If ever there was such a thing as a ne’er do well, Leonard Hammond must have been it. He spent 15 months in jail for a crime spree in Arizona before he came to Madera in 1901, robbed the Vignolo Hotel and wound up behind bars.
Judge Conley sentenced him to Folsom Prison for 90 years, and that is where he would have stayed if only his mother had not come to town in 1909, begging former Sheriff William B. Thurman to sign her petition for her son’s release. Little did she know that the parole would be her son’s death warrant.
By 1909, Thurman was no longer the sheriff; he had left law enforcement and opened Thurman’s Sash and Door Co. Thurman must have thought long and hard about the matter when approached by Mrs. Hammond; after all, he still had the scar in his hand from the wound he had received when her son tried to shoot his way out of the Madera jail eight years earlier. Thurman remembered the day well.
It was late February 1901 when Leonard Hammond walked into the saloon of the Vignolo Hotel in Berenda. The rooms were all occupied, and the bartender was having a time keeping up with the requests for libations. Business in Berenda had been brisk; the town had become the hub of a lively trade that radiated out in all directions from the little railroad burg north of Madera...