John William Fritz was born on June 15, 1896 to Blake and Ada Hamilton Fritz in Dublin, Erath County, Texas. Will was the oldest of four boys. In 1900, Blake was a farmer in Erath County. By 1910, the family had moved to Chaves County, New Mexico in or near a small community by the name of Lake Arthur where Blake was trying to make a living as a horse and mule rancher. Lake Arthur was small back then. Even now, it is only about ten streets north to south and east to west. By all accounts, Will had a normal childhood for the son of a rancher and grew up around the ranch, acquiring cowboy skills from Blake and other workers.
He served briefly in the United States Army in World War I around 1918. By 1920, Blake and Ada and the remaining children had left New Mexico and returned to live in Alexander, also in Erath County, about five miles east of Dublin. Will was actually living nearby with his grandparents at the time the 1920 Federal Census was taken. Around that time, he attended John Tarleton Agricultural College (now known as Tarleton State University) in nearby Stephenville but may not have graduated since by 1921, he had joined the Dallas Police Department where he would remain for the rest of his career.
When he had only been with the Dallas Police Department for two or three years, Will received word in the summer of 1924 that Blake, his father, had been murdered in Barstow, Ward County, Texas. The cause of death is listed as having been gunshot wounds. At the time, Blake was fifty-two years old. Two individuals (Ray Hamilton and Frank Burkholder) were indicted for the murder, but the disposition of the case against them is unknown.
Will found a home in the Dallas Police Department and was promoted to captain in the robbery and homocide bureau. During the 1920s, the city endured the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Reportedly at one time a number of members of city government and law enforcement officers were members and their membership was tolerated, “as long as it did not affect their jobs.” However, the Klan’s influence also rapidly declined nationally and statewide during that decade, as public opinion changed. Dallas also suffered for many years from a blight of gangsters who were in control of bootlegging, gambling and other illegal activities in addition to their acquisition of legitimate businesses.
(Image credit: TexasHistory.unt.edu)
Fritz survived a heart attack in 1953 and returned to duty after a routine recovery. Fritz had been a police officer for over forty years and was still serving as a detective when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Fritz headed up the investigation into the murder. At the time of the assassination, he was on duty at the Trade Mart where Kennedy was scheduled to speak, but he quickly rolled back downtown to the scene to take part in the initial investigation. Afterward during the investigations that followed, he interviewed key individuals including both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. Fritz was standing a few feet away from Oswald when Ruby shot Oswald in the basement of old City Hall in Dallas on November 24, 1963. In the familiar photos of that event, though he is often cropped out of the image, Fritz was looking away from Ruby at the moment Ruby shot Oswald, who was handcuffed to Jim Leavelle as Leavelle and Oswald stood to Fritz’s left. Fritz had questioned Oswald extensively in the two days prior to this event and only hours before had charged him with the President’s murder. Fritz felt that there was enough evidence to prosecute Oswald for the crime, had Oswald not been killed by Ruby two days later. Following the murder of Oswald, Captain Fritz also investigated Jack Ruby who was tried and convicted of the murder of Oswald. Ruby died in prison of cancer in early 1967.
Fritz is believed to have married twice in his life, first to Dorothy May Haskins and second to Alma Faye Turner and to have had one daughter. However, most of his life, he is thought to have lived by himself, although he was not a recluse. A 1963 newspaper article refers to Fritz enjoying visits with his four grandchildren.
He was known to be very private about his personal life, but that he enjoyed hunting and fishing. As he had learned the business in his youth, he also often had cattle and horses, “though just enough to stay broke,” he would add.
Fritz disdained politics and joked that he had been offered the position of Chief of Police more than once but had always turned it down, remarking that chiefs had a way of getting fired whereas detectives did not. He served with the Dallas Police Department until 1970 after forty-nine years on the force. Fritz died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 87 and is interred at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.
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