Fryer, William Henry (1880–1963)

By: Arthur H. Leibson

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

William Henry Fryer, criminal lawyer, son of Brooklyn natives Catherine L. (Flannagan) and William Henry Fryer, Sr., was born on July 8, 1880, in Brooklyn, New York. He was educated by the French Christian Brothers in St. James School and after graduation was employed as secretary to the president of the American Railway Express Company in New York. On a western vacation he contracted typhoid fever from water drunk in New Orleans and was taken from the train on a stretcher at El Paso, on July 8, 1904. He stayed a year, recuperating, returned east, then decided to make El Paso his home. After working a year in the engineering department of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, he entered the University of Texas law school at Austin, where he worked as a secretary to John W. Townes, dean of the law school. In Austin he met and married Mary Alice Kelleher. Both were devoted Catholics. They had four daughters and two sons; one of the sons was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Fryer returned to El Paso to practice law. Beginning in 1908 he also served as a court reporter, so that he could watch the top local lawyers in practice. He was appointed assistant county attorney and in 1916 was elected to that office. His crusade against speakeasies, as they came to be called in the prohibition era, was an early instance of the extensive use of the injunction. He closed more than 100 illegally operated private liquor clubs. Though he made so many political enemies that he was not reelected, he was appointed assistant United States district attorney. In this office he was notable for his opposition to food profiteers during World War I. In 1920 he returned to private practice. Fryer and a one-time partner, R. E. Cunningham, successfully led the fight against the Ku Klux Klan's dominance of the El Paso school board in the 1920s. As a defense attorney Fryer participated in several notorious cases. In 1949 he managed, for instance, to get a two-year sentence for murder without malice for Edna Mead, who had killed her mother with a hammer and scissors. The courtroom was always packed for his trials and jury summations, to which some spectators brought lunch so as not to lose their seats.

Through Fryer's long association with the Christian Brothers (see BROTHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS), maintained since his school days in Brooklyn, he induced the order to send members to El Paso when Cathedral High School was being built by the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. The brothers provided the first faculty for the school. Fryer organized the Catholic Youth Organization in El Paso in 1925. He also served as president of the University of Texas Ex-Students Association in 1933 and of the El Paso Bar Association in 1948. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and started the Catholic Men's Organization in El Paso. He died in El Paso on November 13, 1963.

El Paso Times, February 14, August 14, 1919, June 22, 1954, April 15, 1990.
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Criminal Law and District Attorneys

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Arthur H. Leibson, “Fryer, William Henry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995