On an early morning in August 1961, two patrol officers with the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin app-
roached a car carrying three men from Chicago.
A shootout ensued between the law enforcement officers and suspects.
One of the patrol officers, James Jantz, was killed in the fight, a crime that’s reverberated to today, almost 50 years later, for James’ son, Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz.
“No matter what, it’s never-ending,” said Tim, who was 5 months old when his father was killed in the line of duty. “I don’t have a dad. He was murdered, so my whole family’s been a victim of violent crime.”
The shooting took place in an area known as the Wisconsin Dells, a recreational area for people in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.
James, who was patrolling in Lake Delton, Wis., pulled over the car with the three men. They had been seen spending extravagant amounts of money, lighting cigars with $100 bills and showing off to waitresses.
“That got people’s attention,” Tim said. “In 1961, people didn’t do that.”
The suspicions were justified — according to the Official Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial website, the men were wanted for armed robberies and shooting at police in the Chicago area.
In the gun battle, James was struck three times by the suspects, including once with his own gun.
They fled the scene, launching one of the largest manhunts in Wisconsin history. Multiple newspapers in the region covered the case, which became a subject of the 2004 book, “The Great Wisconsin Manhunt of 1961.”
They were later captured and sent to prison.
Resolution, however, hasn’t been easy for Moffat County’s sheriff.
The death of his father became, and has always been, the driving force behind his life’s work in law enforcement, he said.
Tim spent his early years in Wisconsin, where his family name was often recognized because of its association with James’ murder.
The attention, Tim said, was something he later picked up on when he would take trips back north following the family’s move to Phoenix in 1969.
“It was hard on my mom because no matter where she went in Wisconsin, once they discovered who she was, there was always this pity shown to her,” he said.
He described his mother, Barbara, as a strong, self-reliant woman who worked frequently.
That self-reliance translated over to her son. The family didn’t have much money, so he started doing jobs around the neighborhood at age 10.
Into his teens, he said that work ethic instilled by his mother, along with a fear of letting his parents down, helped keep him out of trouble.
“I was too busy working to help support myself and my family that it didn’t really leave a whole lot of time for me to do that,” Tim said.
“I wasn’t going to go hang out on a weekend and spend all my money on beer or those kinds of things when I knew … if I worked hard I could spend my money on buying a car or going camping and trap shooting.”
Growing up, friends and family members reminded him of his father’s police work. It planted a seed that later took hold.
“It was so engrained in my life, I guess it was just the direction I followed,” Tim said.
A job at the Craig Station power plant in 1980 brought Tim to Craig at age 19.
But, the career at the plant didn’t last long.
He left after a year to pursue a law enforcement opportunity in Phoenix. He moved back to Craig in 1982 to join the police department, where he spent four years working.
After leaving again for a time, Tim returned in 1991 to Moffat County, this time for good. He became the Maybell deputy for the sheriff’s office.
An avid outdoorsman, Tim said he enjoys the open landscapes of the area. He frequently hunts and fishes, and generally explores Moffat County.
He said Moffat County residents have always been accommodating and respectful of someone with a good work ethic.
“It just seems to me, in my travels over the years, it always helps reaffirm how wonderful we have it here as far as working relationships,” Tim said.
After he returned, it wasn’t long before the man who Moffat County has twice elected sheriff became involved in various community service roles.
His resume includes time on the Moffat County Libraries Board, the Maybell parks, fire and sewer boards, and a stint as chairman of the Moffat County Republican Party.
The community service, he said, had little to do with a desire to someday become sheriff. Instead, it was an extension of his appreciation to help the community.
“It wasn’t like I decided one day, ‘Oh, hey, I need to be sheriff, I need to be involved,’” Tim said. “You look back, I can’t even list all the community events I’ve been involved in.
“This is where my roots are and it’s just because of all those things — the people, the friendships I’ve established here — they’re hard to beat. You don’t get that in a big city.”
Tim was elected sheriff in 2006, after initially being viewed by some as a dark horse candidate. Voters again elected him in 2010. He was unchallenged in his re-election bid.
Last year also brought other recognition — local residents named him best law enforcement officer in the Craig Daily Press Best of Moffat County awards.
While he appreciates the recognition, Tim concedes he has his share of critics, too. The criticism, he said, is something he can handle.
“I’ve got big shoulders,” he said.
Tim said he was able to accomplish several goals during his first term, and his second is primarily about keeping both residents and deputies safe, and drugs away from schools.
“What I like about the sheriff’s office is that we really do interact with our citizens and that does, in a sense, help their officer safety,” he said.
Keeping the county safe, he said, is his way of paying back voters who entrusted him with the sheriff’s position.
“They have given me the honor to be here, so in turn I try to give that back,” he said. “People are concerned about their safety and welfare and I think it’s part of my job and human nature to help them make sure they live in a safe and happy environment.”
Today, Tim doesn’t spend as much time covering the streets as he would like.
Still, he said he tries to keep an open line of communication with both the public and his deputies.
And, no matter what, he doesn’t want one of his deputies or their families going through what he and his family did because of crime.
“My dad died doing this job,” he said. “My crew, my officers, I don’t want that to happen to them. … I don’t want an officer dying. I know what it feels like.”
Click here to have the print version of the Craig Daily Press delivered to your home.