The following is the first chapter from the book “A Call from Hell: The True Story of Larry Gene Bell a Small-Town Monster and the Crime that Shook the Nation

Chapter One

The Abduction

was May 31, 1985, the tail-end of spring, but living in Southern Carolina meant that summer came early. In spite of the heat, Shari had had a busy day. With her high school graduation just two days away, followed by a class trip to the Bahamas, she found herself busy preparing for a new stage of life. She had spent the morning doing the daily prayer she always shared with her family before heading off to rehearse with her chorus teacher, as she had been selected to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the commencement ceremony alongside a classmate. After a much-needed pool party at a friend’s house, she was more than ready to head home for the day.

She had no idea that, within a tiny, seemingly insignificant window of time, an unknown predator had already set his sights on her.

Still clad in her swimsuit, she drove her blue Chevette to the Smith family home located at 5700 Platt Springs Road of Lexington, a suburb of the state’s capitol city. The house had been built in the center of a vast plot of land, leaving all four sides surrounded by what was, at this time of year, a sea of drying grass save for the swimming pool in the back. The pathway from the mailbox to the front door was around seven hundred feet, but it was a distance Shari had grown used to crossing.

Before she did so again, however, she needed to check the mail.

Shari opened the mailbox and took out a few letters. She hardly had the chance to look at them when she heard a car pull up behind her. A man she did not recognize looked at her with hungry eyes from the driver’s seat. He said something she could not hear over the sound of both cars’ engines still running.

The man did not bother to repeat himself. Instead, he hurried out of the car, closing the space between him and Shari in the blink of an eye. He grabbed her, and to Shari’s horror, pressed what she soon realized was the cold metal barrel of a gun to her body. If she wanted to live, he warned her, then she better get in his car.

Shari had a righteous upbringing and had been raised to see the best in everyone. In all her innocence, she likely had no idea what fate awaited her when she stepped into the car. When he drove off, did she understand that she would never return?

But what is known for certain is that her father Bob Smith, a Baptist pastor and engineer, had been the first person to notice that something was amiss. He and his wife, Hilda, had been out back by the pool around the time their daughter arrived. When he first saw her car parked at the end of their driveway, he had assumed she had merely stopped to pick up the mail. When he looked out the window a while later, however, he saw the car still there, unmoved. Hilda tried to soothe his worries by offering the possibility that Shari was reading a letter sent by Dawn, the eldest Smith sister, and got caught up because the two were very close, but a sinking feeling came over him.

Bob hurried outside to his own car and drove down to check on his daughter. His worst fears were realized.

Shari was gone. Her car was running and all her belongings, including her shoes, were still inside. A handful of letters were strewn across the ground, indicating that she had dropped them suddenly, and perhaps unwillingly. He could make out her bare footprints leading away from the front seat, but none were leading back. Worst of all was what he found in her purse: her medication.

Shari Faye suffered from a rare medical condition: diabetes insipidus, more commonly known as “water diabetes.” It meant that Shari’s body had a hard time regulating fluids and could quickly become dehydrated, something that, given the intense heat, could quickly put her in serious danger without her medicine.

Panicked, Pastor Smith hurried back inside the house to get to Hilda. He told his wife that her car had still been running but she was not in it.

Mrs. Smith was understandably just as worried. While her husband called the police, she hopped into her own car and drove around in search of Shari. It pained her to have to return to the house without her and endure the half-hour wait before help arrived. All Hilda could do at the moment was pace around the property, praying silently for her daughter’s safety.

In South Carolina today, there is no amount of time required before a family can report a person missing. This was unfortunately not the case for many states in previous decades. Had Shari been anyone else, it is likely the authorities would have needed to wait before beginning their search, considering the fact that she was right on the brink of adulthood. The fact that Shari was a diabetic without her medicine, however, created a sense of urgency that got police to act right away. What followed was one of the largest searches conducted in the history of Lexington County.

Air teams were called in to conduct aerial searches. The governor’s office’s Emergency Preparedness Division arrived to set up tractor-trailer’s that would serve as a base for the investigation. These trailers were full of all sorts of equipment, including telephones, radios, and cameras, that could keep the place running twenty-four hours a day.

Authorities were eager to help not just because of the urgency of Shari’s health needs, but also because they were already familiar enough with the Smiths to know it was unlike the girl to have run away.

“She’s not a runaway,” Captain Bob Ford of the sheriff’s department told the press. “We can’t accept any theories that she ran away from home.”

The efforts were led by Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts, who also set up base in a trailer near the Smith home. The plan was for this place to remain accessible at all hours in case any new information regarding Shari or her abductor came in. Having everything in one place meant that they could save precious time—Shari’s time.

They would need the public’s help. Whenever something strange happened in a small town, word got around fast. Soon after, calls came in from locals reporting sightings of suspicious vehicles. Two men who had driven past the Platt Springs Road just after three in the afternoon claimed to have seen Shari standing at the mailbox. At the same time, a car, described as being reddish-purple or maroon in color, was coming up the opposite side of the road, headed directly towards the Smith home. Based off of their brief sighting, the men believed the other vehicle to be an Oldsmobile Cutlass, possibly a model from 1982 to 1984. The driver appeared to be a man in his thirties.

When they passed by, they looked in their rear-view mirror. The taillights of the Oldsmobile came on. The vehicle had come to a stop at the mailbox.

A short while later, the two men passed by the Smith home again. This time, they saw Shari’s Chevette, but they did not see Shari.

With no luck that first day, the search carried on into the weekend, expanding to over a hundred volunteers combing the area, undaunted by the heat. Helicopters and bloodhounds were used. The phone at the Smith family house was wiretapped. Still, no progress was made aside from the recovery of a red bandanna belonging to Shari. It was located on the side of the road less than a mile from the house, and law enforcement believed that she may have dropped it from a moving vehicle, a sort of breadcrumb in her kidnapper’s path, but unfortunately it did not lead to further clues.

It had been a long and hard day. They had combed through about twenty miles of land with almost nothing to show for it. At least two volunteers fainted from heat exhaustion. Another man stepped on a nail while a police officer suffered a nasty spider bite. They were all taken to the Lexington County Hospital by an ambulance that had been kept at the scene in case of emergencies.

When the search concluded for the day just before six in the evening, the temperature still hovered over ninety-seven degrees. Everyone was in need of rest, though the Sheriff asked them to return early the next morning before the worst of the heat.

Past experience with similar crimes led the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (commonly abbreviated as SLED in sources) to expect a ransom demand to come in soon. As grim as the prospect that Shari was being held for ransom was, it was actually the preferable situation than most alternatives, because ransom demands meant the perp was likely to communicate with law enforcement and being able to communicate with a perp made it easier to catch them. It also meant it would have been more likely that Shari would have been kept alive as a bargaining chip–that is, if they were lucky. When the third day came with no demand, the local authorities were unsure what to do next.

It was clear that this was no ordinary case. It was something bigger than their resources could handle on their own, so they needed help. Word of Shari’s abduction soon reached the FBI in the Colombia, South Carolina field office.

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Written by : Sajjad A

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