Patricia Schmidt, “Satira” seen in here publicity photo. Credit BurlyQNell
This is indeed one of my favorite local stories and I have been hopelessly intrigued by the enigmatic tale of this largely neglected and forgotten Toledo native. So for the past few years I’ve been attempting to discover whatever happened to Satira after her 30 minutes of fame in the scandalous spotlight of notoriety some 70 years ago. I can report to you now that I have found some answers. Answers that seem to provoke even more questions.
Previously in the Toledo Gazette, my story, published 4 years ago, “Whatever Happened to Satira?” gives a basic overview of the woman and how she was thrust into the headlines. Her name was Patricia Caroline Schmidt. Born in Toledo in 1925, the daughter of John Schmidt, a Toledo pharmacist and his wife Elsie who lived in West Toledo. She was an only child. Shy, pretty and intelligent young girl who loved dancing and gymnastics.. At a young age, she became a good dancer and joined several local dance troupes both here and in Detroit. During her senior year at Toledo Devilbiss High School in 1943, her mother died after a long illness.
Patricia Schmidt senior photo Devilbiss H.S. 1943
It was a devastating blow to Patricia and after graduation she was ready to move on with her life and her desire to be a professional dancer. By 1945, she made her way to Chicago to seek her dreams of fame and fortune. However, as many young aspiring dancers have found, the competition is tough and making it to the stages of the legitimate theater isn’t easy. So Patricia found herself dancing in night clubs, on the “bump and grind” circuit trying to carve out a living with leggy black stockings and lustful stares. It was not the life Patricia Schmidt envisioned for herself. She wanted more respect, so she tried a new routine. Re-inventing herself as “Satira” she, developed an Indian-Asian look, and worked on an “exotic dance routine that was part-ballet and part Balinese strip-tease. It didn’t take long for this petite 20 year old brunette with the exotic looking face(some said slo-eyed), to draw interest with her unique performance and presence.
She had many fans, and one of them was a dry cleaner, Carl Sperry, who was 32 and married. He soon divorced his wife and offered a wedding band to the young alluring Patricia. She accepted. But the quickie post-war romance was shaky at best. Within weeks they were separated and Patricia was back on her own, and being courted by other men also mesmerized by her gyrations and smoky looks. One man, in particular loved what he saw. He was a regular at the Silver Palms night club where Satira was dancing.
The Silver palm Lounge in Chicago
His name was John Lester Mee, a Chicago attorney, from a very prominent North Shore family. He was smitten and tried several times to arrange a meeting with the lithesome young raven-haired Satira. But to no avail. While she was reluctant at first, Mee persisted and she finally agreed to meet him. They met for dinner and the emotional chemistry was mutual. Mee was a handsome, former U.S. Naval officer from World War Two, who fancied himself to be a poet and lover. He romanced the young Toledo woman with letters, verse and promises. Mee was quite talented at telling women what they wanted to hear. What he didn’t tell them though was that he was already married. To another exotic dancer in Chicago.
One of his seductive promises he made to Patricia was to get a yacht and take it to the Caribbean where Satira could dance and they could live together in romantic bliss in the tropics. And so, within months Satira left the neon Silver Palms of Chicago joined a dance and show troupe and headed south to dance under the real palm trees of the Caribbean. In December of 1946, she had made her way to Cuba and was performing at a club in Havana John Lester Mee made his way down the Mississippi with his coverted PT boat he called a “yacht” and showed up in Havana harbor. He had named the boat“Satira”. The stage was set for second act of their torrid story.
The Yacht “Satira” in Havana Harbor 1948
Contrary what perhaps Patricia Schmidt had assumed about her new lover John Mee, he was not wealthy. Despite the fact that he was attorney and was the son of a wealthy and well-to-do North Shore physician, John Mee was not given a blank check to live his life with an open bank account. He was not a worker. He was a player. His family strongly disapproved of his Bohemian lifestyle and cavalier and romantic notions. A few weeks after Mee’s arrival in Havana aboard the boat “Satira”, Mee was broke. His plans to make money by using the boat to take passengers on exotic trips sounded good but most passengers once on board the malfunctioning old boat, just wanted off. Mee’s dream was sinking quickly. And so too was his hold on Patricia. He didn’t want her dancing anymore. She had been living in one of the expensive hotels in Havana but he demanded that she come live aboard the boat with him and his boat’s co-owner Charles Jackson, an old Navy buddy. To earn money for food, he and Patricia were forced to sell off many of their belongings including some of her favorite hand-made exotic dance costumes which she used to make a living. The idyllic fantasy of living the good life was being eclipsed by stark reality. Patricia would state later that Mee’s sexual demands also began to change. That he became quick to anger and sadomasochistic. He gave her a riding crop and wanted her to hit him with it. If she wouldn’t he would hit her and leave bruises. She said he became mean and abusive, refusing to let her to leave the boat.
John Lester Mee with his wife Mary Dixon
In April of 1947, during a particularly violent argument, after she discovered that Mee was still married to another woman, Patricia wanted off the boat. She was ready to go home to Toledo. John Lester Mee would have none of it. She claimed that John shoved her as she tried to leave the boat for her own safety. When he shoved her against a desk in the cabin, she opened the drawer of the desk and found his hand gun. A .22 caliber derringer. She pointed it at him and warned him to leave her alone. When he kept approaching he, she pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through his neck. Mee was rushed to a hospital in Havana where his condition was grave and a few days later he died. Within hours, Patricia Schmidt, a frightened 21 year old woman from Toledo was arrested for murder.
The case became a media sensation. In the United States, and through the Caribbean, and even in Europe the story of love and murder aboard a yacht in Cuba was perfect tabloid material. Beautiful woman, an exotic dancer, kills her lover aboard his yacht that he named for her. She claimed self defense and there were sordid allegations by her that he was a cruel sadomasochist who was a sexual fiend. In 1947, the newspapers loved it. In Toledo, the Blade kept the story alive with regular coverage for those readers in the city who knew her and knew the family.
Patricia Schmidt behind bars at Havana Prison
By Autumn, the trial was underway and coverage in the U.S. and the International press was impressive. In Havana and in the Cuban enclaves of Miami, the saga of Satira was not just another news story but the fuel of fascination as this young Devilbiss High School girl-turned-femme-fatale became a sort of folk hero to many. A Spanish-language Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. As you will learn later, it came from somewhere else.
The trial publicity itself was robust. On par or rivaling other celebrity trials that we known through the years. Everyday the testimony brought out new revelations and new scandalous details. Patricia testified that John Mee was obsessed with kinky sex and wanted to force it on her. For the times, such detail was titillating. The prosecution tried to portray Patricia Schmidt as a cold blooded killer who intentionally murdered her lover. He also characterized her as a woman of loose moral values. A young nude nymph temptress who liked to cavort on the deck of the yacht “Satira” in the buff, stating that she used Havana Bay as her own “private swimming pool”. The press couldn’t get enough. The headlines and stories from the trial flourished in papers across the country.
The crime scene inside the cabin of the Yacht
Despite the intimations by the prosecutor that Patricia was a “loose” woman of low degree who enticed Mr. Mee with her suggestive charms, the defense brought forth a number of character witnesses to attest to Miss Schmidt’s honesty and good character. Some of the witnesses included people from her native Toledo, including a former grade school teacher!
Schmidt talking with her attorney inside her cell
In December the case finally drew to a close. And despite her emotional plea of self defense, a dramatic reenactment of the shooting and her popularity with the Cuban people, the three judge panel that heard the case decided that she was guilty of manslaughter-homicide and sentenced the 22 year old Patricia Schmidt to 15 years in prison. Considering the brutal conditions in the Cuban prisons in 1947, the prospect of such a long sentence for the young Toledo woman was daunting, but Patricia seemed ready to accept her fate. And in a letter told her father, John Schmidt in Toledo that she was preparing to serve her time.
Patricia Schmidt reenacting the shooting aboard the yacht
There was great sadness in many corners of the Cuban community as most felt the verdict and the sentence were unjust, A Cuban singer, Bobby Capo even recorded a song about “Patricia” which became an instant hit from Havana to Miami. Patricia was quoted in news articles saying she cried the first time she heard it as the song referred to her variously as a “beautiful swallow” or a “ little dancer who would someday dance again”. The chorus says “Your love was sincere and your pardon will come from the heavens”. A pardon did come, but not from the heavens.
In a surprise decision 10 months later, in October of 1948, the President of Cuba, Grau San Martin granted a full pardon to Patrica Schmidt and she was released from custody after serving just 18 months of a 15 year sentence. It is still not fully understood just what led to that ruling. It was stated that in some newspaper accounts that because Grau San Martin was leaving office, having been defeated in recent election he was granting pardons while he could do so and had always been interested in the case involving Patricia Schmidt.
However that call of sweet freedom came about, Patricia Caroline Schmidt, 23 years of age, left her cell at Guanabacoa women’s prison and was on her way back to her hometown of Toledo.
Patricia leaving her cell and greeting cellmates.
Never one to shy away from the cameras, Patrica Schmidt arrived home at Toledo’s Municipal Airport in Lake Township to the flash of cameras as she disembarked from the plane, wearing a big smile and a full length fur cape.
Patricia “Satira” Schmidt arriving home at Toledo Municipal Airport Oct 1948.
She said she was ready to reunite with family and friends, but her reunion in Toledo did not last long. After a week in the Glass City, Patricia departed once more. Trying to resume her previous life and perhaps capitalizing on her newfound fame, Patricia sought work on the stage as a dancer, once again using the exotic act of “Satira”. And it didn’t long for her to find work, this time billed as “ The girl who ran into a little trouble down south”. Some papers reported that she was being offered as much as $3,000 a week to perform. Rumors were rampant that she and John Lester Mee’s widow, Mary Dixon, also an exotic dancer, might team up for a tandem act. But Mary Dixon would have none of it and it never came to pass. The glare of the footlights and the newfound fame managed to last for a few years, but soon she was back to a regular grind, playing mostly small clubs in the Chicago suburbs and around the Midwest. She did manage to score some big time print as some entertainment reporters sought her out for interviews about her life and her experiences in Cuba. The famous entertainment columnist Earl Wilson even spent some time with Patricia to discuss what the future might hold for this young woman. The Milwaukee Sentinel allowed her to write a first hand account of the drama that defined her young life.
But, as with many meteoric careers, by the early 1950’s, the story of Satira was over. It was yesterdays news and she all but fell off the face the show biz planet. She no longer in the headlines and was no longer a headliner. By the early 1950’s, Satira the dancer vanished. It puzzled me and left many questions. Did she die young and obscure? Did she get married and get out the business. Did she come back to Toledo and settle down to a quieter and less conspicuous life in her hometown of Toledo? The answers were not easy to find. And so this is where I left the story of “Satira” four years ago on Toledo Gazette.com, as it appeared that little was known, if anything, of what had become of this young woman from Toledo captured both hearts and imaginations around the world.
Patrica Schmidt: A Life of Mysteries, Movies and Secrets.
Fast forward to 1988, 35 years later and the lost threads of Patrica Schmidt’s life were in full view for everyone to see. She was hiding. In plain sight.
Without going into the weeds as to how I managed to find those loose strands of her life that led me to some answers, suffice it to say, it took many hours of poking around old government records, obituaries, photos, newspaper clippings, a thousand Google searches, the brain picking of other history researchers, and as always, a bit of luck.
Patricia Schmidt had become Patricia Van Ingen and Patricia Van Ingen, towards the end of her life, became a movie actress. Not a major star, or celebrity, but a bit part player most notably in the roles of Native American women. Her list of motion picture and TV credits is lengthy and it is very likely that millions of Americans had seen her in various roles including a couple of stints on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, or in movie roles such as Wind River (2000), or the Road Ends (1997). She was also featured in small roles in numerous TV shows such as the American Playhouse TV Series in the 1989 production of “Land of Little Rain”. Patricia also appeared as a main character in a TV episode of Rosanne in 1995.
Her IMDB(International Movie Data Base) is as follows:
1995 Siringo (TV Movie)
Was Patricia Native American?
This new Native American identity for Schmidt is at best curious, at worst, fraudulent.
With her high cheek bones and unique facial structure and dark complexion, she was able to pass easily as Native American, and while filming her last movie(Wind River) with American Indian Movement leader Russel Means she spoke to the press about the need for accuracy and authenticity in movies that deal with Native American themes. In another interview she talked about her mother’s Cherokee heritage. After considerable research I have been unable to verify through my genealogy searches that she has any Native American heritage. Her father was second generation German. Her mother, Elsie Petit, was French Canadian. Perhaps there is a link there, but I’ve been unable to ascertain it.
How did she become Patricia Van Ingen?
You may be asking yourself how and when she acquired the surname of Van Ingen? Another mystery. For I can only report that Social Security records indicate that Patrica Caroline Schmidt, born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925 to John and Elsie Schmidt, died in February of 1999 in Hollywood California under the name of Patrica Van Ingen. To this date, I have been unable to determine if Van Ingen was a married name, although it would seem to be the case, and herein lies another secret about her life for there seems to be no public record of such a marriage.
And if she was indeed married to some named Van Ingen during her life time, then she possibly married into one of the most well heeled and powerful families in the nation. And there is reason to believe that may be the case. In my research, I uncovered a passport photo and visa application of Patricia from 1960, which was taken as she was about to embark on a trip to Brazil for a month to work as a sculptor. The visa says that her last name is Van Ingen and gives her address as 1111 5th Avenue in New York at one of the most prestigious addresses in Manhattan, overlooking the lake in Central Park. The address was the home of the Van Ingen family, one of the wealthiest families in the East. This is old-money social-register DNA and by 1960, Patricia is identified as being a member of that well-to-do family, at least according to this particular government document. If so, who was she married to? And if she was in fact married to or connected to one of these socially significant Van Ingens, would not such a union seem unlikely? For the young Toledo girl known as “Satira” would have had a “past” of ill fame. Likely to be scorned by the scions of the Manhattan social elite.
Patricia, the Artist and World Traveler
This is one of the many reasons I have been so intrigued with the story of Patricia Schmidt Van Ingen, for it seems that in every chapter of her life she provoked more questions than answers. Another arresting aspect of her life was her time spent abroad. Paris was one of her early stops and may have been the reason why she abruptly dropped out of sight in the 1950’s. I have spoken with people who knew her who say she told them that she spent much of the 1950’s and 60’s living in Paris as part of the ex-patriate American arts colony. It was in Paris where she also said she worked as a model for the famous Man Ray, an American contemporary visual artist who was also residing in Paris at that time. She was reported to have said that it was Man Ray who saw some of her artwork and suggested that she pursue her passion for art. As was noted on her visa application in 1960, Patricia Schmidt-Van Ingen defined herself at that time as a sculptor. Later she did take up painting, on the Internet I was able to find copies of several watercolor pieces. They seem to be sexually inspired and remain untitled.
Life in Old Santa Fe
These painting were, as best I can determine, were done while she was living in the arts community of Santa Fe New Mexico sometime in the 1980’s. It is where she lived in a modest bungalow and made friends with folks in the art and literary neighborhoods. One of those friends she claimed was Forest Fenn, the eccentric Santa Fe art dealer who in 1988 buried a million dollar treasure of bronze and gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and challenged people to find it. So far, no one has. Patricia Van Ingen said she and Fenn were very close friends and it was Fenn who helped her get a bit part in a movie that was being filmed nearby, thus launching her career as an actress. Another art dealer, I spokes with in Santa Fe said she had told him that for a part of the late 1960’s she lived in the town of Almora India at the foot of the Himalayas. At the time, Almora was a gathering place for many celebrities, including the Beatles, who wanted to meditate and find spiritual meaning of their lives.
Pat Van Ingen 1969, Almora India
There is a picture of Patricia Van Ingen posted on the Internet, taken in 1969 in Almora India. There is little doubt in my mind that this woman is the one and only “Satira” or Toledo’s Patricia Schmidt. Just how she found herself in Almora India, and how long she lived there, is yet another battery of questions I would like answers to.
Patricia’s Legacy Continues
Another surprising twist to Patricia’s biography was revealed to me within the past few month as I learned that in Albuquerque New Mexico an annual sports festival featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial race walk for several years. The story, as told by the Sierra Club Newsletter in New Mexico was that the organization was in dire financial straits in recent year and needed someone to step up and help them pay their bills so they could continue operating. Quietly they received notice from Patricia Van Ingen’s estate that the estate would take care of the bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, thus keeping the Sierra Club in business. As their way of showing thanks to this mysterious benefactor, the Sierra Club featured the Patricia Van Ingen 5k Memorial Race Walk in her honor in 2008 and several years thereafter.
Yes, Patricia Van Ingen does have an active estate or trust fund, and from time to time, it has given awards of money to various animal rights groups around the country in Patricia Van Ingen’s name. Just exactly who administers it is not known. At least I haven’t confirmed the name yet and my attempts to reach this person have produced no replies.
Why Was She Hiding?
Quite frankly that has been one of the biggest frustrations in determining “Whatever happened to Satira”? Answers have not been easy to come by. By accident or design, you ask? I am inclined to think the latter, for Patricia s by the late 1950’s managed to successfully conceal her past identity as Satira, the exotic dancer-turned killer and keep it buried forever. Even in her official IMDB from the film industry, there is no photo and no bio. It is blank. Curious? She also played games with her name. It changed numerous times. In the mid 1950’s she changed it to Patricia Dale for awhile, and using that name had an brief flirt with the glamour of Hollywood, when she appeared in an early TV episode of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Five years later, I found living in the upscale Carnegie Hill area of Manhattan using the surname of Van Ingen. And on her visa application to Brazil in 1960, she identified her father as John Dale of Toledo. His name was not Dale, but John Schmidt. Why did she lie? Was she just trying to put the ugly past behind her and move on with her life, or were there other reasons? Questions that I can’t answer, at least not yet. And it is highly likely that those people who knew her in her later life as Patricia Van Ingen, the actress and artist, may have never known the early dark chapters of her life when she was the infamous “Satira”.
As for her family and friends in the Toledo area, more dead ends. Patricia was an only child so no siblings enter the picture. Her father John Schmidt moved to California by the 1970’s to live near her after he retired from his job as an East Toledo pharmacist. He passed away many years ago. As for the Schmidt family in Toledo, she was close to her uncle Daniel Schmidt who lived in East Toledo, but he has passed and attempts to reach members of that family have also yielded no response. One might think that everyone in the Schmidt family would have been keenly aware of Patricia’s life, both during and after her worldwide notoriety in Cuba. So, it’s surprising to me that no one seems willing 60 years later to discuss it. But maybe these are the bones of the past that some families just don’t like to excavate.
Regardless of the obstacles and barricades to Patricia’s truth, I have managed to uncover at least some of the answers as to what happened to the shy little girl from West Toledo’s Belmar Street, who danced her way to infamy. While there are many other questions to be answered, I wanted to reveal what I could at this time to satisfy the curiosity of those who, like me, remain intrigued with this woman and her amazing life story.
If you have questions, please ask them. If you have answers, please provide them. We will keep this story updated as we get new information. I want to thank everyone who has helped contribute information, ideas, hints and encouragement during this journey.