Colorful owner of Butte's last brothel dies at 94

2012-03-20T10:09:00Z 2013-12-25T11:24:05Z Colorful owner of Butte's last brothel dies at 94By Nick Gevock Montana Standard The Billings Gazette
March 20, 2012 10:09 am  • 

BUTTE -- The woman who ran the last brothel in Butte when it closed in 1982 has died at the age of 94.

Ruby Garrett died March 17 at Crest Nursing Home in Butte.

Garrett lived a colorful life that included a six-month prison term for tax evasion and an acquittal by a jury on charges that she shot and killed her husband in June 1959 while he was playing cards at a Butte bar.

She owned and ran the Dumas Brothel for years until 1982, when her federal tax evasion conviction forced Garrett to close it.

But people who knew Garrett in her later years recalled a kind woman who looked out for the women who worked in the brothel and was involved in the community.

"She was truly one of the last of the living legends in Butte from the end of Butte's famed red light district," said Chris Fisk, a Butte High history teacher who met Garrett two years ago.

Garrett, whose name was Lee Arrigoni, found herself in the newspapers on several occasions throughout her life.

In a January 1960 trial, she was convicted by a jury of manslaughter for shooting her common-law husband Andy Arrigoni.

Garrett walked into a card game where her husband was playing and shot him five times, killing him almost instantly, according to a story in The Montana Standard.

Garrett faced a first-degree murder charge, but the jury convicted her of manslaughter. She was sentenced to four years but only served nine months.

People familiar with the case say that Garrett was the victim of severe spousal abuse and that pent-up frustration had reached a boiling point.

"She was beaten so bad that day that, when she walked in that Board of Trade to shoot him, they couldn't recognize her," said Ellen Crain, director of the Butte-Silver Bow Archives.

Crain met Garrett once nearly 20 years ago when she held a garage sale at the Dumas. The two talked for a long time, and Crain said she asked to come record some history with Garrett, but she refused.

But Crain learned a lot about Garrett from their conversation.

For starters, she was a savvy businesswoman, and she felt strongly about treating the women who worked at the Dumas well. She took pride in keeping the Dumas clean and orderly. Yet, Crain said, it was interesting to talk to Garrett about prostitution because she had a grandmotherly look and feel to her.

"She felt the girls were better cared for in houses than out on the street," Crain said. "She really had a lot of respect for her workers, and she went to bat for them."

Garrett's later flash in the headlines was what doomed the brothel. She was convicted of federal tax evasion in 1982 and served six months in prison.

Fisk said he doesn't know when Garrett bought the Dumas. But it ran as a brothel continuously from 1890 to 1982, long after prostitution had been made illegal.

Bob Butorovich, who served as Butte-Silver Bow sheriff from 1980 to 1992, said it wasn't as simple as coming in and shutting down the Dumas because it took evidence that prostitution was taking place. He said that, with so many young, single miners, prostitution had become a fact of life in Butte.

"That was one of the main professions in Butte," he said.

Even Butorovich recalled walking past the working Dumas on his way to high school. But, when the brothel was held up and robbed, he finally did shut it down, and Garrett never held a grudge about that, never complained.

"She was a colorful old gal," Butorovich said. "Part of Butte history is gone."

Arrangements are pending at Duggan-Dolan Mortuary.

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