Army Veteran Larry Ranes Murdered Gary Smock, Charles Snyder, and Air Force Service Member Vernon LeBenne After Jailed and Discharged from Military for Violence (1964)

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Larry Ranes, US Army Veteran

Brothers Larry and Danny Ranes grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They were the product of a divorce after their father abandoned them and left one day to start a new relationship with a woman in Florida. In high school, Larry and Danny dated the same girl, Paula. She went back and forth between the two brothers. She really liked Larry and Danny really liked her but after graduation, Larry enlisted in the Army in 1962. One night, Larry got drunk and because one of his buddies stole his chips, he flipped out on all his friends. It was reported that he ran after them with a knife, was hauled off by the military police, and spent the rest of his stint in the brig until he was discharged. When he got home, he had nowhere to go and no sense of direction; he felt disgraced. Paula was now dating his brother Danny so he started dating someone else, an older woman. He eventually proposed to her but she rejected him. He was devastated and felt completely aimless and done with life.

Gary Smock, 34, was found tied up and murdered in his vehicle on the side of the road in Kalamazoo, Michigan on May 30, 1964. Gary’s wife reported him missing and while she was at the police station, she learn that his car has been spotted on the side of the road and he was dead. He had been tied up, robbed, and shot in the head with a 22 caliber. Detectives begin their investigation by piecing together the last hours of Gary’s life. That same morning, a group of fisherman found Charles Snyder, a gas station attendant who had been shot in Elkhart, Indiana. It appeared to be another robbery/homicide. Investigators wondered if the two murders were connected considering the motive was robbery and a 22 caliber was used in both crimes. On April 6, 1964 Vernon LeBenne, 23, was found robbed and shot at a Battle Creek, Michigan gas station he worked at part-time. Vernon was an active duty Air Force member stationed at the Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan. When he was found the next day, he was still alive but in a coma; he died twelve hours later. The police were never able to question him but were concerned all three murders were connected.

Five days later, Larry Ranes called the police claiming that he wanted to commit suicide. Police arrived at his home and found him alive. He was taken to the police station, questioned, and admitted to killing Gary Smock and Charles Snyder. Larry admitted killing Gary because he was upset that he was making noise in the trunk of his own car. He then admitted to driving to Elkhart and robbing and killing a gas station attendant Charles Synder. Ironically, he was waved through a police roadblock with Gary’s body in his trunk. The police didn’t suspect him because he was cool, calm and collected. Larry also admitted to killing airman Vernon LeBenne. Initially he declined a defense attorney so the prosecution ordered a psychiatric evaluation. He told the psychiatrist that he never thought his life would amount to much especially after getting discharged from the military. He had no sense of direction. He admitted feeling worthless and that it sent him into a bad place. He tried to take his own life before and was sent to a hospital for two weeks but he felt that nobody paid attention to his needs.

In September 1964, Larry was charged with Gary Smock’s murder. The defense claimed he was temporarily insane at the time of the crime. They claimed that he was taking his resentment’s towards his abusive, alcoholic dad who abandoned him out on Gary Smock. The jury didn’t buy it and he was found guilty of murder in 1964 and sentenced to life in prison. Meanwhile with Larry out of the picture, Danny married his high school sweetheart Paula. They had two children but Paula still daydreamed about Larry and wrote to him while he was in prison. Danny eventually found the love letters between his brother and wife and the two of them begin fighting regularly; Danny left the marriage. Danny decided to move to Wyoming and while there, he committed a crime. He abducted a couple of teenagers, released them and then turned himself in. It is believed that he secretly hoped Paula would like him more now that he committed a crime like his brother Larry. Paula and Danny tried the relationship again and had a third child but it didn’t work. After divorcing Paula, Danny committed another crime and was arrested for felonious assault of a child.

In 1971, seven years after Larry’s murder conviction, he appealed his case and was granted a re-trial. Meanwhile Danny is released from prison in 1972 for his felony crimes and moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Danny learned Larry was back in the papers because of his re-trial and within a month, he committed another crime. A man reported his wife and child were missing and the next day a woman reported that she found a baby walking around unsupervised covered in blood. The police found his mother Patricia Howk stabbed to death in the woods; she had been murdered but there were no suspects. A few months later, some citizens found a car in the woods with two dead decomposed bodies inside: Linda Clark and Claudia Bidstrup from Chicago, Illinois. They were on their way to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Police were concerned that these two murders were connected to Patricia Howk. Finally, Kalamazoo Police received a tip that helped them solve the cases. Brent Koster informed investigators that he was an accomplice to the violent rapes and murders of Linda Clark and Claudia Bidstrup with Danny Ranes.

Brent Koster testified that Danny bragged about killing Patricia Howk. He claimed he admitted to attacking her as she was getting in her car. Patricia fought back so he stabbed her in the back and twisted the knife until she was dead. On July 6, 1972, Linda Clark and Claudia Bidstrip pulled into the gas station where Danny Ranes was working. Danny pretended to check their oil but instead took one of the spark plug wires out. The car wouldn’t start so he told them to pull around the back of the gas station. After they were isolated, the pair pulled knives on them and took turns raping them. They murdered them a few hours later and dumped their bodies near the Kalamazoo River. Brent Koster agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his full cooperation and during this exchange admitted to one more murder. The two picked up, raped, and murdered Patricia Fearnow who was hitchhiking on the campus of Western Michigan University. Brent Koster was sentenced to life for the second degree murder of Linda Clark. Danny Ranes changed his ‘not guilty’ plea to ‘no contest’ and received two additional life sentences for the murders of Linda Clark and Claudia Bidstrup. And finally Larry Ranes’ insanity defense fell apart and he pleaded guilty to the murder of Gary Smock and was sentenced to life.

Related Links:
Larry and Danny Ranes
Sibling Rivals and Murder Games
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Suspect in Kalamazoo Co crime spree is related to convicted serial killers
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For one family in Michigan, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing. But when one competition heats up, they end up doing the unthinkable. The small, Midwestern town the family calls home will come face to face with multiple rounds of pure evil. -Investigation Discovery