Known as the Pied Piper of Phoenix,
Charlie was a little imp who dyed his hair black and drew a mole in his
face to look meaner. A bizarre individual he became a cult hero of the
disaffected youths of Tucson, Arizona.
March 31, after a
night of serious drinking, he proclaimed that he was going to kill a
girl and get away with it. His victim, a 15-year-old girl, was lured to
the desert where he raped and killed her.
The next year, after realizing that
murder could be fun, he killed his girlfriend and younger sister and
dumped their bodies in the desert. A boastful man, Charlie took his
friend Richard Bruns to see the corpses. The murders became an open
secret with a bunch of Tucson teens. No one told authorities until Bruns,
fearing that his girlfriend was next on Charlie's hit list, spilled the
For the first killing Charlie got 50
years to life; for the double murder he was handed the death penalty.
Thanks to a series of appeals his execution was stalled long enough to
save his life when, in 1971, the US Supreme Court declared capital
punishment unconstitutional. In 1972 he escaped with fellow triple-murderer
Raymond Hudgens and was recaptured within days.
On March 20, 1975 Schmid
was stabbed 20 times by his fellow inmates and died ten days later.
Charles Howard 'Smitty'
Schmid, Jr (8 July 1942
- March 20, 1975), also known as The Pied Piper of Tucson, is a
serial killer from the 1960's.
His crime, profiled in
the 4 March 1966 issue of Time Magazine, inspired "Where are you
going, where have you been?", a short-story by Joyce Carol Oates,
and "The Lost", a novel by Jack Ketchum.
Charles Schmid was
born to an unwed mother on 8 July 1942, and adopted by Charles and
Katharine Schmid, owners and operators of Hillcrest Nursing Home in
Tucson, Arizona. He often got into arguments with his foster father. He
often did poorly in school despite being described by many as
intelligent and courteous. An accomplished athlete, he excelled at
gymnastics and even led his high school to a State Championship, but
quit the team his senior year.
graduating, Charles stole some tools from the machine shop, and was
subsequently suspended. He never returned to school. He began living in
his own quarters on his parents' property and received an allowance of
$300 a month.
His foster parents
left him to run on his own with a new car and a motorcycle. He spent
much of his time on Speedway, picking up girls and drinking with
buddies, although he tended to be a loner. His best friends were Paul
Graff, who lived with him, John Saunders, and Richie Bruns.
Schmid once told a
girl that he had murdered a young man who had killed his girlfriend in a
car accident, cut off his hands and buried him in the desert. Schmid was
a pathological liar who attempted to create sympathy or inspire awe with
However, there is some
doubt that he actually made the story up. He once claimed four murders,
which indicated that this might have been the first. Yet, he was only
prosecuted and convicted of three, that of Alleen Rowe, Gretchen Fritz,
and Wendy Fritz.
Cold-Blooded: The Saga
of Charles Schmid, the Notorious "Pied Piper of Tucson", by John
Gilmore. ISBN 0922915318
Schmid, Charles Howard
Born in Tucson in 1942, Schmid was the pampered only child of parents who ran a local rest home, indulging their son's every whim on the side.
A pathological braggart and liar, he wore cowboy boots stuffed with paper and crushed beer cans to increase his small stature, explaining the resultant limp as an injury sustained while fighting members of the Mafia.
On graduation from high school, Schmid began dyeing his hair jet black, applied layers of cosmetics, and designed a phony mole to make his face "look meaner." In spite of his bizarre appearance, he became a hero to a quasi-cult of disaffected local youth, with various teenage girls competing for his affection. Boozing it up with friends Mary French and John Saunders on the night of May 31, 1964, Schmid suddenly announced, "I want to kill a girl tonight. I think I can get away with it." His chosen victim was 15-year-old Alleen Rowe, lured from home to a stretch of desert near the local golf course, where Schmid raped her, beat her to death with a stone, and planted her corpse in a shallow grave.
Over the next year, Schmid became romantically involved with Gretchen Fritz, a possessive 17-year-old whose clinging ways eventually grated on Schmid's nerves. On the night of August 11, 1965, Schmid strangled Gretchen and her sister, 13-year-old Wendy Fritz, at his home, afterward dumping their bodies in the desert. Unable to contain himself, he boasted of the crime to friend Richard Bruns, driving Bruns out to look at the bodies, enlisting his help for a hasty burial.
The murders were an open secret, shared by scores of Tucson teens, but no one notified police or parents. Schmid was questioned by a pair of hoodlum types, allegedly employed to find the missing sisters, but he claimed that they had run away to California. Backing up his story, Schmid drove to San Diego, where he was arrested for impersonating an FBI agent, "questioning" girls at the beach.
Back home in Tucson, Schmid was married in September, proposing to his 15-year-old bride after a blind date, but his facade was cracking, his behavior growing even more erratic. Richard Bruns believed his own girlfriend might be Schmid's next target, and he finally phoned the police on November 11, leading to Schmid's arrest. Exposure of the crimes stunned Tucson, with revelations of teenage drinking, drug abuse and sex, plus dabbling in the occult. Dubbed the "Pied Piper of Tucson," Schmid was sentenced to die for killing the Fritz sisters; a guilty plea to second-degree murder in the case of Alleen Rowe earned him a sentence of 50 years to life.
The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment six years later, when the US Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional.
On November 11, 1972, Schmid escaped from prison in the company of triple-murderer Raymond Hudgens. The fugitives held four hostages at a ranch near Tempe, then split up, and both were recaptured within days.
On March 20, 1975, Schmid was stabbed 20 times in a prison brawl, and he died from his wounds ten days later.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Charles Howard 'Smitty' Schmid,
Jr. (July 8, 1942 - March 30, 1975), also
known as "The Pied Piper of Tucson," was an American serial killer.
His crimes, profiled in the March 4, 1966 issue of Life Magazine,
are the basis for "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," a
short story by Joyce Carol Oates. The 1971 movie The Todd
Killings is based on the Schmid case.
In 2008, The Library of America selected Don Moser's
article "The Pied Piper of Tucson" from Life Magazine for
inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
Charles Schmid was an illegitimate child adopted by
Charles and Katharine Schmid, owners and operators of Hillcrest Nursing
Home in Tucson, Arizona. He had a difficult relationship with his father,
whom his mother later divorced. When Schmid tried to meet his birth
mother, she angrily told him never to come back.
He did poorly in school, but was described as good-looking,
intelligent and well-mannered. An accomplished athlete, he excelled at
gymnastics and even led his high school to a State Championship, but
quit the team his senior year.
Just before graduating, Schmid stole tools from the
machine shop, and was subsequently suspended. He never returned to
school. He began living in his own quarters on his parents' property and
received an allowance of $300 a month. His parents left him to run on
his own with a new car and a motorcycle. He spent much of his time on
Speedway, picking up girls and drinking with friends, although he tended
to be a loner. His best friends were Paul Graff, who lived with him,
John Saunders, and Richie Bruns.
Schmid was a short man who wore cowboy boots stuffed
with newspapers and flattened cans to make him appear taller. He used
lip balm, pancake makeup and created an artificial mole on his cheek. He
also stretched his lower lip with a clothespin to make it resemble Elvis
Presley's. He was called the "Pied Piper" because he was charismatic and
had many friends in the teenage community of Tucson. Women liked him and
he frequently met them at the Speedway area of Tucson. For a time, the
members of his teenage coterie would keep the secrets of his murders.
On May 31, 1964, Charles Schmid decided to murder
Alleen Rowe, a high school student living with her divorced mother.
Schmid's girlfriend Mary French had convinced Rowe to go out with
Schmid's friend John Saunders, but Schmid had intended all along to
murder Rowe, to know what it felt like to kill someone. Schmid and his
friends took Rowe to the desert, where Schmid and Saunders murdered her
and the three buried her. When Alleen went missing, her father told her
mother he felt she had been murdered and left in the desert. The mother,
Norma Rowe, went to the police and was told that she needed more
evidence before they could go looking in the desert.
One of Schmid's many girlfriends was Gretchen Fritz,
daughter of a prominent Tucson heart surgeon and community leader.
Schmid confided to Gretchen that he had murdered Alleen Rowe. There were
also rumors that Fritz knew of an earlier, unsubstantiated murder that
Schmid supposedly committed. When Schmid decided to break up with Fritz,
she threatened to use the information against him. Schmid strangled
Gretchen Fritz and her sister Wendy on August 16, 1965.
Schmid confided to his friend Richard Bruns that he
murdered the sisters and showed Bruns the bodies, buried haphazardly in
the desert. Bruns became increasingly afraid that Schmid was going to
murder his girlfriend. Ultimately Bruns had to go to Ohio because his
girlfriend's parents were convinced that he was harassing her. Bruns
stayed with his grandparents in Ohio and told them everything he knew
about the murders, and flew back to Tucson to help with the
The mid–1960s media focused their attention on the
Schmid case and trial. Life and Playboy magazines sent
reporters to Schmid's trial. Time did features on contemporary
life in Tucson and the murders of the young women. F. Lee Bailey, a "celebrity"
attorney who was involved with the Boston Strangler and Sam Sheppard
cases of the 1950s and 1960s, was brought in for consultation.
In 1966, Schmid was found guilty of murder and
sentenced to death. When the state of Arizona temporarily abolished the
death penalty in 1971, his sentence was commuted to 50 years in prison.
Schmid made a few failed escape attempts, finally
succeeding on November 11, 1965 in escaping with another triple murderer,
Raymond Hudgens. They held four hostages on a ranch near Tempe, AZ for a
time, then separated, and were finally recaptured and returned to prison.
In the early 1970s, he became interested in poetry.
He sent his work from prison to a professor at the University of
Arizona, Richard Shelton. “For all the wrong reasons, I critiqued his
work and discovered that he was quite talented,” Shelton says.
On March 10, 1975, Schmid was stabbed 47 times by two
fellow prisoners. He lost an eye and a kidney. He died 20 days later.
When Schmid died, his mother chose the prison cemetery to bury him; she
thought if he was buried in a public cemetery, his tombstone might be
defaced. He was buried in a low key Catholic funeral at the prison.
After Charles Schmid's trial and conviction,
Katharine Schmid and her second husband owed her son's legal team
massive amounts of money and were living in near poverty in Coolidge,
Charles Schmid Jr.
By Katherine Ramsland
Secrets in the Sand
It was Life and Time
magazines that turned a local story from Tucson, Arizona, into a
national abomination. Reporters came from all over, to be sure, but on
March 4, 1966, Life printed an ominous photo of the desert
landscape where three girls had disappeared and the story of Charles
Howard Schmid, Jr., or "Smitty," became international news.
He had been arrested four months earlier on November 11, just after
marrying a fifteen-year-old girl whom he’d met on a blind date. The
article was published even before the juries in two separate trials had
decided his fate.
Dubbed "The Pied Piper of Tucson,"
for his ability to get girls to fall for him, he stood five feet, four
inches tall, but added three more inches by padding his stack-heeled
cowboy boots with rags and tin cans. He also dyed his reddish-brown hair
black, used pancake make-up, whitened his lips, and applied a fake mole
to his left cheek—a "beauty" mark.
Arrogant and narcissistic,
he came from a wealthy family, so he used the niceties he could buy to
impress young high school girls. He adopted the droopy-eyed look
associated with Elvis, his idol, and acquired a rock musician’s
His tiny house on his parents’
property was the scene of many parties. Tucson society was not merely
shaken by the murders of three of their young women but by what the
details of those murders revealed about its adolescent population—sex
clubs, drinking parties, blackmail, cover-ups for murder, and even
connections with the crime underworld.
Parents suddenly became more
strict, more aware now that their kids weren’t safe and maybe weren’t
even behaving properly. When kids looked to someone like Charles Schmid
for answers, there was something terribly wrong.
Smitty hung around the high school,
luring girls into his cars. They hung out on Speedway, a main drag, and
they were easy prey for a predator—even one who stumbled around in his
ridiculous boots. He became something of a folk hero to kids
who didn’t quite fit in, because he was older and he knew things. He
was strange, but he livened things up in a desert town full of retired
people where nothing much was happening. Smitty made things interesting.
Even so, it was difficult to figure out just what it was that inspired
kids to follow his lead.
The writer for the Life article, Don
Moser, made a telling connection between him and a song that was popular
that winter of 1965:
Hey, come on, babe, follow me
I’m the Pied Piper, follow me
I’m the Pied Piper
And I’ll show you where it’s
Many girls went out with him and three
never returned. There are a lot of places to bury a body in the desert.
"Smitty" -- An
Unlikely Don Juan
Born to an unwed mother on July 8,
1942, the baby boy to be known as Charles, Jr. was adopted by Charles
and Katharine Schmid, proprietors of a Hillcrest Nursing Home in Tucson,
Arizona. Charles spent his childhood around Hillcrest and developed into
something of a trickster. He was curious, bright, imaginative, courteous,
and indifferent to others’ expectations of him. He took a lot of
chances and lived dangerously, without much interference from his
parents. Charles soon grew to hate his foster father and they got into
At school, he raced through
assignments so he could be the first one done; he had little regard for
learning. His one fear was to be left alone, so he did things to make
people notice him. In high school, he excelled in gymnastics, but most
of his grades were just above failing. He seemed unable to focus his
intelligence to achieve within the educational structure.
In 1960, he led the school to the State Gymnastics Championship, and then gave it up
his senior year. He claimed to have had hallucinogenic or psychic power,
seeing things in his mind before they occurred. For example, he could
see himself winning and that helped him to achieve things in a shorter
amount of time than his peers. "I’d shut my eyes and everything
would seem logical, so I’d do it.
"Just before graduating, Charles
stole some tools from the machine shop, so he was suspended. He could
have been re-admitted, but he never bothered. "I quit out of
boredom," he said. By the time he was 16, he was living in
his own quarters on his parents’ property and receiving an allowance
of $300 a month. His foster parents left him to run on his own with a
new car and a motorcycle. He spent much of his time on Speedway, picking
up girls and drinking with buddies, although he tended to be a loner.
His nickname was Smitty and he had a
way about him that made kids feel that life could be exciting. Although
he was odd, the girls seemed to go for him and he never had much trouble
getting a date. He was using make-up to darken his skin and the
Chapstick he applied was so thick it made his lips appear white. One
friend noticed that the tiny mole he darkened on his cheek seemed to get
larger and larger over time.
To finish the image, Smitty chewed on
a toothpick, working it around in his mouth as he spoke, and sometimes
he put a clothespin on his lower lip, presumably to give it a deeper
droop. Smitty would just tell the dubious parents of any girl in whom he
was interested that he dyed his hair and wore make-up because he was in
a rock band. He’d act the part of a gentleman quite convincingly and
they were often impressed by his courteous manner.
The oddest thing was his boots. He’d
had them special-made according to his own design. They were black and
laced all the way up the back, with a tall cowboy heel and pointed toes.
These he would stuff to make himself taller, although he didn’t mind
exploiting his bantam height to convince girls he’d once been crippled.
That often made them pliable…and easy.
His best friend was Paul Graff, who
was sent to the reformatory at Fort Grant Industrial School for a hold-up
that resulted in a man’s death. Paul eventually moved in with Smitty.
During that time, Smitty was involved with several girls (one of whom
was married), taking singing lessons, and practicing the guitar.
Another Fort Grant graduate who Smitty
befriended was Richie Bruns. He’d been arrested for breaking probation,
and once out on his own, spent his time drinking and indulging in petty
thefts, which landed him for another stint at Fort Grant. Smitty met
Richie through Paul and the three of them hung out together.
When Smitty was 21, he found out he
was adopted and his foster mother gave him the name of his real mother.
When he located her, according to his account, she told him, "I
didn’t want you when you were born, or even before you were born, and
I don’t want you now. Get out." She then slammed the door in his
face. This treatment seemed to affect him, but he kept his feelings
mostly to himself. At least that’s what he conveyed to Richie.
It was difficult to tell with a guy
like Smitty, since many of his stories were calculated to create an
impression rather than disclose the truth. He often had more than one
girlfriend at the same time and even proposed marriage to several of
them simultaneously, taking money from them in return for the promise
that he would take care of them.
He managed to get them into bed by
telling fantastic stories about how deprived he was or that he had some
form of cancer and did not have long to live. Often all he had to do was
tell jokes to make them laugh and throw in a few outrageous compliments.
He even used salt to make his eyes tear up so he could convince a girl
that he was overwhelmed by the privilege of being with her.
Girls were playthings to him, and the
way they fell for every line, it was no wonder he showed them no respect.
He once even told a girl that he had murdered a young man who had killed
his girlfriend in a car accident, cut off his hands and buried him in
the desert. Little did he know how this tall story foreshadowed what he
was about to do—and there was some doubt later that he’d actually
made it up. He once claimed four murders, which indicated that this
might have been the first.
What seemed to intrigue people most
about Smitty—girls and boys alike—was his freedom. He did whatever
he wanted and his daredevil ways made him seem larger than life. At
least, he thought so. Most of what he did had exhibitionist qualities
designed to make people notice him and possibly even to try to stop him
from putting himself in danger.
But the activities that most appealed to
him, such as motorcycle racing and skydiving, were those that pushed him
right into death’s face. "I truly wish I could have been a great
surgeon," he once said, "or philosopher or author, or anything
However, he could never quite focus on anything but
loud music and animal passion with "a hint of cruelty." To him,
those activities were just more sensible. Or perhaps they were just
easier. In any event, with girls falling into line and even fighting
over him, why apply himself to anything else?
She was fifteen on that ominous night
of May 31, 1964. Alleen was only a sophomore at Palo Verde, and she had
unfortunately befriended frumpy, nineteen-year-old Mary French, a friend
and lover of Charles Schmid. Alleen’s mother, freshly divorced, had
just moved her children to Tucson the year before.
One of Alleen’s
favorite things to do was walk in the desert, gathering unusual stones.
She liked the hot sun because it made her feel alive. Her hope was to
become an oceanographer, and with her above-average grades, she had a
shot. Blond and blue-eyed, Alleen attracted Schmid’s attention.
One afternoon, he told Mary French to
persuade Alleen to go out with his friend, John Saunders. Alleen turned
down the invitation. But Schmid was not to be refused. He called Mary
half a dozen times that day to get her to talk Alleen into the date.
Each time, Alleen said that she could not go. She had an exam the next
morning at school.Schmid arrived that evening at Mary’s house with
Saunders at his side.
Earlier he’d been talking about
"killing someone"—specifically a girl. He just wanted to
find out what it would be like to snuff out a life and to see if he
could get away with it, as he seemed to do with everything else. He had
made up a list of potential candidates and Alleen Rowe was one of them.
His plan was to lure her into a desolate place, hit her with a rock, and
bury her in the desert.
Rather than try to dissuade him, Mary simply
complained that she had tried and failed to get Alleen to come. Schmid
instructed her to then find someone else. He was restless. He wanted to
kill someone, now, that very night. She tried but found no one, so she
went to where Alleen was visiting a friend and talked with her once
again. Finally Alleen relented, but said she would have to wait until
her mother went to work that night.
When Mary reported her success, John
and Smitty got a shovel and put it into the trunk of the car. They drove
around until they knew that Alleen’s mother was gone, and Mary went
over to tap on her bedroom window. She came out barefoot, with curlers
in her hair, wearing a bathing suit and a yellow-checked shift, and
carrying her shoes.
Mary sat with Smitty in front while
Alleen climbed in next to John in back. They drove out to the desert,
out by Golf Links Road, where Smitty liked to drink and make out. They
walked for awhile into the desert and then found a wash where they could
sit and talk. At some point, Smitty asked Mary to go back to the car and
get a radio.
He went with her and soon they heard
Alleen scream. Smitty told Mary to get into the car while he ran back
down to the wash. John was struggling there with Alleen and Smitty told
him to put his hand over her mouth. Smitty bound her arms behind her
back with a guitar cord while Alleen begged to be told why they were
doing this to her. "Mary wants us to do," Smitty told her.
"She hates you." Alleen continued to resist, so Smitty led her
further into the wash.
He instructed John to take her bathing
suit off, but John had trouble getting it over her arms, since they were
tied. Smitty untied her, put her shift on the ground and told her to lie
on it. She obeyed and Smitty then told John to "go ahead," but
she was crying so much that he couldn’t kiss her. Smitty told John to
take a walk. Then Smitty called for him and he returned to find Alleen
putting her bathing suit back on. She walked away, further into the wash.
The two young men followed her.
Smitty picked up a rock with a pointed
edge and handed it to John. He gave it back, unable to go through with
the plan. Smitty insisted that he return to the car and get Mary. Mary
refused to go anywhere, so John went back to find Smitty. There he saw
Alleen lying on her back on the ground, her face and head covered in
blood. Smitty’s hands were bloody as well, and blood covered the front
of his shirt. He wanted to know where Mary was and when John told him,
he went to the car and told her, "We killed her." He also
added, "I love you very much." Mary recalled later that he
seemed to be very excited.
Then he got the shovel, told Mary that
John was the one who had struck Alleen with the rock, and got her to
accompany him back to the murder site. She saw Alleen and could not
detect any signs that the girl was still alive. Smitty gave John the
shovel and used his hands to start digging a grave. Mary joined in.
Smitty then took Alleen’s hands and instructed Mary to lift her by the
feet while they lowered her into the shallow pit they had opened.
They dumped her dress into the grave,
covered the body with sand, and tossed sand over the hair curlers.
Smitty then took off his shirt and buried it in the sand along with the
shovel. After they felt they had secured the scene and covered all the
evidence, they went back to the car to wipe it clean of prints. They
invented a story that Alleen had agreed to go out with John that evening,
but when they drove by to pick her up, she had not been home. Then they
dropped Mary off and went their way.
The next day, Norma Rowe, Alleen’s
mother, made every effort to locate her and finally contacted the police.
She worked as a night nurse, she said, and when she had left, Alleen had
been in her bed.
The next morning, she was gone, without taking her
purse or any clothing except the bathing suit she had been wearing, and
a yellow shift. Norma told them about a sex club at the high school that
her daughter had described to her in which young people were involved
with drugs, perversions, and organized prostitution.
The officer in
charge said that this was one of the most far-fetched tales he’d ever
heard and did not take it seriously. An investigation failed to disclose
any sign of such activities. Mary French was questioned, along with
Smitty and John. Smitty took the other two out and made them repeat the
story they had concocted, to be sure that no one gave them away by some
A week later, Alleen’s father called
Norma to tell her that he had dreamed that their daughter had been
murdered and left in the desert. Norma felt there was truth in the dream
and she dogged the police, who insisted on better evidence before they
went looking in such a vast area.
By March, when nothing had turned up,
Norma Rowe went to Arizona’s Attorney General and the FBI. She also
called in reporters and would not give up, despite official sentiment
that Alleen was just another teenage runaway. Norma even consulted a
psychic, but nothing came of it, and the case of Alleen Rowe was soon
buried by the police under other, more pressing concerns.
John Saunders, who left Tucson to join
the Navy, was replaced by Richie Bruns as Smitty’s closest friend.
Paul Graff was gone as well, but would be back for a short stay. Richie
told Smitty everything, began to imitate the way he dressed, and felt
they were like brothers. He had served two terms in the reformatory at
Fort Grant, got only as far as the tenth grade, and was generally a
All four girls he had dated had dropped him because he was
socially inept. He looked up to Smitty and Smitty allowed him in on his
activities. He even told Richie about Alleen Rowe, but Richie was used
to Smitty’s stories and did not believe him.
In July of 1964, Smitty noticed a 16-year-old
girl at a swimming pool near Speedway. She was blond and thin, the way
he liked, and her name was Gretchen Fritz. Other boys told Smitty she
was trouble for anyone who got involved with her, but that only
interested him more.
The day he saw her, he followed her home and saw
that she lived in an upper class neighborhood in what seemed to him a
mansion. Her father was a physician, a heart and chest specialist, and a
board member of the Union Bank. Gretchen was a misfit in this family,
with odd ideas. She scorned boys, she told a friend, and admired
prostitutes for their ability to charge for what boys expected for free.
One teacher called her a psychopathic liar, the headmaster at her
private school recommended psychiatric treatment before suspending her,
and a friend noted that she seemed psychotically jealous. She often cut
classes to cruise Speedway, and was suspected in some minor crimes.
Smitty met her by going up to her
house with a load of pots and pans, as if he were a traveling salesman.
After playing out his act, he confessed that it was all a lie that he
had concocted in order to meet her. She laughed, then cried, and then
offered him a cocktail. He was thoroughly confused, but also aroused. It
was the start of a fatal attraction.
As they got to know each other,
Gretchen told Smitty that she was pregnant, her family did not love her,
and her brother-in-law was involved in the Mafia. After they had sex,
Gretchen assumed Smitty would leave her, but he told her he loved her.
They started hanging out together as a couple, although Smitty had also
given Mary French and another girl, Darlene Kirk, cheap engagement rings.
He’d made each a false promise of marriage, although he really just
wanted them to work and put their money in a bank account for his use.
Darlene eventually gave the ring back, but she attracted Richie’s
Gretchen and Smitty often quarreled
about other girls he was seeing, and she did not get along with Richie,
so after some time, he decided to break it off with her. He tried
several times, and failed. Richie asked him why he was letting this girl
get to him, when no one ever got to him before. Smitty admitted that she
was in on the same secret that Richie was: the murder of Alleen Rowe.
She had also stolen his diary, which contained a description of killing
a sixteen-year-old boy and burying him in the desert. She was holding
this over his head and it was beginning to annoy him. He pondered out
loud ways of hurting her, one of which was to get Richie to throw acid
in her face. He reneged on that plan when he surmised that he might not
be attracted to her any longer.
However, Gretchen heard about one of
Smitty’s "engagements," which made her furious. He knew he
had to do something about it. When Gretchen went on vacation with her
parents, the heat was off and Smitty threw a series of wild parties.
Then Gretchen showed up, yelling at him, and Mary French came over and
demanded he marry her and be a proper father to the baby she was going
Then Gretchen, too, claimed to be pregnant and wanted to know
what Smitty planned to do about it. They argued, but later she insisted
they run away together and elope. Smitty was not keen on that, so
Gretchen took off, yelling back, "Smitty, you rat."
That evening, August 16, 1965,
Gretchen left the house at 7:30 with her thirteen year-old sister, Wendy,
to go see Elvis Presley in Tickle Me. They didn’t come home.
Dr. Fritz hired a private detective, William Helig, who turned up
Gretchen’s red-and-white Pontiac Le Mans parked behind the Flamingo
Hotel near Speedway.
There were traces of gravel and mud on the floor of
the back and front seats, and sixty extra miles showed on the
speedometer, although it had been disconnected. Gretchen’s purse was
in it, with $20, ticket stubs from the movie, her keys, and Smitty’s
business card from a failed upholstery business he had started. However,
no one had seen the car being parked and Helig found no other leads.
Gretchen and Wendy had been seen at
the movie at the Cactus Drive-in, and a friend had told Gretchen that
Smitty was throwing a party. The police had received a report of two
girls who fit the description of the missing sisters hitch-hiking on the
road to Nogales. They were picked up by a car heading toward Mexico, and
in Mexico several people swore the girls had boarded a bus bound for
A search into the heart of Mexico through several tourist
towns where two girls reportedly were spotted failed to turn up anything
solid. Finally the police gave up and listed them as runaways. Richie
Bruns believed that was the most likely scenario until Smitty later told
him the truth about the Fritz sisters.
The Wrong Confidante
Both Richie and Smitty were questioned
relentlessly by William Helig. He believed that Schmid knew more than he
was telling, and it seemed that he did. Initially, Smitty had told
Richie that the girls had driven off in Gretchen’s car to run away.
Richie had seen the car drive by his house around midnight on the night
they disappeared. He’d given it no more thought, glad to have Gretchen
gone, until he dropped over to Smitty’s one day. Smitty calmly
mentioned that he supposed that Richie knew what had happened to
Gretchen. Richie said, no, he didn’t.
So Smitty admitted that he had
killed both girls himself, right there in his house where they were
sitting. This was not the first time that Richie had heard such a thing
from his buddy. Smitty had once talked about killing Alleen Rowe with
John Saunders. Richie had not really believed that story, since he was
used to the two of them making up tales to outdo each other’s "badness."
But Smitty was serious. He had
strangled them both and put their bodies in the trunk of the car and
left them out in "an obvious place" because he just didn’t
care any longer. But he did add, "Each time it gets easier."
It’s likely that those murders, too, would have gone undiscovered had
it not been for an incident that shook Richie up, which led to the
further unhinging of his mind and an increased paranoia about Schmid’s
One day a group of men known as the
"Tucson Mafia" paid a visit. They put pressure on Smitty and
Richie to tell them about the missing girls. Since Smitty had told the
detective that he thought Gretchen had run off to San Diego, they were
prepared to take him there to search. They advised him to be ready. They
picked him up and took him to meet a man he called Charles "Batts"
They then insisted on questioning
Richie, who was afraid they had found the bodies. He, too, was taken to
meet a group of men, and then dropped back off to think about what had
been said. Richie said they should call Paul Graff, who advised Smitty
to call the FBI. Which he did, oddly enough.
When he failed to get through to
someone to whom he could speak, he suggested they go bury the bodies to
make sure no one found them. Richie still did not take him seriously,
but accompanied him to a former drinking spot. Smitty got out, grabbed a
shovel, and walked around. Then he called Richie over. By that time,
Richie knew from the smell that there was indeed a body out there.
He went to where Smitty was kneeling over a black form lying out in the
open and was told that this was Gretchen. She was badly decomposed and
her legs had been tied together with a rag. Wendy was not far away, but
all Richie could make out was a black mound with part of a leg and foot
sticking up out of the sand.
Richie reluctantly dug a shallow hole
while Smitty dragged Gretchen’s body further down the wash. They
buried it, but left Wendy’s corpse where it lay. Then Smitty told
Richie to wipe off Gretchen’s shoe to clean it of prints, so Richie
did that. He then removed the shoe from Wendy’s leg and threw it into
the desert. Smitty told him he was in it now as deeply as Smitty was.
The next day they discovered that the
FBI had visited Smitty’s parents and had left. Then the Mafia took him
to San Diego where he attempted without success to contact a boy that
Gretchen had mentioned meeting. He showed photos of Gretchen around the
beach, playing out the facade, but was arrested for impersonating an FBI
agent. His mother rescued him and he went home.
However, he was not home free. Richie
had gotten the idea that a girl he liked, Darlene Kirk (one of Smitty’s
cast-offs), was on Smitty’s hit list. He began to patrol her house to
protect her and to keep other boys from approaching her. When the screen
door was cut, her father suspected him, but he suspected Smitty. He hung
out at all hours, even hiding in trash cans, until people began to be
afraid of him. Darlene’s father tried to run him off with an air
rifle, but he told the man to go ahead and shoot. It would end his
Around this time, Smitty went out with
a fifteen-year-old girl named Diane Lynch, who weighed all of 87 pounds.
Smitty took one look at her and decided she was "just my size."
For her part, Diane fell in love. On their first date, Smitty asked her
to marry him, and she said, "Okay." He took to wearing a
plaster patch on his nose, claiming he’d broken it. He was still
wearing it, along with his make-up and fake mole, when he married Diane
in Nogales on October 24, 1965.
Richie couldn’t believe that Smitty
had just forgotten all about the dead girls. His own guilt manifested in
an increasingly bizarre mania to watch over Darlene. When he made some
threats, he was arrested and sentenced to leave town for three months,
in the hope that he would get over his infatuation. He went to live with
his grandmother in Ohio, where he quickly broke down and confessed
The Tucson police flew him back to show them the location of
the bodies. He told them about John Saunders and Mary French as well.
They found the skeletal remains of the Fritz sisters, bits of clothing,
a shoe, and wisps of hair. It was time now to confront the killer.
Smitty was working in the front yard
of his house on November 10 when the cops came up to arrest him. He
thought at first that the men in the car that was slowly circling his
block were the Mafia. He went inside and they came in after him. As they
took him out his front door, he called to his young wife to get his
mother. Katharine Schmid would take care of this. One officer returned
to the house to search it, but Smitty’s mother blocked him and
demanded a warrant. Then she called a lawyer.
Back at the police station, Smitty
heard the tapes of Richie spilling the beans. They brought Richie into
the room in the hope that having him confront Smitty would get a
confession. The two young men glared at each other and Smitty said,
"I know why you’re doing this." Nevertheless, Smitty
protested his innocence and said he would prove it at the trial. They
booked him for two murders. At the booking, they asked him to remove his
boots. He was reluctant to do so, and when he did, he was several inches
shorter. Photographers from the press crowded in and he sat down,
refusing to stand for them. The contents of the boots filled two shoe
boxes with folded up rags, flattened beer cans covered with more rags,
and pieces of cardboard.
Smitty was held without bail until the
hearing, set for December 13. The police got a warrant to search Smitty’s
house, looking for a guitar without a string, which they did not find.
Then one officer flew to Connecticut to pick up John Saunders and
another went to Texas to get Mary French. After she was told that Smitty
had married, she gave a detailed statement. Saunders, too, confessed,
but maintained that Schmid had done the actual killing.
When taken to
the murder location, he was unable to locate the grave. Likewise, Mary
could not help, although the search turned up two rusty hair curlers.
Norma Rowe identified them as belonging to her daughter. An intensive
search was begun, including a crew of high school students.
The area was
dug up every which way, but to no avail. Sheriff Burr believed that a
hurricane in September of ’64 might have washed the bones to another
location. County Attorney Norman Green said that he would proceed, with
or without a body. There was precedent and he would exploit it.
At the preliminary hearing, Saunders
pleaded guilty to first degree murder. Mary French agreed to plead to
lesser charges, and both were to testify for the state against Schmid.
On November 30th, Smitty was bound over for trial in Superior Court.
John Saunders was sentenced a week later to life in prison, eligible for
parole in seven years. Mary French was charged as an accessory to murder
and with concealing and compounding a felony. She would be eligible for
parole in four to five years.
Schmid’s trial for the murders of
Gretchen and Wendy Fritz was scheduled for February 15, 1966, and the
state would go for the death penalty. He would stand trial for the
murder of Alleen Rowe on March 15, also a death penalty case.
Smitty arrived at the Pima County
Courthouse on Tuesday, February 15, 1966, wearing a herringbone jacket
and tan trousers. He actually looked fairly clean-cut, and some of the
people who saw him remarked how small he was. William Tinney represented
him. Tinney had made a motion to exclude the press, which was denied, so
reporters filled the courtroom.
William Schafer III was chosen to
prosecute, with the Honorable Lee Garrett presiding.
The proceedings got off to a bad start
when the elderly judge misstated that the defendant had entered a plea
of guilty. When he saw the looks that everyone gave him, he hastily
Tinney’s first move, with the jury
dismissed, was to request a psychologist to come and prove that the jury
had been subconsciously influenced by pretrial publicity. F. Lee Bailey
had a case pending before the Supreme Court on that very issue. The
judge allowed it, but then dismissed psychiatry as a science and refused
to postpone the trial for a year, as Tinney had requested. The jury was
then brought in.
Thirty witnesses were to testify on
the state’s behalf to prove premeditation in two murders to cover up a
prior murder. That is, they would use a case in which Smitty had yet to
be tried as a foundation to try him in the case at hand. Schafer then
outlined what he believed had happened, pretty much the way Richie had
related it to him.
Tinney turned it around by pointing
the finger at Richie as the one with the motive and the one who had done
the bloody deed, then had fingered his best friend to get himself off
Nancy Fritz identified her daughter’s
articles of clothing found in the desert and then described Gretchen’s
relationship with Smitty as courteousness. She added that Gretchen had
Detectives testified that they had
found a guitar cord in the desert near the jawbone of one skull, but
there was no police photograph to support it. The corpse was too
mummified to determine cause of death. They found Smitty’s guitar at a
pawnshop but could not determine if the cord they found was definitely
from that instrument.
A girl who knew Smitty, Irma Jean Holt,
testified that she once had asked him why he jumped whenever Gretchen
wanted something and he had told her that Gretchen had taken his diary
which contained information about a boy he had killed in the desert for
involving one of his former girlfriends in a fatal car accident. He also
told Irma Jean that he hated Gretchen.
When John Saunders came to the stand,
he pleaded the Fifth Amendment to every question, which Tinney claimed
was prejudicial in front of the jury. Saunders was removed.
Mary French was next. Tinney objected
to her presence, since she could only testify about a crime for which
there was no body, but he was overruled. She gave an account of the
murder of Alleen Rowe. Tinney brought out that Mary was jealous of
Gretchen and angry at Smitty.
Paul Graff, who was brought from New
Orleans as a hostile witness, said that he had lived with Smitty for
awhile and Smitty had told him about killing a girl in the desert, in
the company of Mary French and John Saunders. Paul had been invited to
go see the grave, but he had declined. Tinney got him to describe the
bad blood between Richie and Gretchen. He said he had never heard any
talk of a diary.
The next people on the stand were a
husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Morgen, whom Smitty had once taken
in, who had witnessed his relationship with Gretchen. Bill was the man
with whom Smitty had attempted to start an upholstery business. Morgen
claimed that Smitty had told him about the boy he had killed, whose
hands he had cut off. He also spoke of Smitty’s reference to a diary
that Gretchen had stolen that contained a description of this murder.
Smitty had said he’d like to kill Gretchen. Mrs. Morgen, too, had
heard the story along with the threat, but had not taken them seriously.
Then it was Richie’s turn. He spoke
evenly and looked without hesitation at his former best friend as he
described the events that he remembered. Tinney was unable to shake his
story, but managed to get him to admit his ill feelings toward Gretchen.
Then a girl named Gloria Andrews
admitted that she had been at Smitty’s house on the night when
Gretchen turned up missing. Smitty had taken a phone call from Gretchen
and then had said, "I’m gonna get that bitch if it’s the last
thing I do." He had left with Paul Graff, carrying an old black
briefcase, and had returned around 1 o’clock in the morning. Gloria
had overheard Smitty tell Paul to keep quiet, and Paul had said he
"wasn’t in it and wasn’t going to get in it."
come in all dusty and unkempt. Paul had left, taking two large butcher
knives with him. The next day, Smitty had called Gloria to tell her that
Gretchen was missing and "now he could go out with anyone he wanted."
Essentially, she contradicted the story Richie had heard from Smitty
that he had killed the Fritz sisters there in his living room.
The prosecution rested and Tinney
moved for a mistrial on the basis that no evidence had been produced,
but the judge said that the evidence was "not weak from a legal
Tinney called witnesses who testified
to the hostility between Richie and Gretchen. Several of them said that
Paul Graff had not been present at the party on August 16th,
canceling the testimony of Gloria Andrews. Several of them admitted they
had made plans to kill Richie for turning Smitty in.
When Smitty’s father took the stand,
he virtually demolished the alibi set up by the defense that Smitty had
been with his parents or some other couple on the night of the murder.
Charles Schmid, Sr. said that he was definitely at his own house and was
having a party. His wife, Katharine, however, said that Charlie had come
over and watched television with them for awhile. She also said that all
of Charlie’s guitar cords were gray, while the one found in the desert
After a few more witnesses, one of
whom denied that Richie was with him all evening on August 16th
as Richie had claimed, both sides rested.
Just over two hours after the jury
filed out, they had a verdict: Guilty. The penalty: death.
Yet Smitty still had another trial to
His lawyer was interested in what
might happen with F. Lee Bailey’s Supreme Court appeal, filed in the
case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, based on pretrial publicity. The issue had yet
to be decided, but on that basis, he wanted to get the Alleen Rowe trial
postponed, and Judge Mary Ann Richey granted it. The trial was
rescheduled for October 4, 1966. However, Smitty was sentenced to be
executed on June 17, by lethal injection. He demanded to be able to
testify under sodium pentothal, but the court had no power to grant it.
They postponed his execution date, pending appeal.
Smitty contacted another lawyer, Percy
Foreman, who could not take the case but who criticized Tinney for not
using psychiatric testimony. After hearing an interview by Smitty on a
radio station, he contacted F. Lee Bailey to see if he might be
interested. He was.
He figured he could crack this case
open the way he had with the Sheppard case; there appeared to be just as
much publicity involved. He recommended that Smitty take a lie detector
test with a qualified expert. He also met with Tinney and asked why
there was no psychiatric testimony. Tinney reportedly said, "there
had been psychiatric examinations, and the results would scare the pants
off any lawyer."
Bailey then left town, seeing no
reason to become involved. Then he said he’d do it, but only with
Tinney as co-counsel, and only if funds could be raised to pay him. They
managed to raise $36.
Then Diane Schmid sued for divorce, on
the advice of her mother.
In June, Bailey accepted a retainer
from Schmid’s parents and entered the case. Shortly thereafter, the U.
S. Supreme Court ruled on the Sam Sheppard case, saying that he had not
received a fair trial, due to all the prejudicial publicity. It was a
major victory for Bailey, and he entered Schmid’s trial with
Bailey brought in a polygraph expert,
the best he could find, stating that if Smitty lied, he would just turn
the results over to his mother and forget about it. After seeing the
results of ten hours of testing, he announced that he would take the
He and Tinney attempted to get the U.
S. District court to take over jurisdiction and move the case out of the
state; they managed only to postpone the Rowe trial until April 3, 1967,
then continued it to May 10. Bailey flew in on May 9, prepared to defend
Schmid on the basis of the absence of a body, implying there was no
The two defense lawyers tried to get
the charges reduced to second-degree murder, but Schafer wouldn’t
budge. They asked again, and he accepted the deal. Bailey then tried to
convince Schmid to plead guilty to lesser charges, because the jury was
completely prejudiced, and Smitty decided to fire both Bailey and Tinney.
His father persuaded him against it.
The trial went forward, again with
Mary French telling her story, but John Saunders refused to participate.
The judge said that, as a substitute, he would admit Saunder’s
preliminary hearing statements. This alarmed the defense lawyers.
Bailey did not show up the next day,
claiming to be ill. Tinney informed Charlie’s parents that they would
accept the deal that Schafer offered. They went and found Bailey, who
did not seem ill to them, and he said that the jury was set to hang him.
This deal was the only way to save his life. Charlie resisted, and then
Finally, he pleaded guilty to second degree murder. Bailey
asked that he receive psychiatric treatment. He later told interviewers
that he had believed Schmid to be guilty before the trial had even
started, despite the results of the lie detector test. Yet there were
many people who believed the famous lawyer, seeing that he could not win,
had just bailed out.
Schmid wrote to the judge, asking for
another trial, because his lawyers had coerced his guilty plea. He said
he could produce the body and thereby prove that she was not killed by a
blow to the head.
The judge agreed to hear Schmid’s
request on June 12. A lawyer was appointed by the court and two
psychiatrists were to examine him, but he refused to submit to testing.
Then Schmid abruptly withdrew his motion for a new trial. Judge Roylston
gave him a sentence of fifty years to life in prison. Schmid said he’d
On June 23, Schmid told the sheriff
whom he had taken into his confidence that he wanted to lead them to the
grave of Alleen Rowe. After a couple of failed attempts, he located the
An autopsy indicated that, contrary to
Smitty’s claim, there were fractures and dried blood at the base of
the skull. The fractures were induced while she was still alive. A rock
examined by him that had lain near the remains had specks of blood on it.
Smitty was stunned by these findings, but taken back to serve his time.
The case of Alleen Rowe had come to a close.
Death of a Serial Killer
Charles Schmid, Jr. was in the Arizona
penitentiary, awaiting death for the murders of Gretchen and Wendy Fritz.
He attempted to escape once by hiding
inside a hollowed-out exercise horse, but was found before he succeeded.
He then used a fake suicide attempt to escape, which also didn’t work.
In 1971, the state of Arizona
temporarily abolished the death penalty, but Smitty was still in prison
for fifty years, so he tried another escape, and briefly succeeded. He
was spotted by a railroad worker who had gone to school with him and who
noticed him because of a foolish yellow wig he’d donned as a disguise.
He was returned to the prison.
Schmid changed his name to Paul David
Ashley and turned to writing music and essays to keep himself busy. He
tried reading Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment, but was
puzzled by the way Raskolnikov, who had murdered two women, was plagued
by guilt and remorse. He strutted around the prison as if he were
superior to other prisoners, and two of them beat him up one day. He was
found stabbed and lying in a pool of blood. He had a sucking wound in
the right chest that did not respond to surgery. One eye had to be
removed. In all, he had some twenty stab wounds to his face and chest.
On the tenth day after the stabbing,
still in the hospital, Smitty began to fail. He was pronounced dead on
March 30, 1975. At the request of his parents, he was buried in the
Inspiration for Joyce Carol
The short story, "Where Are You
Going, Where Have You Been?", written by Joyce Carol Oates and
published in 1966, was based on the tale of Charles Schmid. Oates had
read part of the article printed in Life magazine and thought
this killer was such a strange character, with his stuffed boots and
awkward gait. Yet to her mind, he embodied something elusive about
adolescent culture and its hidden dangers.
That such a man had somehow
charmed three teenage girls whom he subsequently killed inspired her to
write a short story from the point of view of a potential victim. What
would it take, she wondered, for a young girl to be lured by a man who
obviously had little going for him? What might he have said and done to
win her trust and get her to walk straight into her doom?
The story came to Oates "more or
less in a piece" after reading the article and hearing Bob Dylan’s
song, "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue." She was reminded of
folk legends of "Death and the Maiden" and saw within this
situation in Tucson an archetypal element. She dedicated her story to
Dylan and used some of the words from his song.
Often inspired to flesh out the
skeletal form of newspaper articles—to go into the story and work out
the horrors suggested between the lines--Oates gave voice to a fifteen-year-old
girl, Connie, who gets caught alone in her house by Arnold Friend, a
killer based on Schmid who slowly seduces her from outside her flimsy
screen door. She feels safe inside at first but ultimately he convinces
her that she can only be safe with him.
To Oates, Connie was both the
prototypical American teenager of her day and the embodiment of the old
myths of females being vulnerable to the illusive blend of death and
eroticism. The story captures the longing of the teenage heart for
someone who promises the moon. It also touches on the limited options of
adolescent girls, invasive victimization, and the American obsession
with violence. Oates herself described the tale as "Hawthornean,
romantic, shading into parable."
The story has been reprinted many
times, was selected for The Best American Short Stories in 1967
and The O. Henry Awards in 1968, and became the basis for a
critically-acclaimed movie, Smooth Talk (1986).
"For the writer," Oates
commented, "the serial killer is, abstractly, an analogue of the
imagination’s caprices and amorality; the sense that, no matter the
dictates and even the wishes of the conscious social self, the life or
will or purpose of the imagination is incomprehensible, unpredictable."