Friday, 15 August 2003

Triple killer's former home

'Good vibes' evict Pied Piper's specter

     cottage.jpg (32330 bytes)

A.E. Araiza / Staff
Two of Schmid's victims, sisters Gretchen and Wendy Fritz, were strangled
in the guesthouse on the night of Aug. 16, 1965. The guesthouse now stands vacant.

By Bonnie Henry

Such an ordinary-looking house. Why, it even has a white picket fence.

Who would ever guess that it once housed one of Tucson's most notorious killers?

"People tell us it has good vibes," says Gloria McMillan, who for 26 years has lived
in the house where Charles Schmid grew up.

"We think our computer room was his bedroom," says McMillan.

Anyone living here during the mid-1960s knows who Schmid, aka the "Pied Piper of Tucson," was.

For the rest of you, Schmid was a 23-year-old psychopath who stuffed tin cans and rags in his boots
to boost his 5-foot-4-inch frame.

He also dyed his hair bootblack, wore pancake makeup and eyeliner, and applied a large fake mole
to his left cheek. In 1966, he was sentenced to the gas chamber for murdering three teen-age girls -
one of them only 13.

The story became a national sensation, with Life magazine dubbing Speedway the ugliest street in
America and describing Tucson as, "gimcrack, ersatz and urban sprawl at its worst."

Schmid never went to the gas chamber. He died in a 1975 knifing in prison.

Two years later, McMillan, who has lived here since 1973, and her husband went house hunting.
They had never heard of Charles Schmid. But they were delighted to find a house just a mile from the
University of Arizona, close enough to bike or walk to work. Best of all, the three-bedroom territorial
was only $26,000 - a steal even in 1977. As they were getting ready to sign the papers, their agent
divulged that this was the house where Schmid had lived, along with his parents.

It bothered them not a whit.

"We are rationalists. We don't believe in ghosts," says McMillan, who teaches English literature at the
East Side campus of Pima Community College.

Besides, she'd been told none of the killings had occurred there.

And then last year, the man living next door in what had been the Schmid family guesthouse told them
he'd discovered his rental on a crime Web site. It seems this was the house - now vacant again - where
two of Schmid's victims, sisters Gretchen and Wendy Fritz, had been strangled on the night of
Aug. 16, 1965.

McMillan immediately went online. She soon learned that not only had the murders taken place in the
house next door, but that Schmid had lived there rent-free from about age 16 to the time of his arrest.
His parents also gave him $300 a month and his mother cleaned the cottage and brought him three
meals a day.

"He was supposed to work at the nursing home across the street that they owned, but he didn't do much,"
says McMillan.

Instead, the Pied Piper of Tucson cruised the juke joints and hamburger stands of Speedway, luring other
misfits, many of them teen-aged girls, to the little guesthouse.

McMillan devoured everything she could find on the subject, from a Joyce Carol Oates essay, "Where Are
You Going, Where Have You Been?" to a movie loosely based on the essay, called "Smooth Talk."
But the movie's happy ending disturbs her. "It gives the impression that you can indulge in risky behavior
and not pay for it," she says.

McMillan hopes to discuss that theme with her students this fall. "Who knows, maybe I'll bring them here,"
she muses. For a time, she was told, cars would parade in front of the house "just like Winterhaven."

Those days are as gone as the days of Charles Schmid, stumbling around on tin cans.

"We are sorry for the pain and suffering that went on in this immediate vicinity and for the three young lives
cruelly snuffed out," says McMillan.

"But we don't live in their shadow."

* Contact Bonnie Henry at 434-4074 or; or write to 3295 W. Ina Road,
Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741.

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