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County honors sheriff Ed Bates

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune Retired Madera County Sheriff Ed Bates salutes a parade of local law enforcement represetatives, first responders and others participating in a parade honoring Bates on his 95th birthday Tuesday in front of the Madera County Sheriff’s Department.


On Nov. 3, 1970, the people of Madera County spoke, and Edward Bryant Bates celebrated his 45th birthday by being elected sheriff! He defeated E.H. Daulton, his runoff opponent, 7,059 to 4,652. Bates was the majority choice in 80 of the county’s 86 voting precincts.

For the next decade Bates had a running battle on two fronts — fighting criminals and politicians. Bates’ fight with criminals took him all over the county. Many of our residents remember the 22-Mile House murder, the serial killer in Chowchilla, and the annual struggle with the Hells Angels at Bass Lake. Every one of these episodes made headlines, but it was the Chowchilla Kidnapping that riveted the world’s attention on Madera County and its Sheriff. When the final book on Sheriff Ed Bates is written it will include this ordeal and many more.

Just as gripping, however, were Bates’ tug-o-wars with the politicians — one in particular, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Two confrontations between the top lawman and the county supervisors, all elected by the people, emerge to shed light on the character of all those involved. The first is the take-over of the jail by the Board in a disagreement with Bates. The second centered around the refusal of the Board to give the Sheriff’s Office additional funding for vehicle fuel. That was settled when Bates parked most of the sheriff’s patrol cars. For a few hours, the only vehicle patrolling Madera County for the Sheriff’s office was the Sheriff himself, in his own vehicle and accompanied by his wife.

Perhaps the most telling case in which Bates was involved was the shooting of Danny Dark. It happened when Bates was a deputy sheriff in Stanislaus County assigned to investigating major crimes. It reveals his investigative skills and his belief that cops are not above the law.

The action began in Stanislaus County Sheriff Dan Kelsay’s office. He had just given Sgt. Bates an order to investigate the shooting of Danny Dark, a resident of Patterson, California.

As Bates tells the story, the Darks were having trouble with a Peeping Tom. Dark complained to the Patterson Police Department, and they devised a trap. Mrs. Dark would leave the blinds open that night while she was dressing for bed. Her husband and a Patterson policeman would be on hand to capture the voyeur.

Bedtime, became show time, and Mrs. Dark began her performance. In a few minutes the dim figure of someone was seen outside. Dark and the Patterson officer ran out to the back yard but saw no one. Then they decided to check the shed at the back of the property. With the officer right behind him, Dark opened the shed door, and a shot rang out. Danny Dark yelled, “He shot me,” and the intruder ran out and down the alley. Dark was taken to the hospital with a .38 caliber wound in his chest. The next day, Sgt. Bates went to interview Dark in the hospital. After talking with him for a while and examining the wound, Bates asked to see the x-rays. Something was wrong here. The wound in the front was larger than the wound in the back. If the intruder had shot Dark like the policeman said, the larger wound — the exit wound — would have been in the victim’s back while the smaller wound — the entrance wound — would have been in the front.

That night Bates went to the Dark’s home to examine the shed. As he ran his light along the inside wall, he saw evidence that a bullet had grazed it. This led Bates to examine the fence behind the shed, and that’s where he found a .38 caliber bullet.

At that point, Bates’ suspicions were confirmed. The bullet had entered Dark’s back, slid along some wood, exited the shed, and stuck in the fence. With that Bates went directly to the home of the policeman who had accompanied Dark when he was shot.

Sgt. Bates found the officer in bed. When aroused and informed of what Bates had discovered, the Patterson cop gave a full confession. He had followed Danny Dark to the shed, and when they opened the door, the intruder jumped out. In haste, the officer pulled his gun and fired, the bullet entering Dark’s back and exiting his chest, leaving the tell-tale wound. The policeman let the shooting stand, allowing everyone to assume that Dark had been shot by the intruder.

Bates took the officer’s badge, ID, and gun and took him back to Modesto where he recorded the man’s confession.

And that’s the way Edward Bryant Bates did business, thoroughly, logically, and honestly. He began his law enforcement that way and ended it in the same manner.

The people elected Sheriff Bates three times. While he was sheriff, he attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia twice, once in 1974 for the regular session and again in 1976 for advanced criminology training. After retiring from law enforcement he taught criminology at Fresno State, until his retirement in 1990.

As was written in an earlier article, Sheriff Bates’ life is the stuff of which movies are made. He lives in Oakhurst and told this reporter he is enjoying life and is looking forward to the time he can join his wife, Freda, his partner for 57 years.

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