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Joe Arridy (Design PULP / Photo Denver

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…

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