An Arizona man who claimed he was targeted in a terrifying Proud Boys “assassination” plot has been found dead in a suspected homicide, according to authorities.
Officers from the El Mirage Police Department discovered Thomas Christopher Retzlaff, 55, dead at his home on Sept. 1, with the manner of death listed as a homicide by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner. Police had been asked to do a welfare check by Retzlaff’s wife, and his body was found with unspecified “fatal injuries,” police spokesperson Timothy Mason told The Daily Beast. The Phoenix New Times was first to report the death.
Hanszen Laporte, a law firm that was representing Retzlaff in a slew of convoluted lawsuits, confirmed his death to The Daily Beast on Friday.
While police have not disclosed any further details about Retzlaff’s death, and not named any suspects, The Daily Beast previously reported that he had been complaining for years about what he said was a campaign of “threats of murder and mayhem” carried out by Jason Lee Van Dyke. The Texas lawyer previously represented the Proud Boys and was once a member of the far-right “Western chauvinist” group.
In a phone interview with The Daily Beast on Friday, Van Dyke emphatically denied any involvement with Retzlaff’s death—but said he “obviously was glad to hear the news.”
“A source of mine called me and told me that it happened, and I didn’t believe it at first,” said Van Dyke. “I was like, ‘No, no, I’m not that lucky.’”
Van Dyke claimed Retzlaff had been “tormenting” him online, in court, and when it came to prospective employers for almost four years. To mark his rival’s death, Van Dyke said, he and a few friends “celebrated with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label.” A few days later, Van Dyke said he celebrated again—with someone he said was well-known but whom he declined to identify—with a feast at a Brazilian steakhouse.
“It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” said Van Dyke, who dismissed speculation that the Proud Boys were behind Retzlaff’s death.
“I think these people that are releasing information about the Proud Boys being involved, I think they’ll have egg all over their faces when they find out they had nothing to do with it,” insisted Van Dyke, who claimed not to have had any involvement with the group in two years.
The long-running conflict between the two men began in early 2017, when, as The Daily Beast reported, Van Dyke took a job with the district attorney’s office in Victoria County, Texas–only to be subject to a complaint filed by Retzlaff.
Retzlaff, who described himself to us as a Trump supporter, accused Van Dyke of being racist and running an abusive Twitter account under a pseudonym, sparking a slew of lawsuits between the pair that escalated into the alleged death threats.
“I live in San Antonio, and Victoria County is right next to where I live,” Retzlaff told The Daily Beast in a phone conversation at the time. “When I found out Van Dyke had got the job there, I had some communications with the district attorney and said, ‘This guy is a crazy person, why would you hire him? Didn’t you use Google?’”
Retzlaff suggested things spiraled in part because he effectively cost Van Dyke the job.
According to a legal filing that cited an Oak Point Police Department report last year, Van Dyke had tried to use members of Proud Boys’ Arizona chapter to surveil Retzlaff. Van Dyke vociferously disputed the claims, with a March 16, 2020, response reading, “There is no credible or admissible evidence before this Court to suggest that Defendant's wild theories of a conspiracy to murder both him and his counsel have any credibility whatsoever.”
A $100 million libel lawsuit filed by Van Dyke against Retzlaff was dismissed last year.
For his own part, Retzlaff had a robust rap sheet. He was convicted of misdemeanor assault on his wife, violating a protective order, theft, tampering with a government record, “display of harmful material to a minor,” and a felony weapons offense. He was also accused in separate, unsuccessful litigation of secretly posing as a member of the KKK on the internet.
Van Dyke understands why he might be under suspicion in the aftermath of Retzlaff’s death, but claims the police haven’t even contacted him.
“It apparently happened September 1, I heard about it September 13,” said Van Dyke. “My first reaction was, if he had been murdered, I would’ve expected a call. The fact that I’ve received no inquiries from law enforcement tells me that they’ve already got a pretty good idea who did this.”