Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society
Sheriff John Barnett is shown here, second from the right, after a huge moonshine raid in which the Madera lawman got his man, just as he had done five years earlier when, as City Marshal, he arrested Nick Lambos for the attempted murder of Frank Furman.
Frank Furman, owner of the Damp Wash Laundry on Madera’s West Sixth Street, was busy doing a load of washing with his helper on the evening of Oct. 4, 1917. Neither man saw the gunman creep up to the window and point a pistol in Furman’s direction.
When the assailant pulled the trigger, there wasn’t a loud report—just a slight crack, as if someone had stepped on a creaking board. For a moment Furman didn’t even know he had been hit, not even when he fell to the floor. It didn’t take long, however, for him to discover that someone had just tried to kill him.
Furman’s assistant ran to get help, and soon Doctor Rinker and City Marshal John Barnett were on the scene. The former started immediately to tend the wounded man, while the latter put the legal wheels into high gear. He knew exactly who had made the attempt on Furman’s life. Within half an hour, he had Nick Lambos sitting in the county jail accused of attempted murder.
Furman had come to Madera two years earlier to open his laundry. He was considered by most folks to be a quiet sort of fellow who minded his own business and stayed to himself. He didn’t engage in gossip and was anything but a troublemaker. Thus, when he got married in June 1917, no one suspected that it would come close to costing him his life.
The first indication that Furman had a problem came in September 1917 when, upon arriving at his home on the corner of I and Fifth street, he found a threatening note which had been slipped under the door. Someone had drawn a skull and crossbones at the top of the paper and underneath had written the following message: “Take warning. You better leave.” The composer of the note then placed a burnt match within the folds of the paper.
Furman took the warning note to Barnett, who pondered this strange turn of events. Just a few days earlier, Furman’s wife had confided in Barnett that she was going to leave her husband for personal reasons and sought his advice in the matter. Barnett wisely refused to become involved in the Furmans’ marital difficulties, but he made a mental note of the timing of the note and Mrs. Furman’s announced intention of leaving her husband.
Therefore, when Barnett was called to the scene of the shooting at the Damp Wash Laundry on Oct. 4, 1917, he knew precisely who was responsible. He had been doing a bit of detective work since Frank Furman had shown him the intimidating note and Mrs. Furman had told him of her marital plans.
Barnett left the laundry and headed for the Park Hotel, on North G Street. When he walked in, Lambos was sitting in the parlor reading a paper. Upon questioning Mrs. C.A. Dworack, the proprietor, Barnett found out that Lambos had been in there for about 15 minutes. While Nick continued to read, Barnett went up to search his room. There he found a pistol of the caliber that had been used on Furman. The lawman went back downstairs and took Lambos straight to jail. Barnett had put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
He remembered that Mrs. Furman had come to him after being married for just three months to announce she was leaving her new husband. Then a few days later, Mr. Furman had come with news of the warning note. Barnett put two and two together and began to investigate the Furmans. Somehow the woman was at least part of the problem.
It didn’t take Barnett long to add substance to his suspicion. Before she had married Frank Furman in June 1917, Mrs. Furman had cohabitated with Lambos for two years. They had met in 1915 near Buchanan and had been living together. Later they moved to Madera, where the woman left Lambos and married Furman. Apparently, now she had changed her mind, and her former boyfriend decided to make it easier for her by getting rid of her husband.
Thus it was that on the night of Oct. 4, 1917, Nick Lambos loaded up his pistol and went gunning for Frank Furman. Finding him at the laundry, he fired through the window and saw him drop to the floor. Thinking one shot was all that was needed, he fled. All the while Mrs. Furman was right next door at a neighbor’s, having coffee.
After putting a bullet in Furman, Lambos ran toward Lincoln School, crossed the street, and ran up G Street to the Park Hotel. He went straight to his room to deposit the gun and then went back downstairs to have a few words with his landlady, Mrs. Dworack. He then grabbed something to read and took a seat in the parlor. That’s when Barnett came in and arrested him.
As for Mrs. Furman, Barnett arrested her too, but she had better luck than her former boyfriend did. Her husband stood up for her, so District Attorney Stanley Murray dropped the charges.
In the end Barnett got his man, but he got more than that. He got the drop on Madera County Sheriff, J.F. Lewis, who didn’t find out about the entire affair until he woke up the next morning. By then Barnett had it all signed, sealed, and delivered. Perhaps that’s why the marshal replaced Lewis as Madera County sheriff just a few months later. Barnett was able to convince the voters that they needed a sheriff who wasn’t asleep on the job.