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Joe Arridy was the happiest man on death row

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

That night, Aguilar apparently admitted his guilt to his attorney. The next day, Seavy tried to change his client's plea from not guilty to "not guilty by reason of insanity." The judge refused. The jury took all of 28 minutes to return with the death penalty.

Months later, Aguilar admitted to killing Sally Crumpley, too. By some accounts, police also had a strong case against him for the ax slaying of another Pueblo woman that occurred two years before the Crumpley and Drain murders, in the same neighborhood. He never went to trial in the earlier cases, probably because he was already facing death for what he did to Dorothy Drain. Yet none of these revelations, indicative of a serial killer who worked alone, could derail the prosecution of Joe Arridy.

It was an express, bound for death row.

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.

At Arridy's sanity hearing, a battery of doctors testified about his mental incapacity. Some hedged, though, on whether that meant he couldn't tell right from wrong; the reasoning seemed to be that you need to have a fully functioning brain to become deranged, so an imbecile can't really go nuts. Of greater weight, perhaps, was the testimony of Sheriff Carroll, who claimed that Arridy "shed copious tears" of remorse while confessing to the murder, like a child who knew he'd done wrong. The jury found him sane.

Despite that setback, Arridy attorney Fred Barnard was determined to pursue an insanity defense at trial. He didn't attack the evidence. He didn't call Barbara Drain to testify that she hadn't seen Joe Arridy in her bedroom that night. And, even though Barnard described his client as a "confession maniac" who would admit to anything, the defense lawyer didn't go after Sheriff Carroll, who took the stand five times and demonstrated amazing recall of a confession that was never written down. Carroll's most intriguing admissions came at the prompting of prosecutor Neary, not the defense.

"[Arridy] did not at any time give you a narrative story of what happened, did he?" Neary asked.

"Not very much," Carroll replied.

"You had to, what we commonly say, 'pry' everything out of him?"

"To a certain extent, yes, sir."

Carroll was practically the whole case. Police had failed to match the fingerprints found in the home to Arridy. The women grabbed on the street that night failed to identify him as their attacker. Aguilar's disputed confession implicating Arridy was never introduced. There was a grimy shirt found in the Cheyenne train yards that might have had blood on it and apparently had been worn by Arridy at some point, but the stains were never tested.

The only physical evidence linking him to the crime scene was a single dark hair recovered from the girls' bedding, part of a bloody mass of hairs and fibers collected several days after the murder, stuffed in an envelope and sent to toxicologist Frances McConnell in Denver. McConnell testified that the hair was "identical" to hairs taken from Arridy, that only two people in 500 would have hairs that appeared that similar under a microscope. Yet McConnell also said that the hair's owner was someone of "American Indian" extraction — an assertion that gives some idea of how haphazard the state of forensic hair analysis was in the 1930s, prior to the use of DNA.

A Pueblo pawnbroker testified that he'd sold a gun to Arridy the day of the Drain murder, placing him in town that day. But the man had originally claimed the purchase happened the day before the murder (when Arridy was supposedly still in Grand Junction), and the gun was never found. Like the hair, it was another loose end, something for the jury to puzzle over. Why would the pawnbroker lie? But then, why would a simpleton be buying a gun? How would a recent escapee from an institution get the money for such a purchase?

When it was the defense's turn, Barnard brought in a procession of headshrinkers to testify that Arridy was legally insane. Superintendent Jefferson described Arridy as a chronic masturbator, but one who seemed to have no sexual interest in women and was easily led by others. He classified the boy as a "primary ament," the product of a "diseased germ plasma that never was allowed to unfold" — in short, someone who wasn't nearly as responsible for his actions as, say, a high moron.

The prosecution presented no experts to argue that Arridy was sane. Instead, various police officers were asked their opinion of the accused. They all agreed that he had a lower-than-average intellect but was of sane mind. Sheriff Carroll, who'd told reporters after the arrest that Arridy was "unquestionably insane," now said there was no doubt in his mind that the man knew the difference between good and evil.

The jury found the cops more convincing than the eggheads. An experienced lawman like George Carroll surely knew a bad apple when he saw one. The panel retired for three hours and came back with a sentence of death.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported that Arridy took the news "unflinchingly."

Or maybe he didn't take it in at all.

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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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