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Murder suspect dead from self-inflicted wound

By Staff | Jul 25, 2012

Thomas J. Fritz

The search for homicide suspect Thomas Jack Fritz, age 38, of Sylvania, Ohio, came to an end on July 17 at a remote cabin near Sistersville.

Fritz was charged in Michigan for the July 13 slayings of his ex-girlfriend and her pregnant sister, as well as the shooting of their mother.

Shortly following the murders, law enforcement officials from Michigan contacted the United States Marshals Service fugitive task force and requested assistance in locating and apprehending Fritz. A lead which was sent to the U.S. Marshals in Cleveland eventually resulted in information being developed Fritz may be hiding out at a cabin located on Adonis Ridge off Cow House Road in rural Tyler County. The camp was owned by the suspect’s co-worker.

On Sunday, a vehicle matching the description of the one Fritz was driving was seen in the area. “The Sheriff’s Office was able to gather information on the camp and the vehicle,” noted Sheriff Earl P. “Bob” Kendle, Jr. “This information was given to the Marshal Service.”

At approximately 7:25 p.m. on July 17, a team of Deputy U.S. Marshals accompanied by the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office approached the dwelling in an attempt to apprehend the fugitive. As arrest team members closed in, a Deputy Marshal covering the rear of the dwelling spotted Fritz on the back porch armed with a rifle. Fritz fled into the residence and seconds later a shot was heard from inside the residence. Arrest team members immediately sought cover and set up a perimeter while the assistance of tactical response teams was requested.

“SWAT teams from Wetzel County and the West Virginia State Police were called to the scene to make entry,” Kendle said.

At approximately 10 p.m. members of the WV State Police SRT unit assembled near the target residence to be briefed by the Marshals concerning the situation. At approximately midnight the SRT unit approached the dwelling and made entry. Fritz’s body was eventually located in a rear bedroom with what appeared to be a life ending, self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A search of the residence uncovered two assault style rifles, a shotgun and gas mask. The West Virginia State Police processed the dwelling for evidence and the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department is handling the death investigation. The body was taken to the WV State Corner’s Office for autopsy and positive identification.

No law enforcement officers or civilians were injured during the operation.

Sheriff Kendle added, “Thanks go out to the following agencies for their help: Sistersville Police Department, Paden City Police Department, Wetzel County Sheriff’s Office, West Virginia State Police, and Sistersville and Middlebourne EMS.”

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The suspect moved in with 33-year old Amy Lynn Merrill, last winter along with her two sons from another relationship and a toddler the couple had together. But investigators said, Fritz was apparently unhappy when Merrill broke up with him three weeks ago. Afterwards, Merrill and her family reported Fritz was stalking her and sending her unsettling text messages.

The shootings occurred on July 13 around 11:40 p.m at the Blissfield, Mich. home. Merrill and her sister Lisa Michelle Gritzmaker, age 24, who was eight months pregnant, were killed. Their mother, Robin Lynn McCowan, age 52, was hospitalized with non-fatal injuries.

A three-count felony warrant was authorized by the Lenawee County Prosecutor’s Office for Fritz’s arrest, including two counts of open murder and count of assault with the intent to commit murder.

Fritz, who was reportedly a decorated veteran, served in the Ohio National Guard beginning in 1997 and later the Army Reserve. He then spent nearly a year in Iraq with the guard’s military police unit from the spring of 2003 through early 2004. He had been the recipient of the Combat Action Badge, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device and the Army Commendation Medal.

At the time of the shooting, Fritz was on parole following a 2007 conviction for a felony count of sexual battery. After serving one year in prison, he was put on parole for five, set to conclude next year. A judge also deemed Fritz a sexually oriented offender, and Fritz’s name and photo appears on the Lucas County, Ohio, sex offender registry.