36 | Confessions

Confession: In literature, an autobiography, either real or fictitious, in which intimate and hidden details of the subject’s life are revealed. Encyclopedia Britannica

Confession: In criminal law. A voluntary statement made by a person charged with the commission of a crime or misdemeanor, communicated to another person, wherein he acknowledges himself to be guilty of the offense charged, and discloses the circumstances of the act or the share and participation which he had in it. Black’s Law Dictionary

There are often voice and words in a silent look. Ovid

Duane told Lolita he killed Betty. She told me three separate times. He said Betty was so upset about Doug and Stephanie getting married, and Stephanie being Jewish and Betty being so Catholic. She cried and cried. She wouldn’t stop crying and he couldn’t take it anymore. My brother is a damned sociopath. Cherrie Otto, August 2005

Betty’s 80-year-old sister, Jean, was gardening on her porch when Cherrie called. Jean had always liked Cherrie; in the Frye family, she was a different breed of cat. She’d told Jean her mother Lolita had hated her, and her father was the only person who’d been good to her. But Cherrie wasn’t calling to catch up. She’d wanted to tell Jean that Duane had confessed for years.

Jean was in shock, but the confession rang true.

She’d missed Duane’s bail hearing in 1973, but her husband Dick went. When Duane was led into court in his orange jumpsuit, it wasn’t the jail garb that struck Dick Brickell. It was the look on Duane’s face. Oh my God, he’s guilty, Dick said. If he didn’t do this, I’d be amazed. Back then, Jean had other reasons to suspect Duane too.

Her mother Cundy had wanted to see Betty. The coroner said he could fix her body up, but Duane insisted on a closed casket. He said he didn’t want to bury Betty in Denver because his kids didn’t plan to stay in Colorado, so Jean asked Cundy to bury her in the family plot in Kansas. He doesn’t want any part of Betty, Cundy said. He doesn’t even want her to be buried in her own parish.

Jean’s son had recently been contacted by Howard Morton, head of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. She called Morton and told him Duane had confessed. Morton e-mailed cold case cop Isaacson with a simple plea: Can you fry Frye?

For Duane’s confession to stick, they needed Cherrie on tape.

At 11:30 a.m. on September 1, 2005, the Brickells pulled up to Piccolo’s in southeast Denver. Dick knew the owner; they’d be shown the quietest table. Isaacson had fitted them with audio monitoring and recording devices. Jean wore hearing aids, and the monitor that allowed Isaacson to communicate with them resembled a hearing aid, so she wore the recorder and Dick the monitor. Isaacson followed in an unmarked car and parked. When the Brickells greeted their guest, a tiny sparrow-like woman with heavy glasses, he switched his recorder on.  

Guilt-ridden and determined to do the right thing, 76-year-old Cherrie didn’t hesitate or equivocate. When she visited her mother in assisted living in 1995 or ’96, Lolita had told her Duane killed Betty because she wouldn’t stop crying; the next morning she was still crying and he couldn’t put up with it. Lolita was very happy when she recounted this. Three or four months later, Cherrie asked her again. Yes, Lolita said, he did it. A few months later, Cherrie brought it up a third time. Lolita didn’t want to talk about it. You know how Duane is, she said, and she was still crying and he… Are you willing to help the police? Dick asked Cherrie.

Oh, yes, she said. Gladly.

Would you turn in your own brother? What about your son?

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