Killer’s arrest shocks friends
Frederick Barrett was a reliable carpenter, a budding violinist and an avid reader.
To the people who have known him for years, as many as 25 years in some cases, the 61-year-old was anything but a convicted murderer who escaped from a Florida prison 32 years ago.
“He was the most honorable man I have ever met, so this just blows me away,” said Hotchkiss resident Dave Rose, who hired Barrett on numerous occasions over the years to help him build houses in the area.
“He did fabulous work. He was a beautiful (house) framer. He’s a guy you could send to a job, tell him what needed to be done, and he’d do it without any problems,” Rose added. “He was a nice guy. Ask anyone. It’s true.”
Of course, Rose knew Barrett by his assumed name, Richard Neil Meltzer.
Rose was so taken aback by the news Thursday that his longtime friend and employee was not the person he thought, he didn’t believe it. That’s why he came to the Montrose County Courthouse to attend Barrett’s arraignment hearing before County Judge Jerry Montgomery.
He got his answer.
Barrett, who appeared at the hearing via closed-circuit video from the Montrose County Jail, answered to that name, telling the judge he planned to fight extradition back to Florida not because he wasn’t the same guy who escaped from the Union Correctional Institute in Raiford, Fla., on Aug. 17, 1979, but because he wanted assurances for his safety.
Three other inmates at that prison used to beat him up routinely, Barrett said.
“I would like to protest extradition on grounds it would risk my life,” he told Montgomery. “My life is in danger by going back there.”
“Extradition has nothing to do with safety,” Montgomery responded, advising him that was an issue he would have to take up with Florida prison officials.
Montgomery set Barrett’s extradition hearing for Thursday, the same day Barrett is to face Colorado charges that are to be filed by the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday. In addition to being a fugitive, he was arrested on suspicion of possession of weapons by a convicted felon and possession of marijuana and marijuana-growing equipment, which carry a maximum sentence of six years.
The judge set a $150,000 bond on the Colorado charges, but he denied Barrett the ability to post bond in the Florida extradition matter.
Barrett, who politely called the judge “sir” numerous times during the arraignment, asked the judge for a public defender, which he is to get before next week’s hearings.
“It all seems pretty clear to me,” Barrett told the judge. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Barrett was arrested early Wednesday by U.S. marshals posing as U.S. Forest Service fire officials. Marshals had received a tip that Barrett was living in a remote Montrose County cabin on the Uncompahgre Plateau.
According to Ken Deal, U.S. Marshals Service chief in the Denver office, an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” that aired in January 2010 netted a Florida lead shortly thereafter.
“And my question is,” Deal said, “Who knew this guy? Was it someone here who called in, or was it someone in Florida who knew where he was?”
Forest Service law enforcement officers as well as Montrose County Sheriff’s Department deputies aided in that arrest.
Barrett’s cabin is located off Divide Road about 30 miles southwest of Montrose, but finding it isn’t easy. To get there, motorists have to negotiate several miles of dirt roads. Along the route, there are numerous signs saying, “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing,” plus one that says, “Danger, Poisonous Snakes.”
The ramshackle, two-story cabin has exposed insulation on one side and a trailer right up against it, parked under a overhang attached to another side of the house. The immediate vicinity is littered with various items, including a barbecue grill, lawn chairs and a hammock.
County records show Barrett bought the 18-acre property under his Meltzer name in 1998 from Melanie Anne Allum, who bought the land for $40,000 just four years before.
She sold it to Barrett for $10.
Deal said officials are investigating how much Allum knew about Barrett’s background, including whether he was an escaped prisoner.
Though information about the two is sketchy, they appeared to have had a long relationship. The two lived together in Paonia for an unknown amount of time, according to a Delta County court records.
On March 30, 1998, Meltzer was arrested by the Delta County Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of domestic violence. The charge later was dropped.
Why that arrest didn’t lead to a fingerprint match in Florida, Deal couldn’t say, except to speculate databases could have been altered or purged, allowing it to go unnoticed.
According to Barrett’s arrest affidavit, Allum told deputies Meltzer lost his temper when she was cleaning his television in the home the two shared at 120 Fourth St. in Paonia. At the time, Allum told deputies the two had an eight-year relationship, including living together at that home for an unknown amount of time. She ended that relationship about four months before that incident, according to the affidavit.
Like Barrett’s cabin, the Paonia home is difficult to find. It’s located off a gravel alley near the middle of the small town. It is obscured by overgrown vegetation and is situated behind a make-shift shed filled with debris, including garbage cans. Getting to it requires walking down a narrow path and crossing an irrigation ditch.
“Allum said the next thing she knew he was slamming her body into the walls and was throwing her on the floor,” according to the arrest affidavit. “Allum said this caused pain and injury to her arms and back. Allum said he also kicked her in the chest.”
That kind of behavior, much less being a convicted murderer, wasn’t something people who knew him as Richard Neil Meltzer would have expected.
Several people around Paonia told The Daily Sentinel they remember seeing Barrett around town, including at the town’s post office, where he and Allum had mailboxes.
Mary Ann Stewart of Paonia said she has known Barrett for about a decade, calling him an avid reader who was learning to play the violin.
Paonia resident Paul Douglas, who knew him slightly longer than that, said Barrett was the gentlest of souls. The two used to ride motorcycles. Barrett owned two, a BMW and a Moto Guzzi, Douglas said.
“He was a pretty reliable, honest person,” said Douglas, who once rented a home to Barrett. “I don’t come to conclusions about people quickly.”
Like Rose, both didn’t believe the news reports about Barrett, saying police must have arrested the wrong person. They, too, went to the Montrose courthouse Thursday.
Douglas and Rose later were interviewed by Sheriff’s Department deputies when they realized they had known Barrett for so many years.
“I wanted to assure myself that his rights were being observed, and maybe even visit him in jail,” Douglas said. “It doesn’t look like he’ll be free anytime soon.”
Staff writer William Woody contributed to this report.