George J. Overholt

Overholt, George J

Appointed: 1931-1951

George Overholt was born on Oct. 23, 1883, in Clark's Valley (Crawford Avenue north of Hwy 180), east of Sanger, where his father was a homesteader. He attended school in Clark's Valley, Centerville, Sanger, and Fresno, and later attended a business college in Pennsylvania.

After completing his education, he worked as a ranch manager, a hotel manager, and in administration for lumber companies in the Sierras of eastern Fresno County. In 1918, he was the campaign manager for sheriff's candidate William F. Jones.

After Jones' election, Overholt was appointed undersheriff, a post he held during Jones' three terms as sheriff. In 1930, Overholt was elected to succeed his former boss, the first of five sheriff's elections he won. His 32-year career at the sheriff's office came to an end when he lost the 1950 election to Joseph Tracy. He died in Fresno on June 3, 1964, survived by his wife, Dorothy.

Sheriff Overholt was almost exclusively an administrative sheriff, leaving criminal investigations to his deputies. In 1936, Overholt formed the Sheriff's Posse, a volunteer organization of horsemen, to assist in mountain searches. The volunteer Sheriff's Air Squadron was organized in 1940, opening a new sphere in law enforcement. From 1941-43, his administration oversaw the construction of a new building to house the sheriff's office and jail (This building still stands as the South Annex Jail, at the northeast corner of the Courthouse Park.). Other innovations included the establishment of the first rudimentary sheriff's patrol, known as “night car,” a two-way radio system and uniforms for patrol officers, bailiffs and jail officers. In personnel, the department doubled in size from roughly thirty to sixty during his tenure.

The three most notable crimes during Overholt's era all involved the murder of young girls by sex offenders. In November 1935, 14 year-old Mary Louise Stammer was fatally shot through a window in her Fig Garden area home while babysitting a brother and sister. An exhaustive two-month investigation led to the arrest of Elton Stone, who was hanged at Folsom Prison in June 1936. In March 1947, 9 year-old Esther Lee Lewis was attacked and murdered as she walked to the school bus on Trimmer Springs Road, east of Centerville. Months later a 17 year-old former mental patient was charged with the murder of the little girl and another woman in Fresno. He was later sentenced to life. In November 1949, 17 month-old Josephine Yanez was removed from her parent's car in Huron, and later assaulted and murdered in a nearby cotton field. Just over a year later, farm worker Paul Gutierrez paid for the crime in the San Quentin gas chamber.