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Published: Thursday, 7/19/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Sylvania man sought in 2 killings found dead in W.Va.

Suspect allegedly fired single shot as officers approached

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lights from law enforcement vehicles illuminate the cabin near Sistersville, W.Va., where Sylvania fugitive Thomas Jack Fritz, 38, was found dead of a single gunshot wound late Tuesday. Lights from law enforcement vehicles illuminate the cabin near Sistersville, W.Va., where Sylvania fugitive Thomas Jack Fritz, 38, was found dead of a single gunshot wound late Tuesday.
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Thomas Jack Fritz must have known he couldn't evade police any longer.

Authorities said that from the back porch of a cabin in rural West Virginia late Tuesday, the 38-year-old Sylvania man, armed with a rifle, watched a deputy U.S. marshal walk closer. Fritz, wanted for murder and felonious assault for the shooting deaths of two Blissfield, Mich., sisters, then fled inside and fired a single gunshot, officials said.

Authorities found Fritz dead inside, officials said. The nationwide manhunt for the former member of the military police and a decorated war veteran was over.

"There's still work to be done," Michigan State Police Lt. Sean Furlong said. "Essentially, when a suspect is deceased, there's not a lot more we can do with it. … We're comfortable that he's the only one who did it and it's not like anyone else could be charged."

Fritz had eluded police since Friday night after allegedly shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend, Amy Merrill, 33, and her sister, Lisa Gritzmaker, 24, inside Ms. Merrill's Blissfield home. Mrs. Gritzmaker was seven months pregnant when she was killed; the fetus also died.

Authorities found Thomas Jack Fritz dead of a single gunshot inside a West Virginia cabin. An autopsy is to be conducted. Authorities found Thomas Jack Fritz dead of a single gunshot inside a West Virginia cabin. An autopsy is to be conducted.
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Autopsy results have not been made available.

Fritz also is believed to have shot and injured the women's mother, Robin Lynn McCowan, 52, of Morenci, Mich. Lieutenant Furlong said Mrs. McCowan recently had a minor second surgery and is still recovering at a Toledo hospital.

The lieutenant said authorities do not yet know what, exactly, drove Fritz to allegedly shoot the three women, although officials have said he might have gone to Ms. Merrill's home to discuss custody of their 2-year-old child.

Law enforcement agencies in Michigan and Ohio were on the lookout for Fritz, but tips received Tuesday led authorities to the cabin in West Virginia's Tyler County near Sistersville, which is about 300 miles from Toledo.

Fritz had been to the cabin before, said Alex Neville, supervisory deputy U.S. marshal in Northern West Virginia. The cabin is owned by a man who used to employ Fritz, Deputy Marshal Neville said.

Lieutenant Furlong said the property owner was not at the cabin while Fritz was there.

The property owner, who he did not name, apparently did not know Fritz was hiding there.

"He was helpful," Lieutenant Furlong said about the property owner, adding that he indicated that, if Fritz were headed there, he would know where to find a spare key.

Deputy Marshal Neville said marshals and Tyler County deputies went to the cabin at 7:25 p.m. Tuesday, closing in on the cabin until Fritz allegedly ran inside and shot himself.

Authorities on the scene sought cover, set up a perimeter, and called in a special response team, Deputy Marshal Neville said.

At 10 p.m., the West Virginia State Police's special response team was in place and, about midnight, officers entered the home and found Fritz dead in a back bedroom, Deputy Marshal Neville said.

Inside the cabin authorities found two assault-style rifles, a shotgun, and a gas mask, Mr. Neville said.

Amy Merrill, right, 34, and her younger sister, Lisa Gritzmaker, right, 24, were fatally shot at Ms. Merrill's home shortly after 11:40 p.m. Friday. Amy Merrill, right, 34, and her younger sister, Lisa Gritzmaker, right, 24, were fatally shot at Ms. Merrill's home shortly after 11:40 p.m. Friday.
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Lieutenant Furlong said Fritz was a known collector of firearms, which was a "concern" for law enforcement.

"We knew he had a rifle and so the concern was what his actions would be when we contacted him," Lieutenant Furlong said. "Thankfully he didn't engage the officers in West Virginia and ended his own life opposed to trying to harm anyone else," the lieutenant said.

Fritz's body was taken to the West Virginia State Coroner's Office for an autopsy and will be turned over to his family once it is complete, authorities said.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.



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