Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart

'Lynching is A Sincere Demand'

Front Page, Lynchings
Front Page, Lynchings

A telegram sent by an FBI agent to Washington D.C. on November 27, reported the events at St. James Park to the home office. It read, "Hart kidnapping subjects thurmond and holmes under state custody san jose were taken by mob and lynched midnite tonite." The front page of the New York Times on November 27, 1933 read, "Batter Down Jail Door, Leaders at San Jose Seize 2 Kidnappers, String Them to Trees." The Washington Post said, "Here is the Story of 5,000 Persons Who Went Mad; Only an Army Could Have Stopped Double Hang." Across the nation, newspapers reported on the lynching in San Jose, calling the mob "crazy", "bloodthirsty" and "savage." Many reflected on how such a thing could happen in a quiet, civilized town like San Jose. Oakland's Post Enquirer called it "Vigilante Justice for Brooke Hart Slayers" while the Washington News said, "Lynchings Inspire Fear of God."  

In San Jose, most people were satisfied that the kidnappers got what was coming to them, though not all agreed with the method used. St. James Park was a shambles and curiosity seekers still roamed about, looking for souvenirs from the lynching. Many people cut off pieces of the trees where Thurmond and Holmes met their end. City employees were forced to construct wooden boxes around the trees to prevent them from being cut to pieces. "It was an outburst characterized by hysteria and ribaldry," said the New York Times, "with a frenzied rush for souvenirs after the naked bodies of the slayers were cut down." Dozens of heavily armed police patrolled around the park while authorities surveyed the damage to the jailhouse. Sheriff William Enig and his deputy suffered concussions and were still in the hospital. The bodies of Thurmond and Holmes lay at the county morgue, ironically, alongside Brooke Hart. They remained there, together in death, until late that morning when the Hart family had Brooke removed to a funeral home.

In the meantime, telegrams of praise poured into San Jose and the Governor's office. "Congratulations!" said one, "I am happy in the knowledge that the people of San Jose have expressed their revolt against crooked attorneys and too lenient parole board by killing the fiendish murderers of Brooke Hart!" Another said, "Congratulations! The Grand Jury should meet and adjourn, case closed!" A telegram from Kansas City said, "Lynching is a sincere demand for law enforcement. I congratulate...the people of California for their noble example in dealing with criminals." The chief of the state Bureau of Investigation said to the press, "It is to be regretted, but necessary, that the people took the law into their own hands, but...they served notice on gangsters that there is no place for them in California!"

California Governor James Rolph Jr.
California Governor James Rolph Jr.

But nowhere was the support for vigilante justice more blatant and more enthusiastic than in the Governor's office. The day after the lynching, Governor James Rolph, expressed his approval of the double murder at St. James Park. "If anyone is arrested for this good job, I'll pardon them all. The aroused people of that fine city of San Jose were so enraged...it was only natural that peaceful and law abiding as they are, they should rise and mete out swift justice to these two murderers and kidnappers." Rolph said that he would like to release all the kidnappers and murders in San Quentin and Folsom prisons and deliver them to the "patriotic San Jose citizens who know how to handle such a situation." On November 28, the Chronicle reported that Governor Rolph had actually inquired at San Quentin to ask how many kidnappers were currently being held inside the prison.

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