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Charles Schmid – The Pied Piper of Tucson

Charles Schmid headshot / Fair use doctrine.
On May 15, 1964, in Tucson, Arizona, a 15-year-old girl named Alleen Rowe went for a drive with a guy known as “Smitty.” Smitty was older, in his early 20s, and Alleen couldn't believe her luck. She was invited on a date with the most popular guy in town. He had his own place and threw wild parties where he let high school kids drink as much as they wanted. He was sophisticated, wearing “stage make-up” like a movie star, and a little dangerous: he walked with a limp, which he said was the result of a run-in with Mafia thugs. She didn't even mind that his friends, John and Mary, were tagging along; she knew eventually she would be the center of Smitty's attention.
It was late when they stopped in the desert. Smitty beckoned Alleen out of the car and John came with them. Mary stayed behind, listening to the radio. Once outside, Smitty turned amorous and rough. His friend's presence didn't even bother him; John just faded into the background while Smitty went after Alleen, whether she wanted him or not. When he was done, when she thought he would take her back to the car and home from their “date,” he put his hands around her throat and squeezed hard. Alleen was the center of his attention until her last breath. She had been lured to her death by the Piped Piper of Tucson.
Charles Howard Schmid was born on July 8, 1942. He was the adopted son of Charles and Katherine Schmid, a wealthy couple who ran a nursing home. He had a rough relationship with his adoptive father, fighting often, but his parents still indulged and supported him financially. After he was kicked out of school for stealing, his parents gave him his own quarters on their property and a monthly allowance of several hundred dollars.
Charles was insecure about his appearance and height. He wore thick pancake make-up and applied a beauty mark, and sometimes pinched his lower lip to get a “pouty look” like his idol, Elvis Presley. He was only 5'3", so he stuffed crushed paper in his boots to make himself appear taller, though it only gave him an odd gait. He threw parties at his apartments, getting the attention and admiration he craved by providing underage kids a place where they could drink and do drugs without fear of being caught. Girls gave themselves to him eagerly.
One girl told her mother she had been invited to join a sex club and that if she didn't get in, she would be “a nobody.” That girl was Alleen Rowe, Schmid's first victim. He had one of his girlfriends, Mary French, lure Alleen away with them so he could satisfy his curiosity about what it felt like to kill a girl. He buried her in the desert but didn't bother to stay quiet about the murder in his social circle. Presumably, his admirers only kept his secret because they didn't want to risk losing their party spot. One of his girlfriends, 17-year-old Gretchen Fritz, the daughter of a prominent surgeon in Tucson, did threaten to tell the police about the murder, but only when Charles wanted to break up with her. He invited her to his place so they could talk things over. She brought her younger sister, 13-year-old Wendy. Schmid strangled both girls and buried them in the desert.
Having more victims didn't make him any more secretive or cautious. He bragged to his friend, Richard Bruns, about what he had done and took him to see the bodies. Richard was wracked with guilt, suffering nightmares and paranoia that his girlfriend would be Schmid's next victim. He went to the police and told them all he knew.
Charles Schmid was arrested on November 11th 1965. John Saunders and Mary French were also arrested for their participation in the murder of Alleen Rowe. Mary French got four years in prison and John Saunders was given a life sentence. Schmid received a death sentence but it was commuted to life imprisonment. He escaped with another murderer in 1972 but was recaptured after a few days.
He was stabbed by a fellow inmate in 1975 and died over a week later.
For a deeper exploration of a narcissistic sociopath who craves followers and followers so desperate for excitement they will be complicit in whatever he does, read Joyce Carol Oates' iconic short story “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been” or Jack Ketchum's excellent novel, The Lost, or watch the 2006 film adaptation of The Lost directed by Chris Siverston, all based on the Charles Schmid case.
Charles Schmid police car / Fair use doctrine.

Posted by Laura D. James

Laura D. James has written two novels – Revenge in Blood, and Demon Flesh – and is the co-author of the horror-themed children’s book series Spooky Skwerl Stories, all of which are available on Amazon. She lives in New Jersey and enjoys metal concerts and true crime podcasts.

2 comments

Great article Laura, Lost is on of Ketchum’s best books, and that’s saying something, haven’t read the Joyce Carol Oates story, but I will have to look it out now.

Oops *one of Ketchum’s …*

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