A man who opened fire on police Friday night, wounding two officers, had a lengthy criminal history and on-again, off-again drug problems, according to court documents and residents in his south Fort Worth neighborhood.
His father, who was found fatally shot inside his home, was described by friends as a soft-spoken and kind man, a former B-52 pilot who owned a Model T that he would work on and wash in his driveway and take out for Sunday spins.
Carl Fleece, 81, and his son, Martin Craig Fleece, 55, both died Friday night during a bizarre sequence of gunfire that is still being pieced together by police investigators.
Police would not identify the Fleeces as those who died, but the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office confirmed that the father and son had been tentatively identified as the two men fatally shot on the property in the 3800 block of Wharton Drive.
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Residents in the neighborhood also said it was the father and son who had died.
MedStar paramedics and Fort Worth police had responded to a suicide call at the Fleeces’ home at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Carl Fleece was found dead inside the house with a gunshot wound to the head. Authorities have not said who fired the shot.
Fort Worth police officers Xavier Serrano and Ray Azucena entered the house and, according to a news release, were told by a person inside the house that another person was in the room when the shot was fired and had gone to the shed in the back yard.
Holed up inside the shed was Martin Craig Fleece, who upon encountering the officers began firing his weapon, wounding both of them, police said. Serrano was shot multiple times, has undergone surgery and remains in stable condition at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Azucena, a newly commissioned officer in training, was hit in the chest but the bullet was deflected by body armor. He was released from the hospital early Saturday.
A couple of hours after the shooting, SWAT team members were able to infiltrate the shed, where they found Martin Craig Fleece dead, apparently of gunshot wounds. It is not known if the gunshot wounds were self-inflicted or fired by police.
The shooting occurred in the usually quiet Wedgwood neighborhood in south Fort Worth. Saturday morning, neighbors talked freely about the Fleeces.
‘They didn’t talk much about him’
Ron B., who asked that his last name not be used, said he didn’t think that Martin Craig Fleece had a job and mostly kept to himself.
A brother was at the house, but he declined to be interviewed. A little later, he walked with his grieving mother, Vaneda Fleece, out of the house, helped her into his car and drove off.
Ron B. said he and his wife had lunch with Carl and Vaneda Fleece on Tuesdays.
“They are wonderful, wonderful people,” Ron said. “Very softly spoken, never poked their noses in other peoples’ business, kept to themselves. I like to cook, and I’d often share what I made with them.”
Carl Fleece, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was a decorated B-52 pilot and did what he could to help his son, who Ron B. said he had lived in the shed for the better part of 20 years.
“They didn’t talk much about him [Craig], but they did mention they were having a difficult time with him,” Ron B. said. “Every time it got brought up he [Carl] would get upset about it. It was nothing new so we didn’t talk about it much. We would prefer to talk about pleasant things when we were together.”
Ron B. said on Friday night, he and his wife saw the flashing police lights so they came out to see what was going on, then heard the gunshots from the back yard, and then saw one of the wounded officers.
Jesse Guadina has lived in the neighborhood 3 1/2 years, three houses down and across the street from the Fleeces.
Guadina said Carl Fleece was always out mowing his yard and the yard across the street at a house he owned for a few years.
“The old man was a really nice man. He was very energetic for his age. I saw him about two hours before it happened. He waved at me and drove into his driveway,” Guadina said.
On early reports that Carl Fleece had committed suicide, Guadina responded: “He wouldn’t do that. He was always out mowing his lawn and working on his cars. He would take out his Model-T and cruise up and down the street.”
A lengthy criminal past
Martin Craig Fleece, however, was an angry thorn in his family’s side.
“He didn’t do anything. Only time I’ve seen him is when the cops came out. Over the last three years, I’ve seen the cops out here probably six times. If he wasn’t causing trouble to his parents, he was causing trouble to his brother,” Guadina said.
Martin Craig Fleece’s criminal convictions include a second-degree attempted murder charge in Louisiana that was pleaded down to manslaughter, misdemeanor drug possession in Denton County, DWI in Hood County and unlawful possession of a weapon in New Jersey.
In the Louisiana case, Jefferson Parish court records show Martin Craig Fleece was accused of attempting to kill a man in 1998.
In May 1999, Martin Craig Fleece pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter instead. He was ordered to serve six months in prison and five years’ probation, including one year under house confinement in Texas.
While still on probation, he was arrested in Fort Worth in February 2004 for credit card abuse and auto theft after stealing an ambulance and using a debit card found inside it.
According to appellate records, Martin Craig Fleece had told police that he had started the ambulance, which he had found parked in an apartment complex with the keys inside, to get warm but then drove away after passers-by began looking at him and making him feel uncomfortable.
After finding a debit card inside the ambulance, he decided to buy some supplies to clean the dirty ambulance, he told police. He said he drove the ambulance to a friend’s house in Lancaster, where he intended to clean it, but then changed his mind and returned to Fort Worth, where the ambulance ran out of gas.
Police found the reported stolen ambulance parked in a roadway with Martin Craig Fleece sitting in the back amid cleaning supplies and other items purchased using the stolen debit card.
He was convicted of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and debit card abuse. At one of his hearings, a forensic psychologist testified that he believed after interviewing and administering several psychological tests that the man was bipolar and experienced intermittent manic episodes.
Louisiana court records indicate that Martin Craig Fleece, at that time, was supposed to be taking medication for psychiatric problems but was not complying.
Ron B. said had limited contact with the troubled son.
“I only had a few conversations with him. He never made me feel like there was something dangerous or wrong with him,” Ron B. said. “I always felt, isn’t he lucky to have parents like Carl and Vaneda.”
Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd
Jeff Caplan: 817-390-7705, @Jeff_Caplan