Joe Arridy Mug Shot--Wikipedia Upload

Joseph "Joe" Arridy was not a murderer. Probably.

Joe Arridy (April 15, 1915 – January 6, 1939) was an American born, mentally disabled, child of Syrian immigrants who was executed for rape and murder, but was posthumously granted a pardon for these crimes. Arridy was sentenced to death after he confessed to the murder and rape of a Pueblo, Colorado schoolgirl named Dorothy Drain. Due to the sensational nature of the crime, precautions were taken to keep him from being hanged by vigilante justice. His sentence was executed after multiple stays on January 6, 1939. Arridy was the first Colorado prisoner ever to be posthumously pardoned after evidence had surfaced that Arridy was likely not in Pueblo when the crime occurred, and had been coerced into confessing. This pardon was issued by former District Attorney and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter in 2011.

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map and description of Joe Arridy's neighborhood in Pueblo
Early Life

Joe Arridy was born in Pueblo, Colorado to Henry and Mary Arridy, a family of Syrian immigrants, who emigrated to Pueblo before Joe’s birth in 1915. Henry worked at the CF&I Steel Plant while Mary stayed home with Joe until he was admitted at the State Home and Training School for Mental Defectives in Grand Junction in 1926. The state hospital where Joe lived was close to a set of Union Pacific Railroad tracks, and Joe, along with several other patients at the hospital, would sometimes climb the fence and ride the trains to other cities including Pueblo, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Arrest and Conviction

On August 26, 1936 Arridy was arrested in Cheyenne after being caught wandering around the rail yards. The arrest threw Arridy a large ongoing investigation into the rape and murder of Dorothy Drain. Arridy caught the attention of the sheriff in charge, George Carroll, when Arridy revealed that he had come through Pueblo by way of a train while on the run from Grand Junction. Prior to notification by the sheriff in Cheyenne, Pueblo had already arrested another man, Frank Aguilar as the prime suspect when Sheriff Carroll contacted the Pueblo County Sheriff and claimed that Arridy told him several times he had "been with a man named Frank" at the crime scene. Joe gave several versions of the murder in multiple confessions. The first confession stated that a club was used in the murder, but his story later changed when the authorities found an ax at the scene, and Arridy later testified in interviews that he used an ax. When the case was finally brought to trial his lawyer did not even try to fight the allegations, and instead sought reprieve through a plea of insanity. Arridy was convicted even though there was evidence suggesting that he was both innocent and unfit to stand trial. Dorothy’s own sister testified that Frank Aguilar had been alone
when he committed the crime, and three state psychiatrists determined that Arridy was an "imbecile" with an IQ score in the 40s, and agreed that Arridy was “incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and therefore, would be unable to perform any action with a criminal intent.”

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Response to Joe's Father asking for parole.


Arridy was known for spending his time on death row playing with a toy train given to him by prison Warden Roy Best who called Arridy "the happiest prisoner on death row". He was liked by both the prisoners and guards. He received nine stays of execution while
the man that was arrested before him, Frank Aguilar, was executed nearly two years earlier. For his last meal he requested ice cream,
and when questioned about his impending execution he showed "blank bewilderment.” It was also clear that Joe did not realize the
meaning of the gas chamber, telling the warden "No, no Joe won't die.” Joe was reported to have smiled while being taken to the gas chamber and was only momentarily nervous until the warden grabbed his hand and reassured him. Joe Arridy drew his last breath on January 6, 1939.

Documents Courtesy of the Pueblo City-County Library archivesThe Pueblo Library has a small collection of documents about Joe Arridy's life and murder trial fromRobert Perske's research for his novel Deadly Innocence, published in 1995.