rHELENA, Mont. – rHELENA, Mont. (AP) — Frank Dryman first escaped hanging, then he just escaped. He wasn't found for four decades until he was discovered running a wedding chapel some 1,300 miles south of the Montana town where he killed a man who had offered him a ride in a blizzard.
Dryman, 78, was awaiting extradition proceedings Thursday for skipping out of Montana 38 years ago while on parole for 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 was arrested Tuesday after the victim's grandson hired an investigator who tracked the fugitive to the Cactus Rose Wedding Chapel, the Arizona City, Ariz., notary and chapel business where he went by the name Victor Houston.
Dryman had blended into local society and even cultivated friendships with previous county sheriffs, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said.
"I think this sends a message to other fugitives that they are never off the radar screen," said Montana Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez. "It's imperative that individuals be held accountable for their actions."
Prosecutors in Arizona said they did not know if Dryman had an attorney. A call to the wedding chapel Wednesday was not answered.
Dryman initially received a hanging sentence for Pellett's death after a quick trial in 1955. His case became the focus of a battle over the death penalty and frontier justice, and he received a new sentence of life in prison with the help of the Montana Supreme Court.
In 1969, after just 15 years in prison, he was paroled. The Montana Department of Corrections said that today, the soonest a person sentenced to life in prison could gain parole is 30 years.
Dryman disappeared three years later. No Montana offender had been missing longer.
"He just went into thin air in 1972," said Clem Pellett, the victim's grandson. "I don't think that my grandfather's death was well represented; it just got lost in all the ideologic conversation of the time."
Clem Pellett, a surgeon in Bellevue, Wash., pursued the case after first learning details last year while digging through old newspaper clippings in storage. He said the issue was never discussed in the family.
He said he was driven by a sense of curiosity, and does not feel like he needs any revenge since he never knew his grandfather, and knew little about the murder.
Newspaper clippings from the time say that Clarence Pellett stopped to pick up Dryman in 1951 during a spring blizzard near Shelby. Pellett, who ran a cafe, was shot seven times in the back as he tried to run away, according to the accounts.
The private investigator hired by the grandson used scores of documents the family dug up from old parole records, the Montana Historical Society and Internet searches to trace Dryman to the wedding chapel.
Pellett told Montana corrections officials of the discovery. Officials said Dryman acknowledged his identity to officers.
County officials said they didn't know if Dryman was performing weddings. Under Arizona law, a couple must take out a marriage license, have a ceremony performed by an ordained minister or a Justice of the Peace and then return the signed license to court for recording.
If Dryman was ordained under a different name and was performing weddings, they would still likely be legal, according to two Phoenix-area divorce lawyers.
"They're probably valid if they were otherwise performed as a legal ceremony in Arizona and recorded," Scottsdale family law attorney Alexander Nirenstein said.
The Montana Department of Corrections said that Dryman will be sent back to the state prison. He will face a parole revocation hearing within the next few months — and possible resumption of his life in prison sentence.
Pellett, who only decided to hire a private investigator on a whim during a dinner party conversation, said he is not driven to see Dryman punished.
"The legal system will handle it," the grandson said. "Whatever they decide is fine with me. I mean he is 78 years old."
Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.