Target 8

Decades after GR murders, 'Scorecard Killer' still on death row

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The "Scorecard Killer" is one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, tied to as many as 67 murders — most in California and about half a dozen in Oregon.

But Randy Kraft also paid a midweek visit to Grand Rapids.

Thirty-five years after his arrest, Kraft, now 73, is still on death row in California.

A WATER TANK AND TWO BODIES

It's a steady climb up and around tree-lined curves heading west on Buth Drive NW from West River Drive, past century-old farm houses. In a clearing on the left, a massive water tank — stark, white — occupies the highest ground. Save for an occasional maintenance worker, Plainfield Township's water tank gets few visitors. And why would it?

But on Dec. 9, 1982, a frigid Thursday morning, a Consumers Power meter reader who was there just to do his job happened upon them on the frozen ground: the bodies of two men.

Both were face up. One was naked, the other shoeless and without a coat. They lay feet to feet at a right angle, frozen and partially drifted over with snow. The drag marks made it clear somebody had dumped them there.

"We had two bodies that were obviously molested, mutilated and unclothed and dead," recalled now-retired Kent County Sheriff's Department Detective Edward Rusticus, who helped investigate the murders.

Locals knew they were dealing with a monster unlike anything they had seen before.

"You wonder, what's going to happen? Is this the start of something? Or is it just an aberration?"
then-Kent County Prosecutor David Sawyer said.

It wasn't long before authorities identified the bodies as 20-year-old Chris Schoenborn and his 24-year-old cousin Dennis Alt.

"They were hardworking farm boys, totally dedicated to the lifestyle that they had grown up in," Schoenborn's mom Carol Luneke said.

"It's something that you can only imagine might happen to somebody else," she continued. "Truly. These things don't happen to ordinary people like us."

\Schoenborn lived and worked on the family's centennial farm on 20th Avenue in Wright Township, raising hogs and row after row of apple trees. A Grand Rapids West Catholic High School graduate, member of the prom court and a natural mechanic, as his mother called him, he was expected to help take over the farm one day.

Alt came from a well-known farm family in the Comstock Park area. A Kenowa Hills High School graduate, he was one 10 kids, worked on his uncle's farm and loved to hunt, fish and snowmobile.

"They were great families," Rusticus, the retired detective, said. "They were kind of from that Fruit Ridge area. They were church people, good people, raised good families."

"It was shocking," Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle, who performed the autopsies on Alt and Schoenborn, said. "These were two young men from prominent farming families known to be in good health, not known to have any bad habits or bad associates."

"How can you end up with two individuals, two young individuals, 20 and 24, good physical character, and there they are," Sawyer, the retired prosecutor, said. "They had had some mutilation and they obviously had been abused."

DEADLY COCKTAILS AT THE AMWAY GRAND

The cousins had last been seen alive two nights before their bodies were found at the annual horticulture convention at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids. It was a big deal for fruit farmers: a chance to learn more about their trade and trade stories. It's where the Michigan Apple Queen was crowned.

They had drinks that night at Tootsie Van Kelly's, a popular hotel bar, but never made it home.

"That was not like him not to show up for chores in the morning and not to contact us, so in your heart, you know that something is very, very wrong," Schoenborn's mom said.

The Alts and Schoenborns had searched for their sons. Schoenborn's parents sat in the hotel lobby beneath a massive chandelier, hoping the two would walk by.

"You're looking for them, you know they're missing. Where are they? This is the last that we knew, they were down there," she said.

Cohle's autopsies raised more questions than they answered.

Schoenborn had been sexually mutilated with an Amway Grand Plaza pen.

But Cohle saw no obvious signs of how the young men died.

"There really was very little in the way of injury," he said. "Maybe a few scratches, but nothing traumatic, nothing that would have disabled either one of them, or even restrained either one of them. There were no ligature marks on the wrists or ankles.

"How they could have been at this convention at the Amway Grand and then nobody saw them leave?"

And how could anyone have overpowered the two men? Alt was 5-foot-6 and weighed 130 pounds, but Schoenborn was 6-foot-1, weighed 200 pounds and wrestled in high school.

"So it was hard to conceive that he (Schoenborn) would against his will and without incident have left this convention and ended up dead. It was an incredible mystery," Cohle said.

Then came the toxicology test results. Both had alcohol in their systems and diazepam, more commonly known as Valium.

"It would make them very sleepy, and indeed it could make them pass out — the combination of alcohol and Valium," Cohle said.

The cocktail would have made it easy for a killer to choke them to death without resistance.

"They'd be either minimally conscious or unconscious and I think it would be pretty easy to suffocate them," Cohle said.

From there, the investigation stalled.

"This one just occupied us so much because you sat there. We hadn't encountered something like this, such a serial killer," said Rusticus, the detective who helped on the case. "We didn't focus strongly in on a suspect. We had no suspect."

A BREAK ON A CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY

In May 1983, six months after the murders in Grand Rapids, there was a break more than 2,000 miles away on a highway in southern California.

California Highway Patrol pulled over then-38-year-old Randy Kraft for driving erratically on Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo. In the passenger seat of his Toyota Celica, they found a dying Marine — Kraft's last victim.

That led to more discoveries, notably a notebook in the trunk with cryptic handwritten notes on as many as 67 victims dating back to 1971. "Stable," the book read, "Marine Down, Skates, Parking Lot, Deodorant, Hollywood Bus, Portland Head."

At 67, Kraft had more victims than John Wayne Gacy, who buried some of his in the crawl space under his Chicago home, and Jeffrey Dahmer, who ate some of his.

Police said Kraft killed men only, sexually mutilating them. Many were found with Valium in their systems. Many were dumped near highways.

The Plainfield water tank is 2.5 miles from the US-131 West River Drive exit, a 12-minute drive from the Amway.

RECORDED IN NOTEBOOK: "GR2"

California police sent out a nationwide alert looking for victims killed under similar circumstances.

"Does anyone have information regarding males strangled, diazepam, body parts mutilated, things of that nature?" Rusticus remembered the note.

It caught the attention of Kent County detectives.

"There were actually, believe it or not, about 11 things that they listed and 10 of them were what happened to our victims," the former detective said.

And written in Kraft's notebook: "GR2." It came after "Portland Head."

"Obviously, those were our two killings here," Rusticus said.

Within 24 hours, he and another Kent County detective were flying to Los Angeles. They helped search Kraft's home in Long Beach. He was a collector. They found Schoenborn's Mighty Mac jacket, bottle opener, belt and boots.

In the lost and found at the Amway Grand Plaza, they found Alt's keys.

Soon, the Kent County detectives were sitting face-to-face in an Orange County interview room with Kraft, who has denied killing anybody. The detectives told Kraft where they were from and why they were there.

"He was, 'I've been in Grand Rapids, I know Grand Rapids, but I don't know what you're talking about,'" Rusticus said.

Kraft had visited Grand Rapids for a seminar for California-based Lear Siegler, where he worked as a computer programmer. He has been described as a genius. Records show he spent four days here, stayed in room 1169 at the Amway, rented a Buick Skylark on Dec. 5, 1982, and returned it Dec. 8, the day of the killings.

A co-worker later testified that he and Kraft had drinks with the cousins at the bar, that Schoenborn joked about being a "poor dirt farmer," according to published reports.

"He drinks with them, he becomes acquainted with them very quickly, and obviously if he has a liking for a person somehow slips a mickey into their drink," Rusticus said.

A Kent County Citizens Grand Jury indicted Kraft for the murders of Schoenborn and Alt. The former prosecutor said the case was strong.

"I think it's very rock solid," Sawyer said. "You've got witnesses who put him with these two young men at Tootsie Van Kelly's. You've got the evidence that's found in the rooms. You've got the scorecard that says 'GR2.'"

>>App users: Timeline of the case

NEARLY 3 DECADES ON DEATH ROW

In 1989, after a California jury convicted Kraft of 16 murders in that state, Schoenborn's and Alt's moms testified at his death penalty hearing in Los Angeles.

As a devout Catholic, Schoenborn's mom struggled with the death penalty. She went to her priest for help.

"He said, ‘You will find in the Bible that says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" she said. "He quoted a couple of spots and he said, 'I feel that, yes, God is his judge, but he has taken lives. He doesn't deserve to live.'"

She remembers Kraft, 10 feet away from her as she approached the witness stand.

"He just stared at me, glanced at me. He was sitting there with a tweed jacket on that had patches on the elbows," she said. "He had a purple shirt on, he had a purple tie on and he was writing with a purple pen.

"When I got past him, I mean, I had cold chills being that close to him. He just looked at me like I was, who the heck are you?"

Soon, Kraft would learn that these were the moms of the GR2 and that they had names. They helped convince a jury to send Kraft to death row in November 1989.

That's where he is still, 73 years old, at San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco.

Kraft is one of more than 740 inmates on death row in California, by far more than any other state in the country. California hasn't executed anyone in more than a decade, despite a voter-approved proposition in 2016 to speed up the process.

Sawyer, the former prosecutor who is now on the Michigan Court of Appeals, only recently learned that Kraft is still alive.

"Went on the internet, there he is," Sawyer said. "If you're going to have a death penalty, you ought to carry it out. Either that, or don't have a death penalty."

He said he can't think of anyone who deserves it more.

"What I feel sorry for are the parents and the people who knew these two young men that have to go through this knowing there's not a final decision or something hasn't been done," Sawyer said.

Rusticus, the retired detective, said Kraft should have been executed years ago.

"Who's paying for all that? Citizens are paying for him to stay alive. I think the justice system didn't do their job completely," he said.

Schoenborn's mom gets updates on Kraft's federal court appeals every year from the attorney general's office in California. She keeps them stacked on a countertop in her kitchen. He filed the appeal in 2001 and it's still pending.

Today, though, she no longer wants the state to kill her son's killer.

"My feeling about it has totally changed. I feel now that this is the worst sentence for him is to be on death row," Schoenborn's mom said.

But she does wonder if a trial in Grand Rapids would have given her more answers.

"I guess from the aspect that maybe more would have come out of that, more from the investigation," she said.

She wants to know why Kraft chose her son and his cousin. And there’s another nagging, baffling question:

"How in the dickens did Mr. Kraft manage to haul them into the rental car and take them out to the water tower and dump them?" she said.

In Michigan, which has not had the death penalty since 1847, Kent County prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Kraft.

"It didn't seem worth it," Sawyer, the former prosecutor, said. "They (California) had a death penalty. We only had life, no parole."

>>Online: Facebook Live Q&A

INCOMPLETE FAMILY PHOTOS

Schoenborn's mom says she has since tried to learn more about Kraft and even bought a book about him.

"What is the mind of a serial killer like? What makes them do that they do?" she said.

He was, according to reports, a high school honors student, played tennis and spent a year in the U.S. Air Force. He also had two prior arrests, both for lewd conduct.

She remembers putting the book down, then picking it back up.

"I picked it up again, and it opened to the center, you know how the center part will open on a paperback? And that had photos in it, and that was the first time I saw a photo that we had not been privy to," she said.

It was a crime scene photograph of her son and his cousin.

"I can't tell you what kind of reaction I had," she said. "I know I fired the book across the room, and I never picked it up after that."

In the decades since the murders, the Schoenborn family has grown exponentially: in-laws, grandkids, great-grandkids. Schoenborn's mom pointed to one of the many family photographs on a wall near her front door.

"He should be in that picture," she said. "Probably him and that gal that he (would have) married. And maybe some grandkids."

Schoenborn's parents have divorced and the family has sold off most of the farm. Without their son, they lost interest.

"I think possibly, if he was still alive, that our family might still be operating that farm," she said.

If not, she said, for that monster.


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