Charles Schmid (Charles Schmid)

Charles Schmid

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 adoptive father, whom Katharine Schmid 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 school’s 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, in order 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 investigation.

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. {The remains of Rowe were found in 1967} When the state of Arizona temporarily abolished the death penalty in 1971, Schmid sentence was commuted to 50 years in prison.

Schmid made a few failed escape attempts, finally succeeding on November 11, 1965, escaping with another triple murderer, Raymond Hudgens. They held four hostages on a ranch near Tempe, Arizona, 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 in; 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, Arizona.

More Images

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  • July, 08, 1942


  • March, 30, 1975

Cause of Death

  • Stabbed by inmates.

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