Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Schmid: The Pied Piper

Fatal Attraction

Gretchen and Smitty often quarreled about other girls he was seeing, and she did not get along with Richie, so after some time, he decided to break it off with her. He tried several times, and failed. Richie asked him why he was letting this girl get to him, when no one ever got to him before. Smitty admitted that she was in on the same secret that Richie was: the murder of Alleen Rowe. She had also stolen his diary, which contained a description of killing a sixteen-year-old boy and burying him in the desert. She was holding this over his head and it was beginning to annoy him. He pondered out loud ways of hurting her, one of which was to get Richie to throw acid in her face. He reneged on that plan when he surmised that he might not be attracted to her any longer.

However, Gretchen heard about one of Smitty's "engagements," which made her furious. He knew he had to do something about it. When Gretchen went on vacation with her parents, the heat was off and Smitty threw a series of wild parties. Then Gretchen showed up, yelling at him, and Mary French came over and demanded he marry her and be a proper father to the baby she was going to have. Then Gretchen, too, claimed to be pregnant and wanted to know what Smitty planned to do about it. They argued, but later she insisted they run away together and elope. Smitty was not keen on that, so Gretchen took off, yelling back, "Smitty, you rat."

That evening, August 16, 1965, Gretchen left the house at 7:30 with her thirteen year-old sister, Wendy, to go see Elvis Presley in Tickle Me. They didn't come home. Dr. Fritz hired a private detective, William Helig, who turned up Gretchen's red-and-white Pontiac Le Mans parked behind the Flamingo Hotel near Speedway. There were traces of gravel and mud on the floor of the back and front seats, and sixty extra miles showed on the speedometer, although it had been disconnected. Gretchen's purse was in it, with $20, ticket stubs from the movie, her keys, and Smitty's business card from a failed upholstery business he had started. However, no one had seen the car being parked and Helig found no other leads.

Gretchen and Wendy had been seen at the movie at the Cactus Drive-in, and a friend had told Gretchen that Smitty was throwing a party. The police had received a report of two girls who fit the description of the missing sisters hitch-hiking on the road to Nogales. They were picked up by a car heading toward Mexico, and in Mexico several people swore the girls had boarded a bus bound for Hermosillo. A search into the heart of Mexico through several tourist towns where two girls reportedly were spotted failed to turn up anything solid. Finally the police gave up and listed them as runaways. Richie Bruns believed that was the most likely scenario until Smitty later told him the truth about the Fritz sisters.


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