Before Scott Renninger was arrested for allegedly putting a hit on his wife, prosecutors say he told a phony assassin he wanted her to “disappear” so he wouldn’t have to endure their divorce proceedings.
The Ohio man claimed he’d watched “a thousand hours” of true crime shows and knew how suspects got caught. “With no body, they can’t charge you,” Renninger is said to have told an associate, who grew concerned about the Uniontown father-of-four’s conversations about killing his estranged spouse and tipped off authorities.
The FBI had this acquaintance set Renninger up with a pretend hitman, and Renninger devised the murder-for-hire plot throughout October and November, according to a federal indictment and affidavit in support of a criminal complaint.
“We all got to have our f-----g stories straight,” Renninger told the bogus assassin, the indictment states. “There’s the little details they might seem like they’re minor, or, I’m being paranoid, but that’s the kind of s--t that separates whether you f-----g spend the rest of your life in jail or you know, you get away with it.”
“I like my freedom, you know what I mean. I don’t look good in stripes,” Renninger added. “I mean that’s the other way people normally get caught ... is they go and ask other people, ‘Hey, you know anyone who can help me knock my wife off?’ You know what I mean, it’s kind of a hard thing to advertise.”
But unbeknownst to Renninger, authorities were already working undercover to bust him for concocting just this type of scheme. He even told the hitman, in recorded conversations cited in court documents, that he hoped his wife, Holly, would catch COVID and that “a little COVID issue” could replace the execution.
A grand jury indicted Renninger, 52, with one count of the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
In a statement announcing the charge, FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith commended the people who “came forward to report Mr. Renninger’s desire to, in his words, make his wife disappear.” Smith continued, “Without this vital information, Mrs. Renninger may have very well lost her life.”
The allegations in the case—filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio— include dialogue fit for the TV shows Renninger apparently enjoyed.
According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, Renninger’s acquaintance didn’t think he was serious at first but “grew increasingly concerned” the more he talked about the murder plot. To prevent Renninger from recruiting an actual hitman, the informant falsely claimed to know someone who could do the job for $30,000.
But Renninger was allegedly losing patience and informed the acquaintance he was going to pursue other avenues for securing his wife’s death.
In October, the source twice recorded in-person conversations with Renninger, who provided a photo of Holly and information on her vehicle and tag number. Renninger also gave the tipster “two pages from a newspaper with select numbers and letters circled that when aggregated create the street address” for his wife’s home, the affidavit says.
Under the direction of the FBI, the source called Renninger on Oct. 30 to schedule a meeting for the contract killing. The affidavit says Renninger “scolded” the acquaintance for sending a text stating a “painter”—the source’s code word for hitman—wanted to meet with him.
Renninger said they now needed to call a real painter in Canton in case law enforcement reviewed their texts. “Unless you want to go to fucking jail … stop doing that shit,” Renninger said. “One fucking mistake can unravel this.”
“I’ve spent a thousand hours of my life watching these fucking crime shows…” Renninger later told the source.
“I’m just doing what you brought to me, man,” the source said.
“I understand… but you’ve got to literally call a fucking painter,” Renninger replied.
When the source texted Renninger about a meeting location with the hitman, Renninger again warned his associate to stop including details in their messages. “If we get fucking busted … it will be your text to me, this text saying, ‘Oh meet me behind the grocery store’ … you don’t think that’s a bit odd?” Renninger said.
The source tried to assure Renninger that the hitman was a good friend of the source’s father, and Renninger reiterated his concerns of being secretly recorded by an undercover cop. “That’s how a fucking guy gets arrested for conspiracy,” Renninger fumed.
On Nov. 4 around 1 p.m., the pretend hitman—a second confidential source the FBI wired with recording devices—met Renninger in the rear parking lot of a North Canton grocery store.
Renninger approached the hitman’s vehicle wearing a baseball hat, aviator sunglasses, neck gaiter mask and gloves, the affidavit states. He asked the purported hitman to drive away from the parking lot. “All these fucking places have cameras man,” Renninger said. “Have you ever seen these shows when a woman gets abducted or gets heisted they fucking go to all these cameras,” Renninger ranted. “I’m not spending the rest of my life in prison for something stupid that can be avoided.”
Renninger told the fake assassin he’d been married to his wife a long time but that she cheated on him, the affidavit says. “Are you sure you want to do this?” The hitman asked, and Renninger allegedly claimed that he “needed to do it.”
On “cop shows,” Renninger added, undercover officers often “give you an out” and ask, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I’m not going to lie, that’s going to be a heavy burden for me to carry,” Renninger said. “I’m not taking this lightly… I just don’t participate in illegal activity … she’s just disrespected me so bad and you know she’s just gonna you know screw up what life I have left.”
“And I worked very hard my whole life to take care of her and the kids … She’s just not showing any compassion.”
When the purported hitman asked for the age of their target, Renninger said, “She’s 49… so she has a 50th birthday coming up…” The sham killer replied, “Well, I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
“Yeah, well … I kept thinking… maybe she’d catch COVID, right?” Renninger said, according to the indictment. “Then it’s not good for you necessarily, but, you know, to me… that would be one of the best things to happen, right? A little COVID issue.”
On Nov. 10, the FBI obtained two TracFone Wireless phones and snapped photos showing the wife’s new residence and a couple walking a dog near the home. The next day, the pretend hitman met Renninger at the same grocery store parking lot.
The hitman showed Renninger the photos of the home and the couple, and Renninger said the woman in the picture wasn’t Holly. “We gotta make sure we got the right [person] … it does kinda look like her …” Renninger said.
Renninger gave the hitman $60 for the burner phones, and the duo put a price tag on the future murder-for-hire of $20,000. The indictment says they tested the phones, calling one another, before Renninger left the parking lot.
The alleged murder plot came months after Holly filed a petition for a domestic violence civil protection order in Summit County. In the petition, she said Renninger made “threats that he will not allow me to leave him alive.”
Days after that petition, Renninger paid himself $100,000 from an investment account, the indictment states. Holly filed for a divorce on Aug. 6.
Authorities arrested Renninger, who owned various rental properties in Ohio and other states, on Nov. 17.
A local Canton newspaper, The Repository, said Renninger had also wanted to sell the couple’s Chadwick home, other properties, and belongings before the alleged murder-for-hire plot came to light. The couple had married in 1990 and have four adult children, the outlet reported.
Lisa Dean, Holly’s attorney, had filed a motion during the divorce proceedings to stop Renninger from selling the couple’s assets. Court records also stated that Renninger “has policies of insurance upon her life.”
In a statement released to The Repository, Dean said her client “has been married to Scott Renninger for more than 30 years.”
“They share 4 adult children together,” Dean said. “Although Holly filed both a divorce action and protective order this summer, she was hopeful that they could remain amicable for the family. Scott’s intentions and actions are both shocking and devastating—not only to Holly—but also to the entire family.”