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The kidnapping of young Brooke Hart was bad enough. What his abductors did next was horrendous. What an angry mob did to the abductors was disgraceful. But it was the incredible response of the California governor that outraged the country . . . though there's little doubt that many Americans, deep down (and perhaps not so deep down), felt justice had been served.

Syracuse Journal, November 10, 1933
Search For Kidnappers of Brooke Hart
SAN JOSE, California (INS) — Detectives from a score of peninsual cities and United States Department of Justice agents joined the search today for the kidnappers of Brooke Hart, 22-year-old son of Alex Hart, president of a large department store.

Young Hart is being held captive for $40,000 ransom. He left his father’s store, where he was made a junior partner two months ago, in his automobile at 6 p.m. yesterday. With lights on, the car was found early this morning near Milpitas, 10 miles north of here, on the main highway to Oakland.

There was no sign of a struggle. Detectives said the kidnappers apparently blocked the road with their car and waited for Hart to appear. The young executive was on his way to meet his father at the San Jose Country Club.

Alarmed when his son did not appear by 8 p.m., his father called police. Two hours later, as the worried family gathered in their home here, a telephone call came.

“We have your son and we want $40,000 for him. Don’t get in touch with the police or you’ll never see your son again.” The caller then hung up.

The father said the voice apparently was that of a young man.

 

Lynchings, which had been a shameful part of American history, particularly after the Ku Klux Klan arrived on the scene, had decreased significantly in the 1920s. The Federal Council of Churches had launched a crusade against lynching and was encouraged by the results — until 1933.

The number of recorded lynchings, which in some years had been reduced to ten (still an alarming number), jumped to 28 in 1933. (The International Labor Defense, the legal arm of the Community Party in the United States, claimed the actual number that year was 47.)

While the vast majority of the victims were Southern blacks, the most notorious lynching case in San Jose, California, where the two victims were white men arrested and jailed for kidnapping Brooke Hart — and killing him.

Syracuse Journal, November 17. 1933
Ask Death Penalty for Hart Abductors
SAN JOSE, California (INS) — District Attorney Fred Thomas of Santa Clara said today he would invoke California’s new kidnap statute demanding the death penalty for the abductors and slayers of Brooke L. Hart, 22-year-old son of a wealthy department store owner.

The confessed kidnappers, Thomas Thurmond and Jack Holmes, were secretly rushed under heavy guard to the city jail in San Francisco, 50 miles north of here, when an enraged mob stormed the Santa Clara county jail, shouting, “Lynch them!”

Holmes was singing and whistling in his jail cell today. “Why shouldn’t I sing?” he asked amazed jailers, who reported that Holmes apparently was unconcerned over his plight.

Thurmond made a detailed, signed confession to Department of Justice agents that young Hart was murdered a few hours after he was kidnapped. They confessed they bound Hart with bailing wire and threw him from the San Mateo Bridge, crossing lower San Francisco Bay.

A piece of a man’s shirt was recovered from the waters of the bay near the bridge early today by police dragging the bottom with grappling hooks for the body of Hart. The piece of water-soaked cloth corresponded to that of the shirt worn by the young victim on the day of his disappearance.

District Attorney Thomas said the new, drastic kidnap statute, passed by the state legislature early this year, would be invoked. He believed a conviction would be obtained even though the body of Hart has not yet been recovered.

The kidnapping and slaying of Hart netted his abductors $3.75 each. Holmes and Thurmond told officers they took $7.50 from Hart’s wallet, divided the money, and spent it on cigarettes and gasoline for their car.

 

Syracuse Journal, November 27, 1933
Lynch Mob Likely Won't Be Punished
By RALPH B. JORDAN
SAN JOSE, California (INS) — An outraged community, which reverted to lynch law to punish kidnapping and murder, today resumed its customary placidness.

In the morgue lay three still forms — one horribly mutilated.

It is the body of Brooke Hart, 22, San Jose kidnap victim. The others were the bodies of his confessed kidnappers and murderers, Thomas Thurmond and Jack Holmes, dragged from the ancient county jail, stripped of most of their clothing and hanged from sycamore trees in the city’s public park. An attempt to burn one of the bodies failed.

As San Jose buzzed with speculation over the identity of the blonde girl who played a leading part in the vigilante lynchings, city and county authorities announced they intend to make “little if any” investigation of the two summary deaths meted out last night.

 

What set this case apart from most were the candid (and, to many, the shocking) remarks of California James Rolph Jr., who did not back down an inch during the backlash that followed.

"This is the best lesson California has ever given the nation!" the governor declared. "If anyone is arrested for this good job, I'll pardon them! We have shown the country that California will not tolerate kidnapping."

Not surprisingly, Gov. Rolph was roundly criticized. Rolph had taken office in 1931 after serving as mayor of San Francisco for 19 years, the longest anyone has ever held the office in that city. His attitude toward the San Jose mob earned him the nickname, "Governor Lynch." He would not live out his term; after a series of heart attacks, he died on June 2, 1934. He was 64.

The American Civil Liberties Union reportedly offered $1,000 for information about the people responsible for the lynchings. They must have differentiated between those who actually strung up the two victims and those who organized the mob that stormed the jail because there was no shortage of people who openly claimed credit for the latter.

One was Anthony Catalbi, an 18-year-old San Jose youth, who told reporters he came up with the idea of a lynching party that afternoon, then spent a few hours recruiting people to join him. In the height of bad taste, United Press paid Catalbi for a first-person column he wrote about the lynch mob.

Catalbi and six others eventually were arrested in connection with the lynchings, but no one was convicted.

The murders of Jack Holmes and Thomas Thurmond were the major crimes in the incident, but injured parties included Sheriff William J. Emig and his deputies, who were beaten by the lynch mob. Emig was struck with an iron pipe and was hospitalized with a concussion of the brain.

Governor Rolfe, in his praise of the mob for executing two men, did not even address the assault on lawmen who were doing their duty.

Newspapers sensationalized the murder of the kidnap victim, Hart, whose body in one of the stories above was described as "horribly mutilated."

Despite descriptions of how Holmes and Thurmond beat Hart over the head before throwing him into San Francisco Bay and shooting at him, the young man died of drowning, which in itself is a terrible way to die. But his body displayed no evidence of bullet wounds or skull fracture.

Unexplained was why Holmes and Thurmond decided to kill Hart and do it so soon after they abducted him.

Meanwhile, the problem of mob justice had spread.

Syracuse Journal, November 28. 1933
Maryland Arrests Three for Killing Armwood
BALTIMORE, Maryland (INS) — Three of nine men charged with participation in the lynching of George Armwood, Princess Anne Negro, were placed under arrest by state troopers early today, according to word reaching here from Princess Anne. The names of the three men were not given. Members of the National Guard stood by as the arrests were made.

The National Guard troops, numbering about 250, were mobilized about midnight and started southward into the eastern shore, but state officials and guard officers shrouded the movement in secrecy, and only by following the state troops until they reached Somerset County were reporters able to learn their destination.

The Guardsmen were transported in 12 large busses. As they reached the eastern shore the troops divided between Princess Anne, Salisbury and Crisfield.

So little ostentation was made by the troopers and guardsmen that few residents of the three eastern shore towns were aware of their presence until the arrests had been made.

 

Syracuse Journal, November 29, 1933
Rule By Lynching Mobs Poses Threat
By International News Service
Another lynching — this one in Missouri — was added to the nation’s rising toll today.

So far this week mob violence inspired by lynchings have occurred in three widely-separated states:

Missouri: At St. Joseph, a mob of 7,000 hanged and burned Lloyd Warner, 19-year-old Negro, who had confessed to assaulting a white girl.

Maryland: At Salisbury, a mob of more than 1,000 stormed the state armory in an unsuccessful effort to free from the National Guard four prisoners, charged with being leaders of a mob who lynched a Negro a month ago.

California: At San Jose, two confessed kidnapper-slayers were lynched, creating a nationwide furor of comment.

In New York, Bishop William T. Manning condemned Governor James Rolph Jr. of California for condoning the San Jose lynching. The bishop characterized the governor’s statement as “the most completely inexcusable feature” of the lynching.

The California lynching drew a flood of statements from individuals and organizations in New York attacking the position of Governor Rolph. However, one prominent clergyman dissented. Rev. Dr. Henry Darlington, rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, sent Governor Rolph a telegram applauding Rolph’s declaration that the lynching was “a good job.”

Governor Albert C. Ritchie of Maryland, determined that the law should prevail over mob violence in his state, asserted that in ordering the National Guard to arrest the suspected slayers of George Armwood, Negro, he had done his obvious duty and had acted only when local officials had refused to do so.

 

Syracuse American, December 17, 1933
Tennessee Police Refuse to Take Action
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (INS) — Peace officers here and in two outlying counties bluntly refused to take action last night in the absence of “formal complaints” against a half-dozen men believed to have lynched Cordie Cheek, 17-year-old Negro, last night near Columbia.

Cheek, it was learned yesterday, was abducted by the mobsmen within the city limits of Nashville after being released from jail following the dropping of charges against him.

 
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