A Busch beer can sits at center of 31-year-old murder

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The beer can held the mystery of who killed retiree Leo Beauregard in his South Florida condo.

Detectives believed the murderer sipped the Busch beverage after stabbing the 67-year-old victim’s throat.

Yet without solid leads, investigators turned to an Orlando-area psychic for help. It was 1992, and a “48 Hours” crew filmed Noreen Renier as she held the beer can and a bloody towel while describing Beauregard’s assailant for a national television audience.

“Hooded eyes … thin mouth … there is some sharpness in the nose … oval jaw,” the so-called “psychic detective” told a police sketch artist.

But the reading didn’t result in an arrest. It was DNA from the top of the beer can that finally did last August.

The beer can is now the key reason Mark Steven Gribbin will remain in Palm Beach County Jail before a trial. The beer can, spotless when found on a blood-covered table, is “extremely compelling evidence” of the 57-year-old man’s guilt, Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss said.

“The defense has raised numerous points and these are points that can be raised at trial and ultimately a jury will decide,” the judge said on May 21.

Mark Steven Gribbin, 57, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1990 stabbing death of Leo Beauregard, 67, in North Palm Beach. Prosecutors say DNA on a beer can proves Gribbin is guilty.

Mark Steven Gribbin, 57, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1990 stabbing death of Leo Beauregard, 67, in North Palm Beach. Prosecutors say DNA on a beer can proves Gribbin is guilty. (Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office / handout)

Gribbin’s lawyer argues there is no proof he touched the can after the June 29, 1990, slaying in North Palm Beach.

“We have no idea when that DNA got on that can,” Assistant Public Defender Courtney Wilson told Weiss. “It’s not a murder weapon.”

After Gribbin’s arrest, a grand jury last November indicted him on a first-degree murder charge, based on the scientific link.

“This is so unbelievable after 30 years almost,” said Renier, now 84 and retired in northern Virginia. “I’m so happy they didn’t forget the case.”

But Gribbin’s defenders say the psychic episode, recently shown in court, leads to serious questions about the “careless handling” of the evidence over the years.

“On the video, one can see Ms. Renier opening the evidence without gloves, handling both the beer can and the towel without gloves, and comingling the items together,” Wilson wrote last month. “Who knows where else it was.”

Renier told the South Florida Sun Sentinel she frequently received evidence in the mail from law enforcement agencies across the country. She touts her work on more than 600 cases, and presentations to FBI agents, during her career.

“I don’t solve crimes, I’m a tool,” she explained of her role in assisting cops. “The clues I give help to open more doors.”

This is how the top of a Facebook page for Noreen Renier appeared on May 27, 2021.

This is how the top of a Facebook page for Noreen Renier appeared on May 27, 2021. (Facebook)

In the “48 Hours” piece, Detective Ralph Pauldine said that after 18 months of seeking a suspect without success, “I’m open enough to try anything at this point. I don’t want anyone to think this is voodoo police tactics here, but anyone in the business knows when you’re at a standstill, you’re at a standstill.”

Renier said DNA was unheard of at the time of the Beauregard murder investigation, so police didn’t mind her touching the key evidence.

“I needed to pick up the energy off that can, I don’t want my hands covered,” she said when asked to recall the case. “I am pretty accurate in giving an artist a face.”

The sketch — different from one that police released of a young man a month after the murder — failed to drum up any solid leads.

Renewing the investigation

The case went cold until decades later, when the police dusted off the file in late 2018.

The beer can was sent out for DNA testing, resulting in a match to Gribbin’s genetic information the following year.

“From 1990 through 2019, the science of DNA analysis evolved by leaps and bounds, and is now being used to prosecute previously unsolvable cases as well as exonerate potential suspects,” Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott wrote in a May 19 filing.

But the beer can also became contaminated in a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office laboratory, when an employee’s DNA wound up on it.

The prosecutor said that’s not an issue. What matters, he said, is that DNA from the tab of the beer can is over “600 octillion” times more likely to be a mixture of Gribbin and the employee’s DNA than from two unrelated people.

“The evidence is clear that the defendant himself drank from that can after murdering Beauregard,” Scott wrote.

He called the defense arguments about the psychic “a red herring,” adding Renier’s DNA is not on the mouth of the can. Renier said the police told her they are making plans to visit and collect a sample of her DNA.

“There is simply no evidence of tampering,” Scott insisted.

Investigators discovered the can on top of a blood-splattered end table, next to a chair where Beauregard was found dead with a 7-inch-deep stab wound on the right side of his neck, records show.

His wallet, bracelet and gold ring were missing from the fifth-floor unit in the Paradise Harbor apartment building where he lived alone, according to a Palm Beach Post article published days after the killing.

Aside from the beer-can DNA, circumstantial evidence points to Gribbin, records show.

Detectives found a notebook belonging to the victim with a handwritten note that read: “Mark, Phoenix House, 47900 Five Mile Road, Plymouth, Mich., 48170, #179-237.” They also found a 1989 calendar, with the words “Mark’s Birthday” written on the June 26 entry.

The meaning of these notes was unknown until after Gribbin’s arrest, when authorities learned he was in a Michigan prison called Phoenix House in 1990, with the same address listed in the victim’s notebook. Also confirmed: Gribbin was born on June 26, 1963.

“These two pieces of evidence show that not only did the defendant have contact with him at the time of his murder, but that he had some kind of relationship with him previously,” Scott said, noting that it contradicts Gribbin’s claims of not knowing Beauregard.

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Gribbin’s lawyer says there was no special relationship with the victim that he remembers. At the time, he lived less than five miles away from the crime scene.

The prosecution says Gribbin has a lengthy criminal history with 11 violent felony convictions in three states, including burglary, armed robbery, and assault. He’s served multiple prison terms since 1982 that clearly make him a “danger to the community.”

Gribbin’s lawyer argues he’s been out of trouble for the past five years, “living a quiet life” in Ohio as a delivery driver before his arrest. Gribbin, in a statement to detectives last year, denied any responsibility for the homicide.

The defense also claims Gribbin’s health is now in jeopardy because of a 2017 liver transplant, and he requires “life-sustaining medications.”

The trial is scheduled to start Aug. 2. If convicted as charged, Gribbin would get a life sentence with the chance for parole after 25 years.

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