Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart

The Harts of San Jose

Hart's Department Store sign
Hart's Department Store sign

By 1933, the Hart Department store was somewhat of a tradition in the city of San Jose, a small, tranquil metropolis 350 miles north of Los Angeles. It was located at the intersection of Market Street and Santa Clara St. just two blocks from City Hall and two blocks from the County Jail in the opposite direction. There was a convenient parking garage directly across the street for customer parking and the San Jose Teacher's College was only a five-minute walk to the east.

Leopold Hart, portrait
Leopold Hart, portrait

Since it opened its doors in the 1860s, Hart's was a wonderful and economical place to shop. The store was a wide-open, spacious two-story enterprise where housewives from all over Alameda and Santa Clara Counties came to search through Hart's huge inventory for the bargain of the week. Hart's was opened by Leopold Hart in 1866 and had been at the same location ever since. His son, Alex J. Hart took over the store when the father passed on. He continued to be successful and became a respected and active member of the community. Alex dreamed of the day when his own son would inherit the business his father gave to him. In 1911, Alex had a son and named him Brooke, after his mother.

Hart family, 1927
Hart family, 1927. From left to right:
Aleese, Jeannette, Alex Sr., Alex
Jr., Miriam, Nettie, and Brooke Hart

When Brooke was a little boy, the father began to train him in the retail business. Brooke worked as a stock boy while he was still in grammar school. He became a cashier, a bookkeeper and later, a salesclerk. Brooke learned from the ground up, which was the way his father wanted it. "My father had taken me into the business in the same way," Alex Hart later told reporters, "and we had looked forward to the day when Brooke would take an active part in the conduct of the store." By the time Brooke became a teenager, he probably knew more about Hart's, which by then, employed over 200 people, than anyone in the company. Hart's continued to do well, even in hard economic times. The Hart family built a stunning home in the city of San Jose, one of the most lavish in the county. The Victorian style mansion, with its two story white columns, sat high up on a hill and was surrounded by lush, extravagant gardens. Its lawns were impeccably groomed and people frequently passed by its iron gates in the summer just to admire its palatial grounds.

Santa Clara University campus
Santa Clara University campus

Brooke entered Santa Clara University in 1929 where he excelled as a student and in sports, particularly tennis. Just eighteen years old, Brooke was a handsome young man. He stood almost six feet tall, with the trim build of an athlete. His wavy blonde hair and blue eyes made him especially attractive to the single girls of San Jose and he was considered the city's most desirable bachelor. Brooke had a friendly, mischievous personality and was well liked. Since Brooke worked in his father's store practically his entire life, just about every citizen in San Jose knew him. That was because just about every one of San Jose's 60,000 citizens shopped at Hart's. Brooke was a familiar sight in the city's streets that year. He had bought a brand new green 1933 Studebaker roadster, and the speedy car was the envy of many a young man in San Jose.

Brooke Hart
Brooke Hart

On the evening of November 9, 1933, Alex J. Hart was due to attend a dinner meeting with chamber of commerce friends at a San Jose country club. The function was set for about 6 p.m. Alex made plans for Brooke to leave work early, walk over to a nearby garage, get the car and then drive him to the club which was only a short distance away. This was a happy time for both father and son since Brooke was given a promotion only a month before. "It was a high moment in my life when I took Brooke into the department store recently as vice president," senior Hart later said to the press. At 5:55 p.m., Brooke told his father he would be right back and walked out onto Market Street toward the lot where his Studebaker was parked.

It was the last moment Alex Hart would ever see his son alive.

Categories
Advertisement