Death Row Diaries: Paroled pedophile kidnaps and kills child near Tucson

Posted at 12:40 PM, Aug 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-13 15:40:17-04

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories including this one where a man kidnapped and killed a girl riding her bike to mail a birthday card.



Date of Birth: December 9, 1956

 Sentenced: May 8, 1987

The Crime:

September 17, 1984, an eight-year-old girl takes off on her bicycle to mail a birthday card at a mailbox near her Tucson home. She never returned. The girl's mother sent her other daughter to find her; she soon returned reporting that she found her sister's pink bicycle but not her. 

The mother drove to the area also finding and retrieving the bike then called the police.

An extensive search of the area found nothing, but information of what happened was coming together.

Police got information from a physical education teacher at the nearby school and two teens who live in the neighborhood.

The 280Z:

The teacher told police that saw, "dark Z car," in a nearby alley. The man standing next to the car was making strange gestures and shaking his head. Being unnerved by this behavior he wrote down the license plate number of the car.

Police traced that number to a 1975 Black Datsun 280Z registered in California to 28-year-old  Frank Jarvis Atwood. Atwood had a prison record, having been paroled from prison in 1981 for kidnapping an eight-year-old boy. He had also been convicted of lewd behavior with a teenage girl in 1975.

The two teenage boys told police that they also saw a dark Datsun car in the area where they saw the girl riding her bike. Other witnesses would also testify that they saw a young child in the passenger seat of the car.

The Arrest:

Atwood spent the first part of September 17 at De Anza Park, a place where transients hung out. The transients would later testify at his trial that he returned around sunset with blood on his hands.

A U.S. Magistrate in Tucson issued a warrant for Atwood's arrest for kidnapping. After hearing from his parents that he was headed to New Orleans and having car trouble in Kerrville Texas, the FBI located and arrested Atwood. At the car dealership where Atwood was arrested, police checked the car and found pink paint on the front bumper of the car. The bicycle the girl was riding was the same color pink.

On April 11, 1985, nearly seven months after the girl's disappearance her skeletal remains were found in the desert outside Tucson. Prosecutors then added murder to the charges against Atwood.

The Trial:

The trial began in January 1987 about 2.5 years after the crime. At trial, more than 75 witnesses testified providing more than 20,000 pages of testimony. Even without any eyewitnesses to the murder, Atwood was convicted on March 26, 1987, and sentenced on May 8.

Atwood has been on Arizona's death row for 29 years.