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As debate continues about relaxing D.C.'s Heights of Buildings Act--the 1899 law that limits most buildings in the District to no higher than 130 feet--little is said about the man who inadvertently helped bring about that law: Thomas F. Schneider.
The architect and developer designed the Cairo: the 12-story building on Q Street NW that sparked such public uproar, Congress passed a law to prevent further tall buildings from going up in Washington.
But just before the Cairo was built, T.F. Schneider's name was plastered all over the newspapers for something else entirely: connection to a cold-blooded murder that led to the biggest trial Washington, D.C., had ever seen.
T.F. Schneider is responsible for the block of elegant row houses on Q Street between 17th and 18th Streets Northwest. He designed and built the houses on spec; he even sold one (1739 Q Street NW) to his parents, while he resided in a mansion on the corner of 18th Street. But on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, 1892, tragedy struck the block, right in front of 1733 Q Street NW, when Schneider's brother, Howard, murdered his own wife and brother-in-law.
The Hamlink family resided at 1733. Howard met the daughter, Amanda ("Amy," for short), and courted her in the spring and summer of 1892. In June, as he and Amy took a trip to Hyattsville, Howard whipped out a revolver and threatened to kill himself if Amy didn't marry him.
As a young, sensitive woman, Amy agreed to the marriage. When her father, Col. Hamlink, found out about the wedding, he forced Howard to move into the house so he could keep an eye on the odd fellow.
Kim Bender details the entire story in her blog, "The Location," and as she puts it, the marriage between Howard and Amy wasn't wine and roses... at all.
"[Howard] had an erratic personality," Bender says. "He started staying out really late at night. He would get angry if his wife confronted him about where he was. He would threaten to shoot her. It was not the most pleasant situation."
One night in December 1891, Howard came home late, again, and Amy locked him out of the house. The next day he wrote her a letter to say he couldn't get in the night before; he also asked if Amy would "come away" with him.
"She writes back. 'No I want you to take your stuff and leave,'" Bender says. "[And] no one really knows this at the time, but it turns out he has actually been courting this other woman who's staying with her sister in another Q Street row house. So when he asks Amy to come away with him, he's been advised that he could get a quick divorce in Chicago."
On Jan. 30, Howard sent another note, in which he begged Amy to come away with him. Again, he was rebuffed. He sent a further note on Jan. 31, but Amy never received it, since she decided to go to church with her brother, Frank, and her sister, Jenny.
"They walk up the north side of Q Street toward 18th Street because there's a church that they go to right around there," Bender says. "They thought that there had been services that night but the lights were off. So they turn around and they walk back, and as they're approaching their home at 1733 Q, a man crosses the south side to the north side of the street and they notice that it is Howard J. Schneider!"
When Howard called out to Amy, Jenny walked nervously ahead. Frank stayed behind, though, to protect his little sister.
"Frank says, 'leave her alone,'" Bender says. "And Howard grabs Amy by the wrist and says 'She is my wife. I can do whatever I want.'"
Then came the gunshots.
"Howard shoots five bullets," Bender recounts. "One goes into Frank's neck. Three go into Amy's abdomen; he's still holding onto her wrist when he shoots her in the abdomen, so really close range. And one, which probably was aiming at Frank, goes into the bay window in the front parlor of 1733 Q Street and embeds itself into the wall."
That's when Howard threw down the gun and ran toward 17th Street. Frank tried to give chase, but his wounds proved too damaging; he died right there in the street.
At this point, people on Q Street started flooding out of their homes.
"All the neighbors have heard these shots," Bender says. "And when someone says 'What happened?' Amy says 'Schneider shot my brother Frank, and he shot me, too.' And she survived for six more days and then she died. Howard turned himself in to the police that evening."
As for what was happening with T.F. Schneider in the midst of all this, Bender says his involvement in the murder leads her to believe that, like Howard, "T.F. was a little off, too. [He] is actually quoted in the newspaper the day after this murder saying, 'That girl only married my brother for his money. She's not to be trusted, that whole family, it's like they're gold diggers.'"
Bender says during the murder trial, T.F. Schneider was accused of intimidating witnesses, "which is a really interesting twist to this story because most of the witnesses were not just neighbors of T.F. Schneider and his family, but he sold their property to them."
And some of them still owed T.F. money.
"He was specifically asked on the stand about this one man, Mr. Bean, who before this incident had asked T.F. Schneider if he could extend a $2,000 note that he owed, and Schneider said, 'Sure no problem,'" Bender recounts. "And then after Mr. Bean's wife testified [against Howard], T.F. Schneider said, 'No, you can't extend that note anymore.'"
"So, he had a lot of power over these people," she continues. "They all still testified against his brother, and his brother was still convicted of murdering both Amy and Frank."
In the end, Howard was hanged in 1893. One year later, T.F. Schneider's Cairo building went up just a block away from the scene of the murder.
"He's lucky that we remember him for this lovely building and for the fantastic tree-lined block of Q Street row houses between 17th and 18th Streets," Bender says. "Because we could remember T.F. for the chilly murders committed by his brother, Howard."
[Music: "Turn Your Face" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "She's Got You High" by Mumraa from 500 Days of Summer (Original Soundtrack)]