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Frenchman should have stayed home

Madera County Historical Society Horace Thorwaldson was the sheriff of Fresno County when he arrested Maderans Charles and Anna Hammond for murder.


Faustin Lasserre was 30 years old when he came to the United States. He had been born at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and in 1900, he decided to leave his native France and move to America. We don’t know why he landed in Fresno County, nor do we know how he became so wealthy in such a relatively short period of time. What we do know is that by 1915, he owned a large ranch in the National Colony and enjoyed life to the fullest, except that he might have been a little lonesome, because in the spring of 1917, he hired a housekeeper from Madera and fell for her hook, line, and sinker.

Now, it must be admitted that little Lillie Harper had all of the attributes that would turn a man’s head. She was pretty, well-mannered, and just a little flirtatious. When Faustin hired her, he agreed that she could have a room in his house, Monday through Friday. On the weekends, she could go to the Madera foothills, for that had been her home for all of her 27 years.

If Faustin’s neighbors shared any gossip about his sudden arrangements with his housekeeper, they had a real talkfest when they learned that on March 7 the couple walked into the Madera County Courthouse and got a marriage license from County Clerk Cornelius Curtin. The next day, they were back in Madera to be married by Justice of the Peace Raburn. On Thursday, March 8, 1917, the 47-year-old groom carried his 27-year-old bride across the threshold of his home to live out a life of matrimonial bliss — two days’ worth!

On Friday, March 9, the Lasserres had a visitor from Madera, Charles Hammond. Lillie introduced him to Faustin as her brother. As the days went on, neighbors noticed that while Hammond was spending a lot of time at the Lasserre ranch, nobody had seen Faustin after the wedding.

Suspicions began to rise and became so strong that District Attorney McCormick dispatched a pair of investigators to look into the matter. When they arrived at the house, Faustin was nowhere to be found, but they did find Lillie and Charles Hammond.

When questioned as to the whereabouts of Faustin Lasserre, neither Lillie nor Charles would talk, so while one officer continued the questioning of the pair, the other one went outside to look around. It didn’t take him long to spot a small mound of dirt in the back yard that looked freshly dug. When asked about it, Charles said nothing, but Lillie panicked and began to talk. She said that a few days after she and Lasserre had been married, she had to go to town on an errand. When she returned to the ranch, she found that Hammond was there, but Faustin was not.

She said Hammond had told her that her husband had gone to Mexico.

Meanwhile, the officer outside struck pay dirt, euphemistically speaking. He found Lasserre’s body, and when he exhumed it, he discovered what the killers already knew they would find. Lasserre’s skull had been crushed and his throat cut. The body had been tied up in an old blanket. It was buried less than three feet deep. When the lawmen presented Hammond and Lillie with the evidence, they got the whole, gruesome story.

In the first place, Lillie Harper was an alias. Her real name was Anna Hammond, and she had been Charles Hammond’s wife for several years, making her a bigamist when she married Lasserre.

Apparently Charles had hatched the plan after Lasserre hired her to be his housekeeper. She would win his affections, marry him, and they would dispose of him and take possession of his property. Hammond never guessed that his plan would work as quickly as it did. The marriage came more quickly than expected, therefore, so did the murder.

When Charles came to visit on March 9, he put his plan into action. Lillie introduced him to Lasserre as her brother, and they sat down to get acquainted while “Lillie” made coffee.

When she came back to the dining table, “Lillie” brought more than coffee; she brought a hammer and a straight razor. By prearranged signal, she slugged Lasserre with the hammer and he fell to the floor. As he struggled to get to his feet, Hammond grabbed the hammer and really worked him over. As he lay there semi-conscious, bleeding profusely, and belching out a gurgling sound, Hammond stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth. When that didn’t stop the noise, he grabbed the razor and cut his throat. Hammond then applied the coup de grace by putting six bullets into the man’s torso.

Anna wrapped the victim in a blanket while Charles went outside and dug the grave. As day gave way to dark, they carried Lasserre’s body to the hole and buried him, creating the small mound in the yard.

Charles and Anna Hammond were arrested and stood trial for the cold-blooded murder of Faustin Lasserre. They were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, Charles at Folsom and Anna at San Quentin, and that is really the end of the story, except for one interesting, little postscript. We just can’t close it without it.

As we wrote, Charles was sentenced to life at Folsom Prison, and he stayed there for nine years. Then somehow he escaped, and they didn’t catch him until 1933. He had assumed the name of Robert Dorsey and had married a widow who owned a chicken and berry farm near Fresno.

So back to Folsom he went after seven years of freedom, living right under the noses of the people who had sent him to prison in the first place.

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