DEER LODGE - A convicted murderer who escaped the hangman's noose in the 1950s, skipped out on parole 38 years ago and was found recently running a wedding chapel in Arizona under an assumed name will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
The state Board of Pardons and Parole on Friday revoked the parole of Frank Dryman, 78, and said they won't even look at the case again for another five years. The panel indicated leniency isn't likely then, either.
Dryman was arrested March 23 in Arizona City, Ariz., where he was living a full life as Victor H. Houston, running a wedding chapel, working as a notary public and volunteering for various causes.
He was convicted of killing Clarence Pellett, who had picked up Dryman as a 19-year-old drifter caught in a snowstorm outside Shelby in northern Montana. His murder trial captivated headlines during the decade, twice going to the Montana Supreme Court before his original sentence to face the gallows in front of the county courthouse was overturned. Dryman was given as life sentence instead.
He was paroled in 1969 after serving just 15 years in prison and three years later, he disappeared.
Dryman told the board Friday he skipped out on his parole in California because he needed to get away from the woman he was married to at the time.
"I didn't want to create any violence or anything, I don't believe in that anymore, so I just left," he said.
The grandson of the victim tracked Dryman down after only recently learning the way his grandfather had been murdered.
Clem Pellett told the parole board that he found through research that his father very quietly kept tabs on the case and represented the family at the numerous court and other hearings during the 1950s and 1960s. Pellett said his father died shortly before Dryman was paroled, and had he been alive, Dryman may not have received that early parole.
"A year ago I unknowingly picked up my fathers' mantle," said Pellett, a surgeon in Bellevue, Wash., who has since amassed volumes of information on the case and Dryman, who has gone by several names.
A large group of Pelletts and their family members attended the hearing. They pointed out that the same board, four decades ago, was warned by a judge in the case that it was a bad idea to parole Dryman to California.
Several in the family testified that the murder, although nearly 60 years old, forever changed the family. Many said the family always missed its patriarch, and several lived in fear as children after a young Dryman allegedly vowed at one court hearing to kill the whole family.
Generations later, young members of the family are warned never to pick up hitchhikers.
"I thought that this was a particularly heinous crime," said Bob Pellett. "I believe the man is a sociopath. He does not deserve any leniency."
Dryman's daughter, Kathy Houston, who knew nothing of her father's past, pleaded with the board for leniency.
She fell to the floor sobbing as the board's intention grew clear and eventually needed to be taken out in a wheelchair. Houston said the original crime is not on trial and urged the board to consider that Dryman's only crime was to skip out on parole.
"For my natural life, my father has been the pillar of a community that loves him," she said. "He has volunteered for everything he could volunteer for."
Houston, who said her father is in very poor health, said he won't live another five years to see the parole board again.
The parole board said prison doctors found Dryman to be very fit and capable of serving his sentence.