July 31, 1975 [sic]. I looked up George King Cutter on Google and found murders in Charlotte which got me to this info. I met this creep around 1979 when my neighbor, a very attractive lady he worked with at Eastern Airlines introduced me to him and we looked at this Jeep Wagoneer he had got my attention. Weird [sic] that I never heard from her after helping she and her sister move shortly thereafter.”
Profilers and crime experts say that kidnappers and murderers typically target people with things in common: race, age or similar physical characteristics to name a few. However, the only things that Debra May Helmick and Shari Smith had in common was their blonde hair. I was unable to find a photograph of Sandee Elaine Cornett to confirm if his “trigger” was blonde hair or if they were taken because of opportunity.
“On the Case with Paula Zahn” confirmed that Larry Gene Bell was executed for the murder of Shari Smith and Debra May Helmick on Oct. 4, 1996. The kidnapper, rapist and murderer chose the electric chair over lethal injection. Even though he admitted that his “insanity” during the trial was mostly an act when he was interviewed, he continued to insist that he was Jesus Christ until the very end.
While the kidnapping and murder of Shari Smith along with Debra May Hemlick may fade from the minds of many Americans, the families, friends and members of the community will never forget these special girls who did not deserve to have their lives taken from them.