Bitter Blood

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Bitter Blood
Bitter Blood Front Cover.jpg
Front cover of Bitter Blood
Author Jerry Bledsoe
Country United States
Language English
Genre True Crime
Publisher Dutton
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover), audio
Pages 468

Bitter Blood: A True Story of Southern Family Pride, Madness, and Multiple Murder (1988) is a non-fiction crime tragedy written by American author Jerry Bledsoe that reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Bitter Blood is composed of various newspaper articles (from the Greensboro News and Record) and personal eyewitness accounts of several homicides in 1984 and 1985. The setting for the majority of the novel is located in rural North Carolina, and more specifically, in Rockingham County and Guilford County.

In a statement released by Barnes & Noble, Bitter Blood is described as a, “…real-life drama of three wealthy families connected by marriage and murder. Bledsoe recounts the shocking events, obsessive love, and bitter custody battles which led to the bloody climax that took nine lives.” [1]


In 1981, Susie Newsom (the niece and namesake of North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Susie Sharp) and her husband Tom Lynch got divorced and many intense battles ensued over the custody of their two sons, John and Jim. Shortly after the finalization of their divorce and the beginning of their power struggles, Susie Newsom became intimate with her first cousin, Fritz Klenner. Fritz Klenner was a gun worshipping “doctor” who had a long history of dishonesty. Fritz followed in the footsteps of his father, Frederick Robert Klenner, and started his own medical practice in Reidsville, North Carolina. However, Fritz was a fraud and deceived many people (including his father) because he did not actually attend college nor did he receive a license to practice medicine.

In the summer of 1984, relatives of the former couple began to be murdered across the country. At first, Tom Lynch’s mother (Delores) and sister (Janie) were murdered in cold blood in Oldham County, Kentucky. The two were killed at their home as Delores returned from a Sunday morning church service on July 22, 1984. The police originally had no leads and no suspects were under investigation after these two mysterious murders.

Then on May 18, 1985, Susie Newsom’s father (Bob Newsom), mother (Florence), and grandmother (Hattie) were shot to death in their home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Before his murder, Bob Newsom had agreed to testify in favor of Tom Lynch at an upcoming custody hearing. Investigators now had a suspect. Because of this lead, police began to speculate that Susie played a role in the murder of her family.

Soon after the death of her family, police began gathering information, heavily scrutinizing many aspects of Susie Newsom’s life. Police soon discovered that Susie was in a relationship with Fritz and both became prime suspects in the murders of Susie’s family and Tom’s family. By June 1985, investigators had gathered substantial evidence and were closing in on the arrests of Susie and Fritz. However, an unpredictable and shocking event happened instead.

On June 3, police forces entered the apartment complex of Fritz Klenner in Greensboro, North Carolina. Authorities were ready to subdue him in the case of physical resistance, but they never got the chance. Fritz became outraged and fired multiple gunshots in the direction of the police, then fled the scene in an SUV with Susie and her two children, John and Jim. Fritz and the police became engaged in a low speed 15-minute police chase. When the SUV was stopped, Klenner opened fire with a machine gun, wounding three officers in the initial burst of fire. Before they could respond in kind, he detonated an explosive charge inside the Blazer, killing himself and his three passengers. Autopsies performed on the children showed that both boys had ingested cyanide and had been shot in the head at close range. Later the authorities determined that Susie Newsom ignited the explosives in the SUV.

In all, nine people died in 1984 and 1985 due to the events recounted in Bitter Blood. [2]


In the wake of the deaths on June 3, 1985, forensics analysis began on the bodies of Fritz, Susie, John, and Jim. Both boys were found to have high levels of cyanide in their blood in addition to gunshot wounds to the head. It is assumed that due to the poison both children were unconscious during the police chase, and that either Susie or Fritz shot them just prior to the explosion of the bomb. Susie's body was mangled from the waist down and many pieces of the seat were deeply embedded in her corpse. This led investigators to believe that the bomb was positioned underneath her seat, on the passenger side of Fritz's Bronco. Police officers found Fritz alive among the wreckage; however, he soon died from internal hemorrhaging.

The following day, June 4, the police searched the Klenner household and found numerous firearms, explosives, and prescription drugs. Over 15 guns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, grenades, illegal military equipment, and a couple of claymores were found at Fritz's house. The police also found a case and a half of dynamite that was stored behind the Klenner residence. It is assumed that the missing half-case of dynamite was the cause of the explosion in the car. Inside Fritz's office, the police found evidence which showed that he was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and an avid supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.

While it is a common belief that Fritz Klenner had the means and the motive to commit the murders, it cannot be proven beyond a ballistics report that linked a bullet found at the scene of the Lynch killings with a gun that Klenner and Susie sold to a North Carolina gun dealer.[3] Susie's role in the murders still remains unknown. The prevailing theories are either that she convinced Klenner to commit the murders on her behalf, and thus had foreknowledge of the crimes; or that she had none, and blindly refused to consider that Klenner was involved, seeing any attempt by the state to investigate his possible role as an unreasonable persecution.

After the deaths on June 3, 1985, a further conspiracy theory arose concerning Ian Perkins, a 21-year-old neighbor of Klenner's. It was believed that Ian Perkins knew about Fritz's involvement in the murders of Tom's family and Susie's family, since he had driven Klenner to their homes. In 1985, Perkins went on trial and was sentenced to four months in jail and over five years of probation; he is currently seeking a state pardon.[4] Perkins was spared a life sentence thanks to a note from Fritz Klenner that read, "This is to certify that my friend Ian Perkins was in no way involved in any wrongdoings of any kind." The judge noted Ian's naiveté, gullibility, and immaturity as mitigating factors in his sentencing.

Prior to the murders, in 1981, the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) was given anonymous information that Fritz Klenner was "a dangerous psychopath who was practicing medicine without a license." However, no investigation ensued after the discovery of this information. In retrospect, the attorney general of the SBI, Rufus Edminsten, said that this vital piece of information was never brought to his attention. Edminsten later admitted that he wished he had done something about the situation prior to its escalation. [5]


In 1994, a television movie based upon the novel was produced and named In the Best of Families: Marriage, Pride & Madness. Jeff Bleckner, who also directed Medium, Hawthorne, and Boston Legal, was the director for this film. In the Best of Families has a runtime of 200 minutes and it was originally released and played on CBS in a two part series on January 16 and 18, 1994. [6] It is re-run on cable under the title Bitter Blood. The story was also adapted for an episode of "Southern Fried Homicide" on Investigation Discovery.[7]


  1. ^ "Bitter Blood: A True Story of Southern Family Pride, Madness, and Multiple Murder by Jerry Bledsoe". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Bledsoe, Jerry (1988). Bitter Blood. Penguin Inc. 
  3. ^ "Klenner-Lynch held responsible for slayings", Hendersonville N.C. Times-News, September 13, 1985.
  4. ^ "Twenty Years Later, Klenner-Lynch Killings Still Raise Questions", WFMY-TV, 4:51 PM, Jun 3, 2005.
  5. ^ Bledsoe, Jerry (1988). Bitter Blood. Penguin Inc. 
  6. ^ "In the Best of Families: Marriage, Pride & Madness". IMDb. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  7. ^