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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: The only Roman Catholic priest to receive the death penalty in the United States - Dismemberment
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: September 2, 1913
Victim profile: 1904
Victim profile: Anna Aumuller, 21 (his pregnant lover)
Method of murder: Slashed her throat
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution at Sing Sing Prison on February 18, 1916

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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.


Hans Schmidt (died February 18, 1916) was a Roman Catholic priest, the only one to receive the death penalty in the United States.


Born in Germany and ordained there in 1904, Schmidt was sent to the United States in 1908 where he was assigned to St. John's Parish in Louisville, Kentucky. There, a rift with another priest resulted in Schmidt's transfer to St. Boniface Church in New York City.

The Murder

While serving in New York Schmidt met Anna Aumüller, the attractive housekeeper for the rectory who had recently emigrated from Austria. Despite his subsequent transfer to a church in a distant area of the city, Father Schmidt and Anna continued a secret sexual relationship. It was later revealed that they were married in a secret ceremony of dubious legality (which Father Schmidt performed himself). However, after discovering that Anna was pregnant, Father Schmidt slashed her throat on the night of September 2, 1913, dismembered the body, and threw the pieces into the Hudson River.

Trial and execution

Once the body was discovered, a police investigation led to Father Schmidt and he was arrested and charged with the murder. A media circus spectacle ensued, comparable to those caused by the Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking cases of a later era, as the New York papers competed against each other with an ever greater degree of sensationalism regarding the case.

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 in the electric chair. On February 18, 1916, Father Schmidt was executed at Sing Sing Prison; he remains the only priest ever executed for murder in the United States.

Other crimes

Apart from killing his young, pregnant "wife," further investigation revealed that Father Schmidt had a second apartment where he had set up a counterfeiting workshop, and uncovered the suspicion that Schmidt had killed and dismembered a nine-year-old girl whose body was found buried in the basement of St. John's church in Louisville, Kentucky, where he had previously worked.

Additionally, German police wished to interrogate Schmidt in the murder of a girl in his hometown. Despite never being charged with these other offenses, it was strongly suspected that Father Schmidt was responsible for them as well.


  • Mark Gado (2006-03-30). Killer Priest: The Crimes, Trial, and Execution of Father Hans Schmidt (Crime, Media, and Popular Culture). Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0275985539.


Hans Schmidt Trials: 1913 & 1914

Defendant: Hans Schmidt
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: W. M. K. Olcott, Alphonse G. Koelble, Terence J. McManus
Chief Prosecutors: James A. Delehanty, Deacon Murphy
Judge: First trial: Warren W. Foster; Second trial: Vernon M. Davis
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: December 7-30, 1913; Second trial: January 19-February 5, 1914
Verdict: First trial: jury deadlocked; Second trial: guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: The question of sanity has always been a vexatious issue in the American courtroom. Here it would decide whether the defendant—a priest—would live or die.

On September 5, 1913, two youths walking along the New Jersey shoreline of the Hudson River stumbled across a package containing the headless trunk of a woman, severed at the waist. The next day, some three miles downriver at Weehawken, a second package was found, a pillowcase monogrammed with the letter "A", and containing the lower torso of the same woman, wrapped in a newspaper dated August 31. Despite the fact that both packages had washed ashore in New Jersey, jurisdiction passed to the New York Police Department. This decision was made because both parcels had been weighted down with a large chunk of schist, a grayish-green rock rarely found in New Jersey but very common in Manhattan, leading to the strong presumption that the crime had taken place in New York.

A preliminary examination of the body suggested a woman aged under 30, approximately 5 feet 4 inches in height and weighing between 120 and 130 pounds, and that she had been in the water a few days at most. An autopsy later revealed that the woman had given birth prematurely not long before she died

Skilled detective work, tracing the manufacturer of the highly distinctive pillowcase, then studying that company's order books, led officers to a Manhattan apartment. The landlord said that the apartment had been rented two weeks earlier by someone called Hans Schmidt, ostensibly for a young female relative.

When officers let themselves into the apartment, they spotted bloodstains on the wallpaper and floor; stains that someone had struggled hard to remove, judging from the new scrubbing brush and six cakes of soap that lay by the sink. Inside a trunk they found a foot-long butcher's knife and a large handsaw, both recently cleaned. Another trunk held several small handkerchiefs, all amateurishly embroidered with the same letter "A" as on the pillowcase. A bundle of letters addressed to one Anna Aumuller led to St. Boniface's Church, on 42nd Street, where the 21-year-old German immigrant had worked as a servant in the rectory, until being discharged for misconduct. Mention of Schmidt's name brought another lead—St. Joseph's Church, 405 West 105th Street.

Father Hans Schmidt, aged 32 and German-born, almost fainted when police officers came to interview him. Just minutes later, racked by remorse, he unburdened his soul with a bizarre tale of having gone through a form of marriage with Aumuller—a ceremony conducted by himself for obvious reasons—only to then kill her, excusing himself on the grounds that "I loved her. Sacrifices should be consummated in blood."

Insanity Plea

That Schmidt killed Anna Aumuller was not in doubt when his trial began on December 7, 1913, but his defense team, lead by W. M. K. Olcott, was emphatic that their client had been consumed by a "blood lust" and, therefore, was not responsible for his actions. As support for this view they produced Dr. Arnold Leo, who had treated Schmidt and Aumuller some months before the tragedy.

Leo told the court that at their first meeting Schmidt had initially claimed to be a music teacher, but later admitted that he was a priest. "Schmidt told me that he was very much in love with the girl, and that he intended to give up the priesthood and marry her." Leo described how during one of his professional visits to see Schmidt at the rectory, the priest unaccountably became "wildly excited," then sprang across the room and grabbed a zither. After playing the instrument for a few minutes he stopped, sat down and began to talk calmly.

So far as the prosecution, which knew a great deal about the defendant's shady background, was concerned, Schmidt was a scheming con man, entirely responsible for his actions. The arresting officer, Inspector Joseph A. Faurot, testified that at first Schmidt had denied knowing Anna Aumuller, but had yielded when Faurot said, "Come now, tell us the whole truth about this thing."

According to Faurot, Schmidt admitted purchasing the knife and handsaw on August 31, then creeping into Aumuller's bedroom on night of September 2, while she lay sleeping, and slashing her throat. Quizzed about the obvious signs of experience in the dissection, Schmidt admitted that he had been a medical student before being ordained.

Assistant District Attorney James A. Delehanty wanted the jury to know more about what Faurot had discovered about Schmidt's background. Faurot detailed the extraordinary career of a priest who often posed as a doctor, in which capacity he had performed illegal abortions, a man who turned his hand to counterfeiting, someone who had aroused concern at several churches across America, and yet who had miraculously avoided censure.

Clearly Schmidt was peculiar, but was he mad? It would be up to the jury to decide.


After 34 hours of often acrimonious deliberation the jury came back on December 30, and announced themselves hopelessly deadlocked at 10-2 for conviction. Jury foreman William Ottinger, visibly exhausted, told Judge Foster, "Your Honor, we have voted many times, and we stood the same on the first ballot as the last," leaving the judge no option but to declare a mistrial.

One of the holdout jurors, William McAuliffe, afterwards claimed, "The other ten were willing to acquit the defendant on the grounds of insanity, except that they were afraid that he would go to Matteawan and get out like Thaw. So they thought the only thing to do was send him to the electric chair."

When defense lawyer Alphonse Koelble suggested that the jury be allowed to bring in a verdict of guilty to second-degree murder, Delehanty bitterly rejected the idea and declared that the state would try Schmidt again.

This trial began on January 19, 1914, and was essentially a carbon copy of the first, except that in his charge to the jury Justice Davis made a plea for some cold, hard logic:

If you are satisfied that the defendant purchased the knife and saw with which he cut up the body, thinking of using them as he did, and if you are satisfied that in the middle of the night he went to the flat, took off his coat and cut her throat, and then cut up her body, what conclusion do you come to? Use your common sense … your experience with men. Bear in mind, it isn't every form of mental unsoundness that excuses a crime. [See Harry Thaw Trials]

The jury took this admonition to heart and, on February 5, 1914, after just two hours' deliberation, they convicted Schmidt of first-degree murder.

One week later the disgraced priest was sentenced to death, and after a lengthy appeal process he was executed on February 18, 1916.

The issues of mental competence raised in these trials resonate to the present day, as juries continue to wrestle with the conundrum of deciding whether someone is mad or bad.

Colin Evans -



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