William F. Jones

Jones, William F

Appointed: 1919 – 1931

William F. Jones was born in Tehama County, California, on July 31, 1874. His father died when he was 5, and at the age of 13, he left school and went to work making redwood shakes. Throughout the years, he worked his way up in the lumber industry, eventually managing logging camps in Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama Counties.

In 1907, he came to Fresno County, building and managing lumber mills in the area of Hume Lake. Having no prior law enforcement experience, he ran for sheriff in 1918, near the end of the Great War.

His supporters called the attention of the electorate to the fact that the other candidates for the office were both foreign born, Sheriff Horace Thorwaldson having been born in Iceland, and Fresno Constable Ben Drenth having been born in Holland. Bill Jones won the election and was re-elected in 1922 and 1926. He did not seek a fourth term. He retired to a ranch forty miles from Red Bluff. He came out of retirement in 1934, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy as the Constable of the Third Township (Fresno).

During Sheriff Jones' term in office, the department joined a statewide communications network that broadcast descriptions of wanted subjects and stolen property between police agencies. The Identification Bureau continued to modernize, and by 1928, I-Bureau Deputy Ed Verdieck was testifying in court on ballistic findings.

During a 1921 strike in the Coalinga oil fields, Jones skillfully intervened in the dispute and was instrumental in preventing serious violence from breaking out. From 1923-25, there was disorder in the vineyards of Fresno County as raisin growers worked to form a co-operative that would allow them to market their crops at higher prices. Many who rejected overtures to join the co-operative received visits by large groups of vehicle borne "night riders," who destroyed vineyards and orchards of recalcitrant farmers. The efforts of those supporting the co-op were successful and few were ever identified or charged in connection with the depredations. During the national resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Jones was approached by the local Klan leader, who warned that his political career would be endangered if he did not join the Klan. Jones advised the Klansman that he would rather lose his office than become a member of the organization. When he later discovered that a member of his staff was a secret Klan member, he immediately fired the man.

Bill Jones was the last Fresno County Sheriff who also acted as the primary criminal investigator for the agency. Without prior law enforcement experience, Jones consistently showed great tenacity in investigations. In several homicide investigations, he trailed murder suspects across the West for months before finally tracking them down. The most noted crimes solved in his era were the 1919 murder of "the Old Broom Man," Edwin Taylor, the 1923 Potegian poisoning case, and the 1924 Clovis bank robbery.

Sheriff Jones died of a heart attack while on a fishing trip at Coolidge Meadows, in the mountains of Eastern Fresno County on June 14, 1936. He was survived by his wife Mary Estella.