Wednesday, October 10, 2012

History of the San Jose Lynching (by Devin)

 Instead of writing a historical essay on San Jose, I chose to write on a specific event that occurred. The one event in San José that caught my eye was the case of Brooke Hart’s kidnapping and murder. If you don’t like murder stories, I advise you don’t read this.

                The kidnapping happened on the afternoon of Thursday, November 9, 1933 as Brooke Hart was coming home from his job. While he was driving, his Studebaker was suddenly pushed to the side of the road by a long-hooded dark sedan with two figures inside. Twenty-two year old Brooke was forced to drive as the two men, Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes, got into his car. They made him drive to the San Mateo-Hay ward Bridge, and there they got out of the car. At this point different accounts tell different stories; some say that the two criminals knocked him out with a brick, had cement blocks fastened to his body, and threw him into the bay where he drowned. The more popular, yet gruesome, account given is that Hart was knocked unconscious, tied up with wire, and thrown into the bay. Soon after hitting the water he regained consciousness and started flailing about, yelling that he couldn’t swim.  Hart was then shot several times (by Thurmond) and sank into the bay. 

Brooke Hart- Brooke Hart

                After some time had passed, Alex Hart (Brooke’s father) received a phone call from a man (Thurmond) telling him that he had kidnapped Brooke and was demanding $40,000 for his return. Along with the ransom notice, he gave a warning telling Hart not to contact the police. Hart called the police. The authorities assumed that Brooke and his friends were probably just playing a prank, so they did nothing.

                Several ransom notes later, they came to the clever conclusion that Brooke Hart had truly been kidnapped. One of the ransom notes had told Alex Hart to drive to a set location so that he could pay the ransom money, and if he agreed to do so, he was supposed to leave an ‘L’ in his department store window. Well, Hart left the ‘L’ on the window, but he never drove to the set location. The next day Hart got a call from the baddies and they asked why he hadn’t showed. Hart’s answer was simple; “I don’t drive.” After a drawn out pause Thurmond replied; “We’ll call you back.”

                The next time Hart was called, he was ready, and while he was stalling Thurmond with location details, the police were tracking Thurmond’s phone. When they located Thurmond, he was “near a pay phone in a parking garage 150 feet from the San Jose Police station. (Doesn’t seem like that was the smartest place to be..) After arrestment and interrogation, Thomas Thurmond gave up the location of his partner. Jack Holmes was arrested shortly after in his room at the California Hotel. They were both put behind bars at the San José county jail. Further interrogation revealed that they had killed Brooke an hour after he was kidnapped.

            After two weeks of searching, two duck hunters unintentionally found a mass of floating clothes and flesh that had been eaten at by crabs and eels. Examination from a family doctor and one of Brooke’s closest friends proved that the body was in fact Brooke’s. Once everything had been settled regarding Brooke’s body, many tears were shed (from the Harts and the rest of the town) and people started talking about dishing out justice to the two criminals.

                By that time, the whole Santa Clara County had heard about what had happened and were growing increasingly mad about the death of the innocent boy. Since his death there had been rumors of high school students and others that had known Brooke, who were planning to avenge their friend’s death.

“By 6:00 p.m. on November 26, hundreds of men [were] gathered by the county jail in San Jose.

                Soon the mass of men started shouting and throwing rocks at the prison doors and windows. The police inside didn’t really have a choice; so out came the tear gas. Instead of intimidating the mob, the blinding spray made the now 5,000+ men even more infuriated.
“’Turn them over! Hang those illegitimate children!’ they yelled

                Along with throwing things, the adrenaline filled mob cut the telephone wires going to and from the police station so that the cops couldn’t call in for backup. Soon another mob had grown around the backside of the jail and, to the displeasure of the poor officers inside, they started throwing glass bottles and other sharp/heavy objects through the back windows. Near 11:00p.m. the sheriff ordered the officers inside to hide all of the weapons on the third story because the mob would undoubtedly break in soon.
               After grabbing a large metal pole from the nearby post office, dozens of passionate men started using it as a battering ram against the heavy front door. After five minutes of ramming had passed, the large metal doors caved in. From there all hell broke loose, or in this case it broke in.
Mob breaks into police HQ-Battering Ram
                The unfortunate police men put up a fight but were greatly outnumbered and tossed aside by the furious mob. The head sheriff ended up being “trampled to the floor and suffered a skull fracture... [and] the jail keeper was knocked unconscious and his keys were ripped from his leather belt. As the horde came to the cell of the two murderers, they found the two men literally frozen with terror. The two soon came to their senses. The crowd broke in, and grabbed Holms and another unknown criminal. After much screaming from the second chap, his captors realized that they had the wrong man. They tossed him down the jail house steps and raced back up the steps to grab Thurmond. 

                Once they had found and taken Thurmond, the multitude of enraged citizens (now at numbers of 10,000+) beat and tormented the two criminals while dragging them all the way to St. James Park. By the time they had arrived at their destination, Thurmond was already unconscious and Holms was putting up the fight of his life. Soon a boy from one of the nearby farms was hurriedly hanging up two ropes on two separate trees.

                Thurmond was still unconscious at the time, so he was easy, and soon his neck was in a noose, body swaying in the breeze, illuminated by the torches of his abductors. Holms on the other hand, was a large man, and still capable of putting up a fight. After pulling the noose off from around his neck once, his captors made sure it didn't happen again. They stripped him of his clothes, broke his arms and lynched him without any more struggles. A couple of men held their torches underneath the feet of the swaying men, and as a sock caught fire, part of the throng started yelling, “Burn! Burn!” A few women fainted.
Thurmond & Holmes lynched-Dead bods
       One of the most surprising parts of this story is that the next day “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 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.’”  Later on in the day Governor Rolph also said that he wouldn’t mind seeing all of the other murderers/kidnappers in the jail handed over to the "patriotic San Jose citizens who know how to handle such a situation." He was later dubbed "Governor Lynch".

Ironically Brooke, Thurmond, and Holm’s bodies were laid next to each other at the mortuary.
No one in the mob was imprisoned or convicted of the two killings.

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