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The working titles of this film were Pied Piper of Tucson, The Pied Piper, Running Scared, Skipper, Skipper and Billy Roy and What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?. In 1978, the picture was re-released as A Dangerous Friend. Except for the title, all of the credits appear at the end of the picture. Although the onscreen credits include a 1970 copyright statement for National General Productions, Inc., the film was not registered until December 15, 1998, when it was given the number RE-791-634. In the opening sequence, the burial of the dead girl's body by "Steven `Skipper' Todd," "Norma" and "Andy" is intercut with "Mrs. Roy's" reporting the disappearance of her daughter to the police. After Skipper and his friends run away from the burial site, the following written statement appears: "The story you are about to see is a fictionalized dramatization of actual case histories. The names & certain characterizations & incidents have been changed to protect the innocent-and, in some cases, to protect the guilty."
During the film, sequences of Skipper being interviewed by a military psychiatrist are intercut with the main action without explanation until the party during which Skipper tells his friends that he tricked the man into declaring him unfit for service. In the end credits, the names of cast members Robert F. Lyons, Richard Thomas, Belinda Montgomery, Sherry Miles, Joyce Ames, Holly Near, James Broderick, Gloria Grahame, Fay Spain, Edward Asner and Michael Conrad appear before a repeat of the title.
The film was based on the real-life murders committed by Charles E. "Smitty" Schmid, Jr. (1942-1975) in Tucson, AZ. Schmid, a would-be musician, murdered one teenage girl in May 1964 and two others in August 1965. As depicted in the film, two of Schmid's friends helped him bury his first victim, fifteen-year-old Alleen Rowe. The character "Billy Roy" was based on Richie Bruns, a friend of Schmid whose obsession with a local girl helped lead police to Schmid as the killer of Rowe and his next two victims, Gretchen Fritz and her younger sister Wendy. Embroiled in a turbulent romance with the sixteen-year-old Gretchen, Schmid killed her and Wendy out of fear that they would reveal his complicity in Rowe's death, which he had confessed to Gretchen.
In August 1966, Schmid was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for killing the Fritz sisters. His May 1967 trial for Rowe's murder was terminated when he pled guilty to second-degree murder, even though the girl's body had not been recovered. Schmid led police to her body in June 1967, but always maintained that he was innocent of the murders. His case became famous nationwide and was highly publicized due to his popularity with and influence over a large number of local teenagers. Schmid died in March 1975 after being attacked by two other inmates in the Arizona State Penitentiary.
In June 1967, both Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety announced that National General Productions (NGP) would be producing a film about Schmid's crimes, with the screenplay, to be written by Mann Rubin, based on The Tucson Murders, John Gilmore's recently published true-crime expos. The news items reported that the story acquisition included clearances from Schmid and Bruns, with Daily Variety stating that Bruns would "be associated with" the picture. No other contemporary sources confirm Bruns's involvement in the project, however, or that the finished screenplay was based on Gilmore's book.
In July 1968, Variety reported that NGP had "shelved" the project for over a year but was considering going ahead with it, despite the misgivings of Tucson community leaders who feared that the film would bring more notoriety to the area. The item stated that the film would be based on Don Moser's book The Pied Piper of Tucson. Moser, who had written a March 1966 article about the killings for Life magazine, co-wrote the 1967 book with Jerry Cohen, but neither he nor Cohen is listed in the onscreen credits as contributing to the final picture. The SAB, contained in the film's clippings file at the AMPAS Library, lists the basis for Dennis Murphy and Joel Oliansky's screenplay solely as a story by Rubin.
By March 1970, British director Alastair Reid was scheduled to make his American feature-film debut with the project. On March 30, 1970, however, Hollywood Reporter announced that Reid had left the production due to "differences of concept and approach" with NGP and had been replaced by Barry Shear. At that point Abby Mann was scheduled to write the screenplay and produce the film, although, according to Filmfacts, Mann left the production after "a dispute" with NGP, and Shear took over as the producer. Filmfacts noted that after Mann's departure, "the script was rewritten and Mann received no mention in the final credits." Throughout its filming, The Todd Killings was listed on Hollywood Reporter production charts as an "Abby Mann production for National General."
A April 15, 1970 Daily Variety news item reported that theatrical actress Harriet Karr, Mann's wife, had been signed to make her motion picture debut in the film as the "femme lead," but she does not appear in the final film. A January 1970 Variety article stated that Karr was "topcast" in the film with actor Richard Summers, who eventually was replaced by Robert F. Lyons, and that it would be shot in the Las Cruces area of New Mexico. The April 29, 1970 Hollywood Reporter article listed Jo Van Fleet as a cast member, but she also does not appear in the film. Although Kevin Coughlin is included in the cast by Hollywood Reporter production charts, his appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. As noted by the onscreen credits and contemporary sources, the film's interiors were shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, with some interiors shot at the Lincoln Heights Jail in downtown Los Angeles. According to the pressbook, exteriors were shot throughout the Sunland-Tujunga area, the Upper Tujunga Canyon and in Westwood, CA.
Several post-production news items reported that the film's music had been composed by Billy Goldenberg, although only Leonard Rosenman is credited onscreen. A September 2, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that four songs written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn would be featured in the film, but they were not used for the final release. In early September 1970, news items reported that the Writers Guild of America viewed a rough cut of the film and determined that it did not represent Mann's work as a screenwriter and that his name could be withdrawn from the credits, as he requested.
The film marked the motion picture debuts of television actresses and real-life sisters Belinda and Tanis Montgomery, who played sisters "Roberta" and "Jackie." The picture also marked the last film of longtime character actor Guy Wilkerson (1899-1971). According to Filmfacts, The Todd Killings was the last film made by NGP, which soon after ceased active production, although it continued to buy and distribute motion pictures.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," Joyce Carol Oates's 1966, critically acclaimed short story, was inspired by Schmid's crimes and Don Moser's Life article, and was told from the point of view of one of his young victims. Her story became the basis of the 1986 film Smooth Talk, directed by Joyce Chopra and starring Treat Williams as the killer and Laura Dern as the girl he entraps. Another film based on Schmid's life was the 1994 release Dead Beat, directed by Adam Dubov and starring Balthazar Getty as the Schmid character.