Book Reviews

I, a Squealer: The Insider’s Account of the Pied Piper of Tucson Murders

I, a Squealer book review

“Richard Bruns is the man who turned Charles Schmid into the authorities and was the star witness for the prosecution. I, a Squealer is his firsthand account of his friendship with that psychopath, the details of getting involved way in over his head, and how he finally summoned the courage to come forward to the authorities in order to end Schmid’s deadly rampage.”

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What would you do if you discovered your friend was a serial killer?  In 1965 in Tucson, Arizona an appalled and shocked 20-year-old Richard Bruns couldn’t quite get his head around the idea that the man he thought he knew as a close friend, was not only murdering women but he was enjoying it.

In late autumn, unable to cope any longer with what he knew, Bruns told the police everything. Now in fear of his own life and that of his ex-girlfriend, Bruns was trapped in an unimaginable situation. He told them that his friend Charles Schmid, who he affectionately knew as ‘Smitty’, was a serial killer.

“I had a premonition, a frightful premonition, that I could be walking to my death. He might kill me. Of course. Why shouldn’t he kill me? I knew too much. Maybe that was why he’d agreed to bring me there, to kill me.”

Barely out of his teens, Bruns gave evidence against his friend, including showing police where the bodies of two of his victims lay.

He faced down Charles Schmid in an enclosed interview room, where he discovered his pal was intending to blame him for the murders of 15-year-old Alleen Rowe, 17-year-old Gretchen Fritz and her younger sister 14-year-old Wendy Fritz. “He was going to say that I did it, that I killed the girls,” he writes, “He’d planned it this way. I could only think that it had all been planned.”

After reporting Charles Schmid and testifying against him in his trials for murder, Richard Bruns wrote down his story and traced his journey from a care free teen in the vintage city of Tuscan, hanging around with friends and chasing pretty girls, to watching his friend descend into a dark and sinister world which he relished, displaying increasingly disturbing behaviour as each day went by.

“I wanted to plead with him, to make him understand. Man, you’re sick Don’t you know that? I had to. You’re sick. You need help.”

I, a Squealer is the publication of the manuscript that Richard Bruns wrote in 1967, after Charles Schmid had been sentenced to death for the murder of the Fritz sisters. It tells his story in candid detail, noting his experiences with Schmid and his own introspections at the time that he lived them.

Today, this is a memoir that would be almost impossible to write, with memories skewed by the passage of time and thoughts altered through life experience in the intervening years.  In cases of serial killers and ones who received as much publicity as the Charles Schmid case, it is rare to have the opportunity to see an insider’s view. To feel the fears he faced and experience the horror of a person wrapped up in cold-blooded murder through no fault of his own.

Richard Burn's original manuscript
Richard Brun’s original 1967 manuscript

Charles Schmid is the man nicknamed the ‘Pied Piper of Tucson’.  As a teenager he was charismatic and charming, drawing people to him and hooking in young teens who looked up to him and wanted to be around him.  This personality however began to slowly reform, witnessed up-close by his friend who struggled to comprehend the person Schmid was becoming.

Related: Absolute Madness: A True Story of a Serial Killer, Race, and a City Divided

Richard Bruns is a somewhat reluctant author. Having written this manuscript back in 1967, it was filed away with no real desire to pull it back out and certainly no intention to publish his words for the world to read.  Eventually persuaded by his daughters that his is a story that should be told, Bruns has allowed his writings to be published in the public domain. Considering the media interest in this case during the 1960’s when it broke and the years of speculation and accusation that Richard Bruns faced himself due to his association with Schmid, this decision was a brave one and took courage. As a reader I am left in no doubt that it was the right one.

Charles Schmid
Charles Schmid

This is a book which is impossible to put down once you begin reading.  From page one, the reader is absorbed into the story ensuring a necessity and desire to keep turning the pages. The writing is free-flowing with an edge, because of the subject matter and the knowledge that these words are a first-hand account of events, the narrative is engaging and powerful.

“I was so horror-stricken I couldn’t even think. I was too stunned to even feel emotion. The gruesomeness, the brazenness of it was impossible for me to grasp right away. It was too horrible a sight to accept as the reality I had come in search of.”

It is a reflective piece of writing in many ways and a personal one. The author has opened up a very painful chapter in his life that changed him as a person, and now he has invited others to read his story.

The publication of this work also serves to correct many of the myths, perceptions and simply incorrect facts that were included in the whirlwind of press and media coverage of these murders.  Richard Bruns was accused by Charles Schmid of carrying out these killings.

Many in the area of Tucson believed he was involved, and some believed he had faced criminal charges, both inaccurate beliefs but ones which made staying in that area after the trials a difficult process for Bruns.

I, a Squealer is the true story of Richard Bruns and how he blew the whistle on the serial killer who became known as the ‘Pied Piper of Tuscan’.  It is a gripping read telling a personal story of a startling dilemma a young man found himself facing, and the internal battle that followed to adhere to his moral conscience.  It highlights the normality of life that can twist and transform into sinister darkness as the human mind sinks lower and lower, almost too fast for others to keep up with.

Day by day Richard Bruns watched as his buddy became more unstable, more dangerous and more psychopathic. In order to understand the criminal mind, how the everyday individual can become a figure who can rape, strangle and kill is a transformation that needs to be examined. I, a Squealer is an opportunity to do just that through a rare witness account of how one man unraveled and spilled into the darkest layers of depravity.

‘I, a Squealer’ by Richard Bruns is published by Twin Feather Publishing and available at amazon.

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2 Comments

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  • I am looking forward to reading this book. As a forensic psychologist, I’ve talked to several individuals who have “turned in” a friend or family member who was guilty of a violent crime. No matter how horrendous the crime or how much the “whistleblower” knew it was the right thing to do, I am always struck by the guilt s/he experiences afterwards, often for years. In addition, there is not always the support that we might think; I talked recently with a woman whose entire family turned on her after she turned her mother in for murder.

  • I found it to be a fascinating insight. I also thought it brave of the author to publish such a difficult period in his life and his personal reflections on his experience. The right thing I suppose is not always the easiest thing, and how others react to what you did or didn’t do compounds the issue further. ‘I, a Squealer’ is due to be published on 20 March 2018, and you can pre-order a copy at the book’s website here; https://www.iasquealer.com/

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