The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart
By 11:00 p.m. the temper of the mob was near hysteria. Sheriff Emig knew that he and his few deputies stood virtually no chance of repelling an assault. He ordered his men to do what they could but not to use any firearms. Wooden barricades that were placed in front of the building were broken down and thrown at the jail. In the alleyway facing the courthouse, another hostile crowd had gathered. They tossed an assortment of debris at the side windows where police ducked for cover under desks and in closets. Directly opposite the jail, where a post office was under construction, dozens of angry men tore down a length of heavy steel pipe. Using it as a battering ram, the men pounded on the front doors of the jail.
"Let's go boys!" one man shouted. "Turn them over to the sheriff!" Within minutes, a second gang of about twenty men grabbed another length of eight-inch pipe and used it as a second ram. Upstairs, police fired a round of tear gas, which sent some of the crowd away but could not stop the assault on the front doors. In less than five minutes the old steel doors caved in and crashed to the floor. Hundreds rushed into the jail. One local youth, Anthony Cataldi, 17, later told reporters, "I was the first one of the gang to break into the jail!" Vicious fights broke out between the hopelessly out numbered cops and the furious mob. Sheriff Emig was trampled to the floor and suffered a skull fracture. The other deputies were quickly overcome and tossed aside. In one solid mass, the excited horde charged up to the second floor where Thurmond and Holmes cowered in their cells, paralyzed with fear. The jail keeper was knocked unconscious and his keys were ripped from his leather belt.
The frenzied men quickly located the prisoners and dragged them from their cells kicking and screaming. Holmes was a big man, over six feet tall and in good shape. He put up a vicious fight, knocking several of the assailants to the ground. "With wild whoops which drew thousands of onlookers homeward bound from nearby theaters, the mob raced with their prisoners to St. James Park," is how one newspaper described the scene. At first, they grabbed the wrong prisoner leaving Thurmond in his cell. The man screamed for his life that he was not one of Hart's killers. When they realized their mistake, the mob threw him down the steps of the jail and returned to get Thurmond. "Their cries for mercy were lost in the angry roar of the crowd," said The Chronicle the next day. Though he tried to fight, Thurmond was beaten senseless and apparently not aware of anything after he was taken from the cell. In the meantime, the throng at St. James Park had grown to thousands of people. Some estimates put the size at over 10,000 citizens. Burning torches lit up the grounds as Thurmond and Holmes were dragged feet first into the park. People kicked the prisoners, hit them with tree branches and threw bricks at the helpless men as they passed by. "How do you like it?" they yelled. "Murderers! Killers!" they screamed. The more Holmes fought, the more the crowd retaliated against him. He managed to knock several of his tormenters to the ground, but suffered terrible injuries along the way. By then, the mob was in a fury.
They dragged the prisoners to the northern corner of the park. A youth quickly scurried up a tall elm tree with a length of rope and tossed it over a large branch about twenty feet from the ground. "I went out to my father's ranch and got some rope for the hanging!" he later told reporters. The other end was fastened into a noose and pulled over Holmes' head. He managed to get it off his neck but several men quickly beat him into submission. A few yards away, a noose was placed around Thurmond's neck without a problem. He had never regained consciousness since he was taken from his cell. Then several men hoisted Thurmond up ten feet off the ground. Meanwhile, Holmes continued to resist until the mob broke both his arms. Then he was stripped naked and the rope firmly knotted around his neck. He was lifted up while he kicked frantically into the air. Thousands cheered when they saw the kidnappers hanging from the tree limbs. Some applauded. Illuminated by car headlights and dozens of flashlights, the two men dangled from the trees. A few women fainted. Some of the lynchers held burning matches under Holmes' feet while others shouted their approval. A sock caught fire and burned for several minutes as spectators yelled, "Burn! Burn!"
Motorists who were passing by were drawn to the scene by the yelling and cheering. They parked their cars along First Street and wandered in to investigate the commotion. At the height of the lynching, over 10,000 people were inside St. James Park. Only a few brave souls had tried to stop it. The New York Times later reported, "Police and officers who had been on guard kept carefully away from the park, watching the action of the mob from the opposite side of the wide street." Press people from the local newspapers snapped dozens of photographs and easily recognized many of their neighbors. For hours afterwards, people roamed through the park and children played nearby while the naked bodies of Thurmond and Holmes swayed in the gentle night breeze.