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Serial: It's not just for breakfast

Photo courtesy of
Smitty's house, where two girls were murdered in Tuscson in the mid 1960's.
By Lisa Schumaier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday October 31, 2002

Disclaimer: The contents of this story are fictional but are based on actual events that occurred in Tucson during the early 1960's.

There are a lot of places in the desert to bury a body. Every major street, no matter how busy during weekdays or rush hour, eventually turns to windswept dust and becomes a ghost road where no one passes by. They offer easy access to the desert: Go 40 on Speedway in either direction, especially at night when you can make all green lights. The trip may only take 10 minutes from campus. Since they are main roads, nobody finds it peculiar that you are driving on them late at night, and even cops do not take notice if you follow the road to its end. However, Charles Schmid knew all of this. He knew that the roads of Tucson were all dead ends.

He was charming. Deemed a rebellious outsider, he had an array of followers that were mostly female college students. Charles, or "Smitty," came from a wealthy home and was constantly buying thoughtful gifts for his girlfriends.

Between classes, he sat in the middle of the Mall reading Faulkner. At night, he could be found wandering on Congress. Though he was not in a fraternity, he was always invited to their parties. Smitty kept a leather-bound journal he was always seen writing in. He drove around University Boulevard and Fourth Avenue and always had a beautiful girl on the passenger side.

Resembling his rock idol, Elvis, this timeless mystique enthralled young women and intimidated the college boys. He wore tight white T-shirts and black pants. His hair was dyed dark and his eyes were light blue. On his left cheek was a unique beauty mark.

What captivated people the most about Smitty was his freedom. He did whatever he wanted. He was a daredevil and appeared larger than life.

Smitty lived on his parents' property in his own house. Throwing keg parties frequently, hundreds of people befriended this serial killer every weekend.
Photo courtesy of
Smitty, who modeled his appearance after Elvis, at various stages of his alter-ego.

However, Smitty was also very narcissistic. He had bizarre physical habits. At a height of only 5'4", he used to stuff his high heeled and pointy-toed cowboy boots with old beer cans, trash and torn rags. This added an extra three inches to his height. Overnight, he attached a clothespin to his bottom lip to give it more of a droopy effect. He wore pancake make-up and whitened his lips. Even his beauty mark was fake.

Smitty's first victim was male. His girlfriend at the time, Sara, complained that an ex-boyfriend had been calling her and possibly wanted to get back together. Later that night, Smitty went to the guy's apartment at Arizona Commons. Offering him a beer, Smitty told him that Sara had just dumped him and asked if he would take a ride so they could talk. The ex-boyfriend agreed.

There was a similar pattern to his first murder and the ones to follow. Smitty never used a gun and he always brought a shovel to give his victims proper burials. In the case of Alleen Rowe, she was killed by a rock, randomly picked up from the desert floor.

The murder was deliberate. Smitty had told his best friend John that he was restless and wanted to kill someone and get away with it. Making a list with potential candidates, they picked Alleen in the spring of 1964.

Smitty lured Alleen through another girlfriend, Mary Fench. Alleen and Mary were friends. Smitty had been pressuring Mary to get his friend John a date with Alleen. After many refusals, Alleen finally agreed. At 2 a.m., the group headed out by Golf Links Road. After parking the car, they walked down to a wash where they could sit and talk. A few moments later, Smitty and Mary left John and Alleen to go back to the car and find a radio.

When Smitty heard Alleen scream from the wash, he told Mary to stay by the car and then ran down to assist John. Binding her feet with a guitar chord, they told her that they were doing this because Mary hated her. By the time Mary returned to the site, the wash was saturated with blood. Even though she was not aware of their conspiring, Mary helped dig Alleen's grave and never told on her idolized boyfriend.

It was a year later when Smitty killed again. He had been dating Gretchen Fritz. When she started to get into fights with him about other girls he was engaged to, Smitty decided to kill Gretchen. One night, after seeing a movie with her sister, they went to a party at Smitty's. On his living room couch, he strangled both of the sisters and then brought the bodies in his trunk to the desert. Gretchen's car was found outside the Flamingo Hotel near Speedway Boulevard. Until Smitty confessed to the murders, the police had not suspected him.

The young murderer was sentenced to the death penalty twice, but received fifty years in prison instead. Smitty made several attempts to escape the prison, but was not successful. Prisonmates did not like him and he was beat up often. After one beating, he was stabbed numerous times and was hospitalized. Doctors were forced to remove his left eye, but he still suffered from internal wounds. The deranged Elvis impersonator died on March 30, 1975.

A writer for Life magazine wrote an article about the Tucson serial killer in the mid ╬60s. In it, he made a connection between the young murderer and a popular song at that time.

"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."

College girls have already been forewarned about suspicious-looking men on campus. But they must also keep their guard up against the charming rock star personas they see hanging out on Speedway Boulevard. If a handsome boy asks you to accompany him on a car ride to the desert, remember Smitty's victims. None of the bodies were ever found. Their heads litter the desert like cow skulls, fossilized in some dried wash, their wrist bones bound by steel strings.


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