Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry and Danny Ranes: Serial Killers in the Same Family

The Hitchhiker

At around 5:00 P.M. on that Saturday afternoon, a patrol officer made a routine inspection of what appeared to be an abandoned Chevrolet.  He saw bloodstains on the bumper and personal papers scattered in the front seat, so he had the car towed to a nearby police post.  Mrs. Gary Smock was in the police station making a missing persons report at the same time that the officer called in the discovery and she said it sound like her husband's car.  He had been missing since the night before.

At the post, the car's trunk was popped, and inside was the body of a white male lying on his face in a pool of fresh blood.  From items in the car, he was identified as the missing Gary Smock, a thirty-year-old junior high school teacher from Plymouth, Michigan.  He'd been shot in the head, just below the ear, and the autopsy indicated that the bullet had come from a .22 caliber weapon. A cord was wrapped around one wrist as if he'd been tied and his shoes were missing.  Later it was determined that his watch was gone as well. The pathologist estimated that Smock had died within five minutes of the shooting, some time between 6 A.M. Saturday morning and 2 P.M. that afternoon. 

Map showing Plymouth, Michigan
Map showing Plymouth, Michigan

The police did a door-to-door canvas of hotels and motels in the immediate area to attempt to reconstruct the last day of Smock's life.  They learned that on Friday he had been on his way to the home of his in-laws in Allegan, leaving from an appointment in Battle Creek with the Chamber of Commerce.  He had been there looking for accommodations for a future Church of God youth convention and had a Chamber of Commerce map of local facilities in his car.  He had mentioned to officials in Battle Creek that he had to be at a family dinner.

Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce logo
Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce logo

Yet Smock's wife, Thelma, heard from him around 6:00 Friday evening.  He told her he would not make it home for dinner but would arrive shortly.  There is no other witness report until later that night when his car was reportedly seen at a Kalamazoo service station around 11:00 P.M., and the attendant recalled seeing two people in his car. (This report would turn out to be in error.)  A palm print and fingerprint were lifted from the car and were later determined to belong to someone other than the victim or members of Smock's family, so police were hopeful that it would match a perpetrator.  Another bullet was recovered from the floor of the car's trunk, and while Smock's billfold was empty, a check had been written on Friday evening to "Cash" for $11.

Early that Saturday morning, around sixty miles away in Elkhart, Indiana, service station attendant Charles Snyder had been shot twice in the head, also with a .22.  Given the half tank of gas in Smock's car, police estimated that it had gone at least 100 miles after being filled at 11:00 (assuming that was correct).  Agencies from both states were coordinating efforts to learn if the same gun had fired the recovered bullets from both scenes.  The Indiana killer had gotten away with $100. 

In less than a week, thanks to a tip from a local resident, they had nabbed the perpetrator.


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