Citizen Staff Writer
By PAUL L. ALLEN
Citizen Staff Writer
It was 30 years ago that a small man with a large ego was “shanked” in the Arizona State Prison at Florence – stabbed with makeshift prison knives nearly two dozen times in the head and chest and left in a puddle of blood.
Two fellow inmates administered the ultimate attitude adjustment, and when Charles H. Schmid Jr. died 10 days later at a Maricopa County hospital, his days as the so-called “Pied Piper of Tucson” were at an inglorious end.
His adoptive parents declined to claim his body, and prison officials buried him in the prison cemetery.
Schmid had gained national notoriety in the 1960s, including feature stories in Life and Time magazines, for the brutal murders of three young Tucson girls.
This was an era before mass murders and serial killers had become disquietingly common phenomena, and Tucson was horrified.
Schmid was born July 8, 1942, to an unwed mother, adopted as a dayold infant by Charles and Katharine Schmid, who owned and operated a nursing home in Tucson.
Growing up, the younger Schmid proved an indifferent student at Tucson High School, though he excelled at gymnastics. He had a muscular frame but stood only 5 feet 4.
He had a generous allowance (said to amount to $300 a month), a car and motorcycle, factors that – coupled with a handsome countenance and devil-may-care attitude – enhanced his appeal to a steady stream of adoring young girls, hence his sobriquet of “Pied Piper.”
While still in his teens, he had his own small house on his parents’ property where he drank and partied frequently with friends, his activities largely unmonitored. He dropped out of school during his senior year and like to “cruise” Speedway Boulevard.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, then a Tucson Police Department detective who investigated the Schmid case, said Schmid tried to make up for his diminutive stature by packing his oversize cowboy boots with rags and flattened beer cans, adding about 3 inches to his height.
Schmid was an Elvis Presley admirer, dyed his reddish-brown hair black, and wore it heavily greased and slicked back. Investigators were surprised to learn he wore makeup to darken his skin, added a “beauty mark” on his cheek and wore a heavy layer of lip balm. At the time of his arrest, he had a bandage on his nose, which he said he had broken.
Whatever it took, acquaintances said, Schmid liked to attract attention to himself, fostering an image of someone willing to take chances.
He told his 18-year-old friend John Saunders in 1964 that he “wanted to kill someone” to see how it felt and to see if he could get away with it, and he selected Alleen Rowe, a 15-year-old Palo Verde High School student, as the victim.
He asked one of his girlfriends, Mary Rae French, another Palo Verde student, to arrange a date between Rowe and Saunders. Rowe declined French’s invitation and several follow-up calls from Schmid, but finally agreed when they came to her house after her mother had gone to work for the evening.
That was May 31, 1964. Rowe was never seen alive again.
Saunders later would testify that he and Schmid, accompanied by French, took her to a desert area near what now is the intersection of East Golf Links and South Harrison roads. There, the men bashed her skull in with rocks and buried her in a shallow grave.
Schmid’s ego prompted him to boast of their crime to various friends, including a new girlfriend, Gretchen Fritz, daughter of a Tucson heart surgeon, whom he met about five months after the Rowe slaying.
That relationship soured, but Fritz refused to let it drop, allegedly holding a diary Schmid said she had stolen from him as leverage. He told friends he had written details of the killing of a 16-year-old youth in California in it.
Dupnik said no such diary ever was found, and he expressed doubts that it existed.
After Saunders left Tucson to join the Navy, Schmid befriended Richie Bruns, a 17-year-old “graduate” of the youth correctional facility at Fort Grant. Schmid shared details of the Rowe killing with him and vowed that he would “get” Fritz.
On the evening of Aug. 16, 1965, Fritz, 17, and her 13-year-old sister, Wendy, left home to go to a drive-in. They didn’t return.
Though police initially considered them runaways, later testimony revealed that they had been killed at Schmid’s house and that he had taken the bodies to the North Side, where he left them lying in a remote desert area.
Bruns moved to Ohio to live with a grandmother but, apparently fearing Schmid would kill again, called police to tell them what he knew about the Rowe murder and what he suspected about the Fritz disappearances.
Based on Bruns’ information, police arrested Schmid and Saunders. Dupnik recalled that Saunders appeared remorseful, confessed to his crimes and tried to help investigators find Rowe’s grave. He was unable to find it. Schmid, after his conviction, led police to Rowe’s remains.
Dupnik said he interrogated Schmid after his arrest. “He said a lot of things, very, very bizarre – some true, some not. In my opinion, he was schizophrenic.” Schmid remained arrogant and uncooperative throughout, he recalled, and refused to take a polygraph test.
Saunders was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the Rowe slaying. In Schmid’s case, the jury took only 30 minutes to find the 23-year-old guilty, and on March 25, 1966, he was sentenced to die for the Fritz murders. The sentence eventually was commuted to life in prison.
Later, he was convicted in the Rowe slaying and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
He tried to escape from prison by concealing himself inside a hollow gymnastics exercise “horse” in October 1972 but failed. His second escape attempt proved successful two months later, but after three days he was recaptured in Tucson’s railyard.
In 1974, he officially changed his name to Paul David Ashley. On March 20, 1975, he was stabbed, and he died of his injuries March 30.
Records are not kept on visitors to the prison cemetery, but Bart Graves, prison spokesman, said the chaplain who has dealt with cemetery visitors during the past nine years has not seen a single visitor to Schmid’s-Ashley’s grave.
The “Pied Piper” has become a grisly historical footnote.
Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 and firstname.lastname@example.org. For more history coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.