By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Parole request denied for Mary Spears, ‘mastermind’ of 1979 Ranzo murders
parole board

Marty Don Spears, 61, the alleged mastermind of the robbery and brutal slaying of a Modesto couple in June 1979, is too dangerous to be released from San Quentin State Prison, the Parole Board has determined.

At an Aug. 2 hearing, prosecutor Amy Elliott Neumann argued that Spears’ persistent drug addiction continues to pose an unreasonable risk of endangering the public if released.

During the nearly four-hour hearing, the Parole Board questioned Spears about his drug rehabilitation programming and his most recent violation of prison rules where he was seen on security video covering up a camera near a hole in the floor adjacent to a perimeter wall. While not confirmed, the hole may have been dug for an attempted escape. The camera remained blinded on a spot for months where Spears and fellow inmates admitted shooting up opioids. Spears told the Board that he only injected drugs once during that time, but members didn’t believe him and found that he still engages in persistent criminal thinking. The Board directed Spears to “address the monster of his drug use,” “his entrenched criminal thinking” and to engage in sex offender rehabilitation programming.

According to Neumann, Spears continued to lie about the plan of the four accomplices the night of the attack and maintains that all agreed to leave if they found anyone at home. But he struggled to explain why he brought rope to the Ranzo house if the group had no intention to cause harm to its occupants.

The Parole Board found Spears unsuitable for parole for another three years but based on changes to California law regarding youthful parole, Spears may seek to advance his hearing to an earlier date earlier if he can show to the Board he has made “progress” in his rehabilitation.

The Board found that, even though Spears was only 17 at the time, evidence showed he was the “mastermind and ringleader” of the violent attack.

Members of the Ranzo family have attended 30 parole hearings in order to argue against the release of the four codefendants.

Sandy Ranzo Howell spoke for the victims’ family, telling Spears that “no matter what, you will always be Philip and Kathy Ranzo’s murderer and Kathy’s rapist.”

Victim advocate Beth DeJong argued that Spears continued to present a danger to the public.

On June 25, 1979, Spears, Darren Lawrence Lee, Ronald Ray Anderson and Jeffrey Maria gained access to the home of Phillip and Kathryn Ranzo and killed them after torturing both. Philip Ranzo was a 30-year-old pharmacist and wife Kathryn a 29-year-old beauty shop owner.

The teenage suspects targeted the Ranzos because they believed them to have large amounts of cash in their home. They showed up at the couple’s door, pretending to be out of gas and needing to use a phone. Acting as a Good Samaritan, Mr. Ranzo directed them to his garage to retrieve a can of gas. Maria and Spears then forced Mr. Ranzo at gunpoint into the garage and hogtied him. Prosecutors say they used his 10-year-old son’s baseball bat to brutally beat him. The killers also tortured him with a hatchet – slicing his throat and eyelids. He died from being beaten over the head with a blunt objects six times and stabbed in the neck.

Spears, Lee and Maria then entered the Ranzo home where Spears forced Kathryn Ranzo at gunpoint into her upstairs bedroom where she was tied up and raped. An autopsy showed that she had been struck multiple times in the head with an axe and suffered a fatal stab wound to the throat as well as multiple cuts to her eyelids and face.

Both bodies were found the next day and the house had been ransacked, with cash, jewelry and a gun missing.

The brutal killings orphaned their 10-year-old son, who happened to be staying at his grandparents’ house the night of the murders.

Lee, who was a 16-year-old participant and now 60, was rejected for parole during a June 29 hearing of the State Board of Parole Hearings at San Quentin Prison.

In May 2022 Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed the decision of the Board of Parole Hearings to release Anderson.

In October 2018 Gov. Jerry Brown overturned the Parole Board decision to release Maria.

Kathryn Ranzo was the daughter of Turlock Police Officer Joseph Moore. She graduated from Turlock High School in 1967. Philip Ranzo was the son of Marie Kathryn Rhodes Ranzo who worked as a nurse’s aide at the Memorial Hospital Ceres and who attended St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Ceres.