A Driving force

The Baltimore Sun

Bill Ritz enjoys golf, but it's not his passion. If it were, he'd be surveying the course before sunrise, tracking the falling dew, gauging the wind's trajectory. And then the competition wouldn't stand a chance.

Ritz solves murder mysteries instead. He's one of Baltimore's top homicide detectives, a 16-year veteran who usually handles eight murder cases a year. Those who know him best say he's Columbo without the weather-beaten trench coat. While others see clues with presumably no link, he sees a trail an assailant had no idea he had left behind.

In fact, if you're a regular Sun reader, you've probably seen this sentence in many unsolved-homicide stories: Anyone with information about the killing is asked to call Detective Bill Ritz at 410-396-2100.

Ritz, 54, can spend days on end trying to solve a whodunit, immersed in fingerprints, blood smears and photos of murder victims so riddled with gunshot wounds they resemble a cadaver on the last day of anatomy class. You'd think that anyone in that line of work would get as far away from it as possible at the end of his shift.

Instead, the man noted for his case-cracking prowess has championed funding to counsel and support the area's sexually abused children -- a cause that is usually led by local state's attorneys.

Five years ago, Ritz founded the Law & Order Golf Tournament as an activity that both law-enforcement personnel and prosecutors could embrace, at a time when news reports described friction between their agencies. Since its start, Ritz has approached the tournament with the same energy and diligence he puts into solving murder cases, literally working to the point of exhaustion.

Such diligence is paying off: What began as a grass-roots effort has become a popular event for two of the city's most visible departments and a major fundraiser for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

The nonprofit, private organization, which coordinates services for all reported cases of child sexual abuse and assault in Baltimore, assists about 900 children and their families annually. Psychologists and social-service workers interview the children, while a staff forensic pediatrician performs medical examinations to detect physical signs of abuse.

On his own time, Ritz has solicited thousands of dollars from tee-box sponsors and thousands of dollars' worth of silent-auction items for the tournament, in addition to recruiting most of the golfers.

"I look forward to it every year, just being able to donate money to the center," he said. "You get to see the fruits of your efforts going toward a good cause, and the kids are able to get the services and counseling they need."

This year's tournament was held yesterday at Woodlands Golf Course in Woodlawn. The previous four tournaments have raised a total of about $40,000. Ritz said he hopes the latest event brings in about $20,000.

"He started it from scratch," said Assistant State's Attorney Don Giblin, who has played in the tournament since its inception. "It's an easy thing to say, 'OK, let's have a golf tournament, it'll be a good time for all.' People don't need a reason to take a day from work. But he spent countless hours on the phone, going out soliciting sponsors, going to shops to pick up items for silent auctions. He approached it with the same fervor as he does his cases."

Judging from the demeanor of police participants yesterday, one got the feeling most of them had the center's lone annual fundraiser penciled on their calendars long ago. They wore shirts with the event's logo -- a chalk outline of a murder victim with golf club in hand. And they stormed toward the greens in a cavalcade of golf carts that roared down steep hills and hugged sharp turns.

"Hey, we're not on a chase!" yelled one passenger to a driver after their cart almost flipped.

Camaraderie

This is a side of law enforcement that rarely makes headlines -- scores of police on their off day getting together to raise funds for kids victimized by some of the same lawbreakers they're trying to keep off the streets.

"What it does is it reflects that level of cooperation and camaraderie between attorneys and police officers, who work with each other and on a day-to-day basis," said Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who is also president of the child-abuse center's board of directors.

Before getting started yesterday morning, the golfers assembled and rendered rousing applause for Ritz, who had just come off the midnight shift, tackling, among other duties, a suicide case that came in about 3 a.m.

As his shift ended, he bolted from police headquarters and headed to the Woodlands Golf Course. He helped register about 120 participants, consisting of his comrades in law enforcement and members of the state's attorney's office, collected fees and made sure everything started without a hitch. His foursome had just completed the first hole when he discovered he had forgotten to change into his golf shoes.

"He solicits all the golfers single-handedly and all the donations single-handedly," said Ritz's son, William. "He talks about it all year long, and then he stresses about it the last couple of months leading up to it."

Sometimes, like in police work, his diligence comes at the expense of his health.

Last year, while canvassing Inner Harbor businesses for tournament sponsors and after working nearly 36 hours straight on cases, Ritz, physically spent, passed out on the street outside Power Plant Live. He regained consciousness as a few pedestrians helped him to his feet. But rather than seek immediate medical attention, he brushed himself off and headed home, only to continue fundraising later. (He subsequently sought medical attention.)

"I don't know if that's dedication," he said, "or just being stubborn and hardheaded."

This year, he again canvassed area businesses for sponsors and came away with 60 items for the silent auction. He put $10,000 on his personal credit card to cover course expenses for those who couldn't pay upfront.

'He never quits'

Like other Baltimore homicide detectives, Ritz gets an average of eight murder cases a year -- nearly triple the national average for homicide detectives. Even more impressive, he solves about 85 percent, Baltimore police Lt. Terry McLarney said, compared with an average rate of about 53 percent for detectives in a city of Baltimore's size.

"He's detail-oriented, methodical, and he never quits on any cases," McLarney said. "He's really scholarly about the investigations, sort of the guy you'd expect to see with the weird pipe, the Sherlock Holmes pipe."

Said Assistant State's Attorney Sharon Holback: "I've seen him with witnesses, and whether he knows them well or barely knows them, he has a way of being empathetic, and they just trust [him] and are comfortable with telling him private details about their lives that you wouldn't think they'd be willing to tell."

Ritz would like to say a single defining moment prompted his drive toward helping sexually abused children, but it involved several moments over time.

There were his recollections of conversations with a relative of his in her 80s who was sexually abused by a family member years ago but can still describe the moment in detail -- even down to what she was wearing -- as if it were yesterday.

There were the homicide cases that involved interviews with teenagers who had been sexually abused. There were times when he was left disgusted after watching the Dateline NBC show that features undercover sting operations that catch sexual predators in the act.

And then there were the times when he visited the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and saw an innocent child in a waiting room, moments before he was to be interviewed by a psychologist.

"You feel a little bit of anger and rage that a person would prey on someone that innocent," Ritz said. "And unless the child feels comfortable to talk about it -- and you hear all these cases of people going public with what happened 20 or 30 years later -- they really can't move on with their lives.

"They say it's a cycle with abuse. If you were abused as a child, then more than likely you will be an abuser when you're older," he said. "I get some satisfaction out of knowing that the money raised for the center can provide counseling for these kids, and also that there is a chance to break that cycle."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Bill Ritz

Age:

54

Hometown:

Grew up in Middle River

Education:

Graduated from Overlea High School

Career:

Has worked for the Baltimore Police Department for 30 years, the last 16 as a homicide detective.

Charity work:

Founded the Law & Order Golf Tournament five years ago to support the Baltimore Child Abuse Center's work with sexually abused children. Also, performed missionary work in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1995 as part of a Methodist church delegation.

Family:

His daughter Jennifer was named Miss Maryland Teen USA in 1995.

Police on TV:

He's a fan of the 1980s police drama Hill Street Blues.

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