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 mystique.
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 at.
I’m the Pied Piper, follow me
I’m the Pied Piper
And I’ll show you where it’s at.
Many girls went out with him and three never returned. There are a lot of places to bury a body in the desert.
Charles Schmid, Jr.
Roots of a Serial Killer
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 frequent arguments.
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 them 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.
“Smitty” — An Unlikely Don Juan
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 constructive.” 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 slip-up.
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 misfit. 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.
Gretchen Fritz (right) and friends
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 devoted attention.
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 to have. 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 Hermosillo. 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.
A Secret Confession
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 psychopathy.
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” Battaglia.
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.
The Wrong Confidante
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 suffering.
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 everything. 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.
The Trials, Part 1
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 corrected himself.
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 the hook.
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 disliked Richie.
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.” Smitty had 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 standpoint.”
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 was black.
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 face.
The Trials, Part 2
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 confidence.
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 case.
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 murder.
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 reconsidered. 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 prefer death.
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 grave.
Alleen Rowe’s skull
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 prison cemetery.
Inspiration for Joyce Carol Oates
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.”