John Will Fritz, head of the police investigation of the Kennedy assassination, was born on June 15, 1895, in Dublin, Texas. He spent much of his boyhood on a ranch near Lake Arthur, New Mexico. As a young man he traveled throughout West Texas and New Mexico, making his living as a horse and mule trader. He served a brief stint in the army during World War I and returned to Texas in his early twenties to enroll in Tarleton State College (now Tarleton State University) in Stephenville, where he sold three horses to pay for his tuition.
Fritz joined the Dallas Police Department as a beat officer in 1921 and soon became a detective. He advanced through the ranks and was promoted to captain in 1934, when he organized the department's homicide and robbery bureau. Though he was made inspector of detectives in 1935, he voluntarily returned to being a captain in 1944. In 1947 he received the special title of senior captain, and later he reportedly refused the opportunity to become police chief. During his leadership of the homicide and robbery bureau, Fritz gained a reputation as an effective interrogator. In one ten-year period the homicide division reported 98 percent of the murders in Dallas cleared by arrest.
His career spanned some of the most violent times in Dallas history as well as some troubling times for the police department. Fritz gained nationwide attention when he headed the investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was the first person to question suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald just hours after Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. Though he did not get a confession, Fritz said he had all the proof he needed to convict, and before midnight he formally charged Oswald with the president's murder. Under the direction of Dallas police chief Jesse E. Curry, Fritz helped plan the transfer of Oswald to the county jail and was present when Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby during the move two days later. For years after the assassination Fritz rarely spoke of the case and turned down repeated offers for books and articles. In November 1969 he was appointed night commander of the criminal investigation division, an appointment that some interpreted as a demotion. He retired three months later, on February 27, 1970.
The self-educated investigator, one of the most colorful figures in the Dallas Police Department, sometimes brought vagrants to the jail and saw that the "suspects" received a shower and a hot meal before they were released. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and an occasional escape to a pasture where he kept a few cattle and horses. He lived alone for much of his life, though he was married to a woman named Faye and had a daughter. Fritz was afflicted with heart disease and cancer; he died on April 19, 1984.
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Dallas Morning News, April 20, 1984. Carlton Stowers, Partners in Blue: The History of the Dallas Police Department (Dallas: Taylor, 1983).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Fritz, John Will,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: