One of my favorite books growing up was Jay J. Armes, Investigator: The World’s Most Successful Private Eye written in 1976 and published by Macmillan. I remember holding the hardcover book in my hands and wondering how the man on the cover, Jay J. Armes, was able to shoot a gun with hooks for hands.

Jay J. Armes

I loved reading every minute of the book — from the horror of J. J. losing his hands in what I seem to remember was a terrible childhood accident with TNT, to the success of recovering Marlon Brando’s son Christian from the clutches of a kidnapper.

J. J. was so popular in the 1970’s that he had an entire line of Ideal action toys dedicated to his life’s work and achievements despite his disability and I bought them all and played with them all:

Jay J. Armes

The greatest lesson Jay J. Armes taught me was that disabled people were spectacular: You take away a piece of them and all the other parts of the person become ten times stronger.

As a young boy growing up in White Bread Nebraska — where mental equanimity and physical identicalness were more valued than individuality — that was an important worldly lesson to learn in an early life.Instead of being afraid of people who were unlike me because of Race or culture or ethnicity or social status or disability, Jay J. demonstrated through the deeds of his life that all people matter and even those who look the least able to get the job done can, in fact, do the job better than you.

Who would think a guy with “bio-kinetic” hands could handle a gun with such a soft and masterful touch? Jay J. Armes’ book sensitized me to the social stigma that often chases away the dreams of the disabled. A few years after reading his book I volunteered for a job that, I was told, few teenagers were willing to do: I became a reader for the Blind. Every week I would travel to the home of a Blind man and his Blind sister and I would read their textbooks to them by candlelight.

It was eerie how they lived in the dark and would only light a candle when I came over to visit. I remember feeling sick to my stomach when I would look at the sister’s bare legs and see severe bruising up and down her shins from bumping into the furniture and coffee table. It took me years to learn the price of her living an independent life of her own in an apartment with her brother instead of in an institution was getting some bruises on her legs.

If I hadn’t read J. J’s book I probably would have turned tail never gone back the next day like so many who came before me, but I stuck it out with the memory of J. J’s life solidly in my pocket like a glistening and cherished memento of an experienced lived and never ended. Many years later I met a Deaf woman and fell in love with her the moment I met her.

If I didn’t have J. J’s lessons within me I do not believe I would have been open enough to look beyond my own shortcomings to see the wonder of a magnificent and talented woman standing before me.

I would have missed out on meeting the one true love of my life as my wife. You can see a current picture of Jay J. Armes below. As you can see he is still a tough cuss 30 years later and the terrific thing about J. J.’s book and the images on his website is that he is always smiling. He looks like the happiest guy in the world and he obviously doesn’t see himself as disabled in any substantive way.

Jay J. Armes

Whenever I was down and feeling out growing into my teenaged years, I remembered the lessons in the life of Jay J. Armes. If J. J. could do it without hands, I could do it with my two hands.

He soldiered me on from afar and I continued to admire him from the pages of his book. Growing up as a fatherless child in the great unwashed Midwest, Jay J. Armes provided me examples of manhood that I could imitate and live in my own life.

I was lucky to find J. J. again via the wonder of the web. It was a thrill to speed back three decades to my childhood to once again remember and admire a great man and his legacy.

Jay J. Armes

Has the web allowed you the pleasure of rediscovering your childhood heroes so they can erupt once again into the midst your current life and become even more valuable and revered as human touchstones today than they were in the mist of your past?

77 Comments

  1. I don’t remember seeing the Jay J. Armes characters when I was young. Armes sounds like an interesting guy and I’d like to read his book.
    There is a guy I listen to on local radio who always points out when people’s names seem to fit something noteworthy about their life.
    Former Chicago Park District CEO Forrest Claypool fits this “name as destiny” mold when he was in charge of an agency that oversaw forest preserves and swimming pools.
    Jay J. Armes seems to fit into this category also. There’s something ironic when a name fits into a person’s identity, not just as an identifier, but as a major attribute of their life and success.
    I wish I would have had one of Armes’ action figures when I was a kid. I also wish I would have known about his book. He seems like a great role model and an example to never give up in the face of adversity.
    I’m going to have to check my local library’s website to see if they have a copy of “The World’s Most Successful Private Eye!”

  2. Hi Chris!
    I have sent you two emails over the weekend. Let me know if you received them or not.
    I agree Jay J. Armes’ name fits the man and I had no idea there were others “out there” who shared a similar fate in working jobs that fit their birthright!
    The Action Figures were amazing. Like Helen Keller before him J. J. was a model for the disabled. Do we have any left today? Perhaps Marlee Matlin is one. Has there been another disabled Action Figure start since J. J.? If memory serves, I think you could pull out his Action Figure “bio-kinetic” hands and insert guns and chains and a machete in place of the hooks.
    I hope I have his book here with me. I’m searching for it now. If I left it in Nebraska it may be gone forever! Let me know if you find a copy. His book is currently and unfortunately out-of-print.

  3. Hi David,
    I responded to both of them. I like the idea and it sounds interesting!
    I wonder if my emails got caught in spam filters? One was sent in the morning and the other in the evening using two different email address.
    Chris

  4. Hi Chris!
    I am sure you likely got caught in my new super-spam filter — or, I thought, maybe I got caught in yours. I received one of your replies just now. I will go adjust my Whitelist immediately.
    Hey! You found the book! Fantastic! I’m so glad after 30 years his book is still available in the library! I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Hi Chris!
    I am sure you likely got caught in my new super-spam filter — or, I thought, maybe I got caught in yours. I received one of your replies just now. I will go adjust my Whitelist immediately.
    Hey! You found the book! Fantastic! I’m so glad after 30 years his book is still available in the library! I hope you enjoy it.

  6. That was a moving post and a great man and a true example to people everywhere. I will look out for his book too.
    My Dad’s parents always amazed me, both were deaf and mute (They always called themselves deaf & dumb but what with being PC nowadays) and brought up a gaggle of kids. The kids all could hear okay but they never got away with anything.
    I remember being at parties where they’d tell the DJ to turn down the loud music because they could feel the vinbrations through the floor.
    Mik

  7. Hey Mik!
    I thank you for your wonderful comment.
    That’s an amazing story about your parents! I would love to hear more about them.
    Today we don’t use, as you know — but others reading this may not know — “Deaf and Dumb” or “Deaf Mute.” We use “Deaf and Does Not Speak” or just plain old “Deaf.”
    You’re right about vibrations! The Deaf are extra-sensitive to thumping music. The bass and sub-woofer can either be a blessing or a bore depending on the sensitivity of the Deaf person.

  8. Dad’s folks were always happy and never let the fact they couldn’t speak or hear get in the way of life.
    They both got childhood illnesses which caused their disabilities. Nowadays they could cure it.
    Grandma recounted during WWII when she watched German doodle bugs flying over head. She obviously couldn’t hear when the engine cut out but she watched it happen and the bomb fall to earth. I’m sure she felt the shockwave.
    Mik

  9. I just wanted to say how interesting it is to read everything you all have to say about Mr. Armes. I always find it interesting because he is my grandfather. Over the years people have had mixed feelings about him, and some people think that his book was a stretch. But it’s not; he is a fantastic and brilliant man who has achieved a lot. So I guess I would just like to thank you for the positive interest in him.
    Stephanie

  10. I just wanted to say how interesting it is to read everything you all have to say about Mr. Armes. I always find it interesting because he is my grandfather. Over the years people have had mixed feelings about him, and some people think that his book was a stretch. But it’s not; he is a fantastic and brilliant man who has achieved a lot. So I guess I would just like to thank you for the positive interest in him.
    Stephanie

  11. Hi Stephanie!
    Welcome to the blog and I am so happy you found my article about your grandfather. His story has been a great inspiration.
    Do you have any other information you can share?
    How was he have as a grandfather while you were growing up?
    Did he tell you stories about his adventures?
    How has he changed your life?

  12. Hi Stephanie!
    Welcome to the blog and I am so happy you found my article about your grandfather. His story has been a great inspiration.
    Do you have any other information you can share?
    How was he have as a grandfather while you were growing up?
    Did he tell you stories about his adventures?
    How has he changed your life?

  13. Well – as far as other information; he is still going strong and working hard. I live in Phx but make it a point to try and see him every time I am in El Paso. He is a very busy man.
    Growing up was interesting because everyone knew who he was, and everyone wanted to know everything about this extravagant man I called grandpa. I never really spent all that much time with him, our relationship has grown over the years though. I always heard stories from my mother mainly about her adventures with all of the animals that he had. Over the recent years he has shared some of his stories with me and I understand why i never heard a lot about them growing up, some of them were not meant for little girls to hear.
    I think that hearing and seeing what he has done over the years has made me more eager to believe in myself. To be and do what I am good at with what I have.
    If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer.

  14. Hey Stephanie!
    Thanks so much for being willing to share your experiences with your grandfather and to answer some questions:
    1. Why didn’t you spend much time with your grandfather while growing up and what is your earliest memory of him? How and why were you able to re-connect with him later?
    2. Can you explain about his cache of exotic animals? What is the purpose of keeping them? Are they still around or have they been retired?
    3. What exactly is he doing today? Is undercover work part of it? Is he in the field or does he remain in the office?
    4. The fourth image in my article shows him in some kind of command and control center. Where is that located? What happens there? Is it a real place that employs people or is it more for show?
    5. Does he do only domestic investigative work now or is he international as well? What sort of cases does he take on now?
    6. Was there ever an offer for you to join his business? If yes, why did you decline? If not, why not?
    7. Who will take over his empire in the future and will it be someone with a blood relation? If yes, who? If not, why not?
    THANKS!

  15. Ok well, let’s get started.
    I didn’t spend that much time with my grandfather while I was growing up first because of the fact that he was a very busy man. Secondly my parents were divorced when I was very young so anytime that I was not in school or with my mother I was at my dad’s house.
    One of my earliest memories of my grandfather was when we went over to his house one weekend to go swimming. We were going to go in the outside pool, but it started raining so we wound up just hanging out inside. In the books it shows some images of how his house used to look, and this is how it looked when I was young. It had a very Asian influence and I remember there was a stream running throughout the house – I had spent the day jumping over it, again and again. Then we ate hot dogs and I found it to be the most interesting thing I had ever seen.
    I had always been considered the black sheep of the family, dyed hair, piercings, an artist and such. No one really thought that I wan going to amount to a whole lot I think, but as soon as I became a senior in High School and had made the decision to go to school to do what I loved it changed my relationship with everyone. I talked to him about it and he was very supportive — and I think that because I have such an interest in the type of work he did I had so many questions for him that we just started to talk more and more and developed a real grandfather/granddaughter relationship.
    This is one thing that I can’t explain, nor have I ever heard of any sort of reasons. I assume he just loves to have these animals around. I believe that he still has all of them, in time some have passed but he has them stuffed in remembrance. He still has an array of some animals on the property which consist of white tigers a few orange, dogs and the chimp Gypsy.
    today he still does what he does best. He is a big part of The Investigators and always will be. I am not sure if he still goes undercover but I know that he still goes out in the field.
    The fourth image is him sitting behind his desk. This is a real location and this is where he conducts his business. You can barley see it in the picture that you have but behind him is a huge map of the united states; there are 4 brightly colored clear plastic panels cover it and on either side it has different cities and the exact miles to get to that city from El Paso. I remember he told me that when he was young someone told him that the oval office in the white house wasn’t really oval so when he was old enough and had the means he would have a real oval office and he does. He does have employees that work there not to many but this is his office. He owns a security agency as well now, and I believe that there is a different location where all of those employees go but I’m not really sure.
    He does do international work, travels to Hong Kong and such. I know that he does some murder investigations and such but now that I think about it I’m not sure if there are a certain parameter to cases he takes on or if he takes the ones where he believes that he can really help. So on this I am not positive.
    I think that even though nothing has really been stated I know that If I ever wanted to be a part of the family business I could. I have always had an interest in what he does, I like to say it’s in my blood. I still consider it, but I am an artist. I always have been. I decided to go to school in Phoenix, and have been here ever since, I am only 22 so I think I still have plenty of time If I decide to go back and change my career path.
    My Uncle Jay is already a part of the business so If anyone is going to take it over I’m pretty sure it will be him.
    I hope that I have decently answered the questions you had and If there are anymore just let me know.

  16. For a while he had me searching the internet buying copies of his books because he had given all of his away. But as far as I know there are not any plans to re-print the book.
    There is a movie still in the works, Stan Lee is the producer, they already have the script but I am still not sure if they have started filming yet or not. I’ll have to call and check on that.

  17. Greetings, All –
    I too am from El Paso and am very familiar with Mr. Armes and his many “ways.” I say that with the utmost respect and admiration for him because of all the negative (with underlying tones of envy)press and comments he used to receive.
    I’m also familiar with Ms. Flores’ story and she speaks the truth. One of my best friends was an employee of his at one time and the story of our first encounter with “The Man, The Myth” as young boys is comical and enlightening (one Saturday my friend and I rode the bus downtown and we were walking around town taking turns being JJ Armes with some beaker tongs we borrowed from our science class) and Ill save it for a moment with more time…
    I wanted to jump on this chain of posts because I probably have more to say about him and know more about him than anyone oustside his family. He was and still is a role model for me and I have based my own life’s work and day to day living on principles learned from him. One of the most profound is this: You can have and be anything you want, ANYTHING – through faith.
    I have the words on paper written by him personally and it works. I admired him so (and STILL do) because he was and still is willing to commit to whatever it takes to get a job done and this has been my own “stock in trade” throughout my life and has served me very well. Mr. Armes has been an inspiration to countless local boys who, if could actually see the results of success despite adversities, were not afraid to hit their own trails and carve out their own place in their own times….
    Mr. Armes is a man AMONG MEN; he stands out in a crowd not because of his hooks – you don’t even notice them until he puts one in your face to shake your hand – but he has established with the forces that be that HE is the boss of his world and thats all that needs to be said.
    Not many men can say that which is the reason for most of the envy and negative press that comes out about him. He used his “handicap” to not only create a fantastic life for himself and his family; but he showed the world that anyone can accomplish anything we set out to do and touch any star we wish to reach for, BUT only if you’re willing to do it JJ’s way: WHATEVER IT TAKES.
    I’m sure if you asked him today what his handicap is he would probably say, “PEOPLE!” I can’t share enough of the insight to personal success that I have received from this great man. I too have his book (several) and I have every page memorized – it’s a book you can’t ever finish.
    I’ll have more to post soon but in the meantime, Mr. Armes pioneered countless investigative techniques and caused many technical and social theories to be re-evaluated…. and you can always tell the pioneers from the rest: They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs.
    Regards,
    Jay (coincendently)

  18. I remember Mr. Armes as a child growing up in El Paso. He was a living super hero to us. I am glad to see another generation of people being able to appreciate him. I just started a new group on myspace to help promote his image and help people become aware of what an amazing man he is.
    Blessings,
    Nanna

  19. I had the pleasure of meeting Jay J. in El Paso years ago when he was running for sheriff. He had a big guy with him dressed in chauffer’s clothing. He reminded me of the Green Hornet in certain ways. I used to seem drive by with his caddilac limo which had a camera housing on the back window to film people that may be following him. He rented a bar and had free food and beer for everyone that came in. I used to live a few blocks from his agency on Montana Ave. My aunt worked at the Clerk of Courts office and told me Jay J. was involved in some controversial things in the area and was losing some of his credibility and trust. I forgot what he was accused of but people didn’t trust him enough to elect him Sheriff. I did get to shake his prosthesis. Regardless of any controversies that I do not know the details of I must say it was really something to meet him. I freaked Jay J. out one time hitchhiking from one end of Scenic drive to the other. I saw him at a stop light and a friend and I waved at him and he saw us and waved back from his limo. We caught a ride through the mountains on Scenic Drive and when we got out Jay J. was pulling up to the light and we were standing there and waved again. He seemed puzzled as to how we got from one place to another so fast with no car. From one light at the beginning of Scenic Drive to the last light at the other end. Scenic Drive is a small two laned road that goes up into the Franklin Mountains. You can go from one end to the other on it.

  20. I was in JJ’s proximity in the early 80s, when his activities prompted a series of (admittedly unfar and insubstnatial) critical articles. I do remember, however, that one of the pieces said his real name is/was Julian Armas.

  21. I did a major feature story on Jay Armes when I was a co-host for PM Magazine in 1980. (PM Magazine was a nationally syndicated TV show that aired across the United States in the 70s and 80s.)
    My story about Jay aired across the US and it was amazing the amount of mail I received about this piece. I recall many people being inspired by Jay’s willingness to rise above his accident and make something (incredible) of his life.
    The thing I remember most about Jay Armes was his abilities (despite not having hands) and most important his up-beat personality. Jay and his wife were very gracious and allowed me and my crew into their home. We interviewed Jay extensively and he allowed us one Sunday to follow him to the church he worshiped at. I even interviewed the pastor of the church who spoke very highly of Jay.
    I can tell you from personal experience that YES, Jay Armes is the fastest draw (with a gun) not only in the West, but the entire world. I have it on videotape and the footage is still is in my personal studio. If Jay Armes had been on one of those flights on 9-11, he would have kept the terrorists from entering the cockpit.
    The underground firing range in his home is for real. His office was/is on Montana Avenue and is also very unique too.
    If ever someone needs to get out of their rut in life, they can simply look to Jay Armes for inspiration.
    If I lived in El Paso, I would be proud to call him a friend.

  22. Yes, David… PM Magazine was a wonderful experience for me. I was able to meet some very facinating people, one of which was Jay and the other was in 1980, a lady pilot for Continental Airlines who I did a story on. It was very rare to see a lady in the cockpit back in those days (still is today) but this lady also had a Las Vegas show/act.
    If memory serves me correct, her name was Claudia Jennings. She lived in Fabens, TX and flew out of El Paso.
    Lot’s of facsinating people in this world.

  23. Yes, David… PM Magazine was a wonderful experience for me. I was able to meet some very facinating people, one of which was Jay and the other was in 1980, a lady pilot for Continental Airlines who I did a story on. It was very rare to see a lady in the cockpit back in those days (still is today) but this lady also had a Las Vegas show/act.
    If memory serves me correct, her name was Claudia Jennings. She lived in Fabens, TX and flew out of El Paso.
    Lot’s of facsinating people in this world.

  24. Hi Sterling!
    It must have been great to be a part of PM Magazine. That show was the grandfather of many of the current magazine programs.
    It’s super you received so much fan mail for your story on Jay. That shows people have a good heart and a deep interest in fine people.
    Your current job looks interesting and challenging and I hope it makes you rich!

  25. Wow…I was really doubting myself about the memories I had of the J.J. Arms property in El Paso. I grew up there, and remember driving by with my mom and dad. They told fantastic stories about wild animals, and a man with no hands. I owned the action figure, and played with it for countless hours. I was just telling my oldest son about J.J., and I was really hoping that he was not a figment of my imagination. Thank you for making my childhood come back in techicolor!!!!
    Ren Norman
    Santa Rosa, Ca.

  26. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Ren, and thanks for the fine memory of J.J. and the cogent comment!
    J.J. was, and is, a great inspiration. His life gives context to suffering and success and humbles most of the rest of us in the example.

  27. Jay J. Armes on YouTube.
    I posted the PM Magazine feature I did on Jay J. Armes on YouTube. Here is the link if anybody is interested in watching.


    This short video indeed shows that he is the fastest draw (with a gun) not only in the West, but in the entire world.
    I sent an e-mail to Jay last week asking him if he didn’t mind if I posted the PM Magazine piece on YouTube and he graciously gave me his permission… Always the gentleman.

  28. I was in 7th grade when for Christmas 1977 my parents bought me his autobiography. I had the action figure as well. I also have a copy of the book in paperback as well. Yes, he is a facinating individual. Still looks good and has done quite well for himself!

  29. i remember reading about this guy in a book,
    or, i remember reading about the toys..
    i thought there was no way there was a guy with no hands, who’s a millionaire and a private investigator, named Jay J Armes!
    no hands! Armes! a spy! he has an estate with a cheetah!
    but he is real.
    this guy is amazing.

  30. I’ve been reading all of this stuff about Mr. Armes. I had the opportunity to know him and work with him when he ran for City Counsel both time in El Paso. I went to school with his son, Jay & daugher, Tracy. I didn’t know Jay too wellbut Tracy and I were close friends. We’ve since lost contact after school. The family was very nice and living less than 2 miles from their home, made it possible to spend some time there.
    We’re going to holiday to EP and plan on making a stop to visit Jay.

  31. Hello everyone,
    Where do I begin, I ran into a coworker today in my office and we began to reminisce about El Paso. I asked my friend if he remembered Jay J. Armes and of course he did as we both grew up in El Paso in the seventies – Guess it really is a small world.
    My grandfather was E.R. Carpenter. El Paso still has a Carpenter drive in Ysleta to this day named after my great grandfather Shanks Carpenter.
    When I was young I met Jay J. as my grandfather was a frequent visitor to his “compound”. I have a vague notion that my grandfather and Jay J. had some type of business dealings together although I could have no idea of what type.
    As a little boy I was a guest in his house, swam in his pool and had the privilege of petting may of Jay J’s “cats”
    I am please to find that someone remembers Jay J. and that he is remembered fondly – They do not make em’ like they used to.
    Mike Carpenter
    mcarpen@mac.com

  32. Hello everyone,
    Where do I begin, I ran into a coworker today in my office and we began to reminisce about El Paso. I asked my friend if he remembered Jay J. Armes and of course he did as we both grew up in El Paso in the seventies – Guess it really is a small world.
    My grandfather was E.R. Carpenter. El Paso still has a Carpenter drive in Ysleta to this day named after my great grandfather Shanks Carpenter.
    When I was young I met Jay J. as my grandfather was a frequent visitor to his “compound”. I have a vague notion that my grandfather and Jay J. had some type of business dealings together although I could have no idea of what type.
    As a little boy I was a guest in his house, swam in his pool and had the privilege of petting may of Jay J’s “cats”
    I am please to find that someone remembers Jay J. and that he is remembered fondly – They do not make em’ like they used to.
    Mike Carpenter
    mcarpen@mac.com

  33. I remember J J very well. God bless him. He helped me to retrieve my children from my ex when all other agencies failed or just did not want to be bothered. My children had been missing and abused for about 10 years.
    But in 1988 someone gave me JJ’s name, as someone who could help. He found them within 2 days and as they say the rest is history. Thank you JJ.

  34. If nayone wants more information about J. J. Armes why don’t u justcall The Investigators in El Paso TX off of Montana & see u can set up an aapointment to meet with him & let him know how u feel aboout how his life has impacted urs on a positive way! I’m sure he would love to hear this from u in person!

  35. does anyone know if he’s “upgraded” his arms over the years? surely there have been many advances in the past 30 or so years in prosthetics, robotics, and lightweight materials. was there ever a catalog of his various arm attachments or did he mostly just use the hooks?