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Amid highly publicized security, Arridy was taken to Pueblo and escorted through the Drain home, where he re-enacted the scenario he'd provided about he and Frank turning off lights and attacking the girls. Then he was taken to police headquarters for a confrontation with Frank Aguilar, witnessed by several officers.

"That's Frank," Arridy said.

Aguilar studied his accuser. "I never seen him before," he said.

Found wandering the Cheyenne train yards, Joe Arridy promptly confessed to a notorious Pueblo murder — and other crimes he couldn't have committed.
Found wandering the Cheyenne train yards, Joe Arridy promptly confessed to a notorious Pueblo murder — and other crimes he couldn't have committed.
Sheriff George Carroll called Arridy insane — but changed his opinion at trial; a jury took 28 minutes to find Frank Aguilar guilty of killing Dorothy Drain and sentence him to death.
Sheriff George Carroll called Arridy insane — but changed his opinion at trial; a jury took 28 minutes to find Frank Aguilar guilty of killing Dorothy Drain and sentence him to death.

********

The more Bob Perske learned about who Joe Arridy was, the more convinced he became that Arridy could not have done the things the police insisted he had. The greater mystery was why anyone in authority at the time, who had access to all the same information and more, could have believed he had.

Arridy was born in Pueblo in 1915, the son of Syrian immigrants who were also first cousins. His father, Henry, worked in one of Colorado Fuel and Iron's foundries. The couple had several children who died young. At least one of Joe's brothers who did live, George, was considered mildly retarded — or, as the doctors put it, a "high moron."

Joe was a more severe case. He didn't utter his first words until he was five. After one year of elementary school, his parents were informed by the principal that he was incapable of learning and should stay home. For several years, he did just that — hammering nails, making mud pies, keeping mostly to himself. When he was ten, his parents were persuaded to commit him to the Colorado State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives in Grand Junction.

Perske found the tests Joe took as part of his evaluation at the school. They indicate that he could not correctly identify colors or explain the difference between a stone and an egg. He couldn't repeat a sequence of four numbers. He was described as "slow," with a "stupid, distant look." His examiners considered his father to be of average intelligence; his mother, Mary, was described as "probably feeble-minded."

Henry Arridy regretted putting his son in an institution and took him home after only ten months. But Joe had little supervision there; Henry lost his job and was soon in jail for bootlegging. Joe wandered all over town. At fourteen, he came to the attention of a juvenile probation officer, who wrote a furious letter to the superintendent of the state home, demanding that he be recommitted.

"He is one of the worst Mental Defective cases I have ever seen," the officer wrote. "I picked him up this morning for allowing some of the nastiest and Dirtiest things done to him that I have heard of."

According to the officer, Joe had been "manipulating the penis of Negro Boys with his mouth" and allowing said boys "to enter the 'dirty road' with their penis." ("I would be more technical," the officer explained apologetically, "but do not know the terms.") In another time, Arridy might have been deemed an at-risk teen who'd been sexually exploited by older youths. But in 1929, he was simply a pervert who had to be locked away.

A court sent him back to the state home. He spent the next seven years there, where he learned to wash dishes, mop floors and do other simple chores. The superintendent, Dr. Benjamin Jefferson, regarded him as highly suggestible and vulnerable, often taken advantage of by other boys; at one point, he confessed to stealing cigarettes when he clearly wasn't the culprit. His family asked several times if he could be sent home, but Jefferson responded that Joe's "perverse habits" made it advisable to keep him there. He didn't try to peep at the girls, like some of the boys, but he was inclined to "masturbation, sodomy and oral practices on other boys of his erratic type," Jefferson noted. "His affection is always towards other boys...never towards the female sex."

Shortly after he turned 21, Arridy ran away from the state home, only to return on his own. Then he disappeared again. He was joined in the Grand Junction train yards by three other walkaways. Five days before the Drain murder, they hopped an eastbound freight. The train pulled into Pueblo the next day. That night, they rode it back to Grand Junction. According to one other escaped youth, Arridy was still in the Grand Junction railyard on August 13, 48 hours before the murder. The same youth insisted that he and Arridy didn't make it back to Pueblo until the evening of August 16 — the day after the murder. Then Joe rode the rails alone to Denver and Cheyenne, where Carroll arrested him.

The alibi witness was never called to testify on Arridy's behalf. Perhaps his account was considered unreliable; he was, after all, another "feeble-minded" unfortunate. But how reliable, Perske wondered, was the confession Arridy made in Cheyenne?

The circumstances were certainly suspicious. No one heard the bulk of Arridy's story but Carroll, who made no effort to record it. Arridy started out talking about a club, then it became a hatchet; Carroll knew from the newspapers that it had to be an ax. Arridy didn't start blaming "Frank" for the murder until after Carroll talked to Chief Grady and discovered that Frank Aguilar had already been arrested. And how likely was it that Arridy, who still couldn't get the names of colors right, had provided a detailed description of the Drain home — unless he was prompted in some way?

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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.

 
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