Hammond returned to scene of the crime

September 12, 2020

For The Madera Tribune
Charles Hammond is shown here in a 1933 newspaper photo. He had been on the run for seven years after escaping from Folsom Prison. The woman is his wife that he married while a fugitive.

Charles Hammond was not only evil, but he was also wily, very wily. In 1917, he convinced his 27-year-old wife to commit bigamy and marry a rich Clovis farmer so that they could kill him and get his ranch. They went to the Courthouse in Madera, got married, and then carried out their nefarious scheme.


They were caught right away and sent to prison for life. The young wife went to San Quentin, and Charles was sent to Folsom.


Charles became a model prisoner and gained the confidence of the Folsom authorities. By 1926, he had been given a job on the prison farm, and that turned out to be a mistake. Somehow, on Oct. 5, 1926, he was able to just walk off and hide in the thick woods between the North Fork and the South Fork of the American River.


The state invaded the area with an army of lawmen, but Hammond managed always to elude them. Finally, they just gave up.


Over the next couple of years, Charles managed to make his way to Nevada and then to New Mexico and Arizona. He worked as a farm laborer and then made the fateful decision to return to Fresno. There he met the widow Sutherland, introducing himself as Robert Dorsey, and married her in 1929. They bought some property on Hughes Avenue north of Whitesbridge Avenue and started to raise chickens and berries.


Everything was coming up roses for Charles. His stepsons did all the work on the farm, while he managed the place. Then he made the mistake of going shopping for another car in Fresno. Hammond had one of his stepsons drive him to the car lot, and while he was engaged in making a purchase, the car dealer became suspicious. Something was just not right. He told the car dealer his name was Bert Carat, but the paper work in the car he was driving carried a different name. The salesman gave the Fresno police a call, and they went to work. After five days of investigating, they made a stunning discovery.


The Bert Carat who was trying to buy the car and had driven up in a vehicle registered to Robert Dorsey. When police checked that out, they discovered that Robert Dorsey was the father of Anna Hammond, Charles’s first wife — the one who was sitting in San Quentin for the murder they committed together. Charles Hammond had used his father-in-law’s name as an alias when he returned to Fresno and married the Widow Sutherland.


The investigators then dug back into the court records of the 1917 murder trial of Charles and Anna Hammond and found some very incriminating evidence — a letter written to Anna Hammond from her father, Robert Dorsey. In it, Dorsey regretted not having Hammond arrested when he began a romantic encounter with Anna, who was only 14 years old at the time.


The court records also revealed more about the guile of which Hammond was capable. During that 1917 trial, Anna told of how Charles had killed a man in Idaho and buried him on her father’s property. She also gave the court a list of other crimes Hammond had committed, which included two cases of arson and theft.


Convinced that Robert Dorsey was really Charles Hammond, they paid some of his neighbors a visit. When shown a prison photo of Hammond, they identified him as the man they knew as Robert Dorsey. The officers then went looking for Hammond. They found him feeding his chickens. When shown the prison picture of himself, Dorsey readily confessed that he was really Hammond.


“I guess I’m the man you want all right,” said Hammond. “It’s going to be tough going back after all these years. I trusted to luck to make a go of it. I’m a hardworking man, and I haven’t bothered anybody since I got away from Folsom.”


Hammond’s wife, the former widow Sutherland, was dumbfounded when police informed her that her husband was an escaped murderer. She tearfully asserted that she knew nothing of his past life. However, when they took Hammond away, she asked permission to go with them, such was his sway over the woman.


When the jailer booked Hammond as an escapee from Folsom prison, his wife threw her arms around him and declared that he had been a “kindly man and treats my children as if they are his own.”


So, after seven years of freedom, Charles Hammond went back to Folsom to serve out his life sentence. For a while, the authorities contemplated charging Charles with bigamy since he was still technically married to Anna Hammond, but they changed their mind. She was still in prison, and now they had Charles behind bars, again. All they had to do was to keep a closer watch on him this time.

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