Trigger warning: graphic content
The slender shape of 30-year-old Fritz Klenner, donning his pristine doctor’s coat, lurked in the halls of his father’s doctor’s office in Reidsville, North Carolina in 1982. Calmly, he waited for the opportunity to assert his legitimacy, to speak to a patient, to evaluate their ailments. They would never know he wasn’t a real doctor, he thought to himself, just like the others he’d conned never knew of his ugly intentions.
His entrance into his father Frederick R. Klenner Sr.’s medical practice began with a lie, as many other things in his life did. Fritz had attended the University of Mississippi and failed to graduate, which he lied about, and claimed to be attending medical school at Duke University. Fritz even rented an apartment near the institution which he would travel up to periodically, only to return home and tell tall-tales about his lectures. The older Klenner was none the wiser, and Fritz was immediately signed on to work at the family medical practice.
Klenner was notorious at the time for his avid prescriptions of vitamins, notably Vitamin C, which he touted as being able to cure all illnesses. Despite this strange affinity for incessantly recommending the vitamin, Klenner’s office was wildly popular in the area. One young woman, who happened to be a part of the family tree, could not ignore the acclaim.
Susie Newsom Lynch, Fritz’s first cousin, had fallen dangerously ill after a brief stint in Taiwan with her sons John and James Lynch. The Winston-Salem native, coming out of a recent divorce from the father of her children, Tom Lynch, moved overseas on one of her whims, a hallmark of her impulsive personality.
Fritz’s cousin Susie was seven years older than him and extravagantly rich. Her parents, Florence Sharp Newsom and Bob Newsom Jr., faced with the possibility that their little girl could die from a heart murmur, spoiled her for far too long. Their only child caught on, and began to coerce, manipulate, and gaslight her parents into fulfilling her every demand. When she finally flew from their lavish nest to attend Wake Forest University, she found another person to satisfy her needs at the college: Tom Lynch. Susie and Tom soon married, but Susie’s personality, described by him as “combative,” created conflict between her, his mother, and his sister. Susie and Tom, looking to distance themselves further from the tension, moved to New Mexico, where Tom found a job as a dentist. After their relocation, concerned neighbors began to notice signs of physical abuse to the couple’s young boys, who were looking more battered and bruised as each day passed, but they were met with incidental excuses from Susie. One of her former acquaintances recalls one of the children telling her they were “thrown across the room” for talking back.
Susie’s life in New Mexico was too much for her, and on another whim, she returned to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see her sick grandfather with her children in tow. It was then she told Tom that she was done – she would be filing for divorce, effective immediately. Her brief period in Taiwan as an English teacher followed soon after.
Susie’s frequent visits to the clinic reconnected her with her odd cousin, Fritz Klenner. When Susie and Fritz were younger, they did not see each other often, and she believed he was “strange.” They began to spend more time together, now both adults and Susie’s old opinion slipped away, only to be replaced by unwavering adoration. Klenner would tell her fabricated stories of stints in Vietnam, missions with the CIA, and his very-real preparation for the end of the world. He would mysteriously disappear for long periods of time into the woods, and no one, not even his family, had a clue what he might be doing.
Susie spending time with Fritz drove a larger wedge in-between her and her family, including her mother, whom Susie was described as being “very close” with when she was younger. It was then she began an incestuous relationship with her first cousin, all in secret. Klenner was getting to know John and James very well and began to take them on camping trips, where they were subject to Fritz’s lies of being a wartime hero. When John and James traveled to visit their father Tom in New Mexico, he and his new wife were horrified at the obvious signs of neglect that showed on them. Lynch recalls that the boys, pale and bruised, were insistent on taking bags of vitamins their mother had sent them with; it was then Lynch became gravely worried about their treatment in North Carolina. Convincing the children their mother would never know, he threw the mystery pills away.
Klenner continued to lie masterfully, and he convinced Susie that her ex-husband was up to no good and part of a drug ring. Susie, who used to be an intelligent and sharp young woman, believed every fallacious word that left Klenner’s mouth and fought fiercely for custody of John and James. In the meantime, Klenner was plotting, and with his friends at a local gun shop, they purchased the necessary weapons to commit the most heinous of crimes.
The crime was committed in 1984 when Tom’s mother and sister were found dead in Kentucky, both shot by a high-powered rifle at close range. The year after, another twisted scene unfolded in Winston-Salem: the brutal shooting of Bob and Hattie Newsom, Susie’s father and grandmother. The most gruesome scene met officers when they found Susie’s mother deceased in a pool of blood, appearing to have been stabbed several times.
Ian Perkins, Fritz’s naive, impressionable young neighbor, when questioned by police, cracked and instantly told investigators that he was responsible for the Winston-Salem slayings. He had been lied to by Klenner, who had told Perkins that he would be admitted to the CIA if he passed this first “test.” His imaginary prospects went up in flames when the police came calling.
The police had connected all the dots, and the horrifying reality of Klenner’s involvement in all of the murders dawned on them. Officers started their search for the man, having connected enough evidence to prove that he was the perpetrator of the Louisville, Kentucky killings. While Klenner, Susie, and their kids packed Klenner’s Chevrolet Blazer for what looked like a camping trip, police continued their search, waiting for the opportunity to strike. They tailed the sleek Blazer and a high-speed chase unfolded on N.C. 150 in Summerfield, North Carolina. Officer Tommy Dennis, one of the men on the scene, had struggled to keep up with Klenner’s erratic driving. When he finally got his cruiser close enough to the window of the Blazer, he was eye-to-eye with Klenner. His manic smile and the barrel of an Uzi machine gun was the last thing he remembered before he was shot. The stakes were more heightened than ever; police had noticed John and James in the backseat, their mother Susie in the front.
Klenner had begun to slow down, and the officers’ hope for a surrender evaporated in a flash of heat and light when the Blazer exploded into debris, flying high in the air. The chaos of the next moments overtook them, and shortly after, Klenner’s body was found in a nearby ditch. The policeman who found him was desperately pleading for an answer, an explanation, a last word – anything, and the dying man lay on the ground. Klenner’s life slipped away from him in the pool of blood he choked on. Susie had been sitting on the bomb Klenner purposefully detonated and her life ended instantly, but not before she poisoned and shot John, James, and their two dogs.
The Newsom house sits on Valley Road off of Reynolda Road on a hill overlooking the residences nearby. There are no signs of life there. Though it stands empty, the ghosts of a broken family still remain.