By Robert Perske
These dates and happenings draw heavily from Perske’s research that is reflected in the pages of Deadly Innocence (Abingdon Press, 1995)
April 29, 1915 – Birth of Joe Arridy:
Syrians Henry and Mary Arridy decided to leave an impoverished existence in Berosha, on Mount Lebanon, and immigrate to Pueblo, Colorado, a town with many jobs in a gigantic steel mill. Their arrival and situation were recorded in the 1920 Census. They came with high hopes, even though they knew little of the customs and prejudices in the new country and could not speak a word of English. Into this setting, Joe Arridy was born (14–15).

1921 – One Year of Public School: Joe did not begin to talk until age five. At age six he entered Bessemer Elementary School. Shortly after the beginning of his second year, the principal contacted the Arridy family with bad news. She told them that Joe could not learn and asked them to keep him at home (19).

1922–1925 – Aimless at Home: For almost four years, Joe whiled away his life at home as a shy but good-natured loner. He talked little and did not like to play with other kids. He spent most of his time making mud pies, hammering nails, and wandering around the neighborhood (19, 26–27).

October 30, 1925 – Court Commitment: Things began to fall apart for the Arridys. Henry lost his job at the mill. He agonized over what he could do for his son, who was now ten years old. Neighbors wrote letters on hid behalf and helped him to seek help from the Pueblo County Court (1925 – Peoples Case # 16598,). The court ordered Joe’s commitment to the “Colorado State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives,” an institution 280 miles away in Grand Junction, on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains (25).

1925-1926 — Test Results at the Institution: Formal testing (The 1916 Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Psychological Battery of Tests) showed that Joe usually spoke in two-and-three-word sentences. He was not able to repeat four digits. He remained extremely shy and passive. He said that the color red was black, yellow was yellow, blue was green, and green was blue. He sat silently when asked to tell the difference between a fly and a butterfly, a stone and an egg, as well as wood and glass. He also sat silently when he was asked to name the days of the week. He never initiated any moves on his own. He only tried to respond to the leading of the examiner. Joe was extremely concrete in his thinking and totally unable to think abstractly about anything. The examiner, L. Hopkirk, labeled him “an imbecile”( 26–28).

August 13, 1926 – Father Changes His Mind: After Joe was away from home for ten months, Henry Arridy felt bad about sending his son away. Once more, he asked friends to write letters to the institution requesting that Joe be returned. His wish was granted after the superintendent of the institution drafted a letter that Henry Arridy signed. The letter absolved the institution of any responsibility for Joe (29–30).

1926-1929 – Aimless Again in Pueblo: From ages 11 to 13, Joe returned to self-amusements usually enjoyed by children of a much younger age. He never gave up his passivity and shyness, and he resumed his lonely wandering all over town. He was never known to bother anybody. Even so, others cornered and bothered him.

September 17, 1929 – Arrested and Recommitted: It happened when Joe was 13. After finding Joe being sodomized by a group of African American teenagers, a probation officer arrested Joe. The officer made no further mention about what happened to the group, but he became enraged over Joe’s presence in the community. He wrote an angry letter to the superintendent of the institution, rebuking him for letting Joe come back to Pueblo (31, 32).

1929–1936 – Seven More Years in the Institution: Records show that Joe did not function well enough to ever be included in a school classroom or farm program. At first, he spent most of his time in the day room of his ward. Later, he worked in the kitchen. Reports show that he became close to “Mrs. Bowers,” a kitchen worker. According to her, Joe could “Do tasks of not too long duration; can wash dishes, do mopping floors, can do small chores and errands. He depends on others for leadership and suggestions (p. 39).” Later, Dr. Benjamin Jefferson, the superintendent, testified that Joe never showed any interest in girls (112–115).

August 8–26, 1936 – Freight Trains: During this era of “The Great Depression,” everyone at the institution watched out-of-work men riding in and on the top of freight cars passing by. Many inmates copied the behavior. Arridy, at age 22, tried his hand at it as well:

  • On Saturday, August 8, Arridy and another kitchen worker left work and walked off the grounds. They were gone all night.
  • On Sunday morning, the other inmate boarded a freight train that went west to Salt Lake City, but Arridy wandered off alone.
  • Later on Sunday, three other inmates joined Arridy. They slept in a box car that night.
  • On Monday morning, August 10, the four jumped a freight train heading east through the Rocky Mountains.
  • On Tuesday, 24 hours later, the freight train pulled into Pueblo. Arridy walked away from the others.
  •  That evening, the three boys found Joe who was still in the railroad yards. That night the four took the 24-hour ride back to Grand Junction.
  •  Wednesday night, the four arrived in Grand Junction.  As soon as they got off the train, Joe again wandered away from the others.
  • One resident of the home said he saw Arridy in the Grand Junction railroad yards on Thursday night, August 13.
  • There was no published knowledge of Arridy’s whereabouts for the next seven days. It was within this time frame that Dorothy Drain, 15, and Barbara Drain, 12.were attacked at midnight  while sleeping together in the same bed, in Pueblo at midnight on August 15.
  • At 2:30 p.m. on August 20, Joe appeared in Cheyenne. He walked up to the kitchen car for a Union Pacific “extra gang” in the East Cheyenne, Wyoming, railroad yards. He was dirty and hungry and wanted to work for food. The kitchen supervisors, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Gibson, cleaned him up, washed his clothes, gave him a clean shirt and put him to work washing dishes. When the crew moved to Archer, 9 miles east of Cheyenne, Joe went along. The Gibsons said he didn’t talk very much, and he never started a conversation. Even so, he was valuable as a volunteer dish washer.
  • Six days later, on August 26, the kitchen crew was scheduled to move once more. Because Arridy was not a paid employee, he could not go with the Gibsons. Mrs. Gibson drove him back to the Cheyenne rail yards and said goodbye.
  • Later, on August 26, he was arrested in the Cheyenne railroad yards and charged with vagrancy (47–55).

August 15, 1936 – Midnight Assault: Dorothy, 15, and Barbara Drain, 12, are assaulted while sleeping together in the same bed in their Pueblo home. Dorothy was raped but Barbara was not. Both received blows to the head from what was later known to be a hatchet. Dorothy was killed, but Barbara survived (42–46).

August 2, 1936 – An Earlier Midnight Assault: Sally Crumply, 72, and Mrs. R.O. McMurtree, 48, were attacked while sleeping in the same bed. Both had been bludgeoned on the head. Crumply was killed and McMurtree survived. This crime happened two weeks earlier and only three blocks away from the home of the Drain girls. McMurtree identified the attacker as the lone killer immediately after he had been sentenced to death for murdering Dorothy Drain. His name was Frank Aguilar (45). The police did not pick up on this late connection until after Aguilar’s trial (79).

August 26 – Arridy Arrested in Cheyenne Rail Yards: Around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., Joe was picked up and charged with vagrancy by Railroad Detectives George Burnett and Carl Christianson. They took him to the Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne ( 47–49).

Sheriff Gets Confession: On the first evening that Arridy was in jail, Sheriff George Carroll claimed that he got Joe to say he attacked the Drain girls. Then he called Pueblo Police Chief J. Arthur Grady and gave him the news. After that, he called a newspaper reporter, who put the story on the press wires. The next morning, newspapers up and down the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains heralded the news that Arridy was the lone attacker and that he beat the girls with a club (47–51).

Pueblo Chief Caught By Surprise: Chief Grady already had Frank Aguilar, the real killer, in custody. The police had even recovered the weapon. It was a hatchet head and they found it in Aguilar’s home. If they could get a confession, the case would be complete. Even so, Aguilar vehemently refused to confess to doing the crime.  Carroll testified later that at least five calls were exchanged between him and the Pueblo police chief that night regarding Arridy’s confession. Two detectives jumped in a car and sped from Pueblo to Cheyenne. They were present with Carroll and Arridy later that night and the next morning (47–51).

August 27 – Carroll Corrects Earlier Confession: On the morning after the evening’s first announcement, Carroll told the press about his additional hours of interrogation after the Pueblo officers arrived. According to Carroll, “Arridy kept changing his story.” Finally, “Arridy told the truth.” He said a club was not used in the attack. It was a hatchet head. He also said he did not do the crime alone. He did it “with Frank.” This alleged statement was preposterous for two reasons. (1) Knowing how Joe functioned in tests and being unable to tell red from black, there was no way he could have remembered a person named Frank. (2) Because those  two words purportedly uttered by Joe Arridy came much later, it was an obvious attempt to clean up the story. They had to be “spoonfed” by Carroll in order get a confession that Aguilar refused to give. After all those simple, two-word statements, “with Frank” and “that’s Frank,” served as the confessional connecting link (47–53).

August 27 — Sheriff Carroll and Cheyenne Police Chief Drive to Pueblo With Arridy: After the morning’s final interrogations, Carroll contacted Cheyenne’s Police Chief Joe Cahill. Together they delivered Arridy to the Pueblo Police Department and then to the Colorado State Hospital for safekeeping that night (55, 99).

August 28 — Reenactment at Crime Scene: Carroll testified later that he was in charge of the reenactment. He claimed that Arridy showed in fine detail all the steps taken in the attack – just like he said in his confessions in Cheyenne (p. 55, 100). Other officers did testify briefly, but all of their statements keyed off Carroll’s earlier more definitive statements (50, 51, 55, 56 ).

Pawnbroker Identifies Arridy as Purchaser of a Gun: Later that day, Saul Kahn, the owner of Kahn’s Loan Company, came to the police station, faced Arridy and claimed that Joe purchased a pistol on Friday, August 14 (54, 56). If Arridy did purchase the gun, no one knows what happened to it. Also, inmates at the institution were not allowed to have any cash, so if he did pay for it, where did he get the money?

Arridy Faces Aguilar: Later, at the police station, Aguilar was brought into the room. Carroll asked Arridy who he was. Again, he responded with two words: “That’s Frank.” Aguilar exclaimed. “I never seen him before” (101).

August 29 – Arridy Falsely Identified as Colorado Springs Attacker: Chief Hugh Harper told the press that Arridy attacked Helen O’Driscoll on August 23. She viewed Arridy’s picture and made a positive identification. The chief announced that he and O’Driscoll would come to Cañon City prison the next day where Arridy was then being held. She would do a face-to-face identification. The situation turned out to be awkward. It slowly became clear that Arridy did not attack O’Driscoll on August 23. On that day, Arridy was washing dishes in the railroad kitchen in Cheyenne (57–58).

September 2 — Aguilar Gives Transcribed Confession – Then Recants: It was Aguilar’s fifth grueling day of interrogation at the Cañon City Prison. Aguilar gave a “confession” that was transcribed and published in its entirety in the next day’s Pueblo Chieftain. Later, Aguilar recanted, saying that Warden Best came to his cell earlier and told him that terrible things would happen if he “did not talk.” (60–66)

Arridy’s Presence at Aguilar’s Transcribed Interrogation Puzzling: During the whole stenographic session, no word from Arridy was recorded. There were only six brief questions directed at Aguilar about Arridy in the five typed legal-sized pages. They were seeded throughout the document. If Arridy was present, as claimed by District Attorney French Taylor, and if he was as “highly verbal and well focused,” why didn’t Taylor turn to him and asked him to answer these questions instead of addressing them to Aguilar (60–66).

Q. While you and Joe were at the house, you got the hatchet?
A. Yes.

Q. Did you and Joe hide there in the bushes?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. When you got up from finishing assaulting the big girl what did Joe do?
A. I got out on the side.
Q. Then Joe assaulted the girl, didn’t he.
A. Yes.

Q. Did you put [the hatchet] at the side of the house in a basket?
A. Yes.
Q. Was Joe with you then?
A. Yes.
Q. Did Joe stay with you all night or did he leave?
A. He left.

Q. Did you tell Joe to keep quiet about this?
A. Yes.

Q. Did you see Joe after that?
A. No.

Aguilar’s complete transcribed confession is printed in Deadly Innocence (60-66).

The Signing of the Stenographic Confession Is Puzzling: Aguilar signed the transcript with an “X.” The signatures of six witnesses followed Aguilar’s mark. Interestingly, Joe signed “Arrdy” in very small letters at the bottom of the last page and in the left margin. No witnesses signed after him. Also, if Arridy had been in the room during the confession, one would think he could answer questions for himself, but that did not happen.

District Attorney Claims Transcript of Aguilar “Serves as the Confession of Both Men:” At Arridy’s trial, Arridy’s, the prosecutor withdrew it before the jury could hear it, and as strange as it may seem Arridy’s defense lawyer failed bring it up. (65–66, 106).

September 9, 1936 – Sheriff Carroll Fishes for Congratulations From Colorado Governor – And he gets It: In the papers of Governor Ed. Johnson, now housed in the Colorado State Archives one can find a September 9, 1936, telegram from Sheriff Carroll. It said, “Sincere congratulations. You sure got the job done. On September 10, the Governor sent a letter to Carroll. In it, he said, “All of Colorado appreciated the splendid job you did solving the Drain murder case in Pueblo . . . If I were to suggest something to the underworld, I would advise them to detour around Cheyenne because of Sheriff George J. Carroll and Chief T. J. Cahill” (117).

November 27 – During Aguilar Trial, Father of the Drain Girls Describes His Secret Interrogation: Riley Drain told the jury that he and Barbara visited Aguilar in Cañon City on November 27. He did it because Frank Aguilar worked on a WPA project that Drain supervised. It took place in front of the Drain home, and Aguilar knew Dorothy and Barbara Drain. District Attorney Taylor and Warden Best were present.

Riley Drain testified that Aguilar described how he was on Northern Avenue, started to go to a show, changed his mind, and bought a half pint of whiskey. Later he said it must have been muscatel wine. He said he was drunk and went home and lay down. Later when a man came to inquire about some money Aguilar owed him, Aguilar went with him to Northern Avenue. And there he met Joe Arridy. They went home and got the hatchet. Then Aguilar detailed what he did. Shortly after, he recanted all he said. Again he claimed that Best had come to his cell earlier and told him if he didn’t confess, “there would be a dead Mexican” (76).

November 29 – In Aguilar’s Trial, Toxologist Claims that Arridy is Connected to the Crime by a Single Hair: Dr. Frances McConnell, a toxologist with Denver hospitals who studied hay fever and the common cold, said that on August 26, around 4:00 p.m., a mass of hairs from the bedding at the August 15th crime scene was hand delivered to her office. (This was the same evening that Sheriff Carroll began to interrogate Arridy.) Later, a registered envelope arrived in the mail on August 31st. It contained hairs pulled from the head and chest of Arridy. The envelope was mailed from Sheriff Carroll’s office on the morning of August 27 (the time Arridy was being interrogated for the second day).   McConnell testified that hair from Arridy matched a single hair from the girls’ bedding. She also said it belonged to a person of the American Indian race. This was the only physical evidence that eventually connected Arridy to the murder of Dorothy Drain. McConnell’s method of processing and matching the hairs has now been discredited by modern forensic scientists. At that time, however, it was that single hair from Arridy that solidified his “spoonfed” statement, “That’s Frank” that led to death sentences for both men (107-108).

December 1, 1936 — Barbara Drain’s Dramatic Move in Aguilar Trial: On the witness stand, Barbara described “a man” who entered the room and attacked her sister and her. Then, the prosecutor asked Barbara to “take him to the man” who assaulted her. Barbara stepped down, walked across the room, stood in front of Aguilar, and pointed to him as “the man” who attacked her. Barbara Drain did not make such a dramatic identification later in Arridy’s trial. She did not even attend Arridy’s trial (78-79.

December 22 – On Last Day of Trial Aguilar Admits He Killed Dorothy Drain: He changed his plea to “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.”  The motion was overruled.

December 22 – The Jury Quickly Votes Guilty (79).

December 22 – Judge Sentences Aguilar to Death (79).

December 22 – Only After the Death Sentence, Aguilar is Identified as the Lone Attacker of Crumpley and McMurtree: It happened when Mrs. R.O. McMurtree was brought face-to-face with Aguilar. She immediately identified him as the lone attacker, of her and the murderer of Sally Crumpley,that that took place two weeks earlier than the Drain attack and only three blocks away from the Drain home. Sadly, this identification came too late for releasing charges against Joe. Had it taken place in the police station before Carroll telephoned the news about Joe to Chief Grady, things might have ended differently (79).

February 8, 1937 — Arridy’s First Sanity Trial Begins: At the beginning of Colorado v. Arridy #24733, the defense lawyer asked for a sanity trial, and he got it. The question before the court: “Does the accused have the capacity to tell good from evil and right from wrong.” If he can’t, it would be ruled that he was insane. Three psychiatrists took the stand and tied themselves in knots over this question. Being psychiatrists, they believed strongly that one had to be normal in order to be insane later. They claimed that Arridy was never normal, so he couldn’t be insane – but he still could not tell right from wrong!

February 9 — Joe Arridy Placed on the Witness Stand for the One and Only Time: He sat on the witness stand for better than an hour. The trial transcript contains 17 pages showing what he said and how he said it. Six segments from the testimony of Arridy:

   By Defense Lawyer:
(When being sworn to tell the truth)
Q. Joe, do you know what an oath is?
A. No.
Q. Do you know who this man is speaking to you here (indicating the clerk of the court).
A. I don’t think so.
Q. What did he say to you; do you know what he said to you?
A. No.

Q. Joe, who is Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Do you know who he is?
A. I don’t guess I know.
Q. Do you know who George Washington was? Have you ever heard of George Washington?
A. No.

   By Prosecutor:
Q. Do you know Dorothy Drain?
A. No I don’t.
Q. Did you ever know her?
A. No.

Q. Where is your father?
A. Home.
Q. Your father is at home, is that right, Joe?
A. Yes.
Q. Isn’t that your father there? (indicating)
A. Uh-huh.
Q. He isn’t home then, is he?
A. No,
Q. Do you know Frank Aguilar?
A. No, I don’t know him.

Q. (Pointing to three psychiatrists) What were they doing today?
A. Talking.
Q. Talking about what?
A. Talking about me.
Q. What about you?
A. Oh something?
Q. Don’t you know what they were talking about?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. Do you know Dorothy Drain?
A. No.
Q. Never heard of her?
A. No.

Q. Did you ever see a hatchet, Joe?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. Never saw a hatchet?
A. Never saw a hatchet.
Q. Do you know what a hatchet is?
A. No

Perske published the transcript in its entirety in small print on six pages (pp 83–89).

February 11, 1937 — Jury Votes That  Arridy is Not Insane:  The case went to the Jury at 2:30 p.m. By 9:00 p.m. they were deadlocked at six to six. One hour later they came out with their verdict that forced Arridy to go on trial for his life. Interestingly, the Pueblo Chieftain hearing Arridy’s testimony, the psychiatrist’s professional view (“He’s not insane, but he doesn’t know right from wrong”), followed by numerous police officer observations (“He looked normal to me”), the jury voted Arridy wasn’t insane. The Pueblo Chieftain summed it up with a banner heading:

“Alienists Testify Arridy Has Mind Of A Six-Year-Old – State Hospital Physicians Tell Jury Boy’s Not      nsane – Just An Imbecile” (82).

April 12, 1937 – Joe Arridy Goes On Trial. Defense Lawyer Asks Permission to Use His Defense Time by Delivering One More Insanity Argument. He opened his case with five announcements:

1. He refused to present an evidentiary case.
2. He would only cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.
3. He requested that the judge set aside the earlier not-insane verdict.
4. He sought to argue that Arridy was insane one more time.
5. He requested permission to make his opening argument after the prosecution completed its evidentiary case and at the beginning of the defense lawyer’s second sanity defense.

The Judge agreed to the plan (92).

April 13 – Dorothy Drain’s Father Testifies Early In the Arridy Trial and Makes No Mention of Arridy: In great detail, Riley Drain described his home—the layout of rooms, the placement of furniture and light switches, and even the color of the walls. Then he described what happened on that fateful night: preparations for going with his wife to a dance, coming home, the screams for help, the taking away of Barbara but leaving Dorothy, his walking out the door with Dorothy in his arms. It was a tearful and anguished presentation (Colorado v. Arridy, pp. 19–21). Even so, he makes no mention of Arridy. There is no reporting of face-to-face visits with Arridy like those with Aguilar. He did not testify in the Arridy trial again. Barbara made no dramatic walking-up-to-Arridy and pointing to him as an attacker like she did with Aguilar. Also, we learn later that Riley Drain did not witness Arridy’s execution like he did Aguilar’s.

April 14-18, 1937 — Sheriff Carroll Becomes Key Presenter of Evidence Against Arridy: The trial transcript and newspaper articles show how this famous sheriff became the central force in Joe’s trial. He was the lone interrogator in Cheyenne. He served as the leader when Arridy was purportedly reenacting the crime at the Drain home. He took leadership in describing Joe’s first face-to-face meeting in the Pueblo police station. During the trial, he took the witness stand five different times. The transcripts show in page after page how Carroll was allowed to launch forth as a riveting storyteller with the prosecutor possibly so moved by it all, he often forgot to ask questions. Carroll did not use a single page of notes or documents. When others did testify against Arridy, they only seemed to let their statements mimic what Carroll had said earlier in their presence (93-101, 115).

Carroll Presents Arridy as Much More Articulate Than When He Appeared on the Witness Stand: The Arridy who spoke for himself in that courtroom during the first sanity hearing was a far cry from the one Carroll claimed to have interrogated. For example, Carroll asked him about the bedroom where the crime was committed: The following is Carroll’s of Arridy’s response:

He said there was a door in the room, a dresser in the room, a closet in the room, and he said there was some dresses hanging on the wall, that one was red and one was a blue dress. I asked him the color of the nightgowns. He first said they were white, then later on he said that one of them was a kind of pink. It was not pure white. I didn’t know whether those answers were correct or not (Colorado v. Arridy, p. 89).

Carroll Claims Arridy Shows Great Remorse:

The prosecutor asked Carroll, “At the time Joe Arridy first admitted complicity, what were his reactions?”
Carroll: “He was very sorry, he said, and cried about it.”
“How many times did he cry after that?”
“I would say three or four times.” (93, 115)

Carroll Testifies Regarding the Reenactment at the Drain Home:

Carroll: Just as we come into the door, I asked him where he turned up the light. He reached over and up under the shade, lamp shade, and turned on the floor lamp light. Then we asked him to go over the same route that he did the night of the murder in the bedroom. He went directly through the parlor, through the kitchen into the hall, and to the left of the bedroom where the murder had occurred. When we got in there, I asked him to show me how he turned on the light in there. He walked up and turned on the globe light that hung from the ceiling (95–96)

Carroll Describes Confrontation at Police Station:

Carroll: After that [Arridy] was brought back and held in Chief Grady’s office while Aguilar was brought in. There had been nothing said previously to that with reference to the case, but Aguilar was brought into the office. [A city attorney] asked [Joe] who that was. He said, “That’s Frank.” Frank spoke up and said, “I never seen him before.” (95)

Toxologist Appears Again With That Single Hair: Again, Dr. Frances McConnell, a toxologist with Denver hospitals who studied hay fever and the common cold, reported as she did in Aguilar’s trial. She testified that hairs from the crime scene were hand delivered around 4:00 p.m. on August 26 (on the first day Carroll interviewed Arridy). Then hairs pulled from Arridy arrived by registered mail on August 31. They had been mailed from Carroll’s office on his second interrogation of Arridy. Then she testified that a single hair from the crime scene batch matched Arridy’s hair. Once more she opined that the hair was related to “The American Indian” She did not pay attention that Arridy was of full-blooded Syrian descent (107-108). Again it needs to be said that this specific type of hair identification practice has long been discredited in modern courts.

Pawnbroker Saul Kahn Changes the Date That Arridy Bought a Gun: He testified that Arridy purchased it on August 15, “at four or five o’clock in the afternoon” on the day of the crime. Earlier, in the police station on August 27, he identified Joe and he claimed that Joe bought the gun on August 14, the day before the crime. This change may have been influenced by the fact that Arridy was seen in Grand Junction on the evening of August 13. If he boarded a freight that evening, the 24-hour ride would get him into Pueblo too late to make the purchase on the 14th (54, 109-110).

After Prosecution Rests, Defense Begins Second Sanity Hearing and Finally Makes an Opening Statement: The Defense Attorney stated:  

Our testimony will show that this young man was incompetent, was so insane as not to know what he was doing; so insane as not to know what he was saying to the officers, that he could be led into saying anything people wanted him to say or admitting any crime he is charged with, and it will further show that when his purported confession or statement was taken from him by these officers. . . . His mind is so weak, he is so insane that there is no question about voluntariness or involuntariness of the statement which George Carroll testified to” (111),

The Three Psychiatrists Return With a Fourth Physician: Institution superintendent Dr. Benjamin Jefferson led off. He testified that Arridy was “phlegmatic” and “droll.” He usually spoke only in three-word sentences. He showed no interest in females. But he did tend toward a “perversion” called masturbation. He was watched closely in staff attempts to see if he was a “peeping tom” with regard to women. They found no such evidence. Also Arridy exhibited nothing of a criminal nature. Then Dr. Jefferson asked to read a prepared statement that he wrote the day before. It contained the following explanation.

. . . I have classified him as a primary ament . . . That is, [having] a diseased germ plasma that never was allowed to unfold, but has inflicted upon this boy abundant damage all of his life. This condition, through habit and all, has followed him through environment on up . . . These things have all been gone into and that is the reason for my placement of him, as I did, a high-low imbecile, hereditary . . . He does not have it as the high moron, who is absolutely a moral deviate, and is absolutely responsible for his acts in a higher degree than they are. (113–114)

The Three Psychiatrists Repeat Themselves: Once again they claimed that Arridy did not know right from wrong, but they refused to testify that Arridy was insane. Once again, no expert for the defense uttered a single sentence showing whether they thought he did or didn’t commit the crime (112–115).

Sheriff Carroll Trumps the Physicians: After touting his 30 years of experience and claiming that he interrogated Arridy for what he now said was “six or seven hours,” Carroll was asked by the prosecutor, “Based on your experience [is] Joe Arridy capable of distinguishing right from wrong?” Carroll answered, “I think there is no doubt, whatever, but what he is.” (115)

April 17, 1937 — Arridy Found Guilty: According to The Pueblo Chieftain:
Arridy received the verdict unflinchingly as he sat in the courtroom under the watchful eye of Rudolph Martin, warden of the county jail, where he had been quartered during the trial. Seemingly, he took no notice of the pronouncement of the death sentence . . . . Only his eyes shifted uneasily and became somewhat red. They were still red several minutes later as Sheriff Lewis Worker led him away to the car that sped him to the death house at Canon City penitentiary, although he was able to grin sheepishly at deputy sheriffs who spoke to him in the hallway. (p. 115)

August 13, 1937 — Aguilar is Executed: His death came only two days short of a year from the murder (119-120).

Sheriff Carroll and Two Railroad Detectives Receive $1000 Reward: It happened at a Colorado and Wyoming sheriff’s convention that was being held in Pueblo, on the same day that Aguilar was executed. An excerpt from the citation statement:

Whereas Joe Arridy was arrested near Cheyenne, Wyoming by George R. Burnett and Carl M. Christenson, special officers, and George J. Carroll, sheriff of Larimer County, Wyoming, and

Whereas the subsequent confession obtained by said officers from Joe Arridy resulted in his conviction of Frank Aguilar of said crime, now therefore be it resolved by the Council of Pueblo

That since George J. Carroll, George R. Burnett and Carl M. Christenson, by their action in said arrest and subsequent confession fully met the terms of the offer of said reward, are entitled to the same , , , (and the citation goes on) (118).

Riley Drain Attended Aguilar’s Execution. Later, he was not present at Joe Arridy’s.

April 17, 1937 to January 6, 1939 —  Warden Roy Best Befriends Arridy: The Pueblo Chieftain, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News posted numerous stories about their relationship. It included gifts from the warden—a red toy car with battery powered headlights, picture books, and scissors for cutting out pictures in magazines.

Best gave Joe a toy train for his last Christmas present. Since lights are never turned out on death row, Joe was on the floor, running the train, shouting exclamations like “Train Wreck! Train Wreck!” night and day. There is evidence that other inmates gladly tolerated such actions and befriended him just like the warden did.

There is evidence that Arridy had been to the warden’s home and had befriended the warden’s nephew who lived there. Warden Best’s wife, Mable, made a canister of ice cream that Arridy wanted for his last meal. Best told The Denver Post reporter Jack Carberry that Arridy was the happiest man who ever lived on death row (125-128).

Attorney Gail Ireland, Working Quietly With Best, Gets Nine Stays of Execution Within Two Years: Included in these actions (Perske, pp 129–135):

  • Ireland argued that Fremont County, the county in which the prison is located, has jurisdiction over Arridy. The Fremont County judge agreed and ordered a sanity trial over whether Arridy’s life should be spared. According to The Denver Post, Roy Best attended the hearing and “made no secret of the hope that Arridy’s life would be spared.”
  • Colorado’s Attorney General rushed to State Supreme Court and filed a writ of prohibition against Fremont County. The ruling stated that Pueblo County—not Fremont County—had jurisdiction over Arridy’s life.
  • Ireland rushed to the State Supreme Court and filed for a stay until January 2, 1939. It was granted.
  • Ireland wrote a letter to institution Superintendent Jefferson and tried to enlist his last minute help. In the letter, Ireland stated:

Sometime ago, I wrote you but never got an answer from you. . . . In case you do not know what has happened, I will give you a brief outline. . . . I spent a lot of time with Roy Best and his sympathy is with all of us. . . . If Arridy actually participated in the crime of murder, I would not feel as I do, but since the evidence in the case, as well as the confessions of Aguilar, clear him of any such question, I feel that you and I are doing the State of Colorado a real service if we can keep it from committing a murder itself. . . . Please let me hear from you at your earliest convenience. (130)

In this statement Ireland makes it clear that he believes that Arridy is innocent, but it was too late to ever go back and put on an evidentiary defense. Therefore, he had to charge forward with one sanity petition after another (130).

Rapid Fire Efforts Are Exhausted.

  • Superintendent Jefferson did respond in the last days, but his statements differed from the rest. He still viewed Arridy as a walking piece of diseased germ plasma. He gave legal officials and the press his famous “Joe-is-one-of-my-children-and-he-belongs-in-my-institution” speech. Then he used the occasion to plead to state officials that Colorado needed a law that would sterilize persons like Arridy.
  • Ireland announced that he would file for a sanity hearing in the Pueblo County Court right after the New Year.
  • Before he could do it, the judge in Arridy’s two sanity hearings in Pueblo made a surprise visit to Arridy at Canon City on December 31, the morning of New Year’s Eve. He stayed with Arridy for 15 minutes. He then announced to the press that he “found no change in his condition, and therefore he is sane now.”
  • That afternoon, Ireland responded by filing for one more sanity hearing in the Pueblo County Court.
  • On January 2, Pueblo Judge Leddy denied Ireland’s last petition.
  • The execution was scheduled for January 6, 1939.
  • Ireland filed a plea for clemency with Governor Teller Ammons.
  • On January 6, at 4:00 p.m., the State Supreme Court requested time to ponder clemency one more time.
  • Governor Teller Ammons called at 6:00 p.m. and requested that the Supreme Court make a decision soon.
  • At 6:15 p.m., the Supreme Court called. The Court voted 4-3 that Ireland’s last petition be denied.
  • Governor Ammons called ten minutes later and told Best that he would not grant clemency. He ordered Best to carry out the execution. (132–135)

The Chaplain Announces That  Arridy Will Be Administered “The Rites of the Child.” Reporter Jack Carberry described the ritual in The Denver Post:

Joe’s last meal was taken with Father Schaller. It was a bowl of ice cream. Then Father Schaller gave last rites. . . . He recited prayers and asked Joe to pray with him. . . .

“Now, Joe, you follow me – say what I say.”
“Our Father,” said Father Schaller.
“Our Father,” said Joe.
“Who art,” intoned the priest.
“Who art,” repeated Joe.

You see, Joe Arridy couldn’t remember the full line. . . . He had to repeat it two words at a time. . . . The priest said his church’s “Hail Mary” the same way. Then he talked to Joe as a father might talk to a little son. (136)

JOE GIVES AWAY HIS POSSESSIONS: Joe wanted to take his train with him, but others talked him out of it.  He gave it to his inmate friend Angelo Agnes – then he asked for it back to play with until officials came to get him. He gave his shiny dinner plate to the warden. He asked the warden to give his toy car to his nephew, Buddy Best. (136).

“THE WOODPECKER WALTZ”: That is what every inmate in the prison called the last walk a death row inmate took – walking up Woodpecker Hill to where the gas chamber was in those days. (Interestingly, that is now the title of a movie script written by Dan Leonetti and being prepared for the big screen by producers Max and Micheline Keller.

While walking to the gas chamber, Best asked Arridy if he was still going to raise chickens in heaven. Arridy got the idea after hearing the other death row inmates talk about their next-life vocation. Now, however, he said, he was going to play a harp. He got this idea from Father Schaller a few minutes earlier.

The entourage approached the gas chamber, a one-room shack on a hill with a large picture window for observers on the front side. Officers led Arridy into the chamber, guided him to the chair and strapped him in it. The warden remained at his side and held his hand. During all of this time, Arridy was smiling. The grin left his face when the  black bandage was placed over his eyes. He seemed puzzled, but the grin returned when Best took his hand and reassured him. Then all the officials left the chamber except Father Schaller, who with tears in his eyes, took Arridy’s hand and bid him goodbye.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

March 28, 1992 – Poem Ignites a Fresh Interest in Joe’s Case. 53 years after Joe’s execution, Sociologist Richard Voorhees discovers a poem describing a warden shedding tears over an inmate he was about to execute. It was entitled, “The Clinic” and was found in an out-of-print book “, in an out-of-print book, Moderate Fable (Renal & Hitchcock, New York, 1944). Voorhees sends the poem to Perske who sends it to Archivist Watt Espy. Espy identifies Joe as the inmate that the poem described. He sends a packet of information on the Arridy Case.
1992-1994 – Perske Moves Up and Down the Rocky Mountain Slopes Collecting Information on Joe Arridy. His stops included newspaper offices, state and county offices, libraries and historical organizations.
1995 – Deadly Innocence? The Story of Joe’s Life and Death is Published by Abingdon Press. Reporter Pete Strescino reviewed the book for The Pueblo Chieftain. The book and the review gave rise to a number of angry letters to the editor in Pueblo newspapers.
1996 – After Reading the Book and Strescino’s review, Dan Leonetti Writes the Filmscript, “The Woodpecker Waltz.” The script won national awards and has been the subject of numerous discussions with film makers.
2006 – The Arc of the Pikes Peak Region Provides a Home Base for All Who Worked on the Arridy Case. Executive Director, Teddi Roberts and her staff members opened their arms to the handful of persons who cared about what had happened to Joe. They provided liberal funding and support for the effort.
2007 – Thanks to the Arc of the Pikes Peak Region, the Group Becomes Known as “The Friends of Joe Arridy. The Arc encouraged “The Friends” to dream up special projects that could be carried out in memory of Joe
2008 – The Friends Replace Rusty Motorcycle Plate Grave Marker with a Dignified Tombstone. Arc Street Worker Craig Severa spearheaded the movement to collect money, create a dignified tombstone for Joe and plan the dedication ceremony at the prison cemetery.
Attorney David Martinez Attends the Ceremony. He was moved by all he saw. He decided to go to work on a petion to the Governor, asking for a posthumous pardon. All of the files on the case are transferred to his office in Denver.
2008 – Attorney Anne Treimanis, a Lawyer Dedicated to Cases of Injustice Toward Persons with Disabilities and their Families, Creates Using her own resources she installed it and filled it with news on the case.
2009 – Terri Bradt, the Grandaughter of Attorney Gail Ireland Joins The Friends. Then she wrote Gail Ireland, Colorado Citizen Lawyer. In it she described how her grandfather rfeceived at least six stays of execution before the governor ordered Joe’s immediate death.
October 27, 2010 – Attorney David Martinez Delivers a 523-Page” Pardon Application for Joe Arridy to the Governor of Colorado.
January 7, 2010 – Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. Issues a “Posthumous Pardon” for Joe Arridy. It came exactly 72 years to the day when newspapers announce Joe Arridy’s death. The governor also delivered a three-page press release explaining why he issued the pardon.
February 18, 2011 – Family Members of Joe Arridy Move Out of the Shadows. Two of them made a surprise appearance at a victory rally of The Friends in Colorado Springs.

March, 2011
– Maria Tucker, a Relative of Joe Arridy Receives All Files of the Case and Archives them in the Western History Department of the Pueblo Public Library. No one knew she even existed before she appeared at the rally a few weeks earlier. It was then when all learned that Maria served as Special Collections Manager of the Western History Department of the library.
May 19, 2011 – The Tombstone of Joe Arridy Receives a Added Phrase for the Whole World to See and Ponder. On this day, the friends of Joe Arridy gathered for a second ceremony to dedicate an additional sentence that now had been chiseled into the stone. It said HERE LIES AN INNOCENT MAN.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


As a young man I served as a chaplain in an institution for children and youth with intellectual disabilities from 1959 to 1971. I worked my heart out, trying to be a good pastor to these young persons. I willingly worked longer hours than most staff members did. I still do so today.

I knew many Joe Arridys and I sensed the way they saw their world. They struggled to explain things in concrete terms: “Dr. Cata told me I had a weak eagle,” “My favorite movie was Conan the Ball Bearing,” “Of course, I waved my rights; you don’t wave at the wrong in a police station,” “Where was he stabbed? On his body,” “And the chaplain in the cemetery raised his hand and said, “In the name of The Father, and the son, and in the hole you go.”

To me, such concrete thinking has always been beautiful. It is most beautiful when trusted abstract thinkers surround them, fill in the blanks and expand their views. It can only happen when they are in the midst of persons they actually can trust.

As far as I can tell, Joe never got close to persons like that – until he was placed on death row. He certainly did not get it from, say, the institution superintendent who called him an “ament,” “a person with diseased protoplasm,” “a sex pervert who at one time was caught masturbating,” “a person who should be sterilized.”

On death row, both inmates and guards were more kinder than ever before. Therefore, he trusted them – he really trusted them. That’s why he gave up raising chickens for playing a harp.  That’s why he was indeed “the happiest man on death row.”

That’s why he died smiling. .