Shawn LaBeet: Cop Killer Redux

For 51 years, Chris Reyka seemed proof of some higher power. A clean-cut, churchgoing former Marine with snow-white hair and a strong jaw, Reyka was an incarnation of the American dream. He had overcome tragedy to build a family and career as a police officer. Every day he pinned a Broward Sheriff's badge on his crisply starched shirt, climbed into his cruiser, and chased down criminals. And every night, when he came home, it was another small victory in the face of so much senseless violence.

Until the night he didn't come home. The night he pulled into a Pompano Beach Walgreens parking lot shortly after midnight, spotted a suspicious white sedan, and ran its license plate. The night of August 10, 2007.

Sure enough, the plate was stolen. But as Reyka stepped out of his squad car and into the neon sheen, shots rang out like firecrackers on a string. The sergeant crumpled onto the concrete: a bullet in his head, four more in his body.

The murder set off a massive manhunt. Hundreds of cops scoured the county. Authorities offered a quarter-million-dollar reward. And the owners of every white sedan in South Florida soon found themselves answering questions on the side of the road.

Yet nothing stuck. Not even when cops caught a trio of drugstore bandits who had been terrorizing Broward. Chris Reyka, a father of four, would not be avenged.

So when another cop was killed a month later in Miami, Reyka's murder slid off the front page. Taking his place in the headlines was Shawn LaBeet, a 25-year-old former honor student. LaBeet had snapped during a September 13 traffic stop, killing Miami-Dade Police Officer Jose Somohano and wounding three others. Hours later, LaBeet himself died in a barrage of police bullets.

Each death was its own mystery. Who shot Chris Reyka? And what caused Shawn LaBeet to crack?

For six years, the questions festered. Now, however, Broward Sheriff's Office detectives believe the mysteries are anything but separate. They say the two cases have a common solution: The man who gunned down Chris Reyka was Shawn LaBeet.

It's a bold statement, and even some other cops think the evidence is thin. But a New Times investigation bolsters BSO's claims. Both LaBeet and his family had a history of violence. He was obsessed with guns and violent videogames, was heavily involved in illegal activities, and bore a bloody grudge against law enforcement. New evidence also places LaBeet near the scene of the crime. And he was paranoid, even suicidal, between Reyka's slaying and his own desperate last stand.

"LaBeet was a time bomb waiting to go off," says John Curcio, the detective handling the case. "He was a police officer's worst nightmare."

Richard and Mattie-Ruth Griffin stepped off the 18th green and into the shade of the Fountain Valley golf club. The married couple had taken the short flight from Miami to Saint Croix only a few days earlier. Now they set their clubs on the cool concrete terrace and lined up for a buffet. They didn't notice the five men in military fatigues emerge from the blood-red bougainvillea bushes until it was too late.

The tall one carried a machine gun. He lifted its five-pound frame with the familiarity of a soldier. Then he fired into the crowd.

Bullets tore through the food line. They splintered tables, shattered furniture, and buried themselves in walls. By the time the magazine clip was empty, the Griffins and six others were dead.

The motives of the September 6, 1972 assault were murky. Some said it was a robbery. Others claimed it was an attack on the island's wealthy white minority. But one thing was clear: The man behind the machine gun — and the massacre — was Ishmael LaBeet, Shawn's half-brother.

The Fountain Valley Massacre, as it came to be known, occurred a decade before Shawn LaBeet was born. But its legacy would hang over the LaBeets, casting a shadow on the family's youngest son until the day 35 years later when Shawn, too, would grab a machine gun and unleash chaos.

The crime scene has long since been rechristened Carambola Beach Resort & Spa, an expanse of emerald fairways and luxury hotel rooms with lamps shaped like pineapples. But the golf club killings ­remain famous in Saint Croix. At the time, the carnage was unheard of in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In fact, the Fountain Valley killings seemed to usher in a new and terrible age for the tropical tourist destination.

"Murder in Paradise," announced a headline in the New York Times. Two months after the massacre, robbers killed two more whites. The next summer, five.

Much of the media coverage focused on a rising tide of "antiwhite resentment," as the Times put it. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and the introduction of television sowed both anger over the war and support for Black Power on the islands. Ishmael LaBeet would become the face of both.

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Michael E. Miller