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There was this one gig we did for a True Crime podcaster who had caught wind of our tune, "The Ghost Of Alma Kelmer." I'd written the murder ballad about a true-blue case of a serial-killing priest and his nine-year-old victim, and they thought it'd make for a nice interview with Shelly and me.

You see, in 1916, this fellow named Father Hans Schmidt was sent to the chair for the murder and dismemberment of another victim - a secret lover of his, whose body parts had washed up on New York City's East River shore. He was convicted and, to this day, is the only priest in American history to get Kentucky Fried.

Speaking of the Bluegrass State, several other murders were alleged to be his doings as the case unfolded, one of which was back in Louisville, where he had worked at St. John's Church. Several years earlier, the body of a young girl named Alma Kellner (some news sources spelled it "Kelmer") was found beneath the church, disposed of in similar fashion to the New York woman.

Anna Aumüller, whose body was found in the East River

Listen to the podcast here (our interview is toward the end):

As I mention in the interview, on our way to the studio to do our first recording of "Alma Kelmer," Shelly suggested that she should sing the verses instead of me. Which seemed very suitable, considering the song is from the perspective of Schmidt's female victims. She nailed it in the first take.

But this is one of those tunes that evolves with time like a murder plot. I especially like the version we did for our Live Americana album - the extra harmonies, and Robert's spooky bowing technique on the bass, and Doc popping those congas.


Forgive me, Father, I must confess

With the tolling of the bell it’s hard to rest

In our sleepy little town

How many more holes must you dig in the ground?

Your words are soothing and confident

The people believe you are Heaven-sent

And so why would anyone doubt

You Christen them in and pardon them out


Haaa-aaa-aa llelujah

Do you still hear the whispers of the souls you laid to rest?

Haaa-aaa-aa llelujah

Do you cry in the night like they did when they confessed?

There’s one less lass in the class today

Alma Kelmer has run away

But No she’s right under your feet

With the tolling of the bell you know she never will sleep



Late on the Sabbath when your flock had gone

Save in the nave there remained just one

Weeping for your child yet born

You wiped away the sin and then you pardoned your own


What lifeless fish are those that float

On the waves of the river as morning broke

Revealing the pieces of a lover whose

Hand is pointing at you

Haaa-aaa-aa llelujah [Repeat ]

Do you still hear the whispers of the souls you laid to rest?

Do you cry in the night like they did when they confessed?

According to the trial transcripts, Schmidt had slit the throat of the New York woman, drank her blood, got it on with her corpse, then diced her up for disposal in the river. So, yeah. Somehow I don't think he was "crying in the night" with pangs of remorse.


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