Larry and Danny Ranes: Serial Killers in the Same Family
Nineteen-year-old Larry Lee Ranes, prone to impulsive violence, had been hitchhiking across the country over the past three months. On Thursday, June 4, he went to the home of an acquaintance, Arthur Booth, and confessed that he had killed some people. He was going to see a priest and then commit suicide. Near midnight, Booth managed to alert the police.
Ranes was arrested at Booth's home wearing Smock's stolen watch and shoes. While he had only fifteen cents on him, he readily admitted to the killing of both men and surrendered his .22 caliber handgun. Police sent it for testing.
Ranes said that Smock had offered him a ride and he had forced the man to drive onto a country road and robbed him of $3. Then he ordered Smock into the trunk of the car and instructed him to be quiet. When the man started thumping to make himself heard, Ranes stopped on a lonely road outside Kalamazoo, tied him up and shot him in the head. He shot twice but the first one missed. Then he shut the body into the trunk. That was between 8 and 9 P.M. Hungry, he got a hamburger and then drove to Indiana, waited into the early morning hours to kill a gas station attendant there for money, and returned to Kalamazoo. The dead man was found by a group of fishermen who stopped for gas, so the police were alerted immediately. They called for roadblocks.
Ranes said that he had been waved through one of these roadblocks, with Smock still in the trunk. He just acted at ease and they told him to move on. He returned to the point at which he had met Smock and abandoned the car, hitchhiking from there into Kalamazoo. He realized there was blood on the bumper but did not want to stick around any longer to clean it up. He simply didn't care, he said.
After extensive interrogation, Ranes was bound over to Circuit Court. He said he did not want a layer, so psychiatric examinations were scheduled. Then he changed his mind and asked for a public defender. Eugene Field was appointed, but the examination went ahead before Field arrived.
Even before Ranes was caught, investigators had speculated over whether Smock's killer had also shot and killed a service station attendant on April 6 in Battle Creek. Vernon LeBenne, 20, was shot with a .22 and was working at an I-94 Interchange near where Smock had been driving. Ranes readily confessed to that crime as well. Then he added two more in two other states. One man had picked him up near Death Valley on May 23 and kept talking about the fact that he had no money, so Ranes shot him (his body remained missing for over two years). The other was another gas station attendant in Kentucky.
While Ranes had no criminal record, throughout his adolescence he had been a known troublemaker. He had grown up in Woodward, Michigan in an abusive and unstable home, and was a year younger than his brother, Danny. They were close, but they also competed aggressively, both loving and hating each other. In a prison interview with Hilberry, Larry said, "I used to hit Danny with boards, throw knives at him, shoot him with bows and arrows, and shit like that."
Once he was of age to leave home, Larry had tried the military but ended up in the stockade for the latter part of his stint before he was discharged. He had also developed an obsession with a married woman, both before and after his military experience. Then, feeling that his life might not last very long (indeed, he had suicidal thoughts and one attempt), he started to wander, taking three months to hitchhike across into Ohio, Kentucky, and over to Nevada. He later claimed that had someone noticed what his suicide attempt was about, he might have been treated and thus prevented from committing the murders. In other words, he blamed others for his own acts, although he once admitted to Hilberry his moral shortcomings: "There has to be some part of me left out."