Journal File Photos
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Barker campaigns in 2002. Barker
served as sheriff from 1990 until 2002. “I remember him as a kind,
quiet, Southern gentleman — all law enforcement,” former Forsyth
County District Attorney Keith said Tuesday.
Journal File Photos
Lori Bauguess (left), of Winston-Salem, watches Forsyth County
Sheriff Ron Barker use jumper cables on her truck outside of a
restaurant on Old Walkertown Road in Winston-Salem.
Barker displays a 1993 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle the
sheriff’s office planned to auction in 2001.
Former Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Barker died Tuesday after a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, relatives said.
Barker, 86, who was in hospice care, died at the home of his son, Mike Barker.
From 1990 to 2002, Barker served as sheriff of Forsyth County. In 2002, Barker was defeated in the Republican Party primary election by Bill Schatzman, who went on to serve as sheriff for 16 years until his election defeat by current Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough in 2018.
Tributes to Barker began pouring onto a Facebook page for former sheriff’s office employees as soon as his death was announced.
Kimbrough released a statement thanking Barker for his service, saying he was glad to have had the chance to speak with Barker before he died.
“With heavy hearts, we extend out our condolences to the Barker family at the loss of Sheriff Ron Barker,” Kimbrough said. “It is because of him, and men and women like him that have gone before us, that this agency is what it is today.”
He said the sheriff’s office sends “peace to his family and to our community during this time of mourning.”
Schatzman said he was saddened when he learned of Barker’s death.
“He was a dedicated law-enforcement officer who served the citizens of Forsyth County for many years,” he said of Barker. “My sincere condolences to his wife and all in the Barker family.”
Barker was born in Thomasville and while in high school worked in a hosiery mill. After graduating, he took a job selling freezers at Sears department store.
He received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1963 at Wake Forest University. He also took graduate courses at Wake Forest and N.C. State University.
Barker came to law enforcement late. In fact, after he graduated from Wake Forest he taught science for about seven years, mostly at Kernersville Junior High School, Mike Barker said.
“He knew hundreds of people from just that,” the son said. “People are saying, ‘Best teacher I ever had.’ That was his first love.”
Ron Barker taught and coached football, baseball and basketball at the junior high, his son said, noting how he loved going with his dad everywhere he went.
While he was teaching, Mike Barker said, his dad took the night job of managing Skate City, now Skate World, at Talley’s Crossing in Kernersville.
“Back then, that was the place to go,” Mike Barker said. “They had live bands. He started hiring off-duty officers. There were troublemakers who came in. He had the deputies there for that and got to talking to them about what they were doing.”
Barker was intrigued by the work of the deputies. So in 1969, when he was 36 years old, he jumped from schools to the sheriff’s office. His son said that around 1970 or 1971 his dad had second thoughts and went back to teaching school. But only for a year. Then it was back to the sheriff’s office.
“I learned quickly that it takes a lot more than just qualifications to be a good sheriff’s deputy,” Barker said in a Winston-Salem Journal interview in 2002. “After a while on the street, you realize you are living a different life.”
Barker helped start the department’s first homicide division after a string of killings in the mid-1970s. He also helped start neighborhood-watch programs and spent a good part of his early career on crime prevention.
When Sheriff Manly Lancaster stepped down in 1984 for health reasons, Barker was considered as a possible replacement. But the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners instead chose Preston Oldham, a no-nonsense former narcotics detective who was then leading the criminal-investigations division.
Oldham realigned the department, appointing Barker as captain of the detectives.
One of biggest homicide cases Barker oversaw the department’s investigation of the Klenner-Lynch-Newsom slayings.
The case involved a romantic relationship between Fritz Klenner and his first cousin, Susie Lynch. Lynch was involved in a custody dispute with her former husband, Tom, over their two sons.
In 1984, Tom’s mother and sister were killed in Kentucky. The case left investigators stumped until Susie’s father, mother and grandmother were killed in their house off Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem in 1985. Susie’s father, Bob, had agreed to testify on Tom Lynch’s behalf in the custody battle.
That clue allowed investigators to tie the homicide cases together. As they closed in on Klenner and Susie Lynch in Greensboro, the couple fled with the two children. After a slow-speed chase, their SUV exploded on a road in Summerfield about 12 miles northwest of Greensboro. Susie Lynch and Fritz Klenner died as a result of the explosion. The children had been poisoned with cyanide and shot in the head at close range.
In all, nine people died in the crime spree. The case was immortalized in the book “Bitter Blood,” by Jerry Bledsoe, which became a national bestseller. Barker was referenced a few times in the book.
Barker had interviewed Susie Lynch shortly after the killings. As recalled in “Bitter Blood,” he found her behavior odd.
“I’ve investigated a lot of murders,” Barker is quoted as saying in the book. “Usually the family asks you all kinds of questions. They stay on you constantly. Not one question did she ask. … She was cheerful. She didn’t seem remorseful at all.”
In 1986, Barker ran as a Democrat in the primary against Oldham and lost. Barker was demoted from captain to deputy duties in the radio room. Afterward, he resigned and landed a job as security manager at the Sears store in Hanes Mall.
He challenged Oldham again in 1990, running this time as a Republican. And the law-enforcement landscape in Forsyth had changed, spurred by a major crime.
On a July night in 1988, 24-year-old Michael Charles Hayes allegedly walked into the middle of Old Salisbury Road and began shooting. By the time he was done, nine people had been shot, four fatally.
The response from law enforcement had been chaotic, partly because the shootings happened so close to the Forsyth/Davidson county line that there was confusion over who had jurisdiction.
A Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy had asked a lieutenant for permission to shoot Hayes but was told to stand by. Hayes was ultimately shot and arrested.
In a verdict that received national attention, Hayes was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The shootings and the response from authorities led to outrage in the community. Barker mentioned the Hayes shootings often while campaigning. He went on to win the election by about 6,000 votes.
‘Devoted to the job’
Unusual for a newly elected sheriff, his son said, Ron Barker didn’t assume office and star firing people.
As sheriff, Barker was interested in prisoner rehabilitation, and put into place programs to help with that. Barker’s son said his dad loved going to the jail and talking with the people who were incarcerated.
Tom Keith, a former Forsyth County district attorney, noted that he and Barker were elected the same year.
“I remember him as a kind, quiet, Southern gentleman — all law enforcement,” Keith said. “He would go out at night and work, and cruise around.”
Keith said Barker started using in-car cameras early on, something that was new.
“Later on, we had an incident where everyone said the deputy did something wrong. And the in-car camera said the exact opposite.”
Keith said Barker also got a grant to put cameras in schools. After Barker left office, Keith said, those cameras exonerated someone facing an in-school rape allegation.
The cameras in cars and in schools “were two great accomplishments,” Keith said.
Allen Gentry, former assistant sheriff during part of Barker’s tenure as sheriff, said Barker was an effective, mild-mannered and compassionate sheriff.
“He had the interest of the community for whatever he tried to accomplish,” Gentry said. “He was a good man.”
During Barker’s second term, the Journal wrote a series of articles that detailed the department’s hiring of his friends and family. Reporters found that at least 125 of the 610 people hired by the department since 1994 had relatives working for the sheriff.
Barker also hired several of his friends, including his barber and the son of a county commissioner.
Among those hired was Barker’s son, Brian. He was hired as a sworn officer despite having been involved in an armed standoff a few years earlier.
Barker withstood a GOP challenge in the 1998 election, defeating four challengers, including Schatzman, a retired FBI agent.
More controversy, however, followed his reelection.
In February 1999, not long after starting his third term, Barker’s son Brian was shot in the chest. He said two Hispanic men shot him during a traffic stop, leading to an intense manhunt.
Days later, Brian Barker admitted that he made up the story, blaming the incident on stress. He was charged with filing a false police report and resigned.
Sheriff Barker blamed the Journal nepotism series, saying the articles had pushed his son to the edge.
“You just kept beating him and beating him and beating him,” Barker said. “Slowly but surely that caused him to be depressed.”
Barker was also part of a sexual-harassment lawsuit involving one of the department’s highest-ranking officers. Barker was not accused of harassment, but the alleged victim argued that he had been told about it and didn’t do enough to stop it. A judge dismissed that part of the lawsuit, but the political damage was already done.
In the 2002 primary election, Barker once again faced four challengers, but voters opted for a change. Schatzman received 42% of the vote to Barker’s 24%.
Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said she and Barker entered political office the same year: She on the school board, and Barker as sheriff.
“We did work on some things together when I was on the school board,” Whisenhunt said. “I always found Ron to be very easy to work with. He was very sincere and devoted to the job.”
She was later elected to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, where she saw Barker frequently, especially at budget time.
“He was never trying to get something he didn’t think he needed,” Whisenhunt said. “I always found Ron easy to communicate with. He was a family man and he was a good person.”
Larry Womble, a former member of the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen (now known as the Winston-Salem City Council), said Barker tried to make a difference in the local community as sheriff.
“You could go to him and let him know what were the community’s concerns,” Womble said. “He didn’t always agree with those concerns. I will always remember him in a good light.”
Barker’s law-enforcement career wasn’t quite over, even after he left office here. After he left the Forsyth office, he was hired by Davidson County Sheriff Gerald Hege as a reserve deputy, which Hege described as an act of appreciation from one law-enforcement officer to another.
Barker’s son Mike said his own career, and that of his son Kevin, in law enforcement were influenced by his dad’s example. Mike Barker said his other son Matthew was inspired to go into teaching by Ron Barker.
Barker, reflecting on his job in a 1997 interview, said he wasn’t in the job for his own benefit:
“I want to do what’s best for the citizens and not what’s best for me, but that ought to already be obvious to some people.”