Hans B. Schmidt (1881 – February 18, 1916) was a German Roman Catholic priest convicted of murder, and the only priest to be executed in the United States.
Born in the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg and ordained in Mainz in 1906, Schmidt immigrated to the United States in 1909 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.
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, Schmidt and Anna continued a secret sexual relationship. It was later revealed that they were married in a secret ceremony of dubious legality, which Schmidt performed himself.
After discovering that Anna was pregnant, Schmidt slashed her throat on the night of September 2, 1913, dismembered the body, and threw the pieces into the East River.
Trial and execution
Once the body was discovered, a police investigation led to Schmidt and he was arrested and charged with the murder. A media 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, Schmidt was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. On February 18, 1916, Schmidt was executed at Sing Sing Prison; he remains the only priest executed for murder in the United States.
Other possible crimes
Apart from killing his young, pregnant “wife,” further investigation revealed that Schmidt had a second apartment where he had set up a counterfeiting workshop.
Authorities also suspected Schmidt of the murder of Alma Kellner, 9, whose body was found buried in the basement of St. John’s church in Louisville, Kentucky, where Schmidt had previously worked. The body had been burned, but authorities suspected the killer had initially tried to dismember her. The janitor, Joseph Wendling, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder based on circumstantial evidence and bloody clothing found at his house.