Matthew Renken’s family hits streets to drum up clues in liquor store owners’s killing
Matthew Renken poured his life into his work, and ultimately, loved ones say, his work led to his death.
To offer tips
Anonymous tips about Matthew Renken’s death can be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 554-1111, toll free at 1-888-CRIME-SC, or through an online form at www.5541111.com. By text message, tipsters should begin their message to CRIMES (274637) with “TIPCSL.” Text “STOP” to the same number to cancel. Text “HELP” for help. Message rates apply. Callers whose information leads to an arrest could be eligible for an $11,000 reward.
Having owned the downtown Gateway Inn and an event-planning business, Renken built a reputation in the hospitality industry. But he knew his purchase of Port City Liquors in September would be a project.
Despite its 48 years in business, the North Charleston store had suffered in recent years. Inventory was depleted. Customers slacked off.
But the 39-year-old businessman changed that. He attracted new customers, one of whom often brought him lunch. He missed his 20-year reunion at Bishop England High School because of his diligence.
He rarely took vacation days, but on a Saturday in April he took a brief trip to Greenville. Because of that time off, he went to the liquor store at 4400 Dorchester Road on Sunday, April 22.
Sometime that evening or early the next morning, an intruder fatally shot him in the head, leaving behind a disheveled scene of broken liquor bottles, an unhooked telephone, a handgun and an unlocked back door.
“He was dedicated to building that business on his own back,” said a childhood friend of Renken, Betsy Diffenderfer-Miller. “He was a hard, hard, hard worker, and unfortunately I think that’s what led to what happened.”
Exactly what happened, why it happened and who killed the person described as a quick-witted Southern gentleman are questions that remain unanswered more than three months later. The search for answers prompted Diffenderfer-Miller to join Renken’s family Friday in distributing fliers at other Dorchester Road businesses and nearby homes in hopes of finding someone who can help.
Nick Wackym found his stepson’s bloodied body early that Sunday morning after Renken did not return to Wackym’s James Island home, where he lived. The North Charleston Police Department said Renken’s Rolex was missing, but no store proceeds were taken.
Detectives have developed no suspects.
“We continue to conduct interviews, examine and submit evidence, and scrutinize every aspect,” police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. “Investigators continue to keep Mr. Renken’s family informed of the steps taken.”
Renken’s relatives had been hesitant to speak out until this week, when they saw the public’s role in the arrests in the slaying of 17-year-old Marley Lion in West Ashley.
From the liquor store, which has been closed since the killing, the family members walked with a detective down Spur Street, in the Brentwood community.
One of the homeowners they encountered, 74-year-old Bill Cline, has lived directly behind the store for all of its 48 years in business. He was probably sleeping when Renken was killed, and said, “I couldn’t hear anything happening inside that building anyway.”
They spoke with a woman as she arrived at her house. Wackym handed her a flier, touting the $11,000 reward available for anybody who submits information leading to an arrest.
“The smallest tip might lead to another tip,” Wackym told the woman. “We don’t want to put you in any kind of danger at all.”
Like all the people the canvassers found, the woman could offer no intimate details of the crime. Though she was home at the time and saw the first police officer arrive at the scene, she noticed nothing out of the ordinary that evening and early morning.
“I’ve gone in that store before, and I was just shocked that it was him,” Mellissa Scott, 31, said. “I’d definitely tell the police if I did hear anything.”
Linda Wackym, Renken’s mother, briefly wept outside the locked storefront that advertised Absolut vodka, Camarena tequila and Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.
She expressed losing “the light of my life” and the frustration of not finding his killer. But the result of the Lion investigation gave her hope that her son’s case also can be solved.
“I am so happy that (the Lion suspects) were arrested ... and that the community came out and helped do it,” she said. “I hope I can get the same response here.”
Mel Twite has owned A-1 Locksmith Service, next to Port City Liquors, for 20 years, making him the most enduring tenant at the shopping plaza where Renken’s store was located.
Renken’s killing raised his awareness, but he said he was “dumbfounded” by a homicide that was an anomaly for the commercial area.
“I’m a little more careful when I come in through the back door now,” Twite said. “I have to check the surrounding area before I get out of my truck.
“This is something you never expect.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.