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Captain John Fritz

CAPTAIN FRITZ: I don't know of anything that I am hesitant to talk about, or anything that I wouldn't care about telling you.
MR. HUBERT: If there is any time in the course of the deposition that you would rather have advice on before you proceed, just say so and we will stop at that point and let you have advice.
CAPTAIN FRITZ: I can't think of anything that I need advice on, but if you know something I don't know, just tell me.
MR. HUBERT: I don't know. I don't believe there is either, but it is hard for me to tell whether you do or not.
CAPTAIN FRITZ: I know nothing about this entire case that the truth won't fit better than anything else.  I don't know of anything to be hesitant about, unless there is something I haven't heard of [...]

(excerpt from J.W. Fritz's Warren Commission Testimony)

Image of Dallas Police Captain J.W. 'Will' Fritz at Dallas Police Headquarters

Dallas Times Herald photograph of Captain Fritz being interviewed by Bill Mercer, a KRLD reporter, on the eve of Kennedy's assassination.

As lead investigator in the murder of JFK and witness to the murder of Oswald, J.W. Fritz held a vital role in investigating the double homicide of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.  Unfortunately, Fritz's high-profile position came with a high price as he quickly became a key person of interest in the overall investigation and a target of the Warren Commission and FBI.

Early Life

John "Will" (J.W.) Fritz was born on June 15, 1895, in Dublin, Texas.  He spent his early childhood on a ranch near Lake Arthur, New Mexico and spent his early adulthood as a traveling horse and mule trader.  After a brief service in the United States Army, Fritz enrolled in Tarleton State College in his early twenties.  He joined the Dallas Police Department in 1921 as a beat officer before becoming a detective.  In 1934, Fritz advanced to Captain and head of the Homicide and Robbery Bureau.  He had the opportunity to be named Chief of Police in 1947, but he reportedly declined and accepted the special title of "Senior Captain" instead.    

The "Puppet Master"

Lee Harvey Oswald's Rifle

Mannlicher-Carcano rifle owned by Lee Harvey Oswald that was allegedly used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

Texas School Book Depository

Captain Fritz's debut was at the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where he was summoned from his post at the Trade Mart by Deputy Constable, Seymour Weitzman and Dallas County Deputy, Eugene Boone.  Upon arrival, Fritz ordered a search of the area and at 1:22 pm, Boone alerted Fritz that he had located a rifle in between some boxes on the northwest side of the floor.  Fritz seized the rifle, ejected a round of ammunition, and then immediately terminated the search of the building.

Deputy Weitzman Transfers Oswald's Rifle to Captain J.W. Fritz

Excerpt from Deputy Seymour Weitzman's testimony regarding Fritz's handling of Oswald's rifle.

Fritz answers a CBS reporter's questions regarding the murder of President Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Interrogation of Oswald

As head of the Dallas Police Homicide and Robbery Bureau, Fritz was tasked with leading the investigation of President Kennedy's assassination by interrogating the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.  Fritz was the only one to interrogate Oswald prior to his assassination by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963. He was interrogated for a total of 12 hours between about 2:30 pm on Friday, November 22 to 11:15 am on Sunday, November 24  Fritz's notes are the only remnant of his talk with Oswald as there was no audio recorded or stenographer present. 

J.W. Fritz's Notes from Interrogation of Oswald

Fritz's handwritten notes from Oswald's interrogation (click image to view all).

Fritz responds to reporters' questions regarding Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination by Jack Ruby.

Threat to Oswald's Life

A threatening call was received regarding Oswald's life according to Captain W.B. Frazier.

MR. HUBERT: Did you have anything to do with the planning of the exact transfer of Oswald to the County Jail?
CAPTAIN FRITZ: I can't say that there was a meeting of any kind planning the transfer, but if there was, I wasn't there [...]

(excerpt from J.W. Fritz's Warren Commission Testimony)

Transfer of Oswald

According to Police Chief Jesse Curry, Captain Fritz "was in charge of the plans for removal of Oswald to the Dallas County Jail." The details surrounding Oswald's transfer from the Dallas City Jail to the Dallas County Jail, such as the time, were left to the discretion of Fritz while Curry was in charge of the overall security plan.  Fritz claimed he "had nothing to do with the setting up of the plan" prior to his meeting with Curry, which was the day before the transfer, "nor with the setting up of the security in the basement." He also stated that he had no idea who leaked Oswald's transfer time to the press nor what caused the breakdown in security.

Why the Police Department?

The decision for the Dallas Police Department to conduct the transfer was atypical.  It was customary for the Constable to handle prisoner transfers and even Fritz admitted that that was the "usual procedure," however, the usual procedure did not apply to the assassin of a president.  Given the gravity of the case, the police department felt that they should make the transfer as a means of providing extra protection-a fear that was confirmed by the receipt of a threat to Oswald's life the night before.  

The "Key Person"

J.W. Fritz's Social Network of Dallas Police Officers

Social network analysis of Captain Fritz and the other Dallas police officers involved in the investigations of JFK and Oswald's deaths.

Links of J.W. Fritz's Transcription

Relationships between the most commonly occurring words from an excerpt of Fritz's FBI Key Persons file.

The Common Denominator

A plausible reason for the Warren Commission and FBI's interest in J.W. Fritz was due to Fritz's central role in the Dallas Police Department and in the investigations of JFK and Oswald's deaths.  The image on the left, Fritz's Social Network Analysis, was created using Palladio, a program from Stanford University's Digital Humanities Lab for visualizing social networks.  It shows relationships between Fritz and other Dallas police officers which were amassed from an excerpt of Fritz's FBI Key Persons file.  Captain Fritz not only has direct ties to 17 different officers, but he is also at the center of the network, thus confirming his central status in the investigation.

The image below Fritz's Social Network Analysis shows relationships between the most commonly occurring words from the same excerpt of Fritz's FBI Key Persons file.  This image was created using Voyant-Tools, a data visualization program that analyzes text.  The thicker the grey line, the stronger the relationship is between the two words.  Additionally, the words in blue were not simply the words that appeared the most, but rather the words that appeared most frequently and had the greatest number of ties to the other most frequently used words.  While it is unsurprising that the words with the highest frequency and greatest number of ties are “captain” and “Fritz,” since the excerpt comes from Fritz’s file, nor that “Fritz” and “captain” have the strongest relationship to each other, since they are often used interchangeably, it is noteworthy how one of the ties to Fritz's name is “red.”  This tie emphasizes the FBI's suspicion of Fritz since the only red writing in Fritz's file is “KP” or “Key Person."

DA Henry Wade Requests the Transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald

District Attorney Henry Wade requests that Lee Harvey Oswald be transferred from the Dallas Police Department to the Dallas Sheriff's office.

MR. HUBERT: All right, will you raise your right hand?  Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give in this matter will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
CAPTAIN FRITZ: I do.

(excerpt from J.W. Fritz's Warren Commission Testimony)

Conflicting Accounts

It is important to note that the following testimonies from Henry Wade and Travis Kirk were recorded within days of the assassination whereas Fritz's Warren Commission testimony was recorded in July of 1964, eight months after the assassination.

Fritz vs. Wade

The FBI's suspicions may not have been completely unfounded.  There were instances in which Captain Fritz's testimony did not align with the accounts of others.  For example, when asked by Mr. Hubert, a member of the Advisory Staff of the General Counsel of the President's Commission (Warren Commission), why Oswald was not transferred to the Dallas County Jail on Friday or Saturday night instead, Fritz replied:

"I don't really favor night time moves, because I can't see any further at night than I can in the daytime, and if a man shoots a man, you can see him just as far in daylight as at night, and with proper security, you should be able to move through town without waiting for night fall."

Fritz's reply would not be a cause for concern if it were not for the testimony of District Attorney Henry Wade.  When asked about the transfer by Special Agents John Rice and Alfred Neeley, Wade confessed to asking Fritz to consider moving Oswald to the Dallas Sheriff's Office on Friday night, November 22, 1963.  Fritz refused on account of Sheriff Bill Decker's dislike for moving prisoners at night.  The disparity between Fritz and Wade's accounts reflects negatively on Fritz as one might conclude that Fritz favored the daytime transfer to intentionally put Oswald at risk.

J.W. Fritz at the Midnight Conference

Excerpt from the Warren Commission Report regarding Captain Fritz's attendance at a midnight press conference held in the basement of the police department on November 22, 1963.

Fritz vs. Warren Commission

A second instance of conflicting accounts is in reference to Captain Fritz's whereabouts on the night of November 22, 1963.  Here is an excerpt from Fritz's Warren Commission testimony regarding that night:

MR. HUBERT: There was an assembly of the press held late at night of the 22nd or possibly the early morning of the 23rd to which Oswald was brought.  Chief Curry and Henry Wade were there, and there were a number of press personnel there.  It was held in the assembly room.  Did you go to that?

CAPTAIN FRITZ: No.

MR. HUBERT: Did you know anything about it at all?

CAPTAIN FRITZ: I know about it.  I know that the Chief told me to have [Oswald] carried to the assembly room, to the showup room, and I directed some of my officers to take him down there, but I didn't attend the discussion.

Fritz's account conflicts with the final report of the Warren Commission which states that Fritz was present at the press conference.  Although the room was full, Fritz remained outside in the doorway with Deputy Chief M.W. Stevenson and thus attended the discussion.  Whether or not Fritz stayed for the duration of the meeting, his presence could support the theory that he leaked Oswald's transfer time to the press since he was the only one who knew when Oswald would be moved and the room contained at least 70 members of the press, including the soon-to-be assassin Jack Ruby.

Travis Kirk's Testament on J.W. Fritz's Character

Evaluation of J.W. Fritz's character by a former Dallas defense attorney, Travis Kirk.

Fritz vs. Kirk

Arguably the most concerning discrepancy is that of J.W. Fritz and Travis Kirk's accounts of Jack Ruby.  When asked by Mr. Hubert whether he had known Ruby prior to Oswald's shooting, Fritz replied:

"Did I know him before, no, sir, I did not.  I never knew him before, to the best of my knowledge.  This is the first time I ever saw him, when he was arrested [...]"

Fritz's response, in which he failed to decisively assert that he had no prior knowledge of Ruby, was subject to further speculation in light of Travis Kirk's testimony.  According to Travis Kirk, former District Attorney employee and defense attorney in Dallas, Fritz probably had arranged for Oswald to be shot "in order to close the case," an assumption that is supported by Fritz's reputation as a skilled interrogator and his homicide division's 98% success rate in a ten-year period in solving the 54 to 98 murder cases that would come through his division each year. 

Moreover, Kirk's statement that Captain Fritz and Jack Ruby were close friends and that Ruby "was allowed a complete run of the Police Station and particularly the Homicide and Inspectors Bureau" may also be corroborated by Fritz's confession to Mr. Hubert that some of his officers knew Ruby prior to the shooting since they had immediately identified Ruby to Fritz as the shooter.  Therefore, Fritz was tied to Ruby, either personally as suggested by Kirk or indirectly via his subordinate officers.  This tie, coupled with Fritz's impeccable case record, may lead one to believe that Fritz played a part in ensuring Oswald's demise. 

The Final Verdict

John “Will” Fritz

Photograph of J.W. Fritz

Captain J.W. Fritz's legacy as an exceptional interrogator was stunted by the death of Lee Harvey Oswald which cost him the chance to solve the murders of both President John F. Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit.  Although 55 years have passed since the Dallas double homicide of November 22, 1963, the mystery surrounding that day persists, especially as new documentation surrounding the assassination continues to be released.  While a "smoking gun" has yet to be uncovered, the events of that weekend will soon be fully disclosed and the true thoughts and feelings of Captain Fritz may finally be revealed.

Bibliography

Bosse, Paula. "November 22, 1963: Will Fritz and the JFK Investigation." Flashback : Dallas. November 22, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://flashbackdallas.com/2016/11/22/november-22-1963-will-fritz-and-the-investigation/.

Fritz, J.W., 11/30/1963 - 9/24/1964, Container 12, Series: Records Relating to Key Persons, 11/30/1963 - 9/24/1964 Record Group 272: Records of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, 1954 - 1965, National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7460508.

Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1964), 232. https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/GPO-WARRENCOMMISSIONREPORT.

Simkin, John. "Will Fritz: Biography." Spartacus Educational. September 1997. Accessed April 16, 2018. http://spartacus-educational.com/JFKfritz.htm.

Stowers, Carlton. "Fritz, John Will." The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). June 12, 2010. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffr24.