Brooke Leopold Hart
June 11, 1911
|Died||November 9, 1933(aged 22)|
|Education||Bellarmine College Preparatory|
|Alma mater||Santa Clara University (BS, 1933)|
|Known for||Family department store; his kidnapping and subsequent murder|
Brooke Hart (June 11, 1911 – November 9, 1933) was the eldest son of Alexander Hart, the owner of Leopold Hart and Son Department Store at the southeast corner of Market and Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, California. His kidnapping and murder were reported throughout the United States. The subsequent lynching of his alleged murderers, Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes, sparked widespread political debate.
The lynchings were carried out by a mob of San Jose citizens in St. James Park across from the Santa Clara County Jail, and were broadcast as a 'live' event by a Los Angeles radio station. The killings of the suspects were tacitly endorsed by the governor of California, James Rolph, Jr., who said he would pardon anyone convicted of the lynching. Scores of reporters, photographers, and newsreel camera operators, along with an estimated 3,000 to 10,000 men, women, and children, were witness to it. When newspapers published photos, identifiable faces were deliberately smudged so that they remained anonymous; the following Monday, local newspapers published 1.2 million copies, twice the normal daily production.
This incident is sometimes referred to as "the last lynching in California", although Clyde Johnson was lynched near Yreka in August 1935 and the last California lynching is said to have occurred on January 6, 1947, in Callahan, but the name of the victim has never been released and the event cannot be confirmed in any printed news publications.
- 1 Background
- 2 Disappearance
- 3 Lynching of Thurmond and Holmes
- 4 Impact of the case
- 5 Family
- 6 Modern coverage
- 7 In popular media
- 8 References
- 9 External links
In 1933 Brooke Hart was 22 years old, and the heir to one of San Jose's best-known businesses. His grandfather, Leopold Hart, was an Alsatian immigrant who bought a mercantile shop known as the Cash Corner store in San Jose in 1866. After Leopold's son, Alex J. Hart Sr. (known as A.J.) took over the business, it expanded to the landmark status it held in San Jose for four decades - becoming as much a part of the fabric of the city as Macy's was in New York or Neiman Marcus was in Dallas.
The Hart store was famous for its attentive customer service, and benefited from the deep loyalty of customers and employees alike. When the country found itself in the grip of the Great Depression, Hart's held onto its central place in the lives of San Jose's citizens, and continued to buy advertising in local publications.
The family was one of the city's most prominent, and their influence was the source of many colorful stories: one such tale recounts that the artist who repainted the ceiling of St. Joseph Cathedral in the 1920s modeled the cherubs in his work on the Hart family's children.
Brooke Hart had worked in his family's department store during much of his youth and was well-known and liked by the local community. After he graduated from Santa Clara University, his father, A.J., made him a junior vice president in the store and began grooming him to take over when A.J. retired.
|Key locations during the kidnapping|
Hart's Department Store
San Jose Country Club, intended destination
Hart's Studebaker abandoned on Evans Lane/Piedmont Drive
San Mateo Bridge
Just before 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, 1933, Brooke Hart retrieved his 1933 Studebaker President roadster, a graduation present from his parents, from a downtown San Jose parking lot behind the family store. He had agreed to chauffeur his father, A.J., who did not drive, to a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce at the San Jose Country Club.
When Brooke did not turn up to collect his father, A.J. became concerned. Hours passed and still there was no sign of Brooke. The family anxiety grew; the eldest Hart child was responsible and punctual. This disappearance was entirely out of character. A.J. Hart confessed his worry to Perry Belshaw, the manager of the San Jose Country Club, during dinner; after Brooke Hart's friend phoned to say the younger Hart had missed an appointment at 8, A.J. called the police to determine if his son had been involved in an accident.
According to the parking lot attendant, Hart had left the lot heading east on Santa Clara Avenue at 6:05 p.m.; he was later spotted around 6:30 p.m. by a Hart Department Store employee at Santa Clara and Fourteenth. Finally, a rancher in Milpitas saw a man matching Hart's description standing alone next to an automobile on Evans Lane at approximately 7 p.m.; when the rancher returned, he saw the car still parked there at approximately 8:30 p.m. with no one else present.
At 9:30 that night, Aleese Hart, the older of Hart's two younger sisters, answered the telephone at the family home and was informed by a "soft-spoken man" that Hart had been kidnapped and that instructions for his return would be provided later. At 10:30, what sounded like the same man called and informed the other sister, Miriam, that her brother would be returned upon payment of $40,000 (equivalent to $790,000 in 2019). Delivery instructions would be provided the next day. According to phone company records, the kidnappers had tried to reach the Hart home three times but the line was busy before they were finally connected. Perry Belshaw, the manager of the San Jose Golf and Country Club, lived near the site where the Studebaker had been parked and reported the abandoned car in Milpitas to the police at 11 p.m.; it was positively identified as Hart's.
|Selected key locations in San Jose|
Hart's Department Store (Market & Santa Clara)
Jack Holmes house (1070 Bird Ave)
Hart Mansion (The Alameda & Naglee)
St. James Park
The San Jose Police, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, and the U.S. Division of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) were quickly brought into the case. The phone calls were traced to locations in San Francisco; the call that connected was traced to the Whitcomb Hotel. However, the search initially focused on the hilly region surrounding Calaveras Dam and the city of Oakland; the call's origin was thought to be a decoy action.
Hart's wallet was discovered in San Francisco on the guard rail of the tanker Midway which had been refueling the Matson Lines passenger liner SS Lurline when both ships were docked at Pier 32 from midnight to 5 a.m., and it was assumed the wallet had been tossed from a porthole on the liner. Lurline was stopped and searched in Los Angeles when it arrived there on its way to Honolulu on November 11, but nothing was found. Police then advanced an alternative theory: since Pier 32, from which Lurline had departed, was close to the sewer outfall, the heavily laden tanker might have dipped below the surface and picked up the wallet from where it had been discharged from the sewer, lifting it from the bay once a sufficient amount of fuel had been offloaded. One of the passengers detained during the three-hour search was Babe Ruth, traveling to Los Angeles to watch a football game between Southern California and Stanford.
At the time, the Oakland Tribune named Charles 'Pretty Boy' Floyd a suspect in the kidnapping, as he was reportedly present in California. Floyd was later spotted in Almaden, near abandoned quicksilver mine shafts. While searching for Floyd or Hart at the mine, a man claiming to be Floyd boarded a bus in Modesto and robbed passengers using a gun.
The Hart family chartered an airplane to look for cabins in the hills near Milpitas starting on November 12, following up a theory that Hart had been first lured to the area where his car was abandoned, and the kidnappers then took him from there. Because the car's lights were left on, and there were signs of a scuffle, authorities believed Hart had been overpowered in Milpitas. In addition, witnesses who had seen Hart driving the Studebaker said that he was alone, although in some cases visibility was poor.
A "compromise ransom" telegram from Sacramento arrived on November 12, suggesting that $20,000 (equivalent to $395,000 in 2019) would be sufficient. However, the family was not contacted again until Monday, November 13, when a letter, postmarked in Sacramento, arrived in the mail at the family department store. It instructed Hart's father, A.J. Hart, to have a radio installed in the Studebaker (which already had a radio), because the ransom instructions would be broadcast over NBC radio station KPO. The kidnapper also instructed A.J. Hart to be ready to drive the Studebaker to deliver the ransom, but A.J. Hart had never learned to drive. On November 13, A.J. Hart posted a $5,000 reward for his son's safe return, with a promise to drop any further investigation upon his return. To emphasize the validity of the reward offer, police announced they would not be tracing calls to the Hart residence. However, this was a ruse to entrap the kidnappers; in fact, the telephone line continued to be tapped.
On Tuesday, November 14, a second ransom note arrived, this time postmarked in San Francisco. It instructed A.J. Hart to place the ransom in a black satchel and drive to Los Angeles. That night, Hart took a call from a man claiming to be his son's kidnapper who instructed him to take the night train to Los Angeles. The authorities staked out the train station and mistakenly arrested a bank teller out for an evening stroll.
The next day, November 15, a sign was placed in a window of the Hart store stating that A.J. Hart did not drive. A call was received that night again demanding that Hart drive to deliver the ransom. Hart demanded proof that his son was with the caller. The caller stated that Brooke Hart was being held at a safe location. Because a phone tap had been placed on the Hart telephone, the call was traced to a garage in downtown San Jose, but the caller was gone by the time the authorities arrived.
Arrests and confessions
They were pretty good blows and he didn't give us much trouble after that. We then tied his arms behind him with the wire and also bound his legs with it.
We picked him up hand and foot and heaved him over into the water.
I don't know whether he cried out or not. I don't know whether he was conscious or not. Or whether he drowned, or was killed before he hit the water.
Before we threw him over we took his wallet away from him. There was $15 in it and we split the money between us.
— Harold Thurmond, Confession printed in Oakland Tribune, November 16, 1933
Another ransom demand arrived the following day, November 16, again ordering A.J. Hart to drive with the ransom. That night, another call was received and the demand that Hart drive was repeated. The call was traced to a pay phone in a parking garage at Market near San Antonio, and Police Chief J.N. Black and Sheriff William Emig hurried to the scene just 150 feet (46 m) from the San Jose Police station, where they arrested Thomas Harold Thurmond as he was hanging up, at about 8 p.m. At 3:00 a.m., Thurmond, after hours of questioning, signed a confession in which he claimed to have bound Brooke Hart's hands with wire and tossed him off the San Mateo Bridge into San Francisco Bay sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 on the night of the kidnapping. He also identified an accomplice: John Holmes, a recently unemployed salesman who was separated from his wife and two children. Holmes was arrested in his SRO room at the California Hotel near the San Jose Police station at 3:30 a.m. According to Thurmond's confession, Holmes approached him with the scheme six weeks prior, after he had separated from his family.
At 1 p.m. on November 17, Holmes signed a confession admitting that he and Thurmond had kidnapped Hart and thrown him into San Francisco Bay. Later, the Santa Clara County District Attorney advised the press that, unless corroborated by independent evidence of the crime, confessions by Thurmond and Holmes in which each blamed the other for the crime were not admissible in a court of law. In his confession, Holmes stated that Thurmond had come up with the plan: "A couple of days before the kidnaping, [Thurmond and I] went to a show. On the way out he grabbed my arm and said, 'There goes Brookie Hart. If we pick him up we can get a nice piece of change." In Thurmond's earlier confession, he stated Holmes made the decision to murder Hart: "Thursday afternoon, November 9, I went to Merritt's plumbing shop and bought three bricks for 10 cents each and 55 cents' worth of wire to make preparations to kidnap Brooke Hart. I don't know whether Holmes planned to murder the boy at that time but at any rate we wanted to be prepared."
We led him to believe we were going to transfer him to another car. At this moment an automobile came over the bridge and Brooke started to shout for help.
I hit him with my fist and knocked him down. It was a good blow and I don't think he ever snapped out of it. I wanted to show him we meant business.
Harold got the concrete blocks and tied them to Brooke's feet. Then I said to Harold:
"Let's give it to him."
Then we picked him up and threw him overboard.
He struggled around down there and Harold said:
"Give me the gun. I'll fix him up."
I gave him the gun and he climbed over the railing and held on to the bridge stringers and fired away. We couldn't see Brooke. It was dark. But we could hear him floundering about.
The next day we got together and we were appalled by what we had done.
"I didn't know I could do a thing like that," Harold said. "It sure was terrible."
"Yes," I said, "it sort of gets me. I didn't think I could do it either."
According to the men's confessions, when Hart stopped his car near the exit of the parking lot in the evening of November 9, Thurmond slipped into the passenger seat and, holding a gun on him, forced Hart to drive to what is now Milpitas, about seven miles north of San Jose. There they abandoned the Studebaker for another waiting car, which had been driven to the rendezvous point by Holmes, and the group of three drove to the San Mateo Bridge.
A mother and daughter on a farm immediately south of Milpitas had seen a dark, long-hooded sedan with three men stopped near their barn. A few minutes after it stopped, a convertible (presumably the Studebaker President roadster) with three men (two on the running boards and one driving) stopped near the sedan. Their description of the man driving the convertible, slender with light colored hair, matched the description of Hart, as did the Studebaker as his car. Hart was driven away in the larger car. According to the farmers, one of the group followed in the Studebaker. The mother did not report the events until the following Monday (November 13), when she was visiting relatives and learned about the kidnapping. The investigators did not agree on the veracity of the story, because the number of kidnappers did not agree with the recorded confessions.
On the bridge, the men ordered Hart out of the car, and one of the kidnappers struck him twice on the head from behind with a concrete block until he was unconscious. They then bound his arms with baling wire and tied two 22 lb (10.0 kg) concrete blocks to his feet before dumping him off the bridge into San Francisco Bay. The tide was out and there were only a few feet of water at the base of the bridge; the kidnappers then shot Hart, killing him. According to Thurmond's confession, Hart struggled in the water for a few minutes and may have been able to free himself from his bonds; after they had tossed him over the north side of the bridge, Hart moved south under the bridge, against the prevailing current. Thurmond also stated Holmes was the first to shoot at Hart, but Thurmond shot at Hart after he had drifted under the bridge. After leaving Hart in the bay, they stopped approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from the eastern end, where they discarded an extra concrete block and a roll of wire, which were recovered after the confessions. A few hours later, they placed the first telephone call to the Hart family demanding $40,000 for Hart's return.
Two men scavenging for wood in the bay, Cal Coley and Vinton Ridley, heard screams for help at approximately 7:25 pm on the night of November 9, when Hart was kidnapped, and tried to rescue him but were hampered by muddy conditions. The two said the cries for help came from the bridge near the shore of Alameda, but added they did not hear any shots that night.
Local newspapers reported that Holmes and Thurmond had met with psychiatrists and would attempt to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Thurmond claimed he had been "crazy" for more than a year, since his sweetheart married another man, and Holmes planned to repudiate his confession, which his attorney claimed had been "forced from him by third-degree methods," including threats to "turn him over to the mob for lynching if he did not confess." Upon learning of rumors of a possible insanity plea on the part of Thurmond, law enforcement authorities directed two psychiatrists from Agnews State Mental Hospital in Santa Clara to examine the two men to preclude such a defense. Following cursory examinations in their cells at the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, with a mob outside in the jail courtyard, both men were declared sane.
Search for the body
Police officers from Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda Counties began searching the bay around the bridge, hoping to find Hart's body. Trace evidence, including stains on the bridge, "blonde hair on a brick" and other markings convinced authorities the confessors had truthfully described the sequence of events, including dumping Hart.
The first physical clues were unearthed on November 18. Two 22-pound (10.0 kg) bricks and apparent bloodstains were found at the San Mateo Bridge. The pillowcase used to mask Hart during the car ride to the bridge was discovered, along with Hart's hat, by November 20. The discovery of the hat ended the last hope of the family that Hart would be found alive. A hook-studded apparatus was used to drag the bay, with no success. A weighted dummy was planned to be dropped from the bridge on November 21 in an attempt to see where it would float. Workers constructing a pier of the Bay Bridge reported seeing a body floating in the water during the night of November 22, prompting a search by Oakland and San Francisco police boats, including the shores of nearby Goat Island. Alex Hart announced a $500 (equivalent to $9,900 in 2019) reward on November 24, hoping to "enlist the aid of the public in the search." By that time, the search for the body involved a blimp from Sunnyvale, police boats from Oakland and San Francisco, United States Marines and a hydraulic pump to dredge the mud from underneath the San Mateo Bridge.
The official search for Hart's body ended on November 25. The next day, two duck hunters from Redwood City discovered a badly decayed and crab-eaten body approximately 0.5 miles (0.80 km) south of the bridge. Hart's body was identified by the coroner and Hart's friends and employees later that day, with several personal effects with the body matched to Hart's known possessions. According to the autopsy, Hart had died from drowning, and there were no bullet wounds found.
Lynching of Thurmond and Holmes
Because of lynch threats, Santa Clara County Sheriff Emig moved Thurmond and Holmes to the Potrero Hill police station in San Francisco for safekeeping soon after their arrest. A San Jose newspaper ran a front-page editorial branding Holmes and Thurmond "human devils" and called for "mob violence." Upon their return to the San Francisco jail from questioning, cries of "lynch them" were heard from the crowd surrounding that jail. On November 21, Holmes and Thurmond remained in the jail, and fear of vigilantism led authorities to announce they would be held "indefinitely." Reportedly, "20 influential friends of the socially prominent Hart family" had formed a committee to "insist on immediate and drastic punishment for the prisoners." Prosecutors declined to seek grand jury hearings in the fear that an indictment would incite vigilantes.
— Governor James "Sunny Jim" Rolph, 23 Nov 1933 comments to reporters in Los Angeles
Despite these fears, the pair were indicted on charges of extortion, using the mails for extortion, and conspiracy, and were returned to the San Jose jail the night of November 22. On November 23, California Governor James Rolph announced to shocked reporters that he would refuse to dispatch the National Guard to protect Thurmond and Holmes.
Upon payment of $10,000 (equivalent to $198,000 in 2019) cash—an astonishing sum in 1933—by the father of Jack Holmes, San Francisco attorney Vincent Hallinan agreed to represent his son. Thurmond was defended by J. Oscar Goldstein of Chico. With a volatile mob increasing day and night outside the jail on November 24, Hallinan called Rolph and asked that he call out the National Guard should an effort be made to lynch his client. Rolph retorted that he would "pardon the lynchers".
Overnight lynching 26–27 November
Authorities "expected trouble if and when the missing body was found." After the discovery of Hart's body on Sunday, November 26, word went out immediately throughout northern California. All day Sunday and into the evening, radio stations issued inflammatory announcements that a lynching would occur that night in St. James Park in San Jose. Crowds began to gather outside the jail at around 11 a.m., shortly after local newspapers had run extra editions announcing that Hart's body had been found. Sheriff Emig pre-emptively ordered the erection of an improvised barricade of parked automobiles and trucks to protect the jail. By 9:00 p.m., a mob estimated by the press to range anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 men, women, and children were jammed into the park, with an estimated 3,000 vehicles left on streets nearby. Governor James Rolph was in regular telephonic communication with Raymond Cato, whom he had appointed to head the California Highway Patrol. Cato was ensconced in the home of a Rolph political ally and neighbor in the mountains west of San Jose with an open phone line to the jail. Although the crowd was characterized as "good natured" earlier in the day, periodically there was an ominous chanting of "Eleven o'clock!".
At approximately 9:00 p.m., Rolph canceled a planned trip to the Western Governors' Conference in Boise, Idaho, to prevent his chief political rival, Lieutenant Governor Frank Merriam, from calling out the National Guard to stop the lynchings. At approximately the same time, the crowd began demanding the jail surrender Holmes and Thurmond; they responded to the refusal by moving the improvised siege barriers aside. Sheriff William Emig contacted Rolph at 10:30 p.m., asking that the National Guard be deployed to protect the prisoners. Rolph refused. The assault on the jail commenced at approximately 11 p.m.
By midnight, thousands had gathered outside the jail; the sheriff's deputies fired tear gas into the crowd in an attempt to disperse them. However, the crowd became angrier and larger. After the first round of tear gas was launched into the crowd, the nearby construction site at the post office was raided for materials that were first thrown at the jail; later, a battering ram was improvised from a heavy pipe. Emig ordered his officers to abandon the bottom two floors of the jail, where Thurmond and Holmes were being held. It was later noted that both cells had been occupied by other notorious murderers: Thurmond's cell on the third floor by David Lamson, and Holmes's cell on the second floor by Douglas Templeton.Emig also had ordered that no police officer would be allowed to use their guns or clubs to defend the jail; Emig, his nine deputies, and eight state patrolmen were all beaten, choked, and/or trampled during the course of the riot.
"Are you Holmes?" the man with the mask shouted at the prisoner cringing in the corner. "No, I'm not Holmes," he replied.
"You're a damned liar, I know you," the masked lyncher cried and many hands drew the rope around Holmes' neck. He cried for mercy.
"Spare me, spare me; don't take me out, don't deliver me to that crazy mob," Holmes pleaded.
Fists crashed against his face. He went down on the floor, still crying for mercy. Then he was kicked and then they spat on him. His head was knocked against the floor. Dragging him on the end of the rope, they pulled him head first downstairs. Then these 50 leaders came up again to me and asked me if that was Holmes they had taken out.
When I told them I didn't know, the said:
"You're a liar, Moore. You brought him from San Francisco and we know it."
Once again I was choked and thrown on the floor.
Then the mob pushed upstairs and entered Thurmond's cell but they could not find him. They came back and demanded matches. With the aid of the matches and a candle they searched the cell. In a small closet, adjoining the cell but still a part of it, they found Thurmond.
Like a human fly, he had crawled up the walls, bracing himself against the sides with his feet and hands, to a height of 15 feet. It is an oddly-built closet and extends up to the roof. When they sighted him in the light of the matches, the most terrible blood-curdling cries of fiendish delight I have ever heard rang through the jail.
— Deputy John Moore, quoted in Oakland Tribune article by Harry A. Lerner, November 27, 1933
The mob, by this time estimated at 6,000–10,000 (other reports say 3,000–5,000), stormed the jail, took Holmes and Thurmond across the street to St. James Park, and hanged them. Afterward, deputy sheriff John Moore stated "I never knew human beings could go so wild—they were not human; they were animals." Deputy Moore was choked twice during the lynching: once when he refused to surrender the keys to the jail cells, and another time when he refused to positively identify Holmes for the mob. Some women in the mob were alleged to have encouraged the violence, seemingly forgetting their prior advice to let the law "take its course". Child movie star Jackie Coogan, a friend of Brooke Hart from Santa Clara University, was reported to be one of the mob that prepared and held the rope for lynching.
Thurmond was the first to be lynched. As he was dragged from the jail headfirst, the mob beat him and knotted the rope around his neck; one man who attempted to stop the lynching was "picked up bodily and hurled almost over the heads of the crowd". After Thurmond was hanged, the mob tore his trousers off and souvenir hunters fought over the scraps. Holmes cried "You're making a big mistake! I'm not the man you want!" as he was lynched. Harold Fitzgerald described the scene in an Oakland Tribune article: "A concerted pull—and the white, blood-streaked body of the second of Brooke Hart's murderers swayed in a grisly rhythm in the light of a rising half-moon. A roar, mingled with women's screams, rolled across the park ... [Afterward,] The crowd began pouring out of the park. Some did serpentine dances in the streets. ... Snatches of song came from here and there in the multitude."
The bodies of Thurmond and Holmes were left hanging for approximately 45 minutes, until they were cut down by police officials. Thurmond was buried in an unmarked plot in Oak Hill Memorial Park on November 29, the same cemetery where Brooke Hart had been buried on November 27. Holmes was cremated at Oak Hill on November 29.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, on December 2, after a special meeting of the city council heard testimony in support of leaving the tree as a monument and warning to evildoers, the council approved the cutting down of the cork elm by city workers. Police were required to keep off a crowd of souvenir hunters seeking a twig or branch of the infamous "gallows tree", the bark and lower branches having been hacked and stripped for mementos.
Impact of the case
The lynching was unique in American political and criminal justice history because it marked the first time that a lynching was a media event. It was also unique because of the political involvement of a state governor and the eagerness by civic and business leaders and law enforcement to allow the lynching of two men who had not been indicted, arraigned, tried, or sentenced for the crime in a court of law. Many modern historians conclude that the two men were indeed guilty.
Royce Brier, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, would later go on to win the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting for his account of the lynching. According to the prize citation, Brier worked for 16 hours along with several assistants mingling with the lynch mob and telephoning running updates from a garage across the street from the jail before composing the story in three hours starting at 12:30 a.m. on the morning of November 27.
Prosecution of lynch mob
Governor Rolph praised the action, stating that California had sent a message to future kidnappers, and promised to pardon anyone involved in the lynching. However, Rolph died on June 2, 1934, before any charges had been filed in the case.
Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren was the strongest supporter of prosecution for the lynching. Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Herbert Bridges was quoted as saying he was "not sorry [the lynching] happened in San Jose." Santa Clara County District Attorney Fred Thomas doubted anyone could be found to bear witness against the leaders of the lynching, characterizing the stories being told by local youths as "boastful" but uncorroborated. The American Civil Liberties Union stated they had found eyewitnesses ready to identify members of the lynch mob by December 1933, but San Jose citizens were outspoken in their opposition to "outsider" interference. Eventually seven people were arrested for the lynchings, but none were convicted. California did not specifically define lynching as a crime, although crimes committed during the lynching such as rioting, assault, and murder could potentially be prosecuted.
One young man was charged for participating in the lynching after he publicly claimed credit for leading the mob, but the charges were dropped. The Santa Clara County grand jury met the following year, but despite literally thousands of witnesses, scores of reporters, and hundreds of photographs, the grand jury found that no witnesses could identify anyone from the lynching, so no charges were filed.
In the aftermath of the lynching, Governor Rolph was publicly condemned for advocating "lynch law" by former President Herbert Hoover, then at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Rolph replied, "If troops had been called out, hundreds of innocent citizens might have been mowed down." Rolph accused Hoover of calling out the U.S. Army against the veterans of World War I "Bonus Marchers" in Washington, D.C. in 1932. The exchange continued. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also condemned the lynching as "collective murder" in a nationwide radio address.
Holmes's parents sued Governor Rolph for his role in the lynching of their son, along with radio station KQW and several other persons, but the suit was dropped when the governor died of a heart attack in 1934. Holmes's widow sued Sheriff Emig and several deputies, citing their carelessness and negligence in failing to protect him. Thurmond's family took no action on his behalf and reportedly never again spoke about the matter amongst themselves.
In 1983, Harry Farrell, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote about the lynching in a two-part series. After he retired, he followed up with a book on the same subject, Swift Justice, published in 1992. Swift Justice was praised by Walter Cronkite and won an Edgar Award in 1993, beating out the expected winner, Ann Rule.
in his 2007 book Jury Rigging in the Court of Public Opinion, the author John D. Murphy criticized Farrell's approach, noting that by accepting the confessions as the baseline truth and hewing to the "conventional" history that led to mob justice, Farrell had invented conversations and created motivations that were impossible to corroborate and glossed over inconsistencies. Murphy pointed out the later phone calls placed to make ransom demands came from payphones physically close together, culminating in the arrest of Thurmond at a payphone only 150 feet (46 m) from San Jose Police Headquarters. Murphy went onto write and produce a movie, Valley of the Heart's Delight, regarding the 1933 case.
In popular media
At least four films have been made loosely based on this story:
- Fury (1936)
- The Sound of Fury (1950) aka Try and Get Me!
- Night Without Justice (2004)
- Valley of the Heart's Delight (2006)
The 1933 lynching also inspired two short stories from John Steinbeck:
- "The Lonesome Vigilante" (1936).
- "The Vigilante", collected in The Long Valley (1938).
The lynching inspired local punk band Executioner to write the song "St. James Park". The song was not released until 2011, when one of the founders of Executioner, Dave Burks, gathered available recordings from the band's active years of 1982–83.
Former San Jose mayor Tom McEnery wrote a play based on Farrell's 1992 book. The play, produced in early 2016 by the San Jose-based Tabard Theatre Company, shares the book's name, Swift Justice. A review criticized the "weak script" and said it had "[too many] shallowly developed scenes."
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- Farrell (1992). p.24.
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- Farrell (1992). p. 203.
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- Murphy (2007). p. 3.
- ""The Last Lynching in California" (slideshow gallery)". SFGate.com. 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
- Farrell (1992). p. 300.
- Adams (2005). p. 199.
- "California Lynchers Hunted for Hanging Alleged Killer | Court delays said cause of Yreka unrest". San Bernardino Sun. Associated Press. August 4, 1935. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
- Kulczyk (2008). p. 115.
- "Since You Asked: Man recalls Sikiyou County Lynching". Mail Tribune. Medford, Oregon. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Herhold: Remembering old downtown San Jose’s signature department store", San Jose Mercury News, December 20, 2011
- Santo, Leonardo Ricardo (31 August 2010). "ALEX HART: "He was a philanthropist, a businessman, a civic and community leader, a social arbiter, a charming host, a gentleman and a friend..." Blogspot [blog]. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- Murphy (2007). p. 16.
- Farrell (1992). p. 3.
- "San Jose Boy Kidnaped; Rich Father Notified by Phone of $40,000 Ransom: Brooke Hart, merchant's son is victim; police fail in search for gang". Oakland Tribune. November 10, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Father Tells of Getting Ransom Call by Phone". Oakland Tribune. November 10, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Search on Steamer Lurline at Los Angeles Fails to Produce Clue to Kidnaped San Jose Boy: 100 police comb steamer from S.F. after finding of missing youth's wallet". Oakland Tribune. November 11, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Farrell (1992). p. 11.
- Farrell (1992). pp. 12–13.
- Farrell (1992). p. 13.
- "Phone Call From S.F. Hotel Leaves Police Without Clue". Oakland Tribune. November 10, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Fatal Shooting Marks Dispute Over Kidnapping". Berkeley Daily Gazette. 11 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "'Pretty Boy' on Suspect List". Oakland Tribune. November 10, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Hart Clue Traced To Pretty Boy". Oakland Tribune. November 13, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Officers withdrawn from Hart home to give son's kidnapers time to parley". Oakland Tribune. November 14, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Plane Chartered by Hart Family to Scan Hills for 'Hideout' of Kidnap Gang: Search for abductors on Lurline to continue while vessel proceeds to Hawaii". Oakland Tribune. November 12, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Kidnapers lower ransom demands". Eugene Register-Guard. AP. 13 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Compromise is suggested for ransom". Healdsburg Tribune. United Press. 13 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- Farrell (1992). p. 55.
- Farrell (1992). p. 56.
- "Kidnaped San Jose Hart Youth Slain By Abductors With Bric On Night Of Capture, Body Dumped From Bridge". Oakland Tribune. November 16, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Murphy (2007). p. 25.
- "Hart's body filled with bullets". Healdsburg Tribune. Tribune Service. 17 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Lynching kidnapers threat". Madera Tribune. UP. 17 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Slaying of Boy Victim Is Told by Kidnaper". Oakland Tribune. November 17, 1933. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Adams (2005). p. 207.
- Murphy (2007). p. 19.
- Murphy (2007). pp. 19–20.
- Murphy (2007). p. 20.
- "Authorities split on Hart clues". Healdsburg Tribune. United Press. 22 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Hart struggled long in water, slayer says". Oakland Tribune. November 19, 1933. p. A-5. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Arrest Near of Woman As 'Genius' In Hart Kidnaping; Holmes Makes New Confession to Killing Youth". Oakland Tribune. November 17, 1933. p. 1. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Brick used to weight Hart found". Healdsburg Tribune. Tribune Service. 18 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Bay dragged for body Hart". Madera Tribune. UP. 18 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Fear lynching San Jose kidnapers". Madera Tribune. UP. 21 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Answer to Kidnaping Racket Says Official Claim Slayer Insane". Madera Tribune. UP. 28 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Recovery Body Hart To Cause Trouble Is Fear of Authorities". Madera Tribune. UP. 25 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Slayers Return to San Jose Jail—Body Seen Floating". Madera Tribune. UP. 23 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Pillow slip used on Hart found". Healdsburg Tribune. United Press. 20 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Hat murdered youth found". Madera Tribune. UP. 20 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Extra Guard Posted At San Jose Jail Due Restless Crowd". Madera Tribune. UP. 24 November 1933. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "San Jose slayers lynched". Madera Tribune. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Kidnap Victim's Body Found in Bay by Hunters". San Francisco Chronicle. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
Intensive Search for Murdered Youth's Remains Terminated by Chance; Knife, Tape Aid Identification(subscription required)
The body of Brooke Hart, 22, slain November 9, by kidnapers seeking to mulct his father, wealthy San Jose merchant, of $40,000 in a fantastic plot, was recovered yesterday from San Francisco bay. It was found floating in five feet of water about a mile west of the Alameda shore and half a mile south of the San Mateo-Hayward bridge by two duck hunters.
Removed to a branch morgue at Hayward, it was identified by friends of the dead youth and by department heads of the Hart Department Store, of which he had recently been made a vice president by his father, Alex J. Hart.
Because of the condition of the body after 17 days in the water identification was established by the clothing, by a pearl handle knife found in the clothing and by the fact that the right foot was wrapped in tape. The torso and head of the victim were practically a skeleton.
The chance find terminated a search that had called into play all the agencies of four counties and the assistance of the Government—a search employing divers, Coast Guard boats airplanes and even a navy blimp.
Climaxes Long Search
The discovery of the body, for which a reward of $500 was recently offered by Brooke Hart's father, was made shortly after 9 o'clock by Leonard L. Dalve, a civil engineer, 628 Maple street, Redwood City, and Harold E. Stephens, Redwood City store proprietor, living at 174 Jeter street.
The two were in a skiff and were hunting ducks. They had started out from an Alvarado duck club on the Alameda shore at daylight, having slept at the club the night before.
Tow Body Ashore
They sighted the body floating about 400 feet from their small boat and at first thought it was a seal. Moving closer, they realized they had undoubtedly come upon the body for whom hundreds had been making a systematic search since November 16, when Holmes and Thurmond, captured in an elaborate trap, made their astounding confession.
Wrapping the body in a piece of canvas the two duck hunters towed it to a peninsula of mud on the Alameda shore.
- Holzmeister, Karen; O'Brien, Matt (29 November 2005). "Hayward site of spark for last lynching in state". East Bay Times. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "CRIME: California Lesson". TIME. 4 December 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.(subscription required)
- "Identity of Hart's Body Established at Autopsy". Oakland Tribune. November 27, 1933. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Adams (2005). p. 211.
- Fitzgerald, Harold J. (November 27, 1933). "Raging San Jose Mob Of 15,000 Lynches Hart Slayers After Wrecking Jail In Furious Fight With Officers: Holmes, Thurmond torn from cells and hanged on park trees". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Farrell (1992). p. 153.
- Brier, Royce (27 November 1933). "Kidnapers Lynched!". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
Mob Storms Jail, Hangs Slayers in San Jose Square—Avengers of Hart Defy Tear Gas Bombs to Drag Thurmond and Holmes From Cells to Death(subscription required)
SAN JOSE, Nov. 26—Lynch law wrote the last grim chapter in the Brooke Hart kidnaping here tonight.
Twelve hours after the mutilated body of the son of Alex J. Hart, wealthy San Jose merchant, was recovered from San Francisco bay a mob of 10,000 infuriated men and women stormed the Stanta [sic] Clara County Jail, dragged John M. Holmes and Thomas H. Thurmond from their cells and hanged them in historic St. James Park.
Swift, and terrible to behold, was the retribution meted out to the confessed kidnapers and slayers. As the pair were draw up, threshing in the throes of death, a mob of thousands of men and women and children screamed anathemas at them.
HOWLING MOB BESIEGES JAIL
The siege of the County Jail, a three-hour whirling, howling drama of lynch law, was accomplished without serious injury either to the seizers or the 35 officers who vainly sought to defend the citadel.
The defense of the jail failed because Sheriff Emig and his forces ran out of tear gas bombs. Bombs kept the determined mob off for several hours.
Help from San Francisco and Oakland officers arrived too late to save the Hart slayers.
HOLMES PLEADS AGAINST HANGING
"Don't string me up, boys. God, don't string me up," was the last cry of Holmes as the noose was put about his neck in the light of flash lamps.
Thurmond was virtually unconscious with terror as the mob hustled him from the jail, down the alley and across the street to his doom.
Great cheers from the crowd of onlookers accompanied the hoisting of the two slayers. Some women fainted, some were shielded from the sight by their escorts, but the gamut of human nature was here in the park. Old women with graying hair and benign faces expressing satisfaction at the quick end of the murderers, and young women with hardened faces broke down and wept.
KING MOB TAKES LAW TO ITSELF
King Mob was in the saddle and he was an inexorable ruler.
And here was a sovereign whose rise in invincible power stunned San Jose and will stun the Nation and the world.
Brooke Hart's torn body was found in the water this morning. Barricades went up before the County Jail and the crowd gathered and stayed all the day. It was a good natured crowd. It knew the deputies and the police and the State highway patrolmen who stood guard. It bandied words with them.
There had been talk of an organized mob, and as the crowd grew in the evening there was no organization. There was shouting, and good nature still ruled.
"This crowd won't do anything," was the constant reiteration of Sheriff Emig's deputies.
Yet as their words of confidence were being spoken there flashed, like a prairie fire, the word through San Jose—11 o'clock! 11 o'clock!
The constant bombardment of that hour on the ear was monotonous and ominous.
- "Guard force use refused by Governor". Madera Tribune. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Hanging Gets Gov. Rolph's Endorsement". Ellensburg Daily Record. AP. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Hart slayers lynched by mob". Ellensburg Daily Record. AP. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "San Jose jail in shambles". Madera Tribune. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
- "Mob lynches Hart kidnapers". Healdsburg Tribune. 27 November 1933. Retrieved 29 November 2016. WARNING: Includes pictures from the lynching.
- Lerner, Harry A. (November 27, 1933). "Raging San Jose Mob Of 15,000 Lynches Hart Slayers After Wrecking Jail In Furious Fight With Officers: Terror of mad scene described". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Anspacher, Carolyn (27 November 1933). "Hell Rips Loose—Women Laugh—Women Sob and Cheer On Frenzied Mob". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
SAN JOSE, Nov. 26—Hell turned loose here tonight and women laughed.(subscription required)
Their laughter and cries rose shrilly above the shouts of the men of an avenging mob as two men were hanged by their necks until they were dead.
From the heavy boughs of darkened trees in St. James Park, across the street from the Courthouse and County Jail, John M. Holmes and Thomas H. Thurmond, the confessed slayers of Brooke Hart, paid for their crime at the hands of a howling mob.
HUNDREDS ARE WOMEN
Hundreds of that mob were women. Old women, young women and girls in their teens.
Not all the women laughed. Some fainted. Some the laughter was hysterical, They knew not what they did.
Women milled with the men and surged around the gas-infested courtyard of the little jail. And when Thurmond and Holmes were seized from their jailers and dragged to their doom women followed and were in at the finish.
Earlier many of them had whispered words of encouragement to the men—egged them on.
"I hope they hang them. This is one case where I believe in lynch law."
All evening long, as the mob of thousands massed in front of the jail, which later was stormed and captured when the guards' supply of tear gas bombs ran out, this admonition was heard from many feminine lips.
RECALL HART'S FATE
During the day they had recalled Brooke Hart's fate, stirring their men folk on to taking the law into their own hands.
A few of the hundreds of women who witnessed the lynching tonight as if it had been a garden fete, yielded to feminine impulses. Some wept softly. Others shrieked.
Still others dropped soundlessly to the gray sidewalks and on the lawns and there were forgotten by all save their male attendants. There were women there without men. And if they fainted, that was just too bad.
But others among the women all but danced around the death trees. They hurled maledictions against the dying men. They clawed at their dangling bodies like avenging furies.
The scene was like the hell of Dante—the awful avenging hell of the New Testament—a hell peopled by women.
Many of these women were gently bred and for days had been counseling that the law be permitted to take its course.
Then, as the rising tide of frenzy grew higher, and steel smashed with resounding and implacable force against the brick walls of the little red brick jail, there came a metamorphosis.
It was amazing—as if a magician had waved his wand over the gathering.
These gentle, timid housewives and stenographers and racher's wives, these debutantes and subdebs and school girls, seemed to hear the voice of Mephisto himself.
DROP ALL REFINEMENT
From them dropped all vestige of refinement. They became beings who were guided by instinct rather than by thought.
- Farrell (1992). pp. 165, 255.
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Eighteen year-old Anthony Cataldi who boasted he led the mob that lynched Jack Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, kidnap killers of Brooke Hart, was arraigned today on a charge of participating in the hangings and preliminary hearing was set for 2 p. m. next Wednesday. The boy’s arrest was brought about by the American Civil Liberties Union which, as a part of its nationwide campaign against lynchings, interested itself in prosecution of the San Jose hangers.
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Resolved that the testimony submitted to this grand jury to date is totally inadequate to justify the bringing of an indictment against any person or persons for participation in the lynching of John M. Holmes and Harold Thurmond, and we have therefore failed to bring an indictment against anyone. If, however, any person, persons or organization have any concrete or definite evidence implicating any person or persons in the above mentioned lynching they are hereby requested to present the same before this grand jury for its consideration.
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