This is a story about forbidden love, murder, and the only priest in the history of the United States to have died in the electric chair.
Born in 1881, Hans Schmidt was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in Mainz, Germany, in 1906. Handsome and charismatic, he appeared to be a bright young star in the German church. His enthusiasm was contagious, and his willingness to take on any assignment held the promise of a long and fruitful career in the service of God.
With the influx of thousands of Germans and other Europeans onto American shores at the turn of the 20th century, priests like Father Schmidt, who could speak both English and native European languages like German, were suddenly in high demand all across North America.
So in 1909, Father Schmidt arrived in the United States with his German credentials and was assigned to St. John’s Parish in Louisville, Kentucky. However, he was only in Louisville for a short time before a rift with a fellow priest there eventually resulted in his transfer to the Church of St. Boniface on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan.
Once in New York, he quickly earned the respect of local parishioners – and curiously, the eye of a beautiful young woman named Anna Aumuller. Just recently emigrated from Austria, Anna had been hired as a housekeeper for the church rectory.
For weeks, the two would greet each other casually and speak in passing, and although it appeared there was mutual interest, Father Schmidt had taken a lifelong vow of celibacy. Could something as scandalous as a priestly affair with the rectory housekeeper really ensue?
In fact, the couple did begin a romantic relationship within a couple of months of Anna’s hire, and it was torrid from the start. To conceal their secret, the pair would meet for evening trysts in, of all places, the church itself. They would have sex in the pews, even on the altar – right underneath the crucified Jesus – sometimes just hours before worshippers shuffled in for the first Sunday mass.
Despite a subsequent transfer to St. Joseph’s, another New York church further uptown on 125th Street, Father Schmidt and Anna continued their affair. They were even married in a secret church ceremony that Father Schmidt performed himself. So yes, he also served as the priest at his wedding – obviously not a church-sanctioned union.
It was around this time that Father Schmidt began renting an apartment on Bradhurst Avenue, where he and Anna could continue their affair far away from Jesus’ prying eyes. And in an added twist, the apartment became the base for an apparent counterfeiting operation, in which Father Schmidt and a local dentist named Ernest Arthur Muret likely produced thousands of fake $10 and $20 bills.
So while maintaining an active schedule at his new church, the busy priest also hid an ungodly affair with a rectory housekeeper and somehow had time to co-manage a counterfeiting ring!