The Grafters Club

The Membership


J. Frank Norfleet

BANNED, 1921

AKA: Nemesis of the Bunko Men

J. Frank Norfleet

Taken, twice, for a total of $45,000, Frank Norfleet pursued Joe Furey and his gang for two years, across thousands of miles, just in time to help Col. Van Cise spring his trap.

The diminutive retired farmer spent more than two years tracking the gang down one member at a time, acting as a lawman when necessary, and always packing heat.

Joe Furey led a gang of con men around 1920. They worked all over — Lou's Denver, Texas, Florida. Finally they shore the wrong sheep, one Frank Norfleet, a diminutive Texan who could hold a grudge. And why not; they managed to sheer him twice, for a total of $45,000.

But Frank didn't know when he was licked, and embarked on a cross-country manhunt for every last member of the gang. And he succeeded. Finding Furey in California, he turned him over to the police, but he bribed his way out before Norfleet had finished the paperwork. The chief of police and the whole bunko squad resigned. Norfleet caught up with Furey in Florida, and had him extradited to Texas where he was given twenty years.

Blonger gang member Walter Byland hinted at the darker side of these charming swindlers when he said, of Norfleet, when Byland's crew started working on Norfleet in Florida: "We thought Frank was a real boob, but Joe Furey, the man Norfleet was after, was sitting on the piazza of one of the hotels as we went by, and recognized him. He sent us a note, stating that the chump was Norfleet, and to grab him, tie him up with baling wire, rap him over the head, and throw him in the lake during the night. We intended to do it, but Norfleet beat us to it and got away."

Littleton Independent, March 13, 1923

Flays Rotten City Police System. Lauds State Ranger Force.
Philip Van Cise, district attorney of Denver, a human concentrate of fearlessness, determination, tenacity and effectiveness, a dynamo in law enforcement and feared among crooks, told, in very interesting language before the Littleton Legion and business men Wednesday evening, of the operations of the "con" men up to the time of their conviction in Denver, recently. Mr. Van Cise and his deputies succeeded in breaking up the most intricate fleecing organization in the United States and the methods used in effecting their capture and getting a conviction are nothing short of marvelous. He was aided by J. Frank Norfleet, a Texan, who had been fleeced and started out on his own initiative to bring the Bunco men to justice.
The meeting was attended by over a hundred local people and was the second annual dinner and in observance of the third anniversary of the Legion.
Dr. M. E. Spratlin was toastmaster of the evening. He called upon Morton M. David, state adjutant of the legion, who, in very choice words, told his listeners what the American Legion stood for and the battle for Americanism that was still before them.
A. E. Peters also responded and gave some insight into conditions of the east and north, from where he recently returned, relative to financial and manufacturing situations. From his observations the principal point of distress at present is the difference in monetary standards of the United States and other countries of the world. The influx of German goods is hurting conditions here. Mr. Peters said, "I don't believe in putting Germany on her feet at the expense of American workmen." He pointed out that German goods on the American market were crowding out American goods and causing unemployment in many of the manufacturing centers.
Mr. Van Cise was the next speaker. He paid tribute to the Colorado Ranger Organization and stated that a state police organization was necessary to the proper enforcement of law in any state. He also cited that the "con" men openly stated that they had the Denver police "fixed" so that he (Van Cise) could not get any where in the event he made the arrests. Van Cise made his haul with the aid of the Colorado Rangers.
Mr. Van Cise said, "citizenship is a real job;" and also that "if you have rotten government you are going to have rotten business conditions." "The curse of this country today," he said, "is the dollar sign."
The following, by Stuart L. Sweet, gives in detail, Mr. Van Cise's story of Mr. Norfleet, who was responsible for much of the inner work of bringing the "con" men to justice:
The Story of a Self-Appointed Texas Ranger
There is a legend - an unwritten law - among the famous band of Texas Rangers that is the same as the Canadian Mounted Police - "Get Your Man" and those calm cool men get their man, as the Southerners say despite "Hell and High water" or die in the attempt.
When a man appoints himself to such an organization he assumes a lot, first, that he "has the guts," in a cowboy term, to see it through and second that he has the patience and determination to get his man despite "Hell and High water."
Such a man was Frank Norfleet who followed his man for three years, according to Philip S. VanCise (sic), Denver's well known District Attorney, who told a fascinating story of the patience, perseverence (sic), determination and above all, the indominatable (sic) will of this Texas cowboy, Norfleet, who finally brought his man to justice after enduring hardships, trials, and disappointments that would have discouraged any but one living up to the traditions of the famous Texas Rangers.
Norfleet has been styled by the Denver Press as the Boomerang Sucker --- Col. Van Cise gave a fascinating description, last Wednesday night, at the American Legion Meeting, of the Trail of the Boomerang. It happened iin (sic) a Texas town, about three years ago when Mr. Norfleet, like many other farmers in 1919 made some money on his land and cattle and retired to the city to enjoy its comforts and rest his saddle tired body.
Mr. Norfleet does not fit the description of the Texas Cowboy or the Ranger. Instead of the tall, clean limbed broad shouldered athlete with the steely blue eye and square jaw, he is a small man with a squatty, but wirey (sic) build, a watery blue eye and a wrinkled, weather-tanned face.
His days of ease and comfort were short lifed (sic). He was the typical sucker and easy pickings for the Con men that flourished under police protection in the Southern Texas town. They suckered him out of a cool $25,000 and did it so smoothly that they sold him the idea it was an honest stock game and he had just been unlucky so he came back for more. This time they buncoed him out of $20,000 more.
With $45,000 vanished in thin air and nothing to show for it, Norfleet began to wake up. The night after his second trimming was a sleepless one. With a cold towel wrapped around his head he spent the night in thought. He realized he had been the victim of a crooked deal - his mind reverted to the steps that one by one led up to these two trimmings. He visualized the places and he stamped upon his mind with photographic clearness the scenes and faces and build of these Con men who had beaten him out of his hard earned money. He determined to bring them to Justice and before the morning sun came he had his plans made, but he little realized what was in store for him.
Going to the police next morning, he got no support as their protection had been bought and paid for by the Con men. At the Sheriff's office he was met with the same rebuff. The more obstacles he met, the more determined he became and as luck would have it the District Attorney in that Texas town could not be bought. He listened with attentive ears to Norfleet's tale, gave his support - issued warrants for the arrest of the Bunco men and after hearing Norfleet's plan turned them over to him. The Governor of the State gave his support to Norfleet's plans, appointed him an Agent of the State and issued Extradition Papers. On leaving he said to Norfleet, "It is up to you."
The Bunco men in the meantime had been tipped off. They moved their scene of action to California. When Norfleet learned this, he packed his bag and took a trip to California. For three months, rain or shine, he stood on the corner of the busiest street in Los Angeles, for at least eight hours a day. Picture if you can, the spirit of a man whose grim determination made him stand sentinel, day in and day out until they reached into months; picture the faith, and confidence he had in himself to recognize those men should they pass his way. He was out to get his man. He did. As the third month was wearing away his vigil was rewarded for Con Flurry, one of the greatest confidence men in America passed his corner. Flurry was the leader of the gang that buncoed Norfleet. Needless to say the little Texas Cowboy recognized him. Norfleet was armed, with sudden swiftness two forty-fives were sticking in the ribs of the Con man. In less than a minute the hand-cuffs were on him and Norfleet felt rewarded.
His joy was short lived for when he took him to the Sheriff's office the Sheriff in Los Angeles had been bought by the Bunco ring. The Sheriff suggested to Norfleet that he go to the District Attorney to get the necessary papers. He, in the meantime would turn Flurry over to two of his Deputies. When Norfleet returned to the Sheriff's office he was informed that the prisoner "had escaped."
Disappointed, but not discouraged, he went back to Woolwine's office. District Attorney Woolwine had his own ideas about the escape of the prisoner. He put two of his own operators on the case and before nightfall the two deputy-sheriffs were under arrest, charged with accepting bribes and $28,000 in cash was found in the safety deposit of one of the men, deposited that day. Proof in itself of the price paid by Flurry for his freedom. These two former deputy sheriffs are now in the State Prison of California serving their terms, thanks to Norfleet and Woolwine. The Con men decided it was time to travel. Norfleet took up the trail which landed him in one of the famous resorts of Florida. Here he spent days patiently waiting for sight of one of his men. To his surprise and amazement, and no little amusement, he was picked up again as a likely sucker by another crew of Con men. Believing that if he apparently played into their hands he might get in touch with those he was after, Norfleet played the sucker role with a skill that was born of sad and expensive experience. The usual plan of campaign was followed out by the Con men. They took him out to drive, they dined him, and finally offered to let him in on a very wonderful horse racing deal. It happened when Norfleet was being driven around by the Con men they passed a hotel and on the veranda sat the much sought after Mr. Flurry. Norfleet did not see Flurry but Flurry saw Norfleet. Flurry was the brains of the Organization. Similar to the Blonger position in the Denver Syndicate. The other Con men not knowing who the "sucker" was that they were preparing for shearing, took him to their beautiful Southern mansion where they had a cashier's cage with piles of money, telegraph wires and operators giving the latest information on the races. Norfleet took it all in with an experienced eye. As the Sucker always wins the first time Norfleet thought he would beat their game and get a little of his money back. He was just stepping up to the cage to place a bet when a messenger dashed in with a note for the Cashier - he tore it open, turned white and refused to accept any bets on that particular race. Norfleet realized that he had been recognized and decided to make his get away while the going was good. There was seven against one and he had nothing on them as yet. The other Con men instantly recognized that Norfleet was not the sucker he was pretending to be and as he cautiously made his way to the door a big Bunc hit him from the back, knocked him down and jumped on him. In going down Norfleet has gotten out two of his guns, much to the Con Man's surprise when he landed on top of Norfleet he felt two cold steel muzzles pressing into him. He immediately let Norfleet get up and with the coolness of a man schooled in the Great Outdoors and particularly in the rough tactics of the West, he kept the group covered and took the big Con man and one of the others along as travelling (sic) companions, put them in the car that had brought him to their rendezvous, ordered the colored chaffeur (sic) to drive back to town. On the way back the Buncs plead for their lives. They offered him anything. It developed they had $750 between them. He accepted this on account, let them out of the car and with the ease and comfort of a millionaire motored to the hotel where he learned Flurry was stopping.
As luck would have it Norfleet arrived at the hotel before the Con men had had time to warn Flurry. This time Norfleet saw Flurry first and with a gun planted in his sides Norfleet once more surprised the Bunco Chief. This time he took him to the Chief of Police. As usual the Chief had his rake off on the Bunco deals. He wrote out a slip of paper and handed it over for Flurry to sign. Norfleet demanded to know what it was and the Chief told him it was a bond which signed gave Flurry his release under the State laws of Florida. Norfleet had worked too hard and endured too much to get this Bunco man, to see him released on a $1000 bond. In fact, Norfleet felt he had bought and paid for a good many such bonds for Flurry. Much to the Chief's surprise Norfleet put his guns on the Chief, took his man and backed out of the Police Station. The Sheriff happened to arrive just as Norfleet was coming out with the prisoner. The Sheriff heard the story, offered him his support and suggested Norfleet take his car and drive to a Flag station where the Express for Texas could be stopped. About that time Norfleet's son arrived on the scene and the three of them with the Sheriff's chaffeur (sic) got into the car and started for the Flag Station.
Norfleet had fallen for the story of the Sheriff and as might be expected car trouble developed when they were put in the Everglades. Norfleet sent his son on to find out if there was such a station and Norfleet and his prisoner got out to rest in the shade while the car was being fixed. As soon as they were out the car drove off. There they were miles from a town, in the Florida Everglades, and with only one of two things apparently t odo (sic), either make their way back to town or walk on towards the station. Norfleet walked his prisoner towards the station. Soon he noticed they were being surrounded by a group of men with sawed-off shotguns. Norfleet had met many trying situations. He was ready for this one. Putting the muzzle of his 45 to the back of the neck of Flurry he called to their would-be capturers, "You boys may get me but I'll sure blow the top of this man's head off for a Christmas present before you do." Flurry was no fool. He knew the Texan meant what he said. He waved to the posse and told them to leave them alone and he'd take his chance with Norfleet. The men and their shotguns disappeared and Norfleet and his man made their way to the Flat Station. Sure enough the Flag Station existed and before long the Express steamed in and stopped. Norfleet was on his way to Texas with his man, he felt relieved and relaxed. After a few hours Flurry complained of the tightness of the handcuffs. With a generous spirit Norfleet took off the handcuffs and the next instant Flurry dove through the window; before they could stop the Express a freight train roared by, Flurry caught the freight and again disappeared, then Norfleet and his son were left by the Express on Western Florida.
The Goddess of Good Luck flew to Norfleet's help again and another freight train came along. Norfleet hopped on to that with his son and put up such a plea to the Engineer that he broke all rules of the road, disconnected his engine from the cars and lit out at full speed with Norfleet and his son to overtake the first freight. They caught it and Norfleet got his man. He returned Flurry to Texas, helped convict him and this last year Flurry died in the State Prison of Texas.
Norfleet trailed the other members of the gang that victimized him with the same characteristic determination and before he was through got them all. He was one of the most important witnesses for Col. Van Cise in the Bunco Trail (sic). It was there he got his last man, Spencer and his experiences, stranger than fiction, proved the rule of the Texas Rangers, to get their man before they quit.
As Col. Van Cise said in closing this story of Mr. Norfleet's experiences typifies the duty of every American citizen. To take his citizenship as a life long job to help personally enforce law and order in this great nation of ours.