The Deck - Bobby Joe Fritz (5 of Spades, Wisconsin)

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Our card this week is Bobby Joe Fritz,

the five of spades from Wisconsin.

When five-year-old Bobby Joe vanished

one afternoon in the early 80s,

no one suspected right away that he’d been abducted

because stuff like that just didn’t happen

in his tiny hometown.

But as days went by without any sign of the little boy,

the clues started to point to a worst case scenario

and revealed something much more sinister going on

in Northern Wisconsin.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

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On May 14th, 1983, in the small Northern Wisconsin village

of Campbellsport, 10-year-old Cinda Fritz

and her five-year-old brother Bobby Joe

were out playing kickball with some neighborhood kids.

It was a Saturday afternoon,

and the group was playing in an empty field

across from East Main Street,

where Cinda and Bobby Joe lived.

The kids played there all the time

because the field was close enough to their row of houses

that most of their parents

could step outside their front doors and see them.

But Campbellsport, especially back in the 80s,

was one of those small Midwestern towns

where all the kids roamed wherever they felt like it

until it was time to go home for dinner.

This is how Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Detective

Eric Mullenbach describes it.

Campbellsport’s small.

Everybody knows everybody, literally.

So even back then, you know, you could say,

hey, that’s the Smiths, you know, they’re 12 doors down

and they drive, you know, a green car

and basically know their movements

because it’s a small town.

May 14th was a nice spring day

and the kids played kickball for hours that afternoon.

But around 4.30 p.m., Cinda’s brother Bobby Joe

asked her to take him home because he was hungry

and he wanted a snack.

Since Cinda was five years older than Bobby,

he became her responsibility when they were out playing.

So Cinda walked him toward home.

She stopped just short of their house,

but she watched as her little brother

made it to the end of their mom’s driveway

about 30 feet from their front door.

They waved goodbye and Cinda went to join back in

on the kickball game.

Cinda arrived back to the house about an hour later

to wash up in time for dinner.

And she was taken aback almost immediately

when her mom asked her where Bobby Joe was.

Cinda said, I brought him home an hour ago.

But Cinda’s mom, Sharon, just looked confused.

She said she never saw Bobby Joe come inside.

At first, Sharon thought maybe Bobby Joe had snuck by her.

You see, Sharon was a newly single mom

with four of her six kids under one roof.

She had recently divorced from their father, Robert,

and he had moved to Illinois with two of their older sons.

So it was a lively household and not uncommon for Sharon

not to have eyes on all four kids at all times.

So Cinda, Sharon, and the two other kids, Todd and Laura,

started searching the house for Bobby Joe at 5.30.

They shouted his name and looked in the closets

and under the beds to see if he was hiding,

but he was nowhere to be found.

So they expanded their search outside

and looked in the yard.

Some neighbors heard the Fritz’s yelling out for Bobby Joe

and got worried, so they joined in.

It was one of them who suggested

they alert the sheriff’s office.

And at 5.37 p.m., a neighbor called

the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office

and reported Bobby Joe missing.

Now, I’m happy to tell you,

this is not one of those stories

where police were dismissive and said,

oh, just give it a few days, he’ll probably show back up.

Deputies responded right away

and joined in the search for Bobby Joe.

Pretty soon, there were teams of people

looking all over the neighborhood for the five-year-old.

Not long into their search,

someone found a toy gun

near the edge of the Milwaukee River

in a field where the kids had been playing kickball,

which butts up to the riverbank.

A neighbor said he had seen Bobby Joe

with a toy gun in the past,

so they were pretty sure it was his,

though none of the kids could recall

if Bobby Joe had had it with him earlier that day.

Because they found the toy so close to the river,

investigators worried Bobby Joe

might have somehow wandered back here on his own

and fallen in the water.

They were especially worried about this

because of an incident that happened a few weeks earlier.

The family told Fond du Lac County deputies

that Bobby Joe had been playing outside

and fell in the water,

but a bigger kid was able to grab him and get him out.

Now, the river in that spot isn’t super deep

because it flows south into a pond with a dam

before narrowing again.

And that was comforting at first,

because A, they knew they had a really good chance

of finding him in that immediate area

if he had gone in the water,

and B, if he’d fallen in that exact spot,

he likely would have been able to get out safely on his own.

The sheriff’s office called out the rescue squad,

and by 6.30 p.m., there was a full-scale search underway

in the Milwaukee River.

Detective Mullenbach wasn’t part

of the search team back then,

but he’s working the case today

and has reviewed every piece of paperwork

associated with it.

That was thoroughly searched,

with boats walking in the water,

with poles poking everywhere.

You know, if there was something underwater

where the rocks created a little cavern or something,

all that was scuba divers and the dive team.

Because of the dam and the way the river flows,

Detective Mullenbach said it would be nearly impossible

for someone, even a child, to have fallen in

and not be spit out downstream,

unless he was able to get out of the water himself.

That’s the belief, that he’d have been washed downstream.

And it gets narrow, so those are all farm fields.

And, you know, brush hanging over the shorelines

at some point, he’d have got caught up in some brush

and either a deer hunter or some type of hunter or farmer

would have seen something in the water.

The dive team kept searching the water until dark,

at which point the Fritz family had to go home panicked,

thinking about the worst-case scenario.

The next day, the water searches continued

while deputies questioned Bobby Joe’s family and neighbors.

They wanted to find out if anything strange

had happened before Bobby Joe vanished.

They had a yard sale earlier that day,

Cinda did, she didn’t sell anything,

so there wasn’t anybody suspicious hanging around

or any suspicious vehicles.

A neighbor was talked to, and at some point during that day,

he had seen Bobby Joe playing by some water

earlier in the day.

Though everything seemed to lead back to the water,

divers still hadn’t found Bobby Joe

or any sign of his clothing.

So investigators started to wonder

if he could have been abducted.

They canvassed the neighborhood

to see if anyone else had noticed any suspicious people

or cars in Campbell’s Port on Saturday, but no one had.

And everyone who knew Bobby Joe

said he wouldn’t willingly have gone anywhere

with a stranger.

I had read some interview reports

that he probably wouldn’t go up to somebody,

and especially men.

He was just very shy.

Detective Momenbach said the old reports from the 80s

aren’t super detailed about the interviews police

back then conducted with Bobby Joe’s family members,

but Sharon did say that she was concerned

about her ex-husband.

The reports don’t indicate anything suspicious

or rumor mill,

because that’s just not what they did back then.

And even now, we don’t really put rumor

or anything that we can’t verify in the reports.

But Mom had a suspicion that maybe, you know,

Robert took him, Robert Sr.

According to old police reports,

Sharon had tried to contact her ex-husband

on the Saturday Bobby Joe went missing,

but he’d been out.

And then when she did finally get in touch with him

on Sunday, he was a little dismissive of the situation.

The best way detectives today describe it

is Sharon figured Robert would hop in the car

and come up to Wisconsin to help search for their son,

but he didn’t.

After two days of unsuccessful searching,

deputies knew it was time to alert

some neighboring police agencies

about Bobby Joe’s disappearance.

They sent out some bulletins,

stapled flyers up at local businesses,

and alerted the local press.

And before they knew it,

calls were coming in about alleged sightings of Bobby Joe.

He was saw in Wyoming.

He was seen in Kansas, you know, things like that.

So a lot of phone calls back then,

a lot of requests for other agencies,

you know, just letting them know.

And that was through a system in the computer system

back then that it would come out on a teletype,

a little paragraph like,

hey, there’s a boy missing from Kalisper, Wisconsin.

Here’s his description.

By the time Monday rolled around

and Bobby Joe had been missing for two full days,

everyone in town had heard about his disappearance.

Calls continued to come in with theories

about what people thought happened to Bobby Joe.

And over the next week,

as divers continued searching the Milwaukee River,

the dam, and a nearby pond,

deputies worked to follow all possible leads.

Efforts were made for FBI agents

to interview Bobby Joe’s dad in Illinois.

And though there aren’t a ton of details

about what Robert Sr. told law enforcement,

they did find out that he got remarried

on the weekend following his son’s disappearance,

which some people found suspicious.

But agents didn’t find Bobby Joe

at his dad’s house in Illinois.

So while the timing of his wedding

made them scratch their heads,

he was pretty much ruled out as a suspect.

As deputies continued to interview everyone

who knew the young boy,

they heard concerns from his teachers about his home life.

Reports indicate that mom had drank periodically.

She would show up to school

if she showed up for an appointment,

if she showed up.

And sometimes she would show up

and teachers or school staff would feel

that she may have been intoxicated.

The kids missed quite a bit of school.

Some of the older kids would miss

anywhere from 40 to 60 days a year.

The school would offer help

and it wasn’t necessarily taken by mom.

They offered to go home to the house

and help the kids along and teach

because Bobby Joe had a little speech impediment

a little bit, you know, the language teacher,

just to help the kids along.

And she was just dismissive.

Yeah, if I recall correctly,

the report said, you know,

we’re not going to be home, we’re busy.

And again, that’s all from what I read in the reports.

I want to be clear that police said

the teacher’s concerns were about the children’s absences

and there were never any accusations of neglect

or anything against Sharon.

Part of me wants to cut her some slack

because she had just gone through

what police called a bitter divorce

and was on her own with four small kids.

But of course, deputies had to rule her out

as a person of interest, which they did.

By early June, Wisconsin State investigators

had gotten involved in the search for Bobby Joe.

And they sent the Civil Air Patrol

out to conduct the first aerial search of Campbell’s Port,

which focused on a five-mile radius of the Milwaukee River.

The air crew searched for 10 hours

and videoed their efforts

so investigators could have a bird’s eye view of the area

in case they could spot anything

that was missed from the water searches.

But even they came out of it empty-handed.

In a June 13th, 1983 article

in the Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter,

the sheriff at the time was quoted as saying

he was frustrated by his department’s inability

to make headway in the case.

He said,

there isn’t a day or night that goes by

that we don’t think about him.

We’re going to find him, end quote.

I think the reason they were so frustrated

was because there were only a couple ways

in and out of Campbell’s Port.

And so many people involved in the initial search

for Bobby Joe fully expected to have found him

within a couple of days.

But as days turned into months,

all they could do was keep up

the weekly river searches for Bobby Joe.

No one knew what else to do.

In July, 1983,

the Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter ran a story

about how Bobby Joe’s sixth birthday was approaching.

And with each passing day,

the Fritz family’s hope at finding him alive was fading.

Bobby Joe’s mom, Sharon, told the newspaper

that her son had asked for a fish tank

and a real fish for his sixth birthday.

And she hoped her son would be found

so she could buy him that fish as a gift.

In that same article,

Sharon said that friends and family members

were working to pass around flyers about Bobby Joe

to long-haul truck drivers so they could spread the word.

The flyers described Bobby Joe as five years old, blonde,

with a red birthmark on his left leg

and a speech impediment.

Sharon shared with the newspaper

that she was having trouble sleeping at night

and would sit up and just cry,

thinking about what could have happened to her little boy.

She also said that some of her other kids

were getting counseling

because they were having such a hard time

dealing with Bobby Joe’s disappearance.

According to that newspaper’s same reporting,

Sharon even wrote a letter to the president at the time,

Ronald Reagan.

She told Reagan in her letter

that there were 50,000 kids abducted

in the United States every year.

“‘Isn’t there anything you can do

to help us parents of missing children?’ she asked.

We couldn’t find any reports about whether or not

the Fritz family ever heard back from the White House.”

Then, in the spring of 1984,

an entire year after Bobby Joe went missing,

deputies received a tip

that not only had the potential

to break the case wide open,

but pointed them to something much darker

going on in their community.

A couple in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin,

decided to visit a brand new art gallery in Waldo,

a tiny village about 25 minutes east of Campbellsport.

But instead of finding art

that they might wanna purchase

to hang on their walls at home,

they found paintings that creeped them out.

The paintings looked to be of young boys in their underwear.

And the fact that the gallery owner and artist himself

was a 30-something man creeped them out even more.

They were about to leave

when they spotted an article on a table in the gallery.

It was one of the articles about Bobby Joe’s disappearance

that featured a photo of him.

And it was near a painting

that looked like it could be of Bobby Joe,

except the face was obscured.

This gave the couple chills.

They got out of there as fast as they could

and called police to report everything they’d seen.

Here’s Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Detective,

Kevin Whitlinger, who works the case today

alongside Detective Mullenbach.

I’m not sure who that couple is or where they’re from.

It became known to law enforcement that,

hey, this guy has these articles out of this boy

that’s missing and he has this weird artwork of young boys

in these, I would call, skimpy swimsuits.

The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office

connected with deputies in Fond du Lac County about the tip,

which kicked off a deep dive into the gallery owner.

They found out the man was 35-year-old Michael Menzer,

a former teacher and swim coach

who’d been arrested for sexual assault

and fired from the Sheboygan school system in 1980.

I don’t think he had a reputation there yet,

but he left the city sometime after being arrested in 1980

for the molestation of other children.

After Menzer’s arrest,

he was released from jail on a signature bond,

meaning he didn’t have to pay any bail money.

And according to old news reports in the Sheboygan press,

he was later placed on probation

after pleading no contest in the sexual assault case.

But he lost his teaching and coaching jobs

as well as his volunteer position

at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Police also found out that Menzer bought the art gallery,

which was also his house, in Waldo in 1981.

But the research also revealed Menzer had a wife

and a couple of stepkids.

So to some, he appeared to have cleaned up his act

after his 1980 arrest.

But the more police looked into it,

they realized the Menzer family dynamic was complex.

It wasn’t even clear if the kids and wife

lived at the Waldo Art Gallery with him.

And it was in a rural area,

so neighbors weren’t sure what went on there.

But considering Menzer’s criminal history

and the fact that he lived just 25 minutes

from where Bobby Joe went missing,

deputies were thinking, this has to be our guy.

If they wanted to find Bobby Joe, if he was still alive,

they had to be very careful

with their next steps in the investigation.

As they started writing a search warrant

for Menzer’s art gallery and attached house,

rumors started to swirl

and deputies got another disturbing phone call.

It was from a parent of a young boy

who said Michael Menzer

had made their son pose naked for pictures.

That was all police needed to hear

to launch a full-blown investigation into this guy,

who was obviously still preying on young boys.

In June of 1984, investigators executed a search warrant

at Menzer’s property, hoping to either find Bobby Joe

or his remains or some clue

that would tell them that he’d been there.

Instead, they found an enormous amount of evidence

that convinced them their suspect

needed to be behind bars

for crimes relating to other children.

In Menzer’s gallery and home,

police found child sex abuse materials,

books and brochures showing young boys,

an article about child sex abuse materials

and First Amendment rights.

They also found several pairs of little boys’ swimsuits,

photography equipment, photos of nude boys,

chains and manacles and legal model releases

for parents to sign to allow Menzer

to photograph their children.

Police also found a wooden box with a lock on it

containing more child abuse materials,

with a note on it signed by Menzer that said,

quote, at my death, please destroy by fire

this box and everything in it without opening it,

please, end quote.

They also found the article that the couple had seen

about Bobby Joe’s disappearance

and the paintings and other disturbing articles.

Here’s Detective Mullenbach again.

Untimely deaths of, you know,

three children in Waukesha County was suffocated,

two young people that were killed in a traffic crash,

child that was ran over by a car

and a bizarre clipping, you know,

from wherever it was in the country,

you know, a child being placed in an oven by a mother.

So just odd paper clippings

and a lot of negatives of photos of kids,

young kids dating back to 1968

when Menzer had graduated college and began teaching.

Detectives shared some photos of Menzer’s house

and the G-rated photos of their evidence with us.

So you can actually see those on thedeckpodcast.com.

Detective Wittlinger said Menzer later made up excuses

about why he had the news articles in his house.

So he was questioning about the articles.

I said, well, how come you had these newspaper articles?

And he stated the one where the child was placed

into an oven that he got from when he was in college

for some sort of project that he was working on then.

But on the article written in grease pencil

is the date of 83.

So I don’t know when that article actually was published,

but I would have a hard time thinking that’s an article

that he retained from 1970.

And then the one with Bobby Joe Fritz,

he said he saved that

because he wanted to talk to his wife about child safety

because their kids were always running around

and it was near a highway in a rural area,

just like Bobby Joe.

So he wanted to talk to her.

He doesn’t say he did.

He says, I wanted to talk to her about child safety

and show her that these things are possible

and this happens.

One of the last pieces of evidence

police found at the house was a calendar.

It caught their attention

because someone had put a red star sticker on May 14th, 1983.

That is the day that Bobby Joe vanished.

After seeing that, police were more convinced than ever

that Menzer had something to do

with the little boy’s abduction,

but there was no sign of Bobby Joe at Menzer’s home.

When he was interviewed about the star on May 14th,

Menzer said it had something to do

with his stepson’s birthday.

He dismissed that saying it had something to do

with one of the boy’s birthdays,

but I don’t think any of the boys are born on the 14th.

It appeared in a way it’s written

that it was a flippant response.

Well, I don’t know.

It probably had to do with,

I think it was Kyle that was born in May.

Probably had something to do with Kyle’s birthday,

but there’s nothing else written there.

It’s literally just the star not going out to dinner

or party or call the grandparents or anything like that.

It’s just, oh, I think that probably had something to do

with Kyle’s birthday.

Police arrested the 35-year-old

and charged him with sexual exploitation of a child.

According to reporting by the Sheboygan Press,

he saw a judge on June 30th of 84

and his bail was set at $10,000.

But weeks later, Menzer pled not guilty,

demanded a jury trial,

and was allowed to post a $15,000 property bond

in place of his $10,000 cash bond,

and he was released from jail.

The news of Menzer’s arrest opened the floodgates.

Other parents were calling in,

saying their children had also been abused by Menzer.

I’ll spare you the details,

but it was enough for them to tack

on several more counts of exploitation.

After he made bail in 1984,

Menzer’s wife, Grace, told investigators

that he spent an afternoon burning stuff

and erected a huge cross behind his Waldo property

and kept flowers at the base of it.

Despite police being convinced

Menzer abducted Bobby Joe Fritz,

they had no actual evidence tying him to it,

except for that article

and a star on the calendar being suspicious.

So they continued their investigative efforts

while Menzer went on with his life

while he was out on bond awaiting trial.

But calls about Bobby Joe slowed down.

The next year in 1985,

a psychic called the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office

and said Bobby Joe was being held captive

in a park in Ontario, Canada.

The psychic must have been convincing,

or maybe police just didn’t want any tip to go ignored

because Wisconsin deputies called up

the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

and asked them to respond to this park

where the psychic had her vision.

But they didn’t find Bobby Joe

or any other suspicious activity there.

The next call they got though

pointed them in a more believable direction,

right back at Menzer.

A man called police to report

that he’d heard about Menzer’s arrest

and he realized that he’d been in Menzer’s house

in January of 1984 and saw something weird in the basement.

The man said that he had considered purchasing a turbine

that Menzer listed for sale

and he’d gone to the Waldo property to see it.

The man said that he got to the bottom

of the basement stairs and there was some plastic

and what appeared to be some kind of shrine in the corner.

He also said that if you walked far enough into the basement

the concrete floor turned to dirt

where there was then a hole in the ground,

six feet long and five feet deep, like a grave.

He said he looked in the hole

but it was empty.

This was incredibly frustrating for police to hear

because this was just another thing that was fishy as hell.

But no matter how many tips like this came in,

no matter how many other crimes

against children he was accused of,

there was just nothing physical tying him to Bobby Joe.

By 1986, most hope about Bobby Joe

still being found alive was gone.

In June, Menzer was finally convicted

of the unrelated exploitation charges

and given a year of County jail time with probation

and a possible prison sentence of four and a half years

if he violated his parole.

I’m gonna let that just sink in for a minute

because it made me sick to my stomach

when I learned about it,

especially because he ended up getting out of jail

within a couple of months

and then he went off the grid for several years.

Despite the FBI getting involved

in trying to put pressure on Menzer to confess

or lead investigators to Bobby Joe’s body, he never did.

There’s a time when he’s spoken to,

and I don’t think it’s by locals.

It would have been state or federal agents

where it’s just kind of brought up

and he says, I actually think he says,

oh yeah, no one’s ever really asked me about that

but I didn’t have anything to do with those kids.

After laying low for a few years,

Menzer filed divorce papers on his wife in 1989.

In September, 1990, Menzer called the school counselor

for his son and two step-sons and asked out of the blue

if she could tell whether or not the boys

had been sexually molested.

According to police reports, the counselor said,

yes, that can be determined through counseling.

A few weeks later, Menzer’s divorce was finalized

and his wife Grace got full custody of all three kids.

She later discloses that he almost immediately

within a few months starts molesting his stepkids now.

So now he has access again to children

until he loses them at divorce.

According to detectives, Grace told police

that she had threatened Menzer in the past

to turn him in for molesting their kids.

But she said that he would threaten her back,

usually saying that their marriage was the only thing

keeping her a legal resident in the US.

Three days after their divorce was finalized,

this was September 17th, 1990,

the same day as the kids’ next scheduled counseling session,

someone set the Waldo Art Gallery and home on fire.

Now by then, Menzer and Grace

were still working on separating completely.

So Grace and the kids were staying at the Waldo house

and police believe Menzer was staying somewhere else,

either his parents’ lake house

or at his mom’s primary house in Sheboygan.

The fire started at 4 a.m.

when Grace and the three boys were all asleep.

The fire killed two of the children,

but Grace and their five-year-old

escaped by jumping from a three-story window.

Despite Menzer being the main suspect

for the arson and murders,

police had no physical evidence tying him to it.

So he wasn’t immediately arrested or charged with anything.

A few weeks later, an insurance representative said

Menzer had contacted her agency about filing a claim

and Menzer had asked some weird questions.

He wanted to know specifically

if the basement would be dug up.

Menzer asking about the basement

was enough for police to be granted another search warrant

for the basement of Menzer’s charred home

and former art gallery,

in addition to a family cabin that he frequented

at nearby Elkhart Lake.

Police executed the search warrants in October, 1990.

And during the search at his family’s cottage at the lake,

police found a peephole in the wall of a room

that was used by men and boys to change into their swimwear.

But as far as evidence goes,

they didn’t find much else at the cottage.

Detectives said Menzer had access to the lake house

and would use it when he knew other family members

weren’t going to be there.

Back in Waldo, Menzer’s art gallery and house

sat right on the Milwaukee River.

So police got rescue teams out to search the water too.

They dragged the area directly behind Menzer’s house,

looking for human remains, clothing, or anything

that could sink to the bottom of the water

that he could have used to hide human remains.

Then in the basement of the Waldo house,

police dug up the entire basement

and discovered children’s clothing under a concrete slab.

They also found bones.

But the thing is, none of the clothing they found

matched what Bobby Joe was wearing the day he went missing.

So investigators wondered if maybe they just discovered

the remains of another unknown victim.

But according to Detective Wittlinger,

an anthropologist examined the bones

and determined that they were from an animal.

Unfortunately, nowhere in the reports

does it say how that determination was made

or what animal the anthropologist

thought the bones belonged to.

Menzer remained the only suspect in the arson

that killed his stepkids.

So investigators continued looking for evidence

that could prove he did it.

And some people came forward with information

that made Menzer look even more suspicious.

Apparently, before the fire started,

Menzer had told various people that he thought someone

was going to burn down his house and kill his family

because of his reputation as a pedophile.

He also reported a small fire behind his house

in the weeks prior to the deadly blaze.

In hindsight, police think that he had planned the fire

and was kind of planting seeds to make police think

that someone else was out to get him.

So in 1991, Menzer was interviewed by special agents.

This time, they had accusations from Grace

that he’d been molesting their children for years.

It was during that interview that Menzer finally admitted

to molesting numerous children in the past,

but he said, not his stepkids,

mostly children he met through volunteering

at the Big Brothers program.

He also didn’t admit anything relating to Bobby Joe Fritz.

Combining all the evidence,

interviews with victims, and his confession,

police and prosecutors built a federal case against Menzer,

which took years.

But in 1993, he was convicted of the arson and murders

of his seven and eight-year-old stepsons.

During the trial, according to documents,

a federal jury learned that Menzer had molested

at least 10 boys over the course of his adult life.

In a letter to a federal judge after the conviction,

but before sentencing,

the prosecutor called Menzer a dangerous pedophile

whose crimes escalated over his lifetime.

The attorney said Menzer deserved a harsher punishment

than even the recommended maximum.

And ultimately, he was given 40 years in federal prison.

Bobby Joe’s family never stopped missing him

or wondering what happened to him.

Detectives said in 2000,

one of his brothers even moved back to Campbell’s Port

as a personal quest to find his brother.

Every so often,

someone would call Wisconsin deputies out of the blue,

thinking that maybe they were Bobby Joe,

but those were ruled out quickly.

Years ago, you know, you would have somebody say,

hey, I think I’m Bobby Joe,

or somebody thinks,

oh, there’s a kid, I think it’s Bobby Joe.

And then the detectives would just touch base

with that person, and the first thing is,

birthmark on your thigh, no, okay.

Menzer died in a federal prison in Maryland in 2008

when he was 58 years old.

He never confessed to anything related to Bobby Joe

or revealed any information related to the case.

Police in Wisconsin said they wished

they’d been able to interview him

one last time before his death,

but because he was in federal custody,

they didn’t even know that he was sick with cancer.

In 2010, police finally dug out

some of the old evidence,

the clothes that they had found under concrete

in Menzer’s basement,

and they submitted them for DNA.

They’ve swabbed some of Bobby Joe’s family members

to try and see if anything matches,

which would at least tell them

if Bobby Joe was ever in Menzer’s home,

but they haven’t gotten any matches yet.

They haven’t gotten any hits on the clothing

for other DNA profiles related

to other missing or murdered children either,

but detectives are hoping to work

with the Wisconsin state agents

to use genealogy resources.

Even if the clothes were not Bobby Joe’s,

they had to have belonged to someone,

and detectives worry that the clothes

might belong to another unknown or unidentified victim.

Over the years, there have been small updates

here and there.

In 2012, as part of a public works project in Campbellsport,

local officials needed to drain the old pond

to reconfigure how the Milwaukee River flows there,

so they took it as an opportunity

to do another thorough search

for any signs of Bobby Joe’s remains or clothing,

but it turned up nothing.

In 2013, the National Center

for Missing and Exploited Children

released an age-progressed photo of Bobby Joe

to drum up some new publicity in hopes of new leads.

The poster featured a real photo of Bobby Joe

on the left at five years old.

It’s the usual school photo,

and the blonde little boy is looking just off camera

and smiling in a red collared shirt.

His age-progressed photo shows what they think Bobby Joe

would have looked like at 27,

his blonde hair a little darker

and face a little bit fuller.

The photo did create some new local publicity,

but it actually didn’t lead to any new tips in the case.

So in 2014, detectives submitted more evidence

for DNA testing.

Six hairs were found on some of the old clothing

that had been taken from Menzer’s basement,

and one of the strands of hair belongs to a male,

but that’s all we know of now

because more specific testing hasn’t happened yet.

The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office

is still deciding how to test the hair

without ruining the strand.

It might sound like a long shot, and it is,

but the fact is police don’t have much else to work with.

It’s gonna take a DNA match or a tip

to physically connect Bobby Joe and Michael Menzer.

And interestingly, in 2008, a tip came in

that detectives thought could have been that missing link.

That’s when one of Michael Menzer’s family members

emailed the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office

asking if they’d ever searched a place

called Grasshopper Hill.

It was near the family cottage at Elkhart Lake,

and that lake is about 20 minutes north of Waldo

where Menzer lived.

This family member said that they all used to go up there

as kids and play in the woods,

and Menzer had secluded access to the hill.

It took the Sheriff’s Office a while

to get together the necessary team,

but in the summer and fall of 2021,

detectives with cadaver dogs took to Grasshopper Hill,

which is now a 25-acre preserve,

and their hope was to finally find

the remains of Bobby Joe Fritz.

And they got their hopes up when three different dogs

indicated on a cadaver scent between some trees.

And it goes back and forth between this cedar tree

and this oak tree, and it kind of just does this loop,

looking around, and gets,

even I can see a behavior change in the dog,

like it’s trying to find something,

and it winds up giving a positive indication

between the two trees.

After that, the whole team of people

who are involved in this search are thinking,

this has to be it, this has to be where Bobby Joe is buried.

So they brought in ground-penetrating radar,

which indicated on two areas of possible soil disturbances.

They put together a plan,

and it was not just a hand-to-shovel operation.

On October 18th and 19th of 2021,

members of the Sheboygan County

and Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Departments

and FBI Evidence Recovery Team,

special agents with the Wisconsin Department

of Justice Division of Criminal Investigations,

and a forensic anthropologist,

went back to Grasshopper Hill with heavy machinery.

And they conducted two days of excavation operations,

fully expecting to find the remains of Bobby Joe Fritz.

But there was nothing.

Detectives said it was surprising and frustrating.

After seeing the dogs indicate on a possible grave site

in the area where one of Menzer’s relatives

said he frequented,

they thought for sure it was going to be the end

of the decades-long search for Bobby Joe.

The disappointment of not finding his remains

forced them to go back to the beginning

and try to think about things differently.

What’s tough is the fact that Bobby Joe disappeared

feet from his own door in broad daylight.

Whoever took him did it quietly and without being detected.

Plus, if that did happen,

it’s unlikely Bobby Joe or his body

wouldn’t have turned up somewhere near Campbell’s Port.

If you had the stranger comes through town

and just happens to get lucky and grabs Bobby Joe,

statistically speaking, they are not keeping Bobby Joe.

They’re going to do, it’s a three-hour window.

They’re going to do what they’re going to do.

They’re going to dispose of Bobby Joe.

And when they dispose of him,

it’s within 250 feet of the roadway somewhere else.

You know, they get off the main road,

they go do their thing.

And within 250 feet of that road

is usually where the body is disposed of.

Bobby Joe has never been found.

Detectives Wittlinger and Bollenbach remain hopeful

that if they continue to test for DNA matches

on every piece of evidence,

that they’ll eventually come across Bobby Joe’s remains.

And even though their primary suspect is dead,

finding Bobby Joe would at least provide

some answers to his family,

answers that they’ve been searching for for decades.

I am of the opinion that Bobby Joe’s, if he’s dead,

his remains are in Cheboygan County.

Because there’s nothing that I can find

at Ty’s Menzer anywhere else outside of the state.

Bobby Joe Fritz has been missing for 39 years

and his siblings still miss him

and they still wonder what happened.

His parents both passed away

without ever learning what happened to their son.

Bobby Joe would be 44 today if he was still alive.

Investigators in Wisconsin are not going to give up

until they find him.

So if you know anything about the 1983 disappearance

of Bobby Joseph Fritz,

please call the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office

at 920-906-4777.

The Deck is an AudioChuck production

with theme music by Ryan Lewis.

For more on the Deck and our advocacy work,

visit thedeckpodcast.com.

So, what do you think, Chuck?

Do you approve?