The Disappearance of Robert Joseph Fritz

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EARLY LIFE:

Robert Joseph Fritz was born on August 5, 1977. Up until his disappearance, he resided on east Main Street, Highway 67 in Campbellsport, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin with his mother and four of his siblings. After his parents’ bitter divorce, his father and other two siblings had relocated to Illinois.

Growing up, Robert was your average kid, who enjoyed playing with his siblings and friends. He was known to frequently pedal around the front of his mother’s house on his Big Wheel tricycle.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

On the afternoon of May 14, 1983, Robert, his siblings and a few friends were playing in a vacant lot located in his family’s neighbourhood. Just one-half block from his house, the area bordered upon the St. Joseph Convent.

Sometime between 2:30pm and 4:30pm, Robert let his sister know that he was hungry and began walking home.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Robert never returned home after speaking with his sister. However, the family didn’t realize he was missing until he didn’t arrive home with the rest of the children for supper. Around 5:15pm, a neighbour called police to report him as missing.

SEARCH:

A week after Robert was first reported missing, police mobilized a large volunteer search to walk a five mile area near Campbellsport. During the search, the toy gun he’d been playing with was found. An extensive search of both the Milwaukee River and Mill Pond was also conducted by dive teams, based on the theory that the missing boy could have drowned. However, no trace of him was ever found.

Both of Robert’s parents were initially looked at as persons of interest. A week after his son’s disappearance, Robert’s father remarried, and police looked into the possibility that he had abducted Robert. However, they could find no evidence of this. As well, Robert’s mother, Sharon Szabo, was interviewed by the FBI. Similar to her ex-husband, there was no evidence to suggest she was involved in her son’s disappearance and she was cleared of any involvement.

During the early days of the investigation, a rumour spread around town that Sharon had either given her son away or sold him, as the family was poor at the time and on public assistance. There has been no evidence uncovered to support this.

Sex offender Michael Scott Menzer was identified as a suspect in Robert’s disappearance, as in 1980 he had been convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. He lived alone at the Waldo Mill, just outside Sheboygan, Wisconsin and located 20 miles from Campbellsport.

In 1990, he burned down the mill, killing his two young stepsons in the process. He had previously been charged with sexually abusing the boys, but had been acquitted. He wasn’t indicted for the arson or the murders until 1992, for which he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

After the fire, police excavated the property and discovered boxes of child pornography; decayed remnants of children’s clothing, including a blue shirt that was believed to possibly belong to Robert; and news clippings about his disappearance. Small bones were also found, including a hip socket hat hadn’t yet fused itself to the long bone. This proved the remains belonged to a juvenile, but due to the infancy of DNA technology at the time, investigators weren’t able to determine if they were human or from an animal.

In 2008, Menzer died of cancer while in prison. Throughout the course of the investigation into Robert’s disappearance, investigators made numerous attempts to interview him, but he never cooperated with them. Despite this, it’s long been suspected that he buried the missing boy’s remains in rural Sheboygan County, near his property in Waldo.

In 2000, Robert’s brother, Tony Fritz, returned to the Campbellsport area to hand out fliers, search ponds, canvas the area and knock on doors.

Police have obtained a DNA sample from Sharon for testing, in case they ever need it.

In May 2016, Sworn testimony arose during an unrelated Fond du Lac County murder case, suggesting the Sheriff’s Department had lost or destroyed its original investigative files pertaining to Robert’s case. This came from Daniel Kaminsky, who had served as District Attorney from 2009 to 2012, who said he’d heard former detectives talking about the files being shredded.

In recent, years, there has been a renewed push to solve the case. In 2017, the bones found on Menzer’s property were sent away for testing, where it was proven they were in fact from an animal. However, the clothing failed to produce a DNA profile. Investigators have other items of clothing they can submit, but they must first receive permission from the lab before testing can begin.

In April 2017, a billboard campaign was launched in order to raise awareness about missing people, including Robert. It was organized by Marsha Loritza, whose mother, Victoria Prokopovitz, is currently missing. Her hope with the campaign was that someone would see the billboards and report any details they might have pertaining to the cases.

THEORIES:

1) The current theory surrounding the case is that Robert’s disappearance is the result of a non-family abduction, most likely at the hands of Michael Menzer. This is due to him living in the area at the time; the items recovered during a search of his property, including the children’s clothing and the news clippings about Robert’s disappearance; and Menzer’s criminal history.

Given a search of Campbellsport uncovered no sign of the missing boy, authorities have concluded an abduction is the most likely possibility.

AFTERMATH:

Robert’s father has since passed away.

After her son’s disappearance, Sharon moved away from Campbellsport. She is currently residing in Stephenson, Michigan.

According to the family, they haven’t received an update on the case in years. Robert’s sister, Lora Engel, recently submitted a letter to the Sheriff’s Department, requesting access to her brother’s case files, but her request was denied, with authorities citing the active status of the investigation.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Robert Fritz went missing from Campbellsport, Wisconsin on May 14, 1983. He was 5 years old and was last seen wearing a red, blue and grey short-sleeved shirt; dark blue pants; and brown cowboy boots. At the time of his disappearance, he was 4’0″ and weighed approximately 50 pounds. He has straight blonde hair and blue eyes, and has a strawberry birthmark on his outer left thigh, just above the knee. It was 2″ by 3″ when he went missing and there is the possibility it could now be larger and lighter in colour.

Currently, his case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, he would be 41 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department at 803-642-1761.

Image Credit: Post-Crescent Media

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