A Driving force

Homicide detective Bill Ritz is the tireless organizer behind an annual golf tournament that is a big fundraiser for a child abuse center in Baltimore

May 15, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

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.

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