SISTERSVILLE - An ex-convict and Iraq war veteran who had been sought nationwide in the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her pregnant sister in Michigan was found dead at a cabin not far from Sistersville, police said today.
The U.S. Marshals Service, following up on a lead, discovered the body of Thomas Fritz Tuesday night inside the cabin located on Cow House Road, according to Michigan State Police Lt. Sean Furlong. It was later confirmed Fritz died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
U. S. Marshals, West Virginia State Police and Tyler County sheriff's deputies, along with several other departments, converged on the residence Tuesday. Shortly after they arrived, a shot rang out. Authorities, who had been trying to track down Fritz since Friday's shootings, had urged caution, saying the former military police specialist was armed and dangerous.
Fritz, 38, was charged with killing his 33-year-old ex-girlfriend, Amy Merrill, in a house they shared in Blissfield, a village on the edge of southern Michigan's scenic Irish Hills region.
He also was accused of killing the woman's younger sister, who was eight months' pregnant, and shooting and wounding their 52-year-old mother, Robin Lynn McCowan.
All were shot in Blissfield, about 20 miles northwest of Toledo, Ohio. Police found the women at a home after responding to a 911 call from one of the victims.
McCowan is hospitalized, and police say she is recovering from surgery.
The two sisters grew up in the area around Blissfield and were well-known. Merrill took her two oldest boys to youth baseball games and Boy Scouts meetings. She and her sister, 24-year-old Lisa Gritzmaker, were extremely close, friends said.
Fritz moved in with Merrill last winter along with her two sons from another relationship and a toddler they had together. She broke up with him about three weeks ago, investigators said.
Before that, he lived in Sylvania, Ohio, a Toledo suburb where he grew up.
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.
That same year he received an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice from Owens Community College in suburban Toledo.
The following year, in 2005, Fritz was indicted on one count of sexual battery, convicted by a jury in April 2006 and sentenced to a year in state prison, according to the Ohio prisons agency and court records. A judge also deemed Fritz a sexually oriented offender in May 2006, and Fritz's name and photo appears on the Lucas County, Ohio, sex offender registry.
Investigators said Fritz used a different name in Michigan, not an unusual move for sex offenders, Furlong said. He'd been sentenced to a year in an Ohio prison after being convicted of sexual battery in 2006. He also was deemed to be a sexually oriented offender.