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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 crime, profiled in the March 4, 1966 issue of Life Magazine, inspired "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," a short story by Joyce Carol Oates,[1] and "The Lost," a novel by Jack Ketchum. The 1971 movie The Todd Killings is based on the Schmid case.[2]Schmid's crimes also inspired the 1995 film "Dead Beat," starring Bruce Ramsay, Balthazar Getty, and Natasha Gregson Wagner.

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.


Early life

Charles Schmid was born to an unwed mother, and adopted by Charles and Katharine Schmid, owners and operators of Hillcrest Nursing Home in Tucson, Arizona. He often got into arguments with his father. His mother later divorced Charles Schmid, Sr.[3] When Schmid tried to meet the woman that gave birth to him, she angrily told him never to come back.[4] He did poorly in school but was described by many as good-looking, intelligent and courteous.[5] 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.[6] 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 buddies, although he tended to be a loner. His best friends were Paul Graff, who lived with him, John Saunders, and Richie Burns.

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.[7] He also stretched his lower lip with a clothespin to make it resemble Elvis Presley's.[8] He was called the "Pied Piper" because he was so charismatic and had so 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.[9]

The 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[7] 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.[10]

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 Ms. Fritz knew of an earlier, unsubstantiated murder that Schmid supposedly committed. When Schmid decided to break up with Ms. Fritz, she threatened to use the information against him. Schmid strangled Gretchen Fritz and her sister Wendy on August 16, 1965.[6]

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, blurted out everything he knew, and flew back to Tucson to help with the investigation.[11]


The mid–1960s media focused their attention on the Schmid case and trial. Life and Playboy magazines sent reporters to Schmid's trial.[5] Time did features on contemporary life in Tucson and the murders of the young women.[12][9] 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.[5]

In 1966, Schmid was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.[5] When the state of Arizona temporarily abolished the death penalty in 1971, his sentence was commuted to 50 years in prison.[6]

After incarceration

After a couple of attempts to escape, there is evidence that Schmid was trying to change his life for the better. In the early seventies, Schmid 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.[13]

On March 10, 1975, Schmid was stabbed forty-seven times by two fellow prisoners[14]. He lost an eye and a kidney. He died twenty days later. When Schmid died, his mother chose the prison cemetery to bury his torn and mutilated body. He was buried in a low key Catholic funeral at the prison. Katharine, his mother, thought if he was buried in a public cemetery, his tombstone might be defaced by people who hated her son for his murders.[15]

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, Arizona.[16] Shelton described how he knew Schmid's mother before her death, in the University of Arizona Alumni magazine and held her hand as she lay dying. "[Shelton] unexpectedly developed a close relationship with one forgotten victim of Charles Schmid’s crimes: his broken-hearted mother, Katharine." [17] The devastation and brutality of Schmid's crimes and the events subsequent to them were felt for many years.


  1. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Charles Schmid: The Pied Piper". truTV. pp. pg 14. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  2. ^ AFI Catalogue Data, None. "TCM Movie Data Base-Notes For The Todd Killings"". Turner Classic Movies. pp. pg 3. Retrieved 2009-04-05.  
  3. ^ Shelton, Richard (2007). Crossing The Yard. University of Arizona Press. p. 13. ISBN 0816525943.  
  4. ^ Crossing The Yard. p.13.
  5. ^ a b c d Schafer, William J. (September 2008). "Murder in the Desert" (PDF). Arizona Attorney. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  6. ^ a b c "Charles Howard Schmid, Jr." (PDF). Radford University.,%20Charles%20_spring,%202007_.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  7. ^ a b Allen, Paul L. (2005-07-11). "Lookin' back: Vicious 'Pied Piper' butchered in prison in '75". Tucson Citizen. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  8. ^ Schumaier, Lisa (2002-10-31). "Serial: It's not just for breakfast". Arizona Daily Wildcat. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  9. ^ a b "Secrets in the Sand". Time. 1965-11-26.,9171,834699,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-16.  
  10. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Charles Schmid: The Pied Piper". truTV. pp. pg 5. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  11. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Charles Schmid: The Pied Piper". truTV. pp. pg 9. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  12. ^ "Growing Up in Tucson". Time. 1966-03-11.,9171,899071,00.html?iid=chix-sphere. Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  13. ^ Cruz, Johnny. ""Richard Shelton Reflects On 30 Years Of Volunteering In Arizona Prisons"". University of Arizona. pp. pg 2. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  14. ^ Shelton p.47
  15. ^ Shelton p.80
  16. ^ Shelton p. 21
  17. ^ "Words From Within", Margaret Regan. """. University of Arizona. pp. pg 3. Retrieved 2009-04-17.  

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