A Day in Infamy

Summerfield slaughter 30 years ago ended in deaths of couple, two sons

Fritz Klenner and his first-cousin and lover Susie Lynch took their lives in an explosion. Lynch's sons were poisoned and shot; five other family members were killed.

  • 1
  • 12 min to read
Scene of Blazer explosion

(File) The scene where Fritz Klenner's Blazer blew up during a police chase, killing himself, Susie Newsom Lynch and her two children. Photo taken June 3, 1985. 

Bitter Blood.

The words evoke a crime spree that ended violently and dramatically 30 years ago this Wednesday.

On June 3, 1985, a Chevrolet Blazer driven by Fritz Klenner exploded on N.C. 150 in Summerfield.

The bomb also killed Susie Newsom Lynch, his first cousin, lover and co-conspirator.

Her sons, John and Jim, were in the Blazer and already dead — poisoned and shot — when she or Fritz flipped the switch.

An hour earlier, Fritz tried to gun down police officers with an Uzi near the intersection of Friendly Avenue and New Garden Road. He wounded two officers, one seriously.

Those dramatic events revealed a tale too sensational even for Hollywood to script, one of wealth, power, incest, mental illness.

And deaths. So many senseless deaths.

Nine.

All these years later, the story continues to arouse interest and defy reason.

People may have forgotten a few specifics.

But they recognize the names Fritz Klenner and Susie Lynch.

They remember the madness that destroyed two prominent families, their secrets blown apart and laid as bare on the pavement as Fritz’s Blazer.

The “Bitter Blood” epithet comes from articles written by Jerry Bledsoe, an award-winning reporter and columnist for the News & Record. His series, printed just 11 weeks after the explosion, gripped the community. The articles were the basis for his best-selling book by the same name and later, a made-for-TV movie, “In the Best of Families: Marriage, Pride and Madness.”

What follows is a summary of the events culled from Bledsoe’s reporting.

Part of the family

Susie Sharp Newsom and Frederick “Fritz” Klenner Jr. were born into wealth and influence.

They weren’t especially close growing up, despite being first cousins. They lived in different towns, had different interests.

Susie, called “Susie Q,” was named after her aunt, Susie Sharp, a North Carolina judge who was the country’s first elected female chief justice of a state supreme court. Susie Q’s mother, Florence Newsom, was the justice’s sister.

Born in Reidsville and raised in Winston-Salem, Susie Q was pretty, smart and treated like a princess.

Some called her spoiled. Her temper tantrums were so dramatic her mother could quell them only by pouring cold water on her.

As she grew older, she carried herself with the regal presence of a princess and even fixated on the British royal family.

She had her pick of suitors when she enrolled at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where she was a fraternity sweetheart.

Fritz Klenner was seven years her junior. His mother, Annie Hill Sharp Klenner, was the sister of Florence Newsom and Judge Susie Sharp.

His father was Dr. Frederick “Fred” Klenner Sr., a well-known but controversial doctor with an office in downtown Reidsville.

A graduate of Duke University’s medical school, the elder Klenner believed large doses of vitamin C could cure polio and multiple sclerosis.

He was revered by his patients, some of whom swore his treatments saved their lives. He was reviled by many in the medical establishment, some of whom considered him a quack.

As a child, Fritz never strayed far from his demanding father, trailing him at the office and on hunting trips.

The doctor doled out affirmation and disapproval to Fritz in equal measures. Fritz was expected to earn straight A’s, obey his father, never make a misstep.

When Fritz failed to meet those high standards, the doctor withdrew his attention, by far the harshest punishment he could inflect on his adoring son.

Fritz also absorbed his father’s odd ethos:

  • The Catholicism, which was ultraconservative and apocalyptic.
  • The racism, which kept him from integrating his waiting room even in the ’80s.
  • The hatred of communists, whom Dr. Klenner believed threatened Western civilization.

After graduating from Reidsville High, Fritz attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

He never graduated.

When his father demanded to see his diploma, Fritz lied, claiming his enemies in the German department conspired to keep him from finishing his degree.

Fritz pretended to straighten out the mis­understanding at Ole Miss, pretended to graduate, pretended to enroll in medical school at Duke University.

His father couldn’t have been more proud.

Princess moves on

Susie Q’s life, at least on the surface, was running more smoothly.

While at Wake Forest, she met a handsome basketball player, Tom Lynch. Blond and upwardly mobile, he was born into a wealthy family that lived outside Louisville, Ky.

Tom was flattered by the attentions of Susie, two years his senior.

But his mother, Delores Lynch, didn’t like her at all. As the relationship progressed, Delores urged Tom not to propose.

Delores and Susie fought the day of the wedding, June 6, 1970, casting a pall over the fancy ceremony in Winston-Salem.

Tom tried to work around their animosity.

The newlyweds immediately moved to Lexington, Ky., where Tom had been accepted into dental school at the University of Kentucky. Between his studies and her job at a research firm, the couple spent little time together — and even less time with Delores Lynch, whom they saw once in four years despite living just 85 miles away.

Susie despised Delores and made no attempt to hide it. She and Tom were living in Beaufort, S.C. — Tom had joined the Navy Reserve — when their son, John, was born in 1974.

Delores traveled from Kentucky to see her first grandchild. Susie told her to get a hotel room then call for an appointment to see the baby.

Jim was born in March 1976. Delores didn’t see him for a year.

A few months after Jim’s birth, Tom set up a dental practice in Albuquerque, N.M.

Susie never liked it there. She resented being stuck home with two small sons while Tom devoted countless hours to establishing his practice.

She often talked about her prominent, wealthy family back in North Carolina. She criticized the locals for their lack of culture and fashion sense.

There was evidence she beat John and Jim, once to the point where Jim was hospitalized for two days. A neighbor considered reporting her to local authorities, but never did.

Tensions between Susie and Tom grew each month, their fights becoming more frequent.

In July 1979, Susie and the boys returned to North Carolina, ostensibly to spend time with her dying grandfather.

She never returned to Albuquerque. Susie Q finally was back in Greensboro, where she could reap her family’s largesse.

Tom signed a separation agreement giving her full custody of John, 4, and Jim, 3.

But Susie grew restless. By the end of the year, she and the boys moved to China, where she taught English for six months.

Nothing was to her liking, especially the air pollution and, at least by her standards, the filthy homes she shared with local Chinese families.

When she and her sons returned to Greensboro in June 1980, Susie Q was thin, weak and demoralized, no longer living the life of a princess.

Her mother insisted that she see Dr. Fred Klenner for treatment.

‘Dr. Crazy’

The Fritz Klenner who Susie Newsom reconnected with in 1980 was supposedly a medical school student at Duke, his father’s alma mater.

Instead, Fritz was going to extraordinary lengths to convince the world that not only was he enrolled but considered a prodigy.

He told his father he was taking part in important blood research. Fred Klenner would take blood samples from his patients, then send them to Fritz for “analysis.”

Fritz kept apartments in Reidsville and Durham, where he stayed Mondays through Thursdays to attend “class” or “perform rounds” at the hospital.

Other days, he worked with his father in Reidsville, all the time wearing a white lab coat.

Patients called him “Young Dr. Klenner.”

Friends called him “Dr. Crazy.”

He always carried a medical bag, dispensing “stress pills,” offering various injections and, of course, pushing his father’s beloved vitamin C, which Fritz “prescribed” in massive doses.

He became friendly with the owners of a gun shop in Hillsborough. He told them far-fetched stories about rescuing his father from certain death. In another story, he heroically fought behind enemy lines in Vietnam as a Green Beret.

Fritz confided in those closest to him about his dangerous undercover work with the CIA.

None of it was true.

Soon after reconnecting at Fred Klenner’s office, Fritz and Susie began spending time together.

Eventually, almost all of their time together.

Fritz spent most nights at her apartment off Friendly Avenue near Guilford College. He took the boys camping and told them to call him “Papa.”

Family and friends pretended not to notice the obvious: The first cousins were lovers.

Fritz became Susie’s protector by convincing her that Tom was plotting to kidnap the boys. Susie responded by limiting their contact with Tom, or at the very least closely monitoring it.

She often refused to let them talk to Tom when he called each week from Albuquerque. When they did speak to their dad, Fritz recorded the calls.

Susie discarded the gifts that Tom and his mother sent the boys unopened. Even packages of baked goods from Delores Lynch were suspect. Susie said they might contain poison.

Tom rarely saw John and Jim. The visitation agreement allowed him a few holiday visits and several weeks in the summer, but nothing more. And Susie refused to allow him any more access than their agreement required.

When Tom did see his sons, they were thin, withdrawn, fearful — and loaded down with large quantities of vitamin C Fritz insisted they take with them to Albuquerque.

Tom decided to take legal action to boost his visitation rights.

In May 1984, Dr. Fred Klenner died at Morehead Hospital in Eden — and not Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, because of an ongoing grudge the doctor held.

Fritz sobbed as he told a large crowd gathered in the waiting room about his dramatic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save his father’s life.

One family friend remembers thinking Klenner’s death would surely send Fritz into a spiral.

A covert mission

As Tom Lynch’s cases wound through the courts, Susie’s paranoia grew. She resented the time Tom and his new wife, Kathy, spent with the boys, especially when they visited Delores Lynch in Kentucky.

On July 24, 1984, John and Jim were with Tom and Kathy in Albuquerque, and just days away from a trip to see Delores, when Tom received devastating news:

Delores and his sister, Janie Lynch, had been brutally killed, shot multiple times at close range with a high-powered weapon.

It looked like a professional hit, Kentucky police told him.

Susie refused Tom’s request to extend the boys’ stay in New Mexico so they could grieve as a family.

As investigators in Kentucky searched for clues, Tom received a condolence note from Florence Newsom, his former mother-in-law. He used it as an opportunity to explain his court actions.

All he wanted, he wrote in a letter to the Newsoms, was a normal, healthy relationship with his boys.

“I believe that in order for children of divorce to come out of the experience as well as possible, it is vital for them to have a strong relationship with their father as well as their mother,” he wrote.

“Yes,” Florence Newsom wrote back, “we agree it is very important that the boys have a strong and good relation with their father. We hope you and Susie can have good communication so the boys will not play one parent against the other.”

Tom and Kathy began communicating regularly with Bob and Florence Newsom, who sent pictures and described visits with John and Jim.

The Newsoms agreed to testify about the visitation on Tom’s behalf. This enraged Susie, who was growing more fearful each day of losing the boys.

She told relatives Tom had mob connections, which explained why his mother and sister were killed gangland style.

She knew this to be true, she said, because Fritz was in the CIA.

Fritz had convinced aother person he worked for the CIA: Ian Perkins, a 21-year-old from a prominent Reidsville family and a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Perkins had known Fritz all of his life, looked up to him. They shared a love of America, a hatred of communists and a fascination with guns.

Perkins had told Fritz he longed for a career in government intelligence after college. In the spring 1985, Fritz appealed to that desire when he told Perkins about his “work” with the CIA. Fritz needed Perkins’ help with a covert mission to kill foreign drug traffickers.

It was a tryout of sorts, Fritz told him. He would evaluate Perkins’ performance to determine whether he was worthy of other missions.

Perkins agreed.

Fritz picked the date: the weekend of May 17-19, 1985.

At 11 p.m. Saturday, May 18, Perkins deposited Fritz in the Old Town neighborhood of Winston-Salem.

Just after midnight, Fritz met up with Perkins, having completed the mission.

That night, three people were killed a half-mile from the drop-off point:

Bob and Florence Newsom, and Bob’s mother, Hattie.

Wearing a wire

On May 30, 1985, three days before the Blazer exploded, Winston-Salem police detectives questioned Perkins about his whereabouts the night the Newsoms were killed.

Fritz had used Perkins as an alibi when they questioned him. Fritz and Perkins had planned for such a scenario and had rehearsed their story:

They were camping together in the Virginia mountains that weekend.

But when the Kentucky officers pressed Perkins, he tearfully confessed the truth:

He wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, but he was assisting Klenner on a covert CIA mission. On Saturday, May 18, he drove Fritz to Winston-Salem to kill communists. They were raiding an American arsenal, smuggling the arms to South America and trading them for large quantities of drugs, which they sold at a profit. The Russian KGB was involved. The mission just so happened to take place the same weekend and a half-mile from where the Newsoms were killed.

The detectives, recognizing Perkins’ gullibility, realized he had swallowed Fritz’s story.

They shared some information with him:

Fritz was neither a doctor nor a spook.

He was a suspect in the Newsom homicides.

In fact, he may have killed Tom Lynch’s mother and sister in 1984.

Perkins, sickened by his inadvertent role in the Newsom slayings, agreed to wear a wire and try to elicit a confession from Fritz.

He met with Fritz on June 1 and 2. Both times, he said police were questioning him about the Newsoms’ deaths. Both times, he asked Fritz whether he had anything to do with them.

Fritz stuck to his CIA yarn. He gave Perkins several pills from his medicine bag to help him stay calm under interrogation.

About 1 p.m. Monday, June 3, Perkins met with Klenner a third time, again wearing a wire.

Perkins climbed into the passenger seat of Klenner’s Blazer outside Zayre’s discount department store on Cone Boulevard. He was terrified Fritz would see the wire and kill him.

Instead, Fritz came as close as he ever would to confessing, a statement recorded by the wire:

“I’ll write a paper saying you were not knowingly involved, that you believed you were on a covert mission for the government.

“I’ve got things to do. ... I won’t see you again.”

Perkins didn’t know — couldn’t have known — he was sitting on top of a bomb, the same one that would blow up two hours later in Summerfield.

Plenty of police

A caravan of unmarked police cars followed Fritz from Zayre’s.

He arrived at Susie’s apartment off Friendly Avenue about 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Forsyth County district attorney authorized Fritz’s arrest based on his near-confession to Perkins. Soon, law enforcement personnel, and lots of them, had the apartment surrounded from a distance.

The Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies who guided Perkins on the sting operations were there.

So were detectives from the Kentucky State Police, in town to question Fritz about the Lynch homicides.

Agents with the North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation were on the ground and in the air.

The Greensboro Police Department had sent a detective to serve as a liaison. All they needed was a uniformed Greensboro officer to stand by during the arrest.

Tommy Dennis, a squad leader who was near the Greensboro Coliseum on Lee Street, radioed that he was on his way. He knew no details, only that he would be helping other law enforcement approach a felony suspect.

Dennis headed toward Friendly Avenue as detectives remained at the apartment, watching Fritz and Susie load the Blazer with what looked like camping supplies.

John, Jim and Susie’s chow dog got into the back seat. With Susie in the passenger’s seat, Fritz headed east on Friendly Avenue.

No one could have anticipated what happened next. It was a consequence of law officers from four jurisdictions working earnestly but haphazardly to catch a violent, unpredictable killer.

Fritz approached the stretch of Friendly that intersects with New Garden and College roads.

A Greensboro detective pulled in front of the Blazer. Other officers materialized and waved for Fritz to stop. An SBI agent held up his badge for Fritz to see.

Fritz pulled the Blazer onto the curb, drove around the police car and continued east.

Traffic continued to flow along Friendly.

Dennis, in his squad car, approached the Blazer from the west. He flipped on his blue light, still not knowing the specifics of the operation, and tried to make a U-turn to get behind the Blazer.

Suddenly, two unmarked cars — one from the SBI, the other a Mustang driven by a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy — made U-turns behind Dennis.

The Mustang passed Dennis to get to Fritz.

Dennis swerved and skidded into the Blazer, hitting the driver-side door.

All that stood between Dennis and Fritz was the front end of the squad car.

Ten feet, maybe less.

Dennis looked up to see a 9 mm submachine gun pointed at him.

And Fritz, smiling broadly.

Fritz fired the Uzi. Five bullets hit Dennis’s squad car. Two hit Dennis. One struck his chest. The second grazed his belt buckle.

At his wife’s insistence, Dennis always wore a bulletproof vest, which saved his life. But the impact of the Uzi shredded the flesh on his chest and shoulder. Dennis was conscious but in agonizing pain.

Fritz continued to fire the Uzi indiscriminately. Some of the officers shot back.

Civilians and law enforcement alike ducked in their vehicles as the shootout commenced. People at nearby businesses fell to the ground.

One Kentucky detective took a bullet from Fritz’s Uzi under his right arm.

Fritz appeared boxed in by all the cars but managed to escape. He pulled the Blazer onto New Garden Road, followed again by lots of police cars.

He creeped along New Garden, then turned north on Battleground Avenue and into Summerfield, slowing several times to open fire on the officers behind him.

Fritz turned east on N.C. 150. Residents heard the rat-a-ta-tat of machine gun fire as Fritz stopped near Bronco Lane.

Some clicks.

Then the Blazer exploded.

Debris fell to the ground in a million little pieces, obscured by plumes of white smoke.

A radio call one of the police officers made from his car marked the time — 3:07 p.m.

Officers surveyed the area carefully, fearing they might trip other bombs.

Most would say they had never seen anything more gruesome.

Susie lay in a culvert, her lower body blown apart from the bomb that detonated beneath her.

The boys were upright in the remains of the Blazer’s back seat, the dog between them. Investigators wouldn’t learn until days later that they already were dead when the bomb exploded — poisoned with cynanide, then shot in the head by their mother.

Fritz survived, but just briefly. A detective from Kentucky found him breathing. He bent and turn his ear toward Fritz, hoping for a confession.

Instead, Fritz gurgled blood and died.

Within moments, the sky turned black. Wind, lightning and torrential rain again had officers taking cover.

And in the tempest, hail the size of marbles pelted the lifeless bodies of Susie and Fritz, the princess and the protector.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Contact Margaret Moffett at (336) 373-7031, and follow @MargaretMoffett on Twitter.

Recommended for you

Load comments

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News