Friends praise homicide ruling in death of liquor store owner Matt Renken

Matthew Renken (PROVIDED)

A ruling Friday that businessman Matthew Renken was gunned down in his North Charleston liquor store came as a relief to the friends who thought his death had been unfairly portrayed.

Renken's body was found last month under a table inside Port City Liquors on Dorchester Road. Broken Grand Marnier bottles and an unhooked phone were nearby.

A handgun also lay at his side, and friends thought the detail suggested that he died at his own hands.

Even though investigators have no idea who fatally shot Renken, 39, once in the head, the coroner's conclusion that the case is a homicide at least gave friends some peace.

“He's not that kind of person,” Jennings Rountree, who knew Renken for five years, said after praising the ruling. “People loved him. He was like the Jan Brady of Charleston. Instead of ‘Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,' it was ‘Matthew, Matthew, Matthew.'?”

Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said coming to the conclusion was an especially lengthy process because investigators were awaiting test results and conducting further interviews. She declined to discuss specifics about the new evidence.

“Knowing what we know now, it's the appropriate ruling,” Wooten said. “I feel confident that we will identify whoever is responsible for this.”

But the vibe from the North Charleston Police Department was less certain.

Early on April 23, officers responded only after Renken's concerned stepfather went to the store because Renken hadn't returned to his James Island home the night before. By the time Nick Wackym found the body, Renken had been dead for hours.

His killer was long gone. “Somebody broke in sometime last night,” Wackym told a 911 dispatcher, theorizing about what had happened. “The back door was unlocked, which is strange.”

Employees of neighboring businesses have said Renken was there to make a late-night bank deposit. Friends added that he often carried a small pistol when handling cash.

Spencer Pryor, a police spokesman, confirmed Friday that the handgun found at the scene was Renken's. But Pryor wouldn't say whether investigators think another crime was taking place before the slaying.

“Detectives continue to investigate the death,” Pryor said. “At this time, there is no lead on a suspect.”

Rountree, who met Renken when they both worked at the Market Pavilion Hotel, had already realized that he may never learn about his best friend's killer.

Renken had traveled to Greenville days before his death, where he said “everything was fine, except for the weather,” according to Rountree.

“I never really suspected that they'd catch anybody,” Rountree said. “Nobody who knows him would have done this. I've never heard anybody say one bad word about him.”

Renken was a lifelong resident of the Charleston area and attended St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. He was a graduate of Bishop England High School and Wingate University in North Carolina.

Water Missions International benefited from his charitable endeavors. The West Ashley-based ministry provides clean drinking water for impoverished citizens of third-world countries.

“He was obviously a very valuable, contributing part of this community,” the coroner said. “Certainly, his death has hit the community hard, and we want to do all we can to bring whoever's responsible to justice.”

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