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"I know an awful lot about the Joe Arridys of this world because I've worked with them in the community all my life," Perske says. "Joe, he never gave any data. This was a case of a sheriff who saw one more chance to be famous."

Much of the "data" Arridy did provide in his confession turned out to be wildly untrue. He said he ran from the Drain home to his family's house, where his mother and sister beat him and kept him in an upstairs room for days. He provided several addresses for his family, none of which panned out; the detectives who tried to check out his story soon learned that his family hadn't seen him in years, and that the bungalow in which they lived had a dusty attic that hadn't been entered by anyone for a long time.

Arridy also confessed to other recent assaults. A woman in Colorado Springs said that a picture of Arridy in the newspaper looked exactly like the man who'd attacked her on August 23, and Arridy readily admitted to the crime. The only problem was that investigators soon determined that he arrived in Cheyenne three days before the Springs assault and stayed there, working with a Union Pacific kitchen crew until he was arrested on August 26. Cigarette thefts, rape, murder — the agreeable Arridy would have 'fessed up to the Lindbergh kidnapping if they asked the question right.

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.

Yet Arridy wasn't the only one telling strange tales about the Drain murder. After first denying that he knew Arridy, Aguilar changed his story, too. Several days into his interrogation, Aguilar gave a statement in which he claimed to have met Arridy in a park a few hours before the murder. The two of them plotted the attack on the Drain girls — Aguilar had already learned that the parents were going out that night — and then carried it out together. Much of the "confession" consisted of terse yes-no answers to leading questions ("Then Joe assaulted the big girl, didn't he?"). Aguilar later disavowed the whole thing, claiming that he'd been threatened and bullied into signing it.

Coerced or not, the statement reeked of desperation, a diversionary tactic by a man who could feel the noose tightening and was eager to share the blame. Perske found it ludicrous. Even if it could be positively established that Arridy was in Pueblo the day of the murder, one would have to believe that Aguilar, the prime suspect in a series of brutal but carefully planned attacks on women, had impulsively recruited a dull-witted stranger, fresh off a boxcar, to join him in his latest homicidal venture. A unique crime of the ages, indeed.

Yet what most impressed Perske wasn't Aguilar's ever-changing story; it was Joe's own words. He was allowed to speak for himself in court only once, for a few brief moments in a sanity hearing, during which the defense argued that he was too imbecilic to know the difference between right and wrong.

In response to a series of questions from the prosecutor and his own attorney, Arridy said he didn't know who Franklin Roosevelt was — or George Washington, for that matter. He didn't know Dorothy Drain or Frank Aguilar. He didn't know what a hatchet was. He didn't know why he was in court. He did know the difference between a dime and a nickel, and he did recognize the doctors from the state hospital who had been on the stand before him, "talking about me."

"What about you?" prosecutor Ralph Neary asked.

"Oh, about something," Arridy replied.

"Don't you know what they were talking about?"

"No. Forgot."

"Can you tell me anything they talked about?"

"I don't think so."

********

The murder of Dorothy Drain touched off waves of hysteria and political recrimination across Colorado, much of it directed at the phantom menace of train-hopping, sex-crazed mental defectives who needed to be put away, if not put down. Governor Edwin "Big Ed" Johnson fired off a telegram to Ben Jefferson, demanding a full report on the Arridy boy and an explanation why "this pervert" hadn't been transferred from the low-security institution in Grand Junction to the state asylum months ago. "Have you any more dangerous persons in your school who should have closer supervision than you are equipped to give?" he blustered.

PEOPLE OF COLORADO BLAMED FOR IMBECILES RUNNING LOOSE, blared a headline in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. The story claimed that the state had six times more imbeciles than could fit in existing institutions: "Some of them are dangerous criminals, and some of them are sex perverts.... Hundreds of them are hidden in homes under the watchful care of loving relatives."

Chief Grady had vowed there would be no lynching; Arridy and Aguilar were kept in cells at the state prison at Cañon City, rather than the Pueblo jail, out of fear of mob violence. But the climate hadn't improved by the time the cases went to trial.

Aguilar went first. His attorney, Vasco Seavy, labored unsuccessfully to exclude his client's multiple confessions, including one Aguilar made to Riley Drain when the grieving father joined in the prison interrogations. But it was another member of the Drain family — young Barbara, who'd spent weeks in the hospital recovering from the beating she received — whose testimony made the case. At DA Taylor's urging, the girl stepped down from the stand, stood in front of Aguilar, and identified him as the man she saw in her bedroom the night she and her sister were attacked. She didn't say anything about a second man.

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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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