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Inmate number 19845 has officially served his sentence: The Story of Joe Arridy

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A mentally challenged Pueblo man gets tried and convicted for a murder under suspicious circumstances and his name isn’t cleared until 72 years after his execution.

In Cañon City, Colorado, just beyond the rows of generic metal plate markers on Woodpecker Hill in the Greenwood Cemetery sits only one large headstone adorned with the picture of a grown man playin…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

A mentally challenged Pueblo man gets tried and convicted for a murder under suspicious circumstances and his name isn’t cleared until 72 years after his execution.

In Cañon City, Colorado, just beyond the rows of generic metal plate markers on Woodpecker Hill in the Greenwood Cemetery sits only one large headstone adorned with the picture of a grown man playing with a toy train. There are plastic flowers stuck into the ground around the base that don’t seem dusty enough to have been exposed to the elements for long and toy trains sit on the ledge.

Joe Arridy, left, listens to warden Roy Best read his death sentence. (Denver Public Library / Western History Collection.)


While it is not necessarily unusual for gravestones to display personal portraits or to be decorated by regular visitors, this particular stretch of graves just happens to be the final resting place for convicts.
Joe Arridy was born in Pueblo, Colorado to Henry and Mary Arridy. Shortly after starting school, it was decided that he could not learn and that it would not be necessary or desired for him to attend with the other children. He would eventually be sent to the State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives in Grand Junction with an IQ of 46. At that time it was a score that would get him classified as an “imbecile” by the professional community.
He spent the majority of his life at the state home where he was described as a quiet boy who could only be assigned simple chores, having to be closely supervised to be kept on task. Often bullied by the other children, he tended to prefer his own company, uninteresting in forming close friends.
Arridy’s father was able to petition for his release for a brief span somewhere between his tenth to fourteenth years which enabled him to stay at his family home in Pueblo, where he could often be found walking aimlessly around town. It didn’t take long before it would be determined that he was to return to the institutional setting where he would remain until 1936.
Back in Grand Junction, Arridy was known to occasionally leave the state home where he had often observed people riding on the tops of trains. He always seemed to make his way back to the institution until the evening of August 13, 1936 when he and at least one other resident had decided to catch a train of their own.

Gifts and mementos adorn Joe Arridy’s gravesite still today. (Photo C.D. Prescott)


In Pueblo, the small, yellow house is still standing where on August 15, 1936, the Drain sisters Dorothy, 15, and her sister Barbara, 12, were fast asleep in the bed they shared when sometime between ten and midnight, an intruder entered their room and violently bludgeoned the girls, sexually assaulting Dorothy and leaving them for dead.
Dorothy did not survive the attack, but Barbara managed to recover and would later identify Frank Aguilar as the perpetrator. Barbara’s father had previously been Aguilar’s supervisor when he had been employed with Works Progress Administration (WPA) designed to employ mostly unskilled men to work on public projects. They were also able to find an axe that belonged to Aguilar with blade irregularities that were concluded to match the wounds on the girls.
Eleven days after the murder Arridy was found in the rail yards in Cheyenne, Wyoming where he would be arrested for vagrancy. When Sheriff George Carroll (who had gained some notoriety from his dealings with the Ma Barker Gang) heard that Arridy was from Pueblo, he came to the conclusion that this, in fact, might be the man responsible for the vicious attack on the Drain sisters. After interviewing Arridy and calling the press, Carroll contacted Pueblo police stating that he had caught the true killer, possessing a full confession of how Arridy had bludgeoned the girls with a club.
Officials were more than a little surprised given that Frank Aguilar was already in custody for the murder, not to mention a completely different weapon was already in evidence.
With this discovery, Carroll claimed that Arridy had actually said that he had been with Frank on the night of the murder and the club suddenly became an axe. After personally delivering Arridy to Pueblo au…
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History

The Last Watchman: The lost story of Colorado’s worst train wreck

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The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historia…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historian Dow Helmers (1906-1976), author of THE TRAGEDY AT EDEN the story of Colorado’s most disastrous train wreck… ’” it begins.
In 1904, dirt roads may have been the main mode of travel, but they made going long distances impractical and often unpleasant, so the idea that a train could smoothly and quickly get you to your destination seemed an attractive choice for the regular traveler to take advantage of the special weekend rates.

The arroyo today. It was near bushes that probably looked a lot like this that Mayfield found the deceased Engineer Hinman after more searching. Many others were not as lucky to have been found. The Gartlands from Denver suffered profound losses. Kate Gartland and 4 of her 5 children were on the train. None survived and 9-year-old Walter was never found. (C.D. Prescott)


Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on that Sunday the 7th of August in 1904. A few scattered rain showers and even cloudbursts were often expected that time of year. The passenger train from Denver to Pueblo was running on schedule and ticket holders were gathering on the platform for their return trip home from their weekend jaunts.
The train was the No. 12 that had just made the trip from St. Louis to Pueblo where it picked up the dining car from the last southbound train and headed to Denver where it would be stocked, cleaned and staffed in preparation for the trip to Pueblo. Now that it would be heading south, it was redubbed the No. 11.
The No. 11 had seven cars including the engine. There was also a baggage car, a coach car, a chair car, two Pullman sleepers and the dining car. The well-regarded Henry Hinman would be the Engineer and his fireman would be David Mayfield. Both men were from Denver.
Passengers boarded and the No. 11 left the Denver station for its date with destiny on time at 5pm. It was in Colorado Springs that Hinman was given a bulletin order to use caution and watch for standing water. At least 50 more passengers also boarded. Many were headed for Pueblo but there were others that would be continuing on to further destinations.
Leaving the station about 5 minutes after the scheduled departure, Hinman carefully followed his orders and would eventually be running at least 15 minutes late. They were due in Pueblo at 8:15pm but were crossing Bridge 110-B over Hogan’s Gulch at almost 8:20pm at no more than 20 miles per hour.
The engine swayed to the sound of cracking timbers as Hinman eased the throttle forward hoping to quickly get to solid ground. The front had just reached the bank when it suddenly stopped, lurched backwards and began to slide into the churning waters below.
A panicked Mayfield managed to jump clear of the falling engine but after being struck by a timber from the bridge, he was washed downstream just far enough that when he crawled ashore, he was still able to see the train’s headlight shining into the sky. After searching and yelling for Hinman, to no avail, he made his way to the Eden Station for help.
Passengers that got out to investigate were immediately stunned to find that the engine, baggage, coach (smoker), and chair cars were gone. The bridge wasn’t simply empty as it was immediately apparent that it had also met the same fate. It was only the automatic air brakes that had kept the remaining cars from following suit.
Being the heaviest, the engine sank like a stone b…
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Colorado

The Baby Bandits: A 1920s crime spree, a shootout in downtown Pueblo and a father’s revenge.

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The near-lifeless body lay sprawled at the corner of 5th and Court, near W.H. Holmboe Loans and a Goodrich tire store. Five bullets hit their mark, striking the small frame of a boy. A dozen gawkers, including newspaper carriers on bicycles, stood just a few feet in front of the gruesome discovery, as a photographer snapped the scene for posterity…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

The near-lifeless body lay sprawled at the corner of 5th and Court, near W.H. Holmboe Loans and a Goodrich tire store. Five bullets hit their mark, striking the small frame of a boy. A dozen gawkers, including newspaper carriers on bicycles, stood just a few feet in front of the gruesome discovery, as a photographer snapped the scene for posterity.
Lester Gonce was 14-years old.

Crowds gather at the corner of 5th and Court streets, to view the body of 14-year old Lester Gonce, who local media dubbed “The Baby Bandit.”


The story of Lester Gonce, known by the local media as “The Baby Bandit,” has been told for the past 90 years, and his antics remain as one of the more infamous crime sprees in Colorado history. The tale of Lester, and his then 18-year old brother, Forest, began the previous year, when the two teens allegedly went on a multi-city career of crime, including horse stealing, burglary, and robbery, across Colorado and Kansas. In April 1926 they were captured and sentenced to the state reformatory school in Buena Vista and the Industrial School for Boys in Golden. By the summer of 1926 the Gonce brothers were back in Pueblo, after they managed to escape both facilities.
Their crimes started up again on Aug. 13, when the boys lured Pueblo County Undersheriff F.R. Daniels and Deputy Sheriff C.L. Fiscus to a secluded road. The lawmen were responding to a report of an abandoned car and were immediately met by the Gonce brothers, who held up the officers, took their money, their guns, and their vehicle. News reports indicated they then used the car to hold up a store in Rye and then looted the YMCA camp in the area. Holding authorities at bay, lawmen enlisted the help of bloodhounds and an airplane to pinpoint the pair’s location. On Aug. 19 they stole a get-away car and eluded the posse once again. The two split up, but the now 20-year old Forest Gonce was quickly captured, after a tip from his uncle alerted law enforcement that he was walking across the 8th street bridge, by Fountain Creek. Meeting with the media, after his capture, Forest attempted to downplay his crime spree and admitted that he and his brother only escaped the reform schools after witnessing beatings of inmates by school officials. He was later sentenced, without counsel, to serve 17 years in Cañon City.
Lester’s freedom would meet a violent end.On the morning of Friday, Aug. 20, 1926, Lester Gonce’s own statement indicated that he stood openly in public, at the corner of 5th street and Court, talking to “Federal Officer Funston and Special Officer Morris” about surrendering. According to his statement, Pueblo County Sheriff Sam Thomas and Deputy Sheriff Fiscus spotted him. Fearing for his safety, Gonce admitted that as he approached Thomas and Fiscus, he reached for his gun. Both Thomas and Fiscus then opened fire — the first bullet, shot by Thomas, struck the boy, which caused him to fall at the corner. According to other reports, Fiscus then fired four shots into the suspect, striking the boy as he lay on the ground. W.H. Holmboe, who witnessed the incident in front of his office, admitted that he didn’t see Gonce fire a single shot.

Present day view of the corner of 5th and Court, the scene of the 1926 shooting. (Photo Lisa Wheeler)


On the morning of Friday, Aug. 20, 1926, Lester Gonce’s own statement indicated that he stood openly in public, at the corner of 5th street and Court, talking to “Federal Officer Funston and Special Officer Morris” about surrendering. According to his statement, Pueblo County Sheriff Sam Thomas and Deputy Sheriff Fiscus spotted him. Fearing for his safety, Gonce admitted that as he approached Thomas and Fiscus, he reached for his gun. Both Thomas and Fiscus then opened fire — the first bullet, shot by Thomas, struck the boy, which caused him to fall at the corner. According to other reports, Fiscus then fired four shots into the suspect, striking the boy as he lay on the ground. W.H. Holmboe, who witnessed the incident in front of his office, admitted that he didn’t see Gonce fire a single shot.
Bullets riddled his body, including penetrating his arm and lungs. He was rushed to Parkview Hospital, bleeding and unconscious, and on the verge of death.
The story of a 14-year old boy, shot multiple times by law enforcement officials, made national news. Readers w…
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