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Hans Schmidt Trials: 1913 & 1914

Insanity Plea, Deadlocked

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."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917