Joe Arridy

Pueblo County, Colorado
Date of Crime:  August 15, 1936
Executed January 6, 1939

On Aug. 15, 1936, Dorothy Drain, 15, and her sister Barbara, 12, were hit in the head with the blunt edge of a hatchet in their Pueblo home at 1536 Stone Ave. Their parents, Riley and Peggy Drain, returned after a night out to find Dorothy dying and Barbara in a coma. Dorothy had also been raped. The hatchet was found in the home of Frank Aguilar and he was arrested on Aug 20. Riley Drain had fired Aguilar from his job at a WPA project. Pueblo Police Chief J. Arthur Grady believed all evidence clearly revealed Aguilar was the murderer.

On Aug. 26, Joe Arridy was arrested for vagrancy in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Deputies there thought he was an Army deserter because of the khaki shirt he wore. Arridy, 21, had spent most of his life in Grand Junction, Colorado at the Colorado State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives. When he was 11, his father, Henry Arridy, an illiterate Syrian immigrant, got Joe out of the institution to live with him in Pueblo. But officials returned him when he was 14. A few days before the Drain murder, Arridy left the institution, hopped a train and visited several Front Range cities including Pueblo. While in Pueblo, he could not find his family, who had moved to another house in town. He then hopped a train to Cheyenne.

In Cheyenne, Sheriff George J. Carroll got interested in Arridy when he discovered that he was from Pueblo. The Drain murder had made Pueblo the talk of the region. Carroll had a part in breaking up and arresting members of the Ma Barker gang. He had rescued a rich young Denver man who had been kidnapped. Carroll was famous, but had not had his name in the papers in a while. Carroll said he spent “seven or eight” hours with Arridy, and reported that Arridy gave him details of the Drain murder and expressed remorse for his part.

Aguiler was tried in Dec. 1936. At trial Barbara Drain walked up to the defense table and pointed out Aguiler as the man who killed her sister. Despite being questioned by the prosecution and the defense, she never mentioned Arridy. Riley Drain, the girls' father, testified that he had visited Aguilar in prison where he said Aguilar told him Joe Arridy accompanied him on the night of the murder. Although that testimony was admitted, Aguilar's written confession, signed with an “X,” was not allowed at either his trial or later at Arridy's trials. Aguiler was executed in Aug. 1937.

Arridy had a sanity trial and was found to be sane. But the judge reversed his ruling and granted a new trial that would include the sanity question as well as guilt or innocence. During Arridy's second trial in April 1937, two Colorado State Hospital doctors and Dr. Benjamin Jefferson, who ran the Grand Junction home where Arridy stayed, testified that Arridy would have a hard time ever giving detailed statements such as Sheriff Carroll had described. But, since Arridy was a “mental defective,” the doctors said he was technically not insane. The jury found Arridy guilty of the Drain murder and he was sentenced to death.

After the verdict, Arridy was returned to prison in Cañon City. Warden Best took a liking to Arridy, visited him every day, and gave him a red wind-up train. Arridy happily played with the train during his time on death row. Arridy reportedly had an IQ of 46 and the mental age of a five-year-old. The following discussion was recorded on Dec. 1, 1938: “Don't you [Arridy] want to be killed?” “No, I want to live, I want to live here with Warden Best.” “Don't you want to go back to the home in Grand Junction?” “No, I want to get a life sentence and stay here with Warden Best. At the home the kids used to beat me.” “Would you rather be here Joe?” “Yes I want to stay here, I can't get in trouble here....” “Do you remember after the little girls were killed, you ran to the train, and they arrested you in Cheyenne, Wyoming?” “No, I don't remember that. But I remember the judge wanted to kill me.” “You know what it means to go to the gas house, don't you Joe?” “Yes, they kill you there. But I don't want to be killed. I want a life sentence and stay here all the time.”

Prison officials and the Cañon City community fought to overturn Arridy's death sentence, but the citizens of Pueblo were outraged. Arridy was granted a stay of execution in 1938, but the Colorado Supreme Court voted four to three to continue with the execution. Arridy was executed by lethal gas on Jan 6, 1939. Arridy is subject of a 1995 book Deadly Innocence by Robert Perske. On Jan. 7, 2011 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted Arridy a posthumous pardon.  [5/07]


References:, CCPL

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Colorado Cases, Defendants Executed Before 1976