Thursday, July 20, 2006

More on Brandon J. Fritz - Lakewood Rapist


Man charged in Lakewood case after arrest in 2nd attack
$1 million bail set for suspect
Asbury Press
July 20, 2006


The link practically drew itself for Detective Sgt. Steve Daroci.

The Old Bridge policeman had seen the sketch around the office for months, a drawing of a stern-faced man police say kidnapped and then sexually assaulted a woman in Lakewood almost three months ago.

Daroci looked at the drawing again Tuesday afternoon.

Then he looked at Brandon J. Fritz, a 21-year-old sprinkler installer from Lakewood being questioned by Old Bridge police about an attempted sexual assault in their town.

"The similarities were very, very good," Daroci said. "Too good."

So good, in fact, that Fritz has been charged with the abduction and assault of the 20-year-old Lakewood woman from outside her Route 9 workout center on May 7.

In Old Bridge, he is charged with burglary, robbery, theft and attempted aggravated sexual assault, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. He remained held in Middlesex County Jail on Wednesday night on $1,000,000 bail.

Fritz's arrest brings to a close a 2 1/2-month investigation that had stymied law enforcement, left some residents questioning the efficacy of the Lakewood Police Department and spurred the creation of a neighborhood watch program.

"Many of our citizens were fearful even in their own neighborhood," Lakewood Mayor Meir Lichtenstein said Wednesday at a news conference at which investigators announced Fritz's arrest. "This crime had a very large impact."

Investigators from Lakewood, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, the State Police and even the FBI's Red Bank office had worked the case, following up on hundreds of leads with no luck.

Break-in alleged

The break in the much-publicized case came Tuesday, when police say Fritz, a single man who lives on Delaware Trail near Lakewood's western boundary with Jackson, broke into an Old Bridge home.
Ocean County Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher said he believed Fritz was there to steal a television, but Old Bridge Detective Scott Crocco said, "I don't believe the motive was burglary."

Fritz had seen the home on Monday, Kelaher said, while working there as a sprinkler installer for Environmental Designers Irrigation Inc., a Howell company.

On Tuesday morning, Fritz returned uninvited to the two-story home, police said.

The homeowner wasn't there at the time, but the 48-year-old woman came home shortly after, Crocco said. She noticed signs someone was either in the house or had just left.

She called her son, Crocco said, to see if he had been there. He wasn't.

When she hung up the phone, she saw Fritz, Crocco said.

The Old Bridge woman said in an interview the man was wearing her pajamas with her underwear over his head.

Fritz attacked her, causing minor injuries, but she fended him off, police said.

"She fought pretty good," Crocco said.

Fritz ran out of the home and fled in a pickup truck, Kelaher said. The woman called Old Bridge police, who learned through their interviews with her that she recognized Fritz from work he had done at the house the day before.

Old Bridge officers then went to the irrigation company office to talk to Fritz, Crocco said.
"He denied any involvement and cooperated," Crocco said, adding that company officials also worked with investigators.

A woman who answered the phone at the firm's office on Church Road on Wednesday would not comment when asked about Fritz.

Once he was located and questioned at his job, Fritz was taken without incident to Old Bridge police headquarters.

There, the resemblance between him and the composite sketch Ocean County officials had commissioned in the days after the attack made everyone's job that much easier.

"The composite was really that good," said Daroci, the Old Bridge detective.

Dover Township Patrolman Christopher McDowell, who crafted the sketch out of the victim's memory and his pencil, said he was pleased his work helped solve a major case.

"If my hands fell off tomorrow, it was all worth it," McDowell said.

Kelaher would not say if Fritz later confessed, but the connections between the Old Bridge and Lakewood incidents continued.

Fritz had duct tape on him when Old Bridge authorities picked him up. In the Lakewood case, the young woman was found with duct tape wrapped around her head and her wrists were bound, Kelaher said.

The commonalities between the cases led Old Bridge to call Lakewood. From there, charges were quickly filed against Fritz in both cases. In Lakewood, the official charges are aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and kidnapping.

"It was just good police work," said Al Peters, Lakewood public safety director. "They put two and two together, called us and we were able to go up there and actually nail everything down."

Kelaher said Wednesday that investigators now want to publicize Fritz's photograph because they believe he may be involved in other similar assaults.

Kelaher said he had no proof of that, just "a sixth sense."

Police under pressure

Fritz's arrest, announced at a news conference that drew several Lakewood residents, concludes an investigation that had some questioning the Lakewood Police Department's handling of the case.

Internet blogs and community rumblings wondered how the woman — abducted after a workout session at TrimGym Fitness Center — could be returned to the same shopping center several hours later without police on the scene knowing.

Residents questioned why the FBI wasn't called in sooner and the Lakewood Vaad, a council of Orthodox Jewish leaders, offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Vaad members declined comment Wednesday, but one member, Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, said last month that confidence in the Police Department's community policing was "at an all-time low."
The Jewish community got involved in the case because the Lakewood victim was Orthodox.
When no arrests in the case were announced quickly, some residents grew skeptical. A new neighborhood watch program called Shomrim — a Hebrew word that roughly translates to "watchers" — started soon after the attack.

Police say they do not believe the victim's religion played a role in the crime, even though the case was originally thought to be related to a string of attacks against Orthodox women in Brooklyn. Investigators affirmed Wednesday they now see no connection.

"People were under the expectation that we were going to be able to crack the case overnight," Peters said. "Unfortunately, cases don't happen that way."

Still, Mayor Lichtenstein said law enforcement continued to work the case, pursuing hundreds of phone calls, tips and leads.

"Our citizens are grateful to you," Lichtenstein told the detectives gathered at the news conference. "Thank you very much for your work."

Staff writer Matt Porio, Gannett New Jersey and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Richard Quinn: (732) 557-5739 or


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