The year was 1965. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and The Righteous Brothers filled the airwaves. Television shows like “The Adventures of Ozzy and Harriett” and “The Andy Griffith Show” mirrored the innocence of life in the dusty city of Tucson, Az. But the sunbaked desert surrounding Tucson was hiding a sinister secret. A psychopath names Charles Schmid, later nicknamed the “Pied Piper of Tucson” by Life Magazine, would steal that innocence away, along with the lives of three beautiful teenage girls.
In this firsthand account written in 1967, Richard Bruns shares the evolution of his friendship with Schmid, the details of getting involved way in over his head, and how he finally summoned the courage to blow the whistle to end the deadly rampage that shocked the nation and changed the city of Tucson forever.
|Publisher:||Twin Feather Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Richard Bruns is the man who turned Charles Howard Schmid Jr aka “The Pied Piper of Tucson” into the authorities and was the star witness for the prosecution in the cases against Schmid. He wrote his first hand account at the time of the trials in 1967. Bruns is a retired teacher and continues to reside in Tucson, Az.
Read an Excerpt
I am Richard Bruns, the person that turned Smitty — Charles Howard Schmid Jr. — into the police, and in his mind, to the gas chamber of the Arizona State Prison. I would have never believed it would end that way. I felt then, and still do feel, that he was without control of his actions — because he was sick.
I was a witness to him losing his mind. Like the time he grabbed his cat, tied a heavy cord to its tail, and began to bash it bloody against the wall. It howled such high-pitched, penetrating screams that I thought my eardrums would burst, as over and over again he bashed it into the wall, until finally the contents of its bowels began to seep out. Then he turned to me, his eyes searching deep behind my own, as though by straining he could see right through me, and said, almost in a whisper, "You feel compassion. Why?"
I was afraid to stay there alone with him. I knew what he was capable of doing. I just got the hell out of there.
It was six months earlier when he told me of how he killed a teenage schoolgirl just to see what it felt like. We were hanging out at a city park, just shooting the bull and passing time, when he described to me the uncontrollable urge he had to kill someone, anyone, and how he and another friend, John Saunders, had walked the streets together searching for a possible victim and the right opportunity.
When the opportunity didn't present itself after a week or so of prowling, he called up Mary French, his steady at the time, and gave her a list containing the names of three girls. She was supposed to persuade one to sneak away from home with them, supposedly go out into the desert to drink beer.
The list was a death list. A pretty young girl named Alleen Rowe, the third name on the list, became the victim. In every minute detail I remembered his account of the murder, and I doubted I would ever forget it. It had become the basis for my recurring nightmare — the damned, horrifying thing that haunted me every time I closed my eyes.
Even Paul G. had grown afraid of him. Paul was a childhood friend of Smitty's who himself had murdered at the age of fifteen. The victim, an Air force colonel, was shot through the head during a bungled robbery attempt. Paul spent five years in a reformatory for the killing.
"What happened?" I asked Paul after he shared his fear of Smitty.
"I just asked him what in the hell he was doing messing around with a fourteen year old girl, that Diane, and he told me it wasn't none of my damned business and blew up. He slammed his goddamned fist through the wall, and then went running around outside in his underwear, jumping back and forth over the fence screaming, 'God is going to punish me. God is going to punish me.' He's really cracked up. I know he killed Gretchen and Wendy. Are you sure he didn't tell you anything about it?"
"No, he didn't tell me anything," I lied. "He didn't say anything at all about it." But the truth was he had told me everything.
I was sitting with Smitty in his small cottage home when he shared the details of the murders. He calmly turned to me and said, "I've killed four times, not three. Now it's your turn to kill someone, Richie." He said it so threateningly. "Now it's your turn to kill someone, Richie." It echoes through my mind even now.
I lit a cigarette and our eyes met.
He's flipped. He was not the same Smitty I grew up with.
He got up and put an Elvis Presley record on his old phonograph then walked to the refrigerator.
"You want a beer?" he asked.
"No thanks," I responded.
He pulled out a gallon jug of home-brewed beer, poured himself a glass of it, and then returned to the living room, where he sat down across from me on the couch.
The phone rang. A few weeks earlier, if the phone had rung, it would have been a cause for alarm, but now, whenever it rang, there was no panic because he knew she wasn't at the other end of the line. She was dead.
I lit another cigarette, took a long drag, and began to look around the room as he talked into the phone. For the first time since I had seen his place the drapes and the door were open, letting some daylight in, and for the first time I wasn't overcome with that depressing feeling of being locked away in some dark hole of a cave. Nothing inside had changed, but at least it seemed alive now.
There were magazines strewn about on the floor, along with records, clothes, pillows, dirty bed sheets, and dirtied glasses and plates with bits of uneaten food still on them. Some of them had been sitting there for as long as a week. They were scattered wherever they could be piled. The rest of the dishes were in the kitchen. The odor in there was overwhelming, like a sewer.
Next to me was the dining room table. It was covered with blotches of dripped wax from when Smitty had sat there and painstakingly made candleholders from wine bottles. The table itself was in shreds from his continued hacking on it with a machete, as was the arm of the chair in which I was sitting. The tree out in the front yard had also received the same treatment.
On the opposite wall, straight across from me, was a hole he had made with his fist in a fit of rage. It gave mute but frightening testimony to the power chained inside his small, compact body, and of the damage he was capable of inflicting when he unleashed that power in just one unmerciful blow. It caused me to recall what he had done to his cat, the lack of mercy he had shown it, and I shuddered. I knew that he was totally without mercy.
He hung up the phone and there was a long silence. Smitty was the first one to speak, but he spoke as though he were talking only to himself.
"If I'm ever caught," he began, "I'll never confess. That way they'd never know, and the not knowing would torture them." He sat back into the couch and pondered what he had just said, and smiled. It would torture them. That was clearly important to him.
He fixed his eyes squarely on the floor and sank into deep thought. I immediately seized the opportunity to study him for a moment, this person I feared so much but to whom I was bound so closely by circumstance. I was three years younger than Smitty. We had met through Paul G. nearly five years earlier. In a brief flashback I recalled the Smitty I used to know, the Smitty who used to be my friend a long time ago. That Smitty had been completely different from the guy sitting across from me now. As I compared the two, I wondered how it was possible he could have degenerated so much.
Once he had been the cool leader of the Tucson's teenage set — the teenager's champion, their idol, their hero. I was younger then, and I myself had idolized him. Now, although he was still their king, he was becoming incapable of leading anyone. No more, as it had been in 1960 when I'd first met him, did the teenage throngs mull and crowd about him in public just to be near him, to be a part of him, to drink in the mysterious strength he generated to them, and to revel in that strength of rebellion.
By the hundreds they had once flocked to him. He never had to utter the least little word or command. The communication between them had been almost telepathic. At the same time it was dangerously real and undeniably strong. The power he held over Tucson's youth could hardly be exaggerated — he had since been appropriately labeled "The Pied Piper of Tucson."
Once he had all the things the typical teenager lived for and held dear — money, a new convertible car, clothes, looks, dates at the snap of his fingers, and even a rock and roll band. Now he had none of that. All that remained were fragments of the myth that had been created about him, and even those were dying out fast.
At twenty-three years old, he was becoming more and more alienated from the world of the teenager, a world he could never allow himself to leave. Without that world he would be nothing. No longer would he be glorified or thought of as something of a god. He was steadily losing touch with it, and he knew it. "I'm on the outside looking in," he once told me, and he felt himself experiencing his own destruction. He was falling victim to his own image.
While we sat, he sensed my gaze, and his eyes rose up to meet mine. I blew smoke from my cigarette and turned away from him. He returned his stare to the floor. I paused and then looked back toward him again. He was sitting there fondling his glass, thumb-tapping its rim. He was off in an entirely different world, far removed from me, from the room, and from anything around him. His eyes were bloodshot, and he appeared drugged. How and why had I become so involved with him? I asked myself. I felt guilty of something terrible because of it.
He was an aberrant man, to say the least. In his high topped boots stuffed with as many rags, tin cans, and whatever he could make fit, he put an additional three inches of height on his stubby five-foot, three-inch frame. He clomped around in those boots as though he were going to topple at every step. Whenever he was asked about it, he explained that he had swollen ankles, and that was why his boots were so fat and clunky. I thought he looked like he was wearing Santa Claus boots. Some people actually thought he had wooden feet. It no longer mattered to him that he looked like a clown, just as long as he didn't look small.
He worked so hard to create an exaggerated persona that he went a bit overboard. On his left cheek he had painted a beauty mark. What had started out the size of a pinhole was now the size of a quarter. On his nose he wore a bandage caked with grit. Two months earlier he claimed he had gotten into a fight and broke his nose and the bandage was what remained of the episode. He wore white lipstick to accent the dark complexion he had acquired by gulping suntan pills, sitting for hours under a sun lamp, and applying liquid makeup to his skin. His light brown hair was dyed jet black and then combed into a pompadour. Even the hairs on his arms and chest had been dyed, and daily he did touch-up work on his eyelashes and eyebrows.
Everything about him was imitation, and all of it his own creation — even his mannerisms. These he carefully practiced to perfection by standing in front of a mirror for hours at a time, pursing his lips and emulating whoever he'd have himself be. Yet, ironically, he'd become quite good at winning over other people's confidence, and people trusted him fully.
On many occasions I listened to him as he laughed and told me story after story on the gullibility of people, and time and again I'd seen him prove that gullibility. Most everyone he ever came into contact with fell head over heals for his crazy, unbelievable lines.
There was the one where he had leukemia and didn't have long to live. He told others that he had a bad heart that was expected to give out at any second. And then there was the ultimate in stories in which he described how, when he was a baby, he had to be put into a stretching machine because he had been stunted at birth.
He bragged to me that he had learned every con there was from an old acquaintance of his, and he had used those tricks with a considerable amount of success to get money and whatever else he wanted. For a time he had also received a three-hundred-dollar-a-month allowance and credit card access from his parents, who were proprietors of a million-dollar nursing home. Of course, that was before. Now the nursing home was in receivership. When it went away, so did the allowance and credit cards. Now, Smitty was left with just the little home in which we were sitting.
He still attempted to use his conning techniques on his mother. When he wanted money to go to California to cut a record and lay his claim to fame, he sent Mary French to her with a story about being pregnant by Smitty and needing twenty-five dollars. His mother refused to give it to her. Undoubtedly she recalled the other story Smitty and Mary had told her about getting secretly married in Texas — a ploy Smitty had used so that he and Mary could sleep together in her home — and the various other times she had let Smitty con her out of something with his swift talk. He even had her believing once that he was attending classes at the university, when all of the time he was really at a restaurant eating pancakes with me and wasn't even enrolled in the university. But that time, naturally, his mom had paid him extra money for going to school.
His biggest mistake, and his biggest let down later, was that he believed he could go on conning the same people indefinitely without anyone ever catching on. But even his mother had reached a point with him. It proved him to be the biggest fool of all.
He was completely incapable of telling the truth, I concluded, or of projecting his true emotions and feelings. He insisted that the world was phony and deceitful, and so in order to beat the world at its own game he had decided to become more phony than the whole lot. Over time he did just that. In fact, he had played the part so well for so long that now he seemed to be hovering somewhere on the brink of schizophrenia — unaware, and more unsure than ever, as to just exactly who he really was and what he stood for. He only knew what he didn't stand for: Conformity, society, God, and everything else that attempted to dictate his actions. He once even tore up a Bible, page by page, and burned it in the street in front of my house. With nothing to do now but roam in search of pleasure in any form he could find it, time had won out in the end. What was sitting across from me now was the product of non-purposefulness.
The one factor that made him more dangerous than ever was his ability to convey a feeling of trust between himself and others. He had impeccable manners, and he could, if he wanted, move in even the best of circles. While some parents refused to let their children associate with many nice and harmless boys, turning them away at their doors, Smitty himself was seldom turned away. Whenever he was in the presence of parents he projected an image of the All-American boy, and with his witty humor and kind gestures he could be quite irresistible. Some adults thought of him as a big brother to their children, mostly because their children appeared to respect him. These same adults felt they could use Smitty and his influence to reach their offspring. Some, in fact, turned to Smitty for advice and direction. It was ironic.
"Do you have a cigarette, Richie?" Smitty asked.
"Yeah," I replied and reached inside my shirt pocket for one.
He got up and came over to me for the cigarette, lit it, handed me back my book of matches, and then turned to the phonograph again to put on his favorite Elvis record, "They Remind me Too much of You." It was his song to her. A song with a past, and with a memory fiery and tender. At one time he had loved her, but now she was dead and he was glad. He was relieved and finally at ease. He just didn't care anymore. He was past caring.
"I guess you know what happened to Gretchen," he said to me.
I said "yes" because by then there was so little doubt in my mind. He had told me of Alleen Rowe who he had killed with the help of John Saunders. He had even tried to coax me to rape and murder with him to help him wipe out an entire family. He was to have "taken care of" the mother and father, and I was to have "taken care of" the brother and sister, and then he'd planned to rape and kill a couple of girls in California. He was serious; I knew that, just as I knew he had been serious when he repeatedly told me he would someday kill Gretchen. When she turned up missing with her younger sister, Wendy, I surmised what had happened.
Now he was confirming my suspicions — confessing it all. "First I killed Gretchen, and Wendy was still going 'huh-huh-huh,' and then I just. ...
As he revealed the details I wondered if there was something I could have done to prevent it.
"Then I put the bodies into the trunk of her car and drove out and dumped them. I put them in the most obvious place I could get caught — because I just didn't care anymore."
But, tragically, there had been nothing I could do. I couldn't have turned him into the police for murdering Alleen because I didn't know where her body was, and I had no proof. The police had already questioned him regarding her disappearance anyway, and they had no proof either.
If I had told the police about his plans to kill other people and of his threats to kill Gretchen, it would have been my word against his. Then it might have been me ending up dead somewhere out in the desert. Now Gretchen and Wendy were gone and he was claiming that there was yet a fourth victim, but I still had no proof. There was nothing I could do. But I would try. Soon I would be running the streets like a madman, overwrought with terror and compelled by suspicion, trying to keep him from killing again.
"How are you and Kathy getting along?" Smitty asked.
"The same," I answered. I did not elaborate.
He started to talk, paused for a moment, and then said, "Maybe we ought to go get Gretchen and hang her by a noose on Kathy's porch. That ought to bring her around."
Soon after that I departed.
Excerpted from "I, a Squealer"
Copyright © 2018 Richard Bruns.
Excerpted by permission of Twin Feather Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. Guarding Kathy,
3. The Mafia,
4. Columbus, Ohio,
5. Finding Gretchen and Wendy,
6. Blowing the Whistle,
7. Face to Face,
9. The Division Between Us,
10. Beginnings and Endings,
Appendix 1: Charles Howard Schmid Jr. Timeline,
Appendix 2: Headlines & Sidelines,
Appendix 3: 2017 Interview with Richard Bruns,
From Fact to Fiction,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by K M Steele for Readers' Favorite I, a Squealer: The Insider's Account of the Pied Piper of Tucson Murders by Richard Bruns is a fascinating and disturbing account of his friendship with, and ultimate betrayal of, serial killer Charles Schmid. Bruns wrote the account after the events leading up to Schmid’s arrest, which gives it a feeling of immediacy and urgency that may not have been present if it were told after many years had elapsed. Bruns takes the reader with him as he discusses his fear and anxiety in the face of Schmid’s deteriorating mental health. After Schmid confessed to killing three girls and implied that Bruns' ex-girlfriend, Kathy, should also die, Bruns became obsessed with protecting her, and eventually had a restraining order filed against him for stalking and was ordered to move to Columbus, Ohio to live with his Grandmother. While it doesn’t make sense at first that Bruns continued a friendship with someone he believed had murdered defenceless girls, it becomes clear that Schmid had an ability to hold people and bend them to his will. Bruns describes the Schmid he befriended as a charming, popular, good-looking guy whom everyone wanted to know. It seems when Bruns was sent away from Tucson, the break from Schmid’s company was enough to make him realise he must tell the police about his friend. When Schmid was arrested, he claimed Bruns was the murderer, and it seemed that many in the community shared his belief: rather than being commended for getting a killer off the street, Bruns was ostracised. I, a Squealer by Richard Bruns also includes police photos and newspaper clippings during and after the trial, and has received plenty of praise. This is not without reason. It is a gripping tale told in a straightforward manner and personable voice.