Kalamazoo’s Most Infamous Serial Killers
On this day in 1978, notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy confessed dozens of murders to police in Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago. When something so horrific happens far away, its easy to compartmentalize as something that "can't happen here." But it can happen here. And it did. Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I present the The Ranes Brothers of Kalamazoo.
It was May 1964. Vietnam was halfway over. The British Invasion was causing the vapors among teens. And the body of man was discovered in in the trunk of an abandoned Chevy in Kalamazoo. Identified as Gary Smock, a 30-year-old school teacher, the cause of death was ruled to be a .22 caliber gunshot wound to the head. Miles away in Elkhart, Indiana, the body of Charles Snyder, a gas station attendant, was found, also shot in the head with a .22. Two bodies. Same caliber gun. Could these two murders possibly be connected?
Indeed, they were. And the person connecting them was none other than a 19-year-old Kalamazoo resident named Larry Lee Ranes. Known for his explosive temper and proclivity toward violence, Ranes was unable to keep his bloody secret for long, and confessed the murders to a friend a week later. That friend contacted authorities and an arrest was made. It wasn't hard to connect him with the murders. He was wearing Gary Smock's watch and shoes at the time of his arrest.
Ranes admitted to accepting a ride from Smock, forcing him down a backroad, robbing him of $3.00, then ordering him to get in the trunk where he was shot. Later, Ranes drove south where he planned to kill and rob a gas station attendant where he made off with $100.00. After local fisherman discovered the body of the attendant, roadblocks were set up, although that didn't stop Ranes, who was simply waved through. With a body in the trunk of the car and blood on the bumper.
After his confession to the two murders, Ranes was headed to court, but investigators weren't done with him. There were too many similarities between these murders, and the unsolved murder of a 28-year-old gas station attendant in Battle Creek. He was also shot with a .22 caliber bullet. Confronted with evidence to that crime, Ranes readily confessed. And just as the book was going to be closed on Larry Ranes, he shocked authorities when he mentioned two more murders in two different states; one was another hitchhiking situation gone horribly wrong in Death Valley, the other, another gas station attendant in Kentucky.
The trial was held in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, and the defense's case rested heavily on proving Ranes' insanity. Many psychologists were asked to look at the case and testify, and all concluded that these acts were committed by a person temporarily without their faculties, and pointed to Ranes' history of abuse at the hands of his father. His father, who used to work as a gas station attendant.
Ranes was convicted and given a life sentence.
But I did mention brothers. Plural. As in more than one Ranes boy to be wary of. Indeed, that would be Larry's older brother, Danny. After having served time in the joint, 28-year-old Danny Ranes was paroled in 1972, but it wasn't long before he ran in to a 29-year-old mother out shopping with her toddler son. He stabbed the dragged the woman in to his van, raped her, and stabbed her, the young boy managing to get away from the seen and wander around until a passerby noticed a young boy covered in blood. His shocking discovery would lead police on a search for the mother, who's body was discovered behind the Independent Elevator Company building.
Danny recalled the events to his friend, 15-year-old Brent "Stretch" Koster, and the two devised a plan to do it again, this time with a little more organization. According to an Upper Peninsula Wiki page, the two put together a kit with weapons, trash bags, and ropes, and went cruising for a victim. A week later, police near Galesburg, Michigan would find the bodies of two young Chicago-area women strangled on the side of the road. Authorities found similarities to the Howk murder, and added the two to the growing body count. An 18-year-old hitchhiker near Western Michigan University would be their final victim.
Ranes and Koster were eventually arrested. Koster chose to cooperate for a plea deal of second-degree murder. Koster told authorities Ranes' involvement with the Howk murder
Her remains at this point were in skeletal condition, but her jawbone assisted in making an identification. The location proved to be at Morrow Lake, less than a mile from where the other two girls had been dumped. Koster named Danny Ranes as the instigator. He said that shortly after this murder in August, he had broken off with Ranes because Ranes wanted him to steal a car and go to Florida. Koster was afraid that Ranes had in mind to kill him, too. He also told detectives about Ranes' confession to him of the murder of Patricia Howk. Ranes was charged with four murders, and despite his young age, Koster was tried as an adult due to the brutality of the crimes he committed.
According to WWMT, Brent "Stretch" Koster was granted parole in November of 2020. Danny Ranes is currently serving life at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan. Larry Ranes, who changed his name to Monk Steppenwolf, is serving life at Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland.
The Night Stalker, Ted Bundy, and the Golden State Killer were certainly terrifying, but there's nothing quite as haunting as driving by a murder site on your morning commute down Sprinkle Road.