Two of the Most Notorious Killers in Amarillo History Shared a Jail Cell
My grandma used to always tell me, You'd be surprised by what people forget. I was reminded of this recently when I came across something in an old newspaper article that made my jaw drop.
Amarillo has had its fair share of notable crimes that have gone down in the history books. But the two shocking murders and convicted killers notorious enough to rank at the top are Johnny Frank Garrett's rape and killing of an 80-year-old nun and Jay Kelly Pinkerton's rape and killing of two young women.
I was already well aware of the notoriety of each individual crime and the media uproar that surrounded each (granted, for very different reasons). But I never thought about the two events on the same timeline. So you can imagine my utmost surprise when I picked up an old newspaper clipping from the Amarillo Daily News dated November 11, 1981.
It was an article covering Garrett's arraignment where he was formally charged with capital murder in the 1981 Halloween slaying of Sister Tadea Benz. Underlined in red below is the part that caught my eye.
After the hearing, Garrett was taken to Potter County Jail were he was put in the same cell as Jay Kelly Pinkerton. Two of Amarillo's most notorious teen killers in one jail cell. Logically, it shouldn't be surprising, yet it is.
Pinkerton killed his first victim in 1979 and his second in 1980. Garrett's crime was committed in late 1981. That's a narrow time frame, considering the length of time required for a capital murder trial, which Pinkerton was in the middle of when Garrett was brought to Potter County jail to be his cellmate.
If this interesting tidbit of information has been lost to time, then it can be assumed that nothing notable happened between the two teens. But still, to be a fly on the wall in that jail cell on that November night in 1981....
What Garrett & Pinkerton Had In Common
Age: Aside from the shared cell, Johnny Frank Garrett and Jay Kelly Pinkerton had another important detail in common: their age. Since the death penalty resumed in 1976, Potter county has executed three men who committed their crimes at 17 years old (technically a juvenile when defined within the murky legal waters of Texas criminal case law): Charles Rumsbaugh, Jay Kelly Pinkerton, and Johnny Frank Garrett.
Nature of the Crime: Both the offenses they were convicted of capital murder for involved some heinous sexual elements and a vulnerable victim. For Garrett, the victim was an elderly nun; for Pinkerton, the victims were a pregnant woman and a young woman who had closed a store by herself.
The Different Legacies of Garrett and Pinkerton
Both Garrett and Pinkerton's cases took on a life of their own in the public sphere. But this is where the legacies of the two teens go different ways.
Johnny Frank Garrett has been championed as a wrongful execution, with many grassroot movements decrying his innocence gaining momentum. There have been numerous documentaries, TV segments, and even a film made on the subject of Johnny Frank Garrett's innocence.
Pinkerton on the other hand, there has never been a question of his guilt. In fact, much like Charles Manson, he reveled in his own nature. While on Death Row, Pinkerton converted to Islam, carried out a vicious assault on another Death Row inmate, and freely visited with media about his crime--peppering it with occasional proclamations of innocence as execution crept closer. Only 24 years old at the time of his execution, Pinkerton was one of the youngest inmates put to death in the nation.