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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bitter Blood: Thirty years later

Law enforcement officials at the scene of the explosion, June 3rd 1985

Within minutes the skies turned a roiling black.  Rain, and then a vicious hail poured out like wrath across the fields.  Law enforcement and emergency personnel ran for cover.  Stones of ice pelted the vehicle, and those who had been within it.  Steam arose from the asphalt of the highway… but it did little to dissipate the acrid aroma of high explosives and smoking metal.

Years later, one of the detectives who had come from Kentucky remembered the storm.  It was as if God Himself “was pissed”.

As well He might.  Looking down from on high at this culmination of madness fueled by pride and jealousy.  If God could be moved at all to anger, surely it must be here.

And there in the midst of it all, wrapped inside the crumpled wreckage: the bodies of two little boys.

Jim and John were already dead when the vehicle exploded.  Autopsies revealed that each had been given a lethal amount of cyanide.  But that must not have been enough, because both were also found to have been shot in the head.

June 3rd, 1985.  The day that one of the most horrifying and bizarre tales in the annals of American crime came to an end.

It had begun a year earlier, with the murders of a widow and her daughter in Kentucky.  And then the brutal deaths of a prominent Winston-Salem executive, his wife and his mother.

The insanity would finally draw to a close on this rural stretch of North Carolina highway, at the climax of a guns-blazing car chase straight out of Hollywood.  Years later, Hollywood did come knocking… but entertainment executives refused to believe that such a twisted tragedy could be wholly nonfiction.

Here at the end of it all, an SUV blasted to smithereens.  Two children who looked sweetly asleep in the back of the vehicle.

And blown apart from the wreckage their dead mother, her body shredded from the waist down: the result of having been sitting atop the bomb.  Nearby, gurgling to death in a ditch, was her cousin… and her lover.  The scions of one of the most notable lineages in North Carolina.  Drawn together in a shared and spiraling madness.

A madness that in the end would leave nine people dead.  Two families nearly wiped out completely.  And to this day, it remains a crime spree that remains no more understandable than it was fully three decades ago.

It began, as so many stories of this kind do, with a fairytale romance.  The princess in question being one Susie Sharp Newsom.

Susie was the daughter of tobacco executive Robert Newsom and Florence Sharp Newsom.  And growing up, Susie seemingly had it all.  She was beautiful.  She had smarts.  She had no end of admirers and then, suitors.  Above all else, at least to her, she was an heiress to one of the most respected names in the state: the Sharps.  Most prominent of whom was the aunt she was so close to: Judge Susan M. Sharp, who had become the first woman in the country to be elected the head of a state supreme court and who was widely recognized as one of the most respected women in America.

In every possible way, Susie Newsom was blessed.  But there was a darker side.  Susie harbored fantasies of being royalty.  She was considered spoiled by many, no doubt because of how she insisted that everything be done her way.  So fierce were the ensuing temper tantrums during childhood that her mother often doused Susie with cold water to calm her down.

When it came time to further her life, Susie chose to attend Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.  And it was there where she met Tom Lynch.  Two years her junior, Tom hailed from a prosperous family near Louisville, Kentucky.

It seemed like it could have been a happily-ever-after story.  But there were signs from the start.  That Tom’s mother Delores and Susie came to despise each other was the most obvious.  Delores did not want Susie in the family and perhaps Susie did not appreciate her own family being disregarded by her mother-in-law to be.  Photos of Tom and Susie’s wedding portray the two women with very strained smiles for the camera.  What the photos do not show was the heated argument between Delores and Susan, who among other things found fault in the dress worn by bridesmaid Janie Lynch: Tom’s sister.

Susie, John and Jim
circa 1980
But there was a marriage.  And Susie followed Tom back to Kentucky where he was in dental school.  Though between his own studies and her career, there was little time for each other.  Neither was there time to be found with Delores, less than two hours away.  When Susie gave birth in 1974 to her son John, Delores - who had come to Beaufort, South Carolina to see her first grandchild - was told to wait for an appointment to see the baby.  It was much the same with Susie and Tom’s second child James, born in 1975.

And then Tom decided to move the family to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Susie hated it.  It was a place beneath her position, she thought.  The way Susie raved about the Sharp family back in North Carolina, one would have thought that they were running the place.  Albuquerque lacked culture and dignity.  It refused to treat her with the royal due she had been given throughout her life.

Tom and Susie began to have it out with each other.  With tensions growing, the animosity between the two began to envelop sons John and Jim.  Apparently it even spilled over to the point that Susie lashed out at Jim, who required hospitalization for two days.  No charges were ever filed.

In the summer of 1979, Susie flew back to North Carolina, claiming that she wanted to spend time with her grandfather who was in failing health.

It was very soon after that Susie Lynch told Tom that neither she or their sons would be returning to Albuquerque.

Thousands of miles away, with little more than the reputation of a new dental practitioner set against one of the most politically connected families in the southeast, Tom signed an agreement to give Susie custody of their sons, now ages 4 and 3.

Susie had tired of Albuquerque.  Strangely, with Tom out of the picture even a return to familiar surroundings had given Susie a wanderlust.  For whatever reason (she said she wanted to go be an English teacher) Susie left for China, taking John and Jim with her.  They departed with little more than the shirts on their backs and a bag of Star Wars toys.

She was there for six months before returning home, dirty and malnourished and disillusioned with living in what she had come to believe was a filthy and unhealthy environment.

Susie’s condition shocked her mother, Florence.  But it so happened that there was a doctor in the family.  Susie’s uncle, Dr. Fred Klenner.  Yes, Dr. Klenner would make everything all right…

Even at the height of demand, you could have driven past and not know it was there unless you were consciously looking for it.  The narrow front entrance is today situated between the doors of a beauty shop and a low-power television station.  Looking at it from across the street, it seems like nothing more than another empty office along Main Street, Anytown, U.S.A.

Until perhaps the past decade or, the front door looking out onto Gilmer Street in Reidsville, North Carolina was still announcing, in fading script, that this was the practice of Dr. Frederick Klenner.  And depending on who you chose to believe, Dr. Klenner was either one of the most cutting-edge physicians in the field or a quack of enormous proportions.

Physician or fraud?
Dr. Fred Klenner
There is no doubting of Dr. Klenner’s medical knowledge and expertise, especially in the area of what would today be considered neonatology.  When one looks around Reidsville, there are still today quite a number of people who will profess… and even with some amount of pride… at having been delivered by Dr. Klenner.  When a local farmer’s wife gave birth to quadruplets, it was Fred Klenner who assisted and then supervised their nourishment to good health.  It was a feat that propelled Dr. Klenner to nationwide prominence

A product of the medical school at Duke University, Fred Klenner certainly had the right credentials.  It also seemed that controversy would forever surround him.  His marriage to Annie Sharp was practically a family scandal: she was Protestant, he was old German Catholic of strictest caliber.  But that would only preface the peculiarities… and dark pall… of the life and career of Dr. Frederick Klenner.

It was in the 1940s that Dr. Klenner began experimenting with ascorbic acid - better known as vitamin C - as a possible treatment for a wide variety of maladies.  In time Klenner would be using vitamin C on everything from polio to multiple sclerosis to a toothache.  His work would not go unnoticed: no less an authority than Nobel winner Dr. Linus Pauling gave Klenner his highest praise.  Within a few short years, Dr. Klenner had become world-renowned for his treatments.  And indeed, it was to his secluded office on Gilmer Street that patients came from across the country, hoping to be another miracle of Dr. Klenner’s approach to medicine.

Yes, Dr. Klenner certainly was making a name for himself.  He also earned his detractors.  His over-reliance on vitamin C and other substances to the detriment of traditional medicine gained him a bevy of physicians who deemed Klenner’s remedies to be reckless, even irresponsible.  “Fraud” was commonly said behind his back.

Anyone who came into his Reidsville office could almost certainly expect to be given a shot of vitamin C courtesy of Dr. Fred Klenner.  Visitors to his office could expect other things too.  A segregated waiting room, for one thing.  Up until his death in 1984, Klenner kept white and black patients separated while they waited to see him.  Some have ascribed this to racism on the part of Dr. Klenner, though others have noted that he was simply a product of his times and was reluctant to change according to modern sensibilities.  Indeed, many of his most faithful patients were black.  And when Dr. Klenner passed away, the only fellow physician who came to the service was a black woman.

There were other odd things about Dr. Klenner.  Among the most cringe-inducing is that Dr. Klenner was still using a needle sterilizer, in a time when AIDS and other diseases were grabbing the headlines.  It was very likely that a needle used in Dr. Klenner’s office would be used a dozen times, on as many patients, before finally being discarded.

And then there was Dr. Klenner’s theology and politics.  His belief that the apocalypse was nigh.  That communism was on the march and would swallow the earth whole.  On at least one occasion Klenner claimed to know the exact date that the world would end.

This was Susie Lynch’s uncle, to whom she turned for medical care.

It was at the elder Klenner’s office that Susie would become reacquainted with her cousin Fritz.

To this day, my aunt remembers Fritz Klenner making the rounds at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville.  That Fritz would come in wearing his white doctor’s coat, smiling, sometimes accompanied by his father.  Going room to room to see patients and speak with them.  Sometimes Dr. Klenner would take blood samples and give them to Fritz.  Because Fritz was studying medicine at his father’s alma mater Duke University, and his work related to blood research.

Fritz Klenner:
His father's son
That is the Frederick “Fritz” Klenner Jr. that so many people were familiar with.  The up-and-coming young protégé of his illustrious father, who would go on to make his own name in the annals of medicine.

And it was all a show.

Maybe there were indications early on about Fritz.  Some of his high school classmates later recalled how fixated Fritz was about Adolf Hitler.  Fritz also shared his father’s hatred of communism, albeit to perhaps a far deeper degree.  Also inherited was Fred Klenner’s intense end-times fatalism, and a belief in being prepared for the apocalypse at all costs.

Fritz adored his father.  He would do anything to please Dr. Klenner.  The thing he feared most was to be rejected and abandoned by his father.  And he was determined to do anything to keep that from happening.  Fred Klenner’s love was generous… but his punishments could be most severe.

Who can tell when the madness began in earnest?

Was Fritz Klenner pure evil, or - as a very few have suggested - was he the product of mental illness?

I’ve never doubted: Fritz was the way he was, because he chose to be.  It was all a game to him.  Right up to the very end, when he claimed to have been involved in covert operations.

What we do know for certain is that after graduating from a private high school in Georgia (Dr. Klennner refused to have his son graduate from Reidsville High School, so outraged was he over the school's new desegregation policy), Fritz Klenner studied at the University of Mississippi.  But he never graduated.

He told his family that he had.  The first significant lie in a web he would weave of them.  Fritz told his father that “enemies” in the school’s German department conspired to keep him from finishing his degree.  Dr. Klenner bought into it.

Then Fritz told his father that after getting it “straightened out” with Ole Miss, that he was going to enroll at Duke University’s medical school.  And for many years, that is what the community around Fritz Klenner believed: that he was studying to be a doctor.

Fritz… who was affectionately known as “Young Dr. Klenner” by many, could be seen working constantly with his father.  Just as ubiquitous was the black doctor’s bag he carried with him, containing a wild assortment of pills and injections, especially his father’s vitamin C.  Drugs which Fritz was generous in dispensing to any he deemed was in need of them.

It was only when Judge Susan Sharp inquired with her good friend Terry Sanford, then president of Duke University, that it came to be discovered that the only Frederick Klenner who had ever been enrolled at Duke had graduated in the 1940s.

And in time, other stories that Fritz had told would come to light…

Fritz was a Green Beret in Vietnam.  Fritz had fought against the communists.  Fritz had performed extraordinary measures to save the lives of his father and others.  Fritz had connections.  Fritz had done undercover work.  Fritz was an asset of the CIA.

Fritz Klenner was a fixture at gun shops throughout the area.  He made a lot of acquaintances, who became enamored with Fritz’s spell-binding tales of heroic feats.

Only years later was it realized that he had been building up an arsenal of weaponry with which to ride out the end of the world: dozens of guns.  Thousands of rounds of ammunition.  Survivalist literature of the most radical sort.  Vitamins and stimulants and anything else of medical value that could be swallowed or shot up.  Combat knives.  Camouflage clothing.  A Blazer kitted-out to be a rolling fortress.  And explosives.

It wasn’t long after Susie went to see Dr. Klenner that family realized something was very wrong between her and Fritz, though it was never spoken aloud.

But in time, it became obvious to all: Susie and Fritz, first cousins, had become lovers.

Maybe it was a delusion on the part of Susie.  That she and Fritz and the two boys were now all a family.  After all, didn’t the royal families of Europe practice incest so as to keep the bloodline pure?

That is what Fritz had become.  A prince to her princess.

The family was aghast.  If for no other reason than because of the environment that Susie was providing for John and Jim.

Susie was convinced, courtesy of no small amount of paranoia from Fritz, that Tom Lynch was going to take her sons away from her.  Her reaction was to limit Tom’s contact with John and Jim even further than there already had been.  Phone calls were kept brief.  Letters and packages from the boys’ father and grandmother were thrown into the trash.

John and Jim with Susie's aunt Judge Susie M. Sharp, at the dedication of her portrait
The legal hurdles Susie had put in place for Tom to meet with his children perhaps speaks volumes about her desire to control their interactions.  Some have suggested that Susie’s aunt, Judge Susan Sharp, had much to do with that.  However it may be, the requirements were enormous and exacting on Tom Lynch.  He even had to provide for air transportation for his ex-wife when she accompanied John and Jim to Albuquerque on their rare visits to their father.  Tom wanted to see his sons more often, but under the agreement he had signed he could only see them on holidays and several weeks each summer.

Oh hell, I’ll go ahead and say it if no one else will: Susie Sharp Newsom Lynch had all the legal marbles in her corner.  And there wasn’t anything that Tom Lynch could have realistically done about it.

May she burn forever.

Tom Lynch,
wife Kathy and
John and Jim
Tom and his new wife  Kathy got to see John and Jim when they arrived in Albuquerque.  They were utterly astounded at how bad the boys looked: underweight, dirty hair, unkempt nails.  They did not look at all like two healthy young boys.  Neither did Tom and Kathy care for the plastic bags of “vitamins” that Fritz had sent along with them.

Things had gone on long enough, Tom had decided.  He was going to press his case for more visitation rights with John and Jim.

Meanwhile, in May of 1984, Dr. Fred Klenner was in the emergency room at Morehead Hospital in Eden, about twenty minutes from Reidsville.  Dr. Klenner refused to be taken to Annie Penn - only a few streets away from his home - because of a longtime dispute about doctors privileges.

A few days later, Frederick Klenner Sr. was buried.

It was wondered by many what would Fritz do without his father’s overarching presence.

The closest thing that authorities found in the way of a witness was a bicyclist who later reported hearing something not unlike gunshots.

It had been a friend of Delores Lynch who made the discovery, on June 24th 1984.  Law enforcement descended on the scene.  It was a gruesome one: Delores, shot in the back and then in the head at close range.  Her body had been there for at least a day, cooking in the Kentucky heat on the driveway approach to the garage of her house in Prospect.

A trail of blood nearby.  Investigators followed it into the house.

There was Janie, Delores’ daughter.  39 years old, but looking much younger.  She was graduating dental school.  And for the first time in her life, she was truly deeply in love.

Like her mother, she had also been shot in the head and the back.  Also at close range.

Delores Lynch and her daughter Janie

As night descended, more personnel arrived on the scene.  One of the detectives took a single look and told the others “this was a hit.  A pro took these people out.”

The murders of Delores and Janie Lynch rocked the community and completely baffled detectives.  Who could have done this?  Why would they have done this?

“There’s a dark cloud in that family,” a retired officer told Lieutenant Dan Davidson, who was in charge of the investigation.  Find that cloud, he was told, and he would find the killer.

But as weeks turned to months, the mystery of what happened in the house on Covered Bridge Road would only increasingly confound the detectives.  Almost as if to punctuate the enigma, during one visit to the house investigators found several palm leaves arranged in crosses spread across the floor.

They were never explained.  Neither, it seemed, would be what happened to Delores and Janie Lynch.

Gentle souls:
Bob and Florence Newsom
John and Jim had been with their father in Albuquerque when the news arrived about the deaths of Tom’s mother and sister.  Tom wanted to spend more time with his sons so that they could grieve together.

Susie would have none of that, and demanded that John and Jim come home immediately.

In the aftermath of the murders of Delores and Janie, Tom received condolences from an unexpected quarter: Florence Newsom, Susie’s mother.  Florence expressed significant grief to Tom, and Tom was appreciative of that.

But Tom also took the opportunity to express his frustrations about the situation with Florence.  And that what he wanted most was as normal a relationships with his children as any father should be allowed to have.

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

Florence acknowledged that belief.  “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.”

So began a rather deep relationship between Tom and his former in-laws, built upon care and consideration for the best interests of John and Jim.

And in the months to come, Florence Newsom and her husband Bob would agree to testify  in court on Tom’s behalf that Susie must be obligated to give him more visitation rights and access to John and Jim.

Susie was incensed.  John and Jim had to stay with her, she claimed.  Because Tom was involved with the mob and that’s why his mother and sister had been taken out in a gangland hit.  She knew that was so because Fritz told her, and because Fritz was CIA.

The hearing was scheduled from the week of May 26th, 1985.

May 19th.

There were Bob and his 84-year old mother Hattie.  They had been shot.  But the perpetrator had shown far greater hatred toward Florence: shot, stabbed and her neck slit.  She was discovered in a prayerful position, posed by the assailant.  Their bodies in Hattie’s house in northwestern Winston-Salem.  Bob and Florence had moved in with Hattie so that they could take care of her in her old age.

Three people who were thought by those who knew them best to be among the gentlest of folk, butchered in the middle of the night.

Next-door neighbor Maya Angelou echoed the disbelief of everyone: why would anyone do this to the Newsoms?

Had there been any other history of violence in the family?, detectives asked Bob and Florence’s son Robert.

As a matter of fact, there had been.  A year earlier, in Kentucky.

Investigators from two states suddenly became very interested in the life of Susie Lynch.  And very quickly her cousin and lover Fritz Klenner aroused their curiosity also.

The question must have been in their minds: would a woman dare murder her parents over a custody battle with her ex-husband?

In a sane world, such a thing didn’t seem possible.

But the world of Susie Lynch was not a sane one.

During the course of the investigation, detectives came across Ian Perkins: a friend of Fritz’s who also lived in Reidsville.  Perkins, 21 and a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, was questioned by Winston-Salem detectives.  And from him, through prodding by the detectives from Kentucky, eventually came a remarkable recounting of the night of May 18th.

Fritz Klenner had long already “confided” with Perkins, with whom he shared an interest in anti-communism and firearms, that he worked with the CIA.  Well, Fritz now needed Perkins to help him.  They had been given an assignment to wipe out a communist cell.  The communists were smuggling weapons to South America and trading them for drugs, which would then be sold to profit the communist cause.  All of this was under the control of the KGB.  So Fritz was going to perform a “touch”, as he explained was CIA terminology for assassination.

If Perkins helped Klenner on this covert operation, it would no doubt look well on his record when he was officially recruited by the CIA.

Fritz planned for he and Perkins to have a three-day weekend, ostensibly camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  That would be their “cover”, as he put it.  Cover while they were away on the real mission: taking out the foreign drug traffickers aiding the communists.

The date for the mission was May 17th throug the 19th.

At 11 on Saturday night, Ian Perkins drove Fritz Klenner to the Old Town neighborhood of Winston-Salem,  and dropped him off just half a mile from where Bob, Florence and Hattie were enjoying their evening.

An hour later, Perkins picked Klenner up, the “mission” an apparent success.

Only now, with the detectives present, did Ian Perkins learn that Fritz Klenner had never been a doctor.  Had never been an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency.  But in all likelihood was a multiple murderer who had used Perkins as a gullible alibi.

That was on May 30th.  The next day, Ian Perkins met with Fritz Klenner.  Perhaps out of a need to atone for the role he inadvertently had played, Perkins agreed to wear a hidden microphone.

Perkins and Klenner met the following day also.  On each occasion, Perkins told Fritz that the police had been asking about the Newsoms.  About if he knew anything about it.  Fritz insisted that he was working with the CIA.  He gave Perkins some pills from his black bag, claiming they would help him keep his nerve during interrogation.

On June 3rd, Perkins met with Klenner a third time, in the parking lot of what was at the time the Zayre department store on Cone Boulevard in Greensboro.  Perkins wore the wire again, terrified that Klenner would see it.  Klenner swore that he hadn’t actually killed anyone.  Then he said that he would write a statement for Perkins, indicating that he was on a secret mission for the government.

Then Fritz Klenner said his final words to Ian Perkins: “I’ve got things to do.  I won’t see you again.”

It was the closest thing to a confession that Fritz Klenner would ever give.

Fritz drove off in his Blazer.  Several unmarked police cars were following.

It was about 1:30.  Personnel from five law enforcement agencies, including the detectives from Kentucky and the State Bureau of Investigation, were scrambling.

Fritz arrived at Susie’s apartment off of Friendly Avenue in Greensboro, not far from the Guilford College campus.  Detectives had already staked out the apartment.

They saw Fritz and Susie furiously running back and forth from her apartment, loading supplies into the Blazer.

And then the detectives were shocked to see John and Jim, dressed in camouflage fatigues, exiting the apartment and being made to get into the back of the Blazer.

No one had thought about the children.  It had just been assumed that they were in school for the day.

The Blazer took off.  And the law officers went into pursuit.  It was at the intersection of Friendly and New Garden roads that a Greensboro detective and an SBI agent attempted to make Klenner stop.  Fritz spun the Blazer around the car and headed east.

Police officer Tommy Dennis, who had taken the call to be on hand to arrest Klenner, was coming from the west.  Seeing the Blazer, he attempted a U-turn.  Two other vehicles in the pursuit did likewise and followed behind Dennis.  One car raced past Dennis to get to Fritz.  Dennis swerved and crashed into the Blazer’s driver’s side door.

The next thing he knew, Dennis was looking down the barrel of a 9mm  Uzi submachine gun and behind its trigger the maniacal grin of evil incarnate.

Fritz fired.  Five bullets hit the car.  Two hit Dennis.  He survived, no doubt because of the bulletproof vest his wife made him always wear.  With a chest wound and his shoulder bleeding, Dennis was out of the game.

And Fritz was smiling the entire time.

Friendly Avenue had become a scene straight out of a Mad Max movie.  As the carnage rolled on, Fritz Klenner continued to fire the Uzi as he directed the Blazer toward New Garden road.  One bullet hit Lennie Nobles: a fresh-faced detective from Kentucky just a few weeks on the job before the Lynch murders took place.  Nobles received minor wounds.  Glass from the bullets also hit detective Sherman Childers, also from Kentucky.  The two were undeterred in their pursuit of who by now was almost certainly the killer of Delores and Janie.

The chase reached Battleground Avenue.  Fritz stopped several times to open fire on the officers.  At one point Fritz stepped out of the Blazer to stand in the road and open fire with the Uzi.  Civilians ducked for cover.

The chase exited Greensboro proper.  Fritz continued north, as Battleground Avenue gave way to US 220.  There was no doubt where was his destination: the “farm” he and his father had near Eden.  It was a place he had allegedly kept well stocked with weapons, ammunition and explosives.

The farm was where Fritz was going to wait out the end of the world.  And that is what was happening to him and Susie.

The caravan arrived at the intersection of US 220 and N.C. 150.  The Blazer made a right turn, east.

More machine gun fire.  Residents were bewildered as to what was going on.  The officers remained in close pursuit.

Then, at Bronco Lane, the Blazer’s brake lights came on.

Those nearby later said that they saw some commotion, or struggling, in the cab of the vehicle.

Two shots.  Like pistol fire.

And then the Blazer blew up.

So powerful was the blast, that the Blazer was lifted off the ground as high as the telephone poles before slamming back down.

The time had been 3:07 p.m.  June 3rd, 1985.

Susie’s head and torso barely remained.  It was obvious that she had been sitting on the bomb that Fritz had installed.  There was nothing to be gained from her.

Fritz, also thrown out of the vehicle, survived for a few seconds more.  Dan Davidson, the lead detective from Kentucky, came across Fritz and tried to get a deathbed confession from him.  All that could be heard were the sounds of bones scraping together and a bloody gurgle of desperation.

Then he died.

It was what was found in the back of what had been the SUV that broke the hearts of all who came to the scene.  John and Jim, dead.  Each shot in the head.

It was later determined that they had been given cyanide.

It was also later determined that it was their mother, Susie Lynch, who had shot them.

And then the sky turned black.  And the thunder rolled.

The explosion was so loud, that my father working on his dairy farm heard it from ten miles away.

There is a very strong possibility that had Fritz Klenner gotten much further, that he would have met Mom on her way back home from work that day.  If he was going to his farm near Eden, Klenner would almost certainly have turned north onto Church Street, then followed it north into Rockingham County and onto Woolen Store Road.  That would be the most direct route to the farm from where he turned the Blazer onto Battleground Avenue.

Actually, come to think of it, my sister and I could have probably seen him, too.

Tommy Dennis and Lennie Nobles made full recoveries.  Dennis soon afterward left law enforcement, at the behest of his family.

Ian Perkins served four months in prison for the part he unwittingly played in the Newsom murders.

Within hours of the chase and its fiery end, law enforcement descended on Susie's apartment and Fritz's mother's house.  Dozens of guns were found, with accompanying ammo.

Officials also entered the former office of Dr. Fred Klenner.  There were so many vitamins and other medications on the premises that it took three dump trucks to haul them away to be destroyed.

Detective Davidson later found evidence of Susie Lynch’s participation in the murders of Delores and Janie Lynch.

In the wake of the tragedy, the cooperation of the various law enforcement agencies involved fell under considerable scrutiny.  It remains an open question as to whether anything could have been done in the way of sharing information, that could have stopped Fritz Klenner before he had a chance to make his escape.

Tom Lynch refused to have John and Jim buried in North Carolina.  His sons were laid to rest in New Mexico.  In the last place where they were truly happy.

Thirty years ago today.

I was eleven years old.  Just a little older than John and Jim.  And even then, all I could think about was how could a mommy do that to her two boys.

A lot of things happened that summer.  One friend was left paralyzed for life from a car accident.  Another was killed on our farm in a freak mishap.  And then not long after, Dad almost lost his right hand in a way that to this day still makes me want to throw up.

But the Fritz Klenner murders, and how they ended on that road near my home, haunted me especially.

They have haunted countless others, and no doubt still will decades from now.  They will haunt, no matter how much our senses wrestle with comprehending that such a thing happened.  Jerry Bledsoe wrote as much when he authored Bitter Blood: his massive tome about the murders and the madness that coalesced between Fritz and Susie.  Twenty-seven years later, Bitter Blood remains the definitive authority of what has so often been called the most bizarre crime in American history.

There is so much to be haunted by this story.

But most of all, I'm haunted by John and Jim, though I never met them.

They would have been my age now.  They could have had wonderful lives, each of them.  They could have gone on to college.  Fallen in love.  Gotten married.  Had children of their own.

Their mommy took it away from them.

I just can't understand that.  I couldn't understand it then.

I can't understand it now.

And I don't doubt that until my dying day, I'll never understand.

Nine people.  Across four generations.  Destroyed by unbridled jealousy and unfettered fantasies.

Thirty years ago today.

Doesn't seem like it.

A lot of my childhood innocence died that day.

It did, for many other young people around here.

 And I'll never come close to figuring out why.

Photos are attributed to the News & Record, which has made many other photos about the Klenner-Lynch murders available.  For more coverage of the thirtieth anniversary of the murders, including links to the original article series written by Jerry Bledsoe, click here.


Geoff Gentry xforce11 said...

Well written account Chris, I may need to read the book soon. I had heard the title but never the story of events.

Michael said...

Horrible story. So sad. I can't put a finger on what disturbs me the most. Those two little boys, so heartbreaking..

Rose Tyler said...

My heart broke during reading this.

Why couldn't anything have stopped it from happening? Didnt what Klenner was doing all that time register on anyone's radar? He was practicing medicine without a license, why wasn't he arrested for that?? Weren't the police warned about him?

Chris Knight said...

Rose (love the screen name, by the way :-),

Technically, Fritz never practiced medicine without a license. He dressed like a doctor, he acted like he was a medical student to his father and the hospital staff at Annie Penn, but to the best of anyone's knowledge he never did anything that could withstand scrutiny in court if he had been accused of practicing without licensure. Neither did he write any prescriptions, for all the medicine that he gave out to others.

That being said, the lengths he went to in pretending to be studying medicine at Duke should have brought the hammer down on him in some manner, shape or form.

And the authorities *were* informed about Fritz. Tom Lynch certainly did. But those warnings went unheeded, to put it mildly.

I think the SBI warrants a LOT of criticism for its handling of the situation. They were the ones staking out Susie's apartment. When they saw John and Jim the detectives *backed off* and left when they SHOULD have apprehended Fritz right then and there. There was an opportunity to stop it immediately, before Fritz and Susie took off in the Blazer with the boys. And the SBI didn't take it.

I think I'll go the rest of my life wondering about what role Susie M. Sharp, the former Chief Justice of the North Carolina State Supreme Court, had in this. Did she "pull strings" on Susie's behalf in regard to the custody of John and Jim? After the end of this tragedy, Judge Sharp refused to believe that her niece had anything to do with any of it. Even suggesting that Susie was already dead and that it was her corpse sitting in the passenger seat when John and Jim were shot.

Jerry Bledsoe's book Bitter Blood (it's title is taken from that of the series he wrote for the News and Record newspaper later on that summer), IMHO is *the* finest example of true crime literature in American history. It stands at least on equal footing with Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood. This story had everything: a noteworthy family, a *tragic* divorce and subsequent custody battle, an internationally prominent physician (with some very strange quirks), "good ol' boys" politics, drugs, paranoia, delusions about covert operations, *multiple* murders... all of that and more and at the eye of the storm, two cousins in an incestuous relationship and it's debatable which was the more insane and/or evil.

Read the book. It's WELL worth it.

Chris Knight said...

There is some happier news to report. A few days ago, also on the 30th anniversary, there was a story (written by a longtime friend) in the same newspaper. It was about the survivors of Bitter Blood, three decades later. After all the anguish he went through, Tom Lynch eventually married again, and has a teenage daughter who it sounds like is active, athletic, smart and no doubt very beautiful. Gauging by the tone of the story, Tom Lynch seems happier than he's been in a very, very long time.

I, for one, was very grateful to read that.

Anonymous said...

I just read the book "Bitter Blood" by Jerry Bledsoe, so many could have stopped the killing of the children, INCLUDING the families!

Anonymous said...

Tom Lynch was my Dentist before he retired recently. I didn't know anything about this story until today, I'm in shock. Thanks for the article.

Unknown said...

the 2 sons john and jim would be alive today if the judge did not allow the boys to be with their messed up mother.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a tragic story all around. I only learned about Dr. Klenner (the father) & his mega-vitamin-C therapy yesterday (awesome work he did with that, helping so many people regain health; brilliant; genius I say. What is more natural for the human body than VITAMINS?!).

I had no idea re the extended family until reading bios about his work & one of them mentioned the "dirt" about the son. I'm glad Dr. Klenner was not around to see what his deranged son ended up doing.

Mostly I'm wondering about Dr. Klenner's poor wife, good grief! She lived almost 20 years longer than her husband, so she had to endure the horror of what her son did, his lies, frauds, "cousin affair," police chases, murders, bombs, death of the two young boys, etc. So how did she cope with ALL that? Was there a funeral for the rotten son/Fritz? Did Mrs. Annie attend? Did she live alone the rest of her days or with other relatives? She must have endured some grievous heartache in her last decades. So sad! Did the town support her (emotionally) or turn away from her due to what her crazy son did?


As for Suzie Lynch, it sounds like she was bipolar with "visions of grandeur." Her hopping on a plane for the Far East totally unprepared, to go be a "teacher," is a perfect example of a manic episode. I'm not sure what Fritz' underlying problem was (psychiatrically-speaking), but when Crazy Meets Crazy (Suzie+Fritz), no good can come of it. Maybe he was also bipolar with his OWN "visions of grandeur" (fake CIA operative, fake doctor, etc.).

Either way, that is the sickest story I ever heard, either one of them killing the two boys. Heartless. I have a feeling whoever did it, Fritz or Suzie, did not realize shooting a gun inside the car, the loud cracking sound-waves/vibrations inside the car, could/would cause the bomb to go off. I bet that was NOT planned but they were taking the bomb to their doomsday retreat for "end times protection."

Thanks for all the family photos, wow. That really makes a story "come to life" even 30 years later. Still shaking my head...

indymichael said...

The young Klenner, jr was apparently born in 1952 [using the data on such findagrave resources used by the previous commenter] and since he had progressed at normal sequence til originally claiming he'd graduated at OlMiss then returned home, then he was nominally 21 when he returned home.. so 1973... and per the KNIGHTSHIFT article, he was mostly hanging around the hospital and doctor's office for the entire ELEVEN YEARS that followed til the disaster. Just apparently handing out vitamins and getting data for his doctor-father, all totally sanely and helpfully. Not a single incident of harm-causing to anyone.

Eleven years of no-harm to anyone. Doesn't that seem indicative of a calmer person than this article seems to be foisting on the reader.

The bunker in an older farm house is quite likely not so unusual either when you think of the house age reaching all the way through the MacCarthyism days of anti-communism fear of soviet NUKE threat. Bomb shelters were not that unusual, particularly in rural areas accustomed to cold cellars [or storm shelters]......

As for the CIA connection, we would point out that the CIA handler-officer that Lee Harvey Oswald tried to reach with his one allowed phone call was in Raleigh NC -- only a mere 90 miles away from Klenner Jr..... so there's likely CIA activity in the area still since the Oswald 'play' was high level.

As for the Susan woman's agitation over the treachery of her mother's reaching out to an ex with the goal of undoing the court ordered custody.... In that late 70s period to early 80s there were many articles and cases where the courts had become hostile to career women and newspaper articles appeared frequently on such 'costs' of women choosing careers. Including one famous case where a vengeful middle eastern ex had kidnapped the daughter and returned to the middle east, never to allow even any contact, with the embassy brushing the mother off with the statement she should just go have another baby!! Kidnapping by angry ex-husbands was not so unheard of....

On top of that, this story admits the ex had his own princely delusions originally [to match the Susan woman's princess attitudes]... then paradoxically turns around and claims an inability to understand why the ex was given so little custody rights.... even giving the ex the opportunity to spread his possible fantasy about how happy the boys were in NM... TOTAL INCONSISTENCY to favor the ex now with no factual balancing opinion basis

And all this happens after Klenner, Sr dies so strangely for someone who's so health conscious and successful in saving lives with his own protocols using vitamins [of which there was no shortage according to the disappointed storyteller]. He was finally getting recognition internationally [back then from Dr Linus Pauling] for the clinical successes he had written research articles about... curing 49 out of 49 polio cases [even one that had advanced to paralysis] using INTRAVENOUS VITAMIN C in large therapeutic doses... He was so far ahead that we are just seeing such therapeutics used recently done for Covid19 in an FDA Clinical trial [NCT#04264533]..... curing 100% of serious/critical ICU patients in Wuhan with high dose vitamin IV C.. Why don't you tell us more about the loss of Klenner Sr...

Klenner's obstetrics patients were so enthused to claim his work because his protocol for pregnancy was so successful compared to even today's standard of practice. In his research article he showed 300 consecutive pregnancies with not a single miscarriage, no sill births, no hemmorhages, no babies needing resuscitation, unlike other doctors' numbers.... and 80% shorter labor time and babies perfectly healthy.. yet the story attempts still the vitamin-quack smear...

Interesting article, maybe even precisely because of its shortcomings,.. thank you for writing it, I guess.