Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry and Danny Ranes: Serial Killers in the Same Family

Monk Speaks Out

Conrad Hilberry
Conrad Hilberry

During the mid-1970s, Larry Ranes agreed to talk with an English professor, Conrad Hilberry, who contacted him.  At first he was hesitant, but then decided that some good purpose might be served, so he invited Dr. Hilberry to the prison to discuss his family history, on the condition that it be a serious study about the inner workings of his mind.  He himself was interested in understanding why he "could so calmly kill someone, yet I'm very reluctant to hurt someone."  Yet what he actually wanted was to get his story out to the public in the way that he devised.

When Hilberry arrived, he described Larry thus: "His hair was long, well down over his ears; a moustache and a pointed Vandyke beard gave him a faintly Mephistophelean look." Ranes immediately explained the name change to Monk Steppenwolf as a way to get out from under the bad reputation he had experienced as a kid, which had made him hate his name.  The new name intrigued people and garnered some respect, which was reinforced by the dark glasses he always wore.  Hilberry's impression on several occasions was that Larry wanted to control all aspects of the interview.  He questioned everything and gave careful instructions.  He also seemed happier when their conversations were recorded.  Hilberry was also "struck by the eerie casualness with which he accommodated himself to murder."

Monk Steppenwolf, aka Larry Ranes
Monk Steppenwolf, aka Larry Ranes

Hilberry spoke to both brothers and to the legal and prison personnel involved in Larry's case.  He also spoke to Kathy Ranes, once married to Danny and now married to Larry.  He had distinct impressions of them all, which he recorded in the book. 

Larry, the youngest boy in the family, was a loner who had developed a sense of distance from life.  When the family dog was run over, for example, he felt nothing.  His mother worked fulltime on the evening shift in a paper factory, and though Larry and the others rarely saw her, he recalled that she was disorganized and ill-equipped to deal with a family or an alcoholic husband.  The father apparently tormented the boys and became easily enraged when they failed to obey as fast as he wanted them to.  He also beat their mother and destroyed furniture, as well as picked fights with other men.  He seemed to enjoy humiliating the boys, as well as scaring them and forcing them into difficult situations, including drinking alcohol.  Although he finally abandoned them when Larry was nine, and "had shown them no legitimate way in which to earn approval or self-esteem," he had left lasting damage.  Nevertheless, Larry didn't buy the psychiatric argument that his murders were the result of displaced anger at his father.  He told Hilberry that the gas stations and men who picked him up had just been easiest to rob.


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