Marvin Ransdell's Hobo Joe Statue in Buckeye

Sometimes the coolest things can by found in the unlikeliest of places. Take the Hobo Joe statue, for instance, in Buckeye.

He's a rather jovial and jaunty figure, and at 25 feet tall, the old-timey vagabond sticks out (in more than one way) from slaughterhouse behind him.

Hobo Joe's a cement and clay statue that was crafted in 1989 as a mascot for the now-defunct Hobo Joe's coffee shops. Today, he sits on the edge of a dusty, trash-strewn parking less than 75 feet from the cattle pens of West Valley Processing.

So why the heck is the ginormous statue for a long-extinct restaurant chain still standing, and in front of a meat processing plant? No, the owners of the slaughterhouse didn't place the statue there as distraction for doomed cows waiting to meat, their maker.

The explanation is actually a bit weirder, and even has ties to some of the characters involved in one of the Valley's classic murder cases.

Hobo Joe's coffee shops were a sort of homespun version of Denny's with locations throughout Arizona. The chain's namesake vagabond, Hobo Joe (described as a "World Traveler, Philosopher and Connoisseur of Good Food") was featured throughout each restaurant -- adorning the menus and coffee mugs, and standing watch by the cash register in the form of a life-sized plaster statue.

But like other throwback coffee shop chains around Phoenix including Bob's Big Boy and the unfortunately named Sambo's, Hobo Joe's began disappearing in the late 1980s when the company went belly up.

This financial downfall was partially due to some of its partners and proprietors' vast web of corruption, organized crime, and nastiness surrounding the notorious car-bomb assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in 1976.

While the connection between Hobo Joe's and the Bolles murder is complicated (as are most things associated with the case), it's oddly fascinating.

Per the epic tome The Arizona Project (which documented the massive investigation behind the murder by the IRE), the chain's co-owner Herb Applegate embezzled more than a half-million dollars to build a swanky condo in Mesa meant to host sex parties for his mafia buddies, some of whom were being investigated by Bolles. 

As a result, Hobo Joe's had something of a financial crunch, and couldn't afford to pay some of its debts. That includes money owed to artist Marvin Ransdell, whose fiberglass manufacturing company created several 25-foot Hobo Joe statues for the restaurant chain.

Ransdell sold one of the statues to his friend Ramon Gillum, onetime owner of the slaughterhouse in Buckeye, who erected the statue in 1989 after Ransdell passed away the previous year from lung cancer.

​Curious seekers and friends and family of Ransdell continue to visit the ginormous Hobo Joe, and makeshift memorial to the artist consisting of dead flowers and a pack of cigarettes currently sits on top of the concrete base.

The statue's now a bit faded from two decades of sun and city elements, but is still in relatively good shape and remains a unique piece of Phoenix history that's worth making the 45-minute drive to Buckeye to check out for yourself.

The Hobo Joe statue is located at West Valley Processing, 1045 East Monroe Avenue in Buckeye.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.