On November 9th, in 1933, a young man, 22 years old at the time, by the name of Brooke Hart, was kidnapped from behind his family’s store.
His parents owned the Leopold Hart and Son Department Store that was located in downtown San Jose, California. Brooke had been positioned as vice president of the company upon his graduating from high school and was being groomed to take over as president when his father retired.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BROOKE HART
Brooke had just returned to the family store, from collecting his Studebaker Roadster from a garage in San Jose, when several men grabbed him and stole both he and his car. He was driven about ten miles north, where his abductors abandoned the car and forced Brooke into another.
They then drove the young man to the San Mateo Hayward Bridge, hit him in the head with a cinder block and tossed his body into the San Francisco Bay! Suddenly realizing that there was too little water at that time of day (the tide was out and the waters were shallow) for the victim to drown, the men shot Brooke in the head, assuring his death.
BUT SOMEONE WAS WATCHING
Little did the kidnappers know, that when they had stopped the Studebaker and transferred Brooke into the second car, two people on the farm, where they’d stopped to switch vehicles, a mother and her daughter, were watching! Both could describe Brooke, the Studebaker, the dark sedan that Brooke was forced into and the five men that were obviously orchestrating the strange event. Four men got in the dark sedan that held Brooke and one drove the Studebaker, that was later, that same night, found abandoned on another farm.
AND THEN CAME THE RANSOM CALLS
At about 9:30 that evening, the kidnappers called the Hart residence and informed Brooke Hart’s youngest sister, who had picked up the phone when it rang, that her brother had been kidnapped and that a ransom was being demanded in order to ensure Brooke’s safe return! (What the bleep! The poor man was already dead!)
…the voice on the other end of the phone said that he would call back with instructions on how, when and where the ransom would be delivered.
And, true to his word, he did call back that same night. Around 10:30 Brooke’s captor called and informed the Hart’s that a $40,000 ransom was the price tag for Brooke’s release. Then he hung up.
THE KIDNAPPERS SENT LETTERS
The Hart’s would not hear from the kidnappers again until the following Monday. And then the communication would come in the form of a letter, postmarked ‘Sacramento’, and delivered to the department store instead of the Hart residence. It instructed Alex Hart, Brooke’s father, to be ready to drive the Studebaker to deliver the ransom when instructed. Ironically, and obviously unbeknownst to the kidnappers, Mr. Hart had never learned to drive.
The next day another letter arrived and it too was postmarked ‘Sacramento.’ It instructed Mr. Hart to drive the ransom money to Los Angels. Something that Mr. Hart was incapable of doing alone. So a sign, stating that Alex Hart could not drive, was placed in the front window of the family store.
That evening another phone call came to the Hart residence and the caller demanded that Alex drive the Studebaker and deliver the money!
BROOKE HART’S FATHER GAVE IT HIS ALL
Mr. Hart worked hard at keeping the caller on the line, that had been tapped by the FBI days before, by demanding to speak with his son. He was denied but was assured that Brooke was safe. The caller hung up. The phone call was traced to a garage in San Jose, but the authorities arrived too late to find anyone there.
The following evening on November 15, another call came to the Hart residence and once again the kidnappers ordered Alex Hart to drive to Los Angels with the ransom money. The call was traced and Thomas Harold Thurmond was caught making the ransom call from a pay phone just 150 feet from the San Jose Police station.
After hours of questioning, Thomas signed a confession stating that he was involved in the kidnapping of Brooke Hart and that he had tied him (Brooke) up with wire and had tossed him off the San Mateo Bridge between 7:15 and 7:30 on the night of the kidnapping. He identified his accomplice as Jack Holmes. Jack was immediately arrested and taken into custody. Both men were thrown in jail, in San Francisco. (Authorities were afraid for the men’s safety, as threats of lynching had already been made.)
BROOKE HART’S BODY WAS DISCOVERED
Brooke’s corpse was discovered on November 26th, by two duck hunters, about one mile south of the bridge he’d been thrown from. His body, now in a state of rapid decay and crab eaten from days in the bay, was identified by a friend.
As all of this was taking place, Brooke’s kidnappers were pretty busy too, They were planning their defense. With the help of a psychiatrist, they would both be pleading not guilty by reason of insanity!
THAT DIDN’T SIT WELL WITH THE TOWN’S PEOPLE
Well, needless to say, when that little piece of information seeped out and found it’s way to the general public, people got pissed! They started forming a mob around the jailhouse where the two prisoners were being held and the authorities started to freak! They called the governor and asked that the national guard be sent out to protect their prisoners but the governor said no! And in fact added that he would “pardon the lynchers.”
On November 27th, a crowd of nearly 5,000 men, women and children had gathered outside the jail. The authorities were freaking out and started firing tear gas into the crowd. This just pissed the crowd off more and so they built a battering ram! They were dead serious in their conviction and the authorities now knew it. The sheriff ordered his men to abandon the floors of the jail where the prisoners were being held. The crowd, now realistically a true mob, that numbered close to 10,000, stormed the jail, kidnapped Holmes and Thurmond and took them to St. James Park. (It is said that child star Jackie Coogan was present (as a friend of Brooke’s) and did in fact prepare the ropes for the lynchings.
And lynch them they did!
But who, and where, were the other three dudes and who sent the letters from Sacramento?