Crying Shame

Carl Gholson was a gifted sax player. He was also a paranoid schizophrenic. He became another victim of Phoenix’s scorching heat

That was the rub.

In Phoenix, a "less restrictive setting" often translates to perilously scant treatment and supervision.

Carl lasted only a few months on the outside that time before yet another arrest (for stealing a stereo).

Gholson died in the front yard of this downtown Phoenix apartment complex.
Peter Scanlon
Gholson died in the front yard of this downtown Phoenix apartment complex.

Soon after Carl returned to the state hospital after a guilty-except-insane verdict against him, he agreed to join a music therapy group supervised by staffer Joy Ratterree.

A singer and pianist herself, Ratterree says she immediately realized Carl was a superior musician, even though he hadn't touched a horn in a long time. She started a band that usually included herself, five patients, and another staffer.

The Ashtones (named after the hospital's acronym, ASH) played an eclectic set including their theme song, "Spooky." They also performed "Stardust," "Green Onions" "Danny Boy" and Carl's favorite, "By the Time I Get To Phoenix."

Says Ratterree, "I'd play a beat and Carl would always be right there. He was a big man on campus. He'd put on a suit and tie, and we'd go out and play at government functions, Christmas parties, you name it. He was our lead soloist, and he played so well."

Under the circumstances, life at ASH wasn't that bad.

By then, Carl had earned permission to roam the state hospital grounds at will. He frequently went out into the community with staffers and family members, usually his brother Dwayne.

The hospital also set him up with a part-time job at a Phoenix thrift store, which turned out to be an excellent fit.

"Carl was a born peddler, a regular Trader Joe," Dwayne recalls. "I knew just where he wanted to go when I'd pick him up at the hospital. To the swap meets, the dollar store, other thrift stores. Buying something cheap and selling it for a little profit really did it for him. He always had $40 or $50 in his pocket."

In late 2001, doctors at ASH decided Carl had "stabilized" enough mentally for yet another release from the state facility.

A county judge signed an order that called for ValueOptions to set him up in a supervised group home, and to assign him a case manager. For his part, Carl vowed to take his antipsychotic meds and to stay out of trouble.

He pretty much kept his promise until shortly before he died.

When he left the state hospital, Joy Ratterree allowed him to take something very dear to him -- his alto sax.

Darlene Coon remembers the time she first encountered Carl Gholson.

"It was four or five years ago, and I was alone in my bar, not a customer in sight, " says Coon, a platinum-blonde Wisconsin native who has owned The Other Room in Glendale since 1991. "This scary-looking black guy comes in with this thick beard, sits down and orders a Coke. I about wanted to run out of there. But all you can do is try to talk to the person. And we hit it off."

Coon, who has a gruff exterior that masks a big heart, runs a homey establishment that's obviously welcoming to all comers. Her dimly lit gin joint sits near Echo House, the group home where Carl was residing when he died.

She says he would be waiting at the front door when she opened for business at 12:30 p.m. He usually rode over on his one-speed bike, which he would park outside.

"Everyone had time for Carl," she says. "He'd shake hands with everybody, peddle whatever little items he had. He never said a cuss word, never had a bad word about anybody. I think he lived for this place."

Coon says Carl played his sax at her bar a few times, but he'd lost his two bottom teeth, which made performing difficult.

She walks over to a shelf at the bar and retrieves a Bible. Coon says Carl gave her the Bible as a present a few months before he died. Painstakingly inscribed in block print on the first page are the words, "TO DARLENE FROM CARL. HAPPY BIRTHDAY."

She says she was stunned to learn that Carl had a vial of crack in his pocket when he died.

"I honestly never got the feeling that he was on crack or anything,' she says. "Now, if he wasn't taking his meds, I'd know it. He'd laugh a certain way, look a certain way. I'd tell him, 'Carl, you have to do the right thing,' and he'd say, 'Okay.'"

Coon says Carl phoned her at the bar early on the evening of Saturday, July 16, and again just before closing at 2 a.m.

"He told me he needed to borrow $20 or 'they' would kill him."

But Carl didn't show up until about 1 p.m. on Sunday, the 17th. Coon lent him the money and says he left after drinking a Coke.

She says she never spoke to him again.

When Carl didn't come by The Other Room on Monday, July 18, she says, "I immediately thought something had happened to him."

For one thing, Mondays were the days that Coon normally would cash one of Carl's disability checks for him. A few days later, Coon drove over to Echo House to express her concerns.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets