Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart

'You Better Do as Told!'

After waiting thirty minutes for his son to return, Alex Hart grew very nervous. He knew that if the car broke down or it had a flat tire, Brooke would have simply walked back to the store to let his father know the trouble. Furthermore, Alex also was aware that Brooke had another appointment to make at 6:30. He would never leave his father standing in front of the store without notifying him he would be delayed. Assuming that Brooke had some other pressing business, Alex Hart left the store and got a ride to the meeting. Afterwards, when he discovered that Brooke had never arrived home, Alex Hart notified the police that his son had disappeared.

For the next few hours, the family's concern grew as it became apparent that no one, not even his closest friends, knew where Brooke was. At about 9:45 that evening, the phone rang at the Hart's residence. Brooke's sister, Aleese, 18, took the call. A man told her that Brooke had been taken and was being held for ransom. The caller demanded $40,000 in cash. He said that further instructions would follow. If the police were notified, he added, Brooke would be killed. Alex Hart called San Jose Police Chief John Black. He notified San Francisco of the kidnapping and put out an all points bulletin for Brooke's green 1932 Studebaker Roadster. The FBI (then known as the Department of Justice) installed phone-recording devices in the Hart home and notified the phone company to be ready to trace future phone calls. An agent was also placed inside the residence to monitor developments. Later that same night, an employee of Hart's found Brooke's Studebaker abandoned in the hills north of San Jose. The lights were on but there was no sign of Brooke.

On Saturday, November 11, after nearly two days of waiting, the Harts went public and made an appeal through the newspapers. "Worn by hours of anxiety, but calm," the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Alexander J. Hart today granted his first interview regarding the disappearance of his son." He described Brooke as a fine young man and said he never had any trouble with him. "Brooke is of exceptional character," he told reporters, "We have been wonderful pals. Why, many times, the boy offered to take me to the football games instead of going with young friends."

Later that same day, Brooke's wallet was found on the railing of a ship that had been in San Francisco Bay refueling the Lurline, an ocean cruiser headed for Mexico. Speculation grew that Brooke was being held captive on board. Alameda County police and FBI agents hopped a plane flight to Los Angeles where the Lurline was due to arrive at its last stop in the States. In L.A., police took a fast skiff ten miles off shore and met the ship. While several hundred passengers had to stand by, a stem to stern search was conducted. Baseball legend Babe Ruth was one of the passengers, on his way to a college football game. After hours of searching every nook and cranny of the huge ocean liner, no trace of Brooke was found. "Hunt For Hart Fails on Liner, No New Clues," said the San Francisco Chronicle. The weekend passed with no word about the fate of Brooke Hart.

On Monday afternoon, Alex Hart received a letter, which was postmarked in Sacramento on November 11. It was a note from the kidnappers. According to the FBI report, it read: "One more peep to police will be his finish," it said, "You have made 1 squawk another will be too bad. We will have $40,000...put it in a satchel (black) be ready to take a weeks trip on a hour notice get the Stude rdstr have radio installed. When told to go you will take orders from R.P.O. (a local radio station) you better do as told."

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