Maricopa County’s Medical Examiner Report finds Thomas Retzlaff’s death to be a ‘homicide’ by assault, with ‘multiple sharp force injuries’ stated as cause of death.
In early September, the vexatious litigant, Thomas Retzlaff, who tangled in court with the fascist group, the Proud Boys, and many others, was found dead in his home, apparently stabbed to death according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner. As of now, no suspects have been identified by police in the case.
These reports come after a flurry of suspicion and media attention following the death of Retzlaff due to his long and storied run-ins with the fascist group, the Proud Boys, and their notorious former lawyer, Jason Lee Van Dyke. The Phoenix New Times was the first to report Retzlaff, who was the target of surveillance and an alleged assassination plot by an Arizona chapter of the right-wing group, was found dead in El Mirage, Arizona.
The alleged plot was that of former Proud Boys lawyer Jason Lee Van Dyke, who, according to a report by the Oak Point Police Department, “allegedly tried to use members of the Arizona chapter of the all-male, far-right, self-described “Western chauvinist” group to allegedly injure or murder Thomas Christopher Retzlaff,” per the Daily Beast.
At present, there is no evidence to conclude Van Dyke had any involvement with Retzlaff’s murder, and he has repeatedly denied any accusation to that effect.
The quarrels between Retzlaff and Van Dyke have gone back years, initially starting in 2017 with Van Dyke accusing Retzlaff of having lost him a job as a felony prosecutor in Victoria County, Texas. Chronicled extensively by Christian McPhate of the Dallas Observer, “Van Dyke began posting death threats against the anonymous person who cost him his job. On Facebook, he posted a picture of himself in camouflaged paramilitary SWAT gear. An AR-15 assault rifle rested in his arms. The caption: ‘If you mess with my career (the one that requires me to wear a suit), I might be dressed like this the next time you see me!’”
This caused him to receive a notice of professional grievance by the State Bar. Attempting to learn more about why his job offer was rescinded, Van Dyke sued the district attorney’s office. He said he was then able to find Retzlaff as the culprit.
Van Dyke proceeded to harass Retzlaff with death threats: “If you do not stop calling my clients, I will make you suffer. Better watch your back, Tom.” Another threat being: “Did you know that, when I strangle you, that you could be conscious to feel all that pain for up to three minutes before brain death occurs? What kind of vegetable would you like to be for the rest of your life? How about a turnip?” and additionally, “I can’t wait to see your fat ass on the other end of my scope. Did you know that a 190 gram 300 Winchester Magnum round travels at approximately 2,800 feet per second?” according to the Texas State Bar, later reported by the Dallas Observer.
It was his disputes with Retzlaff which Van Dyke claims prompted him to join the Proud Boys. In a recent interview, Van Dyke claimed “I’ve been very open with you about the fact that I joined for the purpose of punishing Antifa because I perceived them as being responsible for the termination of my job.” When asked if the Proud boys were ‘looking for a fight’ when approaching events with antifascists, Jason remarked, “I think it’s disingenuous for a lot of them to say they weren’t looking for a fight.”
Additionally, when pressed as to whether he threatened to kill Thomas Retzlaff on social media, he pushed back, saying, “I threatened to kill Dean Anderson,” who, while Van Dyke claimed he had no personal knowledge of whether Anderson was Retzlaff’s pseudonym, said, “I think there’s a very good chance that’s a pseudonym.” When asked why he threatened to kill him, he replied, “Because he got me fired from my second job…Because this had been an ongoing problem, it had been the second job that I’ve been fired from for this reason in the course of a year, it was time to eliminate the problem.”
When pressed again for further clarification about whether he was actually planning to kill him, and why, Van Dyke responded: “Yes…shooting him. I didn’t really plan it out, I planned on flying to Arizona that weekend with a weapon, and my friends talked me out of it.”
In 2018, Van Dyke tried to sue Retzlaff for $100 million, accusing him of writing “libelous blog posts calling Van Dyke a Nazi and a white supremacist,” according to the Daily Beast. The case was later dismissed. The threats caused Retzlaff to send a statement to the district attorney’s office, which prompted a hearing. When Van Dyke failed to show up in December, an arrest warrant was issued, for which Van Dyke turned himself in. One month later in January 2019, Judge Coby Waddill set Van Dyke’s bail at $50,000.
The next month, Van Dyke was suspended by the Texas Bar for three months and fined $75,000 for his run-ins with the law and repeated death threats. According to the Huffington Post, the Texas state bar was made aware of a number of threats made by Van Dyke going back as early as November of 2017. In May of 2020, Van Dyke was suspended yet again from practicing law for six months following one year of probation after more death threats amidst a pending criminal case.
In addition to scuffles with Proud Boys, Retzlaff was no stranger to legal issues of his own. Per the Phoenix New Times, they wrote: “He was previously convicted of misdemeanor assault against his wife, tampering with government records, and a felony weapons offense, per The Daily Beast. At the time of his death, Retzlaff was facing prosecution in Maricopa County Superior Court for charges including identity theft and forgery, according to online court records.”
On this Thursday, December 2nd, the toxicology report and redacted autopsy of Thomas Retzlaff was released per public request by the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner. The summary and opinion of the report state: “The decedent was a 55-year-old male who was found unresponsive at home on 09/02/2021, [REDACTED]. Emergency personnel responded and death was pronounced on scene. Based on the above findings, reported circumstances of death, and all other investigative information received to date and as available to me, it is my opinion that the cause of death is multiple sharp force injuries. The manner of death is homicide.”
While the records have been released, the ‘Findings’ and ‘Evidence of Injury’ portions have been redacted. Under “Neck” within the internal examination section, the report states: “See Evidence of Injury.”
“No positive findings” of toxicological significance were revealed within the examination, per the toxicology report performed by NMS Labs.
In regards to the redactions, Administrative Specialist Kristen Johnson of the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner stated in the initial email: “At the request of the El Mirage Police Department which is conducting an investigation into this matter, detailed information regarding findings and evidence of injury has been redacted. It is in the best interest of the state to redact this information as public release could affect the ongoing investigation.”
Jack Wheatley can be reached on Twitter at @jacktwheatley.