Joe Arridy was the happiest man on death row

See also: Eddie Ives's botched execution and replacing the noose with the gas chamber

Perske had to know more. He spent many hours cranking microfilm readers in libraries. He studied long-shelved court records and commitment papers and unearthed confidential files and notes about Arridy's mental status and his life in an institution. The more he read, the less sense it all made. There was plenty of evidence in the case, but precious little of it pointed to Arridy, and nothing was quite what it seemed — least of all the so-called confession.

In 1995 Perske published a modest but solidly researched book about the Arridy case, Deadly Innocence? "All I wanted to do was get the facts down," he says now. "I'm not a brain. I'm not a great writer. But I've been able to document 75 cases where people with disabilities were coerced into confessions and convicted, then found to be innocent. This is the most telling of all the cases I've worked on."

Although it was well received among disability activists, Perske's book drew little attention elsewhere when it first appeared. Yet its publication set a process in motion that would lead to unexpected places. To a screenplay by a Trinidad writer about Arridy's life and death, now under option with a film-development company. To a grassroots campaign to clear his name, launched by a group calling itself Friends of Joe Arridy. And to the first posthumous pardon in Colorado's history, issued by Governor Bill Ritter last year, in the final days of his administration.

America's rites of capital punishment have changed greatly in the past 75 years. A decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that severely retarded prisoners cannot be executed, regardless of their crimes. Such a prospect would be particularly unlikely in Colorado, which has executed only one man in the past four decades. Yet in the wake of the Aurora theater shootings, the state's death penalty is getting dusted off once again, amid speculation that the only possible defense for suspect James Holmes may be an insanity plea.

Faced with no viable legal alternative at the time, Arridy's lawyers contended that he was insane, too. The similarities between the two cases end there. Yet the Arridy case remains a cautionary tale for the ages — a story of grandstanding cops and a rush to judgment, an outraged community and a vengeful press, a serial killer and the perfect patsy.

It's a tale told by an imbecile, full of sound and fury, signifying justice gone insanely, fatally wrong.

********

Around ten in the evening on August 15, 1936, Riley and Peggy Drain said goodnight to their two daughters and drove from their Pueblo bungalow to a benefit dance at a local nightclub. They returned a few hours later to find their world violated and destroyed.

As they headed to their front door, Peggy noticed that the light she'd left on in the front room was turned off. Riley, a local supervisor for the Works Project Administration, rushed to the back bedroom that the girls shared. Their bed, as a prosecutor would later put it, was "literally soaked with human gore."

Fifteen-year-old Dorothy Drain lay motionless on the bed, blood pooling from a deep gash in her skull. Curled up next to her sister, twelve-year-old Barbara was unresponsive but still alive. The coroner would determine that Dorothy had been raped and suffered a fatal blow to the brain from a sharp weapon, such as an ax — quite possibly killed first, then sexually assaulted. Barbara had been bludgeoned in the head, perhaps with the blunt end of the ax, and was in a coma.

The grim scene was remarkably similar to another savage attack on two women sleeping in a bed together that had occurred just two weeks earlier, in a home three blocks away. Sally Crumpley, a 72-year-old woman visiting from Kansas, had been killed while she slept; her host, 58-year-old Lilly McMurtree, had been badly injured. Both women had been struck in the head.

The same night Dorothy Drain was killed, two women in the neighborhood claimed to have been grabbed from behind on the street by a short, swarthy man, described in news accounts as "Mexican," but they had fought him off. Clearly, there was a sex maniac on the loose in Pueblo.

But the Drain crime scene, like the one at the McMurtree house, yielded few clues. Whoever had attacked the girls had entered through the unlocked front door, doused the light, and lit matches to illuminate the way to the bedroom. Police found some smudged fingerprints and a heel print.

Any useful evidence outside the house was quickly obliterated the next morning by the crowds of people milling around, gawking and talking about a "necktie party" for whoever did this. The girls' grandfather, Perry Dunlap, was a former state senator with many friends in the community, and none of them were inclined to take lightly these attacks on Pueblo womenfolk.

"By 9 a.m. word of the tragedy had spread across the city, and hundreds of excited townspeople were standing in front of the residence," Pueblo police chief Arthur Grady wrote in an article for a true-crime magazine, published just months after the killing. "Pueblo has a population of about 50,000, and by 10 a.m. it seemed as though 49,000 of them had swooped down on Stone Avenue."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
24 comments
dudleysharp
dudleysharp

Alan:


You write: "Like Ricky Ray Rector, the lobotomized Arkansas killer who told his executioners that he was saving a slice of pecan pie in his cell "for later," "


A few years back I called Arkansas doc about this. They had no idea what I was talking about.


I suggest it never happened.

The_Yeti_Knows
The_Yeti_Knows

Nothing like glaring injustice and blatant State sanctioned murder of a convenient scapegoat to remind us of how ludicrous the past can be.

Too bad that future generations will tell some similar stories of how backward we've become, tolerating hatred daily, allowing for freedom of speech and expression at the expense of dignity... protecting our outdated right to bear arms at the expense of countless victims of senseless coldblooded( theatre) murder.. Yes... we've come a long way... precisely an inch... coincidentally the length of my friend pikeman's acorn.

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

I would like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with your real name/town. If that's okay, let me know at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

strangerthan_thou
strangerthan_thou

i've been following this story. it's so sad. i'm glad that i don't live in that time, since i also have mental handicaps that would be easy to exploit. good to put this story to rest, especially with the advances we've had in mental health and services in colorado in the past few years. we should always remember our past before we forge forward into the future. 

Mission Supports
Mission Supports

As noted in this must-read article, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, an inmate with an IQ of 61, just last month. The verbal descriptions of "moron" or even "diseased germ plasma" may not be as prevalent today, but the indifferent attitude toward those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities still certainly exists. Thank you Alan Prenergast for exposing this historic injustice toward a segment of our population who need the support of our community more now than ever.

RevBF
RevBF

Awesome story! Sometimes it's interesting to dig up these accounts about the judicial system and notice that it's very rarely changed over the course of hundreds of years. With the new social media platforms - we ourselves are also very much involved in modern day witch hunts. The innocent until proven guilty via popular opinion is far too relevant. Why defend someone who's so unpopular if you're trying to push your own career and agenda? The ideals are very much prevalent still...unfortunately. God bless America... 

aljohn
aljohn

Hopefully this will happen to our own local "imbecile" Corey Donahue AKA Donkey Hotay.

 

Zing!!!

dleonetti
dleonetti

Great Job Alan! Wish you could have got the Frank Aguilar fire in there; we just couldnt track it down. It was a train wreck on all sides, but beautifully written.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I most definitely see where you are going w/ this & I couldn't agree more !!!

I don't care if they compile a million charges , what's RIGHT is RIGHT !!!!

Evita Chase
Evita Chase

I wonder if this is where Stephen King found his inspiration for The Green Mile?

teddiroberts1313
teddiroberts1313

should have said, There is no better man than Robert Perske, and Joe Arridy.

teddiroberts1313
teddiroberts1313

It was such an honor to be involved with Joe's story.  There is no better man then Joe Perske

 

 

teddiroberts1313
teddiroberts1313

It was such an honor to be involved in Joe's story,  He should have never died, the injustice back then was so bad... But thanks to Gov. Ritter, he gave us all an education about the truth. 

 

Legen Dairy
Legen Dairy

He was innocent. Didnt deserve to die.

ghadaway
ghadaway

This story is about my uncle Joe. He was my mother's brother. I never knew about this until after she died this past May, she never talked about her family.

alanprend
alanprend

 @dleonetti Thanks Daniel. I did just recently locate a clip dealing with the fire, some months after Aguilar's execution. His widow not only refused to take his body but abandoned his children. But that's a story for another day...

dleonetti
dleonetti

 @ghadaway

 Cant wait till we meet up in Pueblo, I am trying to finalize a date and time to have breakfast and then motor up to see Joe in Canon City.

alanprend
alanprend

 @ghadaway Thanks for commenting. Did your mother ever mention her other brother, George, who apparently also suffered as a result of this case? I would be very interested in knowing what happened to him.

charenton_
charenton_

@GavotteAndBowel really good! I'm weirdly fascinated by true crime tales.

 
Loading...