He was a Catholic priest and a killer. Hans Schmidt, ordained in Germany in 1904, arrived in the United States in 1908 and was assigned to St. John's Parish in Louisville, Kentucky. Arguments with the minister resulted in Schmidt's transfer to St. Boniface Church in New York City. There he met beautiful Anna Aumuller, a housekeeper for the rectory who had recently emigrated from Austria. Despite his transfer to a church far uptown, Father Schmidt and Anna continued a romantic affair and, in a secret ceremony he performed himself, they were married. When he discovered she was pregnant, Father Schmidt knew his secret life would soon be exposed. On the night of September 2, 1913, he cut Anna's throat, dismembered her body, and threw the parts into the Hudson River. When the body was discovered, he was arrested and charged with the murder. A media circus ensued, as the New York papers became fascinated by the priest and his double life. After feigning insanity during his first trial, which ended with a hung jury, Father Schmidt was eventually convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. He remains the only priest ever executed for murder in the United States.
The public fascination with cases involving husbands suspected of murdering their pregnant wives predates Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking. When the press learned that Father Schmidt was suspected of killing his pregnant wife, it generated the kind of flashy headlines and gossipy speculation similar crimes elicit today. The case provided a spectacle for the media and captured the imagination of a city. Not only did Father Schmidt kill his young, pregnant bride, but further investigation proved that he had a second apartment where he had set up a printing press and counterfeited $10 bills. In Louisville, the dismembered body of a missing nine-year-old girl was found buried in the basement of St. John's church, where Schmidt had previously worked. In addition, German police wanted to talk to Father Schmidt about a murdered girl in his hometown. Though he was never charged, it was strongly suspected that Father Schmidt committed these murders as well. On February 18, 1916, Father Schmidt was executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. This book tells this tale in vivid and lively detail and looks at the man, the crime, and the attention both received in the popular press and the city at large.