HELENA — A fugitive who evaded the hangman’s noose after being convicted in the shooting death of a good Samaritan will be returned to Montana four decades after he fled the state while on parole. But first, a family member who just found out about his troubled past is looking for answers.
After nearly 40 years on the run, Frank Dryman was arrested Tuesday when a private investigator hired by his victim’s grandson found him in Arizona leading a separate life under the name Victor Houston. He ran a wedding chapel in Arizona City and has a daughter.
Kathy Houston was headed Thursday to the Arizona jail where her father was waiting to be extradited to Montana, hoping to speak with him about a life she knew nothing about. It was unclear from where she was driving.
“It was more than a big surprise. It was a big shock,” she said in a brief telephone interview. She added she did not want to say anything more until she spoke with her father.
Earlier Thursday, Dryman told a Pinal County, Ariz., judge that he would not fight his return to Montana.
The Montana Department of Corrections said it was arranging to pick Dryman up within the next two weeks and would transport him straight to the state prison in Deer Lodge, where Dryman last served in 1969.
Dryman, now 78, was originally sentenced to hang at the county courthouse in a hasty trial after admitting to the 1951 killing of Clarence Pellett, who had picked up Dryman as a 19-year-old drifter caught in the snow outside the northern Montana town of Shelby.
Dryman’s case twice went to the Montana Supreme Court in the early 1950s after advocates interceded on his behalf. The case became a contentious fight over the death penalty, according to old newspaper accounts. His sentence was commuted to life in prison, and he was released on parole in 1969 after serving just 15 years. Three years later, he disappeared.
The grandson of the victim tracked down Dryman in Arizona, where he ran the Cactus Rose Wedding Chapel and blended so well into local Arizona City society that past sheriffs were among his friends.
Clem Pellett, Clarence Pellett’s grandson and a surgeon in Bellevue, Wash., said Thursday his life has been a whirlwind of telephone calls from reporters and others since news broke Wednesday of the arrest, and his role in tracking down Montana’s longest missing offender.
But it was the call he received late Wednesday from Dryman’s daughter, Kathy Houston, that shocked him the most.
“She didn’t know about this at all,” Pellett said. “She was just crushed.”
Pellett, who didn’t know about the case until last year when he stumbled across old family records, said he has pursued all of it just to complete a family history.
He has said that he does not seek revenge, and trusts the justice system will do what is appropriate with Dryman.
The Montana Department of Corrections said that Dryman will face a parole revocation hearing in the next two months. The parole board could decide to put him back in prison for life — his original sentence — or even return him to parole at some point, officials said.
Pellett said he would like to meet with Dryman to help complete details from the past.
The surgeon, who collected hundreds of pages of documents in his quest to solve the mystery, has offered to have dinner with Dryman’s daughter — who was curious about all the information collected by Pellett.
“Who knows how this is all going to turn out,” Pellett said. “I sure wouldn’t have predicted this.”
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