Kidnapers Lynched!

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Kidnapers Lynched! (1933)
by Royce Brier
3057796Kidnapers Lynched!1933Royce Brier

Kidnapers Lynched!

Mob Storms Jail, Hangs Slayers in San Jose Square

Avengers of Hart Defy Tear Gas Bombs to Drag Thurmond and Holmes From Cells to Death

Chronicle Staff Writer

The fall of the Santa Clara County Jail after a determined siege of three stormy hours by a howling mob of 10,000 persons. Heavy iron pipes were used for battering rams to smash in the jail door as officers inside the building hurled tear gas bombs from upper windows at the besiegers. The mob fought on blindly with eyes burning from the gas.

SAN JOSE, Nov. 26—Lynch law wrote the last grim chapter in the Brooke Hart kidnaping here tonight.

Twelve hours after the mutilated body of the son of Alex J. Hart, wealthy San Jose merchant, was recovered from San Francisco bay a mob of 10,000 infuriated men and women stormed the Stanta Clara County Jail, dragged John M. Holmes and Thomas H. Thurmond from their cells and hanged them in historic St. James Park.

Swift, and terrible to behold, was the retribution meted out to the confessed kidnapers and slayers. As the pair were drawn up, threshing in the throes of death, a mob of thousands of men and women and children screamed anathemas at them.

Howling mob besieges jail

The siege of the County Jail, a three-hour whirling, howling drama of lynch law, was accomplished without serious injury either to the seizers or the 35 officers who vainly sought to defend the citadel.

The defense of the jail failed because Sheriff Emig and his forces ran out of tear gas bombs. Bombs kept the determined mob off for several hours.

Help from San Francisco and Oakland officers arrived too late to save the Hart slayers.

Holmes pleads against hanging

"Don't string me up, boys. God, don't string me up," was the last cry of Holmes as the noose was put about his neck in the light of flash lamps.

Thurmond was virtually unconscious with terror as the mob hustled him from the jail, down the alley and across the street to his doom.

Great cheers from the crowd of onlookers accompanied the hoisting of the two slayers. Some women fainted, some were shielded from the sight by their escorts, but the gamut of human nature was here in the park. Old women with graying hair and benign faces expressing satisfaction at the quick end of the murderers, and young women with hardened faces broke down and wept.

King Mob takes law to itself

King Mob was in the saddle and he was an inexorable ruler.

And here was a sovereign whose rise in invincible power stunned San Jose and will stun the Nation and the world.

Brooke Hart's torn body was found in the water this morning. Barricades went up before the County Jail and the crowd gathered and stayed all the day. It was a good natured crowd. It knew the deputies and the police and the State highway patrolmen who stood guard. It bandied words with them.

There had been talk of an organized mob, and as the crowd grew in the evening there was no organization, There was shouting, and good nature still ruled.

"This crowd won't do anything," was the constant reiteration of Sheriff Emig's deputies.

Yet as their words of confidence were being spoken there flashed, like a prairie fire, the word through San Jose—11 o'clock! 11 o'clock!

The constant bombardment of that hour on the ear was monotonous and ominous.

Indeed, when that hour came the mob was well on its way to its prey, and they were dangling from limbs before midnight.

Here is part of the mob that was law in San Jose last night. The picture was snapped after the door of the County Jail had been battered in and throngs rushed over the threshold to force their way up the stairs, seize Jack Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, and drag them across the street to the park to be hanged.

Violence begins

It was shortly before 9 o'clock that the front line at the barricade made its first move of violence. Ten or 15 patrolmen and deputies were against the barricade, which was not more than 30 feet from the jail door.

There was some pushing from behind and the good natured jeering, which had prevailed for almost an hour, took on a deeper tone of mattering. Strangely enough there was little shouting of "lynch them" at this critical stage. It was a growl which was not unlike the throaty shouting in an African film.

Line attacks barriers

Newspaper men stood behind the barriers, a few deputies stood about. Camermen snapped flashlights.

Suddenly that front line lunged.

The police locked arms to hold them back. There were fifteen police and a hundred men exerting pressure against them. They swayed for a moment, locked in one another's embrace.

The police shouted orders, but they were mere shrill nothings as the mob behind began a deep rumble, dreadful in its menace.

Blast checks action

Out of this twinkling of struggle, while the men behind the barriers held their breadth came a blast like that of a gun. The mob was temporarily quelled and uncertain, staggering back. "Shooting! Shooting!" went up the cry.

But it was a tear gas bomb which had exploded.

Officer injured

The police suddenly gave way, taking one officer who had been burned back into the jail. The mob, after a moment of uncertainty, surged forward but was still a little cautious.

Out of the jail poured five or six deputies armed with tear gas sticks. Again the leaders of the mob, those who must bear the brunt, staggered back.

But even as they staggered they jeered, and the first shouts of "lynch 'em," stabbed through the tumult.

Crowd chants vengeance

"We'll get 'em now, boys... Bring 'em out... Bring 'em out..." And another dreadful cry went up, a kind of chant which lasted but a minute: "Brooke Hart—Brooke Hart—Brooke Hart—Brooke Hart."

This chant, all of these shouts and screams were choked off in an instant as the first tear gas bombs were fired.

"Boom—Boom—Boom," went the bombs. Again smoke, blue and lazy, drifted in the night air of the besieged jail, as lazy in the arc light as cigar smoke before a hearth.

Gas forces retreat

The crowd broke and ran, women and children went screaming out beside the Courthouse, handkerchiefs went to eyes everywhere and the jail for a moment stood deserted, a grim old fortress which seemed in that moment impregnable.

"That's the end of it," every one said, deputies, newspaper men, every one.

And every one, unable to plumb the depth of fury which has swayed San Jose for 17 days, was wrong.

This was about 9 o'clock.

Leaders undaunted

The women and children had run, but there were hardy spirits who stayed. They were the leaders, they were the men who ultimately hanged Holmes and Thurmond.

They couldn't get in close to the jail. The lazy smoke burned their eyes. But they could stand off and throw rocks, and throw rocks they did.

The first rock came soon after the gas started to dissipate. A new postoffice building is being built nearby.

Stones shower jail

There was tile aplenty about and bricks. There was also a vantage point from which to throw.

Sixty seconds after the first stone came a steady shower was beating a tattoo on the stone wall of the jail, clanking against the steel door, making musical tinkles as it struck the bars.

Every rat-a-tat on stone or steel brought cheers from the crowd, and when a window in the jail fell the cheers were redoubled. The sound of a smashing window seemed by some alchemy to get them all, and they roared at the tops of their 200 voices.

The alleyway before the jail door was now wholly untenable for human beings.

The scene in so far as concerned the pavement was not unlike the front steps of a church during the World war. Debris was every where. It was no man's land—no mistaking that.

Now not all of the officers on guard were besieged in the County Jail. Across the alley in Sheriff Emig's office were 10 or 12 San Jose police officers, also armed with tear gas.

Officers split up

The situation was complicated by the splitting of forces in this manner, but once accomplished, nothing could be done about it.

The officers fired out the side windows and even sent a bomb out the front window of the Courthouse, but the crowd seemed to survive this gas, and went about choking and exceedingly interested.

The leaders in the front line trenches, so to speak, most of them boys between 18 and 23, were not dispersed by any of these bombs.

Leaders stick to job

They stuck. There was some grim and terrible determination in them to get Holmes and Thurmond. There were scarcely more than 50 of them.

After about an hour of this rain of missiles at the jail, the leaders seemed to realize that they were getting nowhere. You can't knock a jail down with bricks.

It was then, about 10 o'clock or shortly afterward, that the first settled attack was made on the steel door.

From the postoffice construction job came a 9-inch iron pipe. weighing several hundred pounds, but there were willing hands to lift it.

Pipe used as ram

Into the lazy smoke went 15 or 20 men, charging from the crowd across the no man's land straight for the ancient steel doors of this jail which has stood unbreeched since 1866.

"Boom," went the great pipe against the doors.

"Yeeoweeeeeeh," went a strange animal cry from the throats of the onlookers.

"Bang—bang—bang," went the tear gas bombs from the second story of the jail.

Rock smashes light

"Ping," went a rock through the arc light at the corner of the jail, and the greatest cheer of all rent the air.

An eerie gloom swam in the Courthouse alleys. It was like a stage set for the deepest of blue lights, and here was transpiring a drama the like of which has seldom been seen in America... A drama of a life brutally ended and two more to end.

There was no mistaking this mob now. It was out for Thurmond and Holmes and nothing short of an army would stop it.

Mob works in dark

Who held that first iron pipe doesn't matter. They are known in San Jose, but ask someone who was there.

Here was the darkness and here was the mob out in the street. A policeman at the corner tooted his whistle. He was directing traffic. If the Courthouse had blown up, if the sky had fallen, that policeman would still toot his whistle, directing traffic at the corner of St. James and First streets.

Traffic in snarl

He kept on sending 'em down First street by the Court House. Traffic was in a terrible snarl. All about the Court House, about St. James Park to the east wandered thousands, youngsters and their girls, women with children in their arms, men and their wives, nice old ladies with their daughters.

They milled about, went up as close to the howling front line boys as possible, wandered away, wondering if they would get them or if they wouldn't get them.

It was a carnival, nothing less, and, after all, you couldn't drum up a straw of sympathy for Jack Holmes and Thomas Thurmond in this valley city.

Front lines dark

But what was going on in the front lines? Darkness like a blanket wrapped the alleyway and the box-like old prison.

Out of the darkness leaped another sound, the ominous sound of the iron pipe battering ram made con the steel door. Cheers, cheers, cheers, and more blasting of the tear gas bombs, more staggering back by the men who held the ram.

Somebody said help is coming. San Francisco's and Oakland's inexhaustible supply of peace officers were speeding this way in automobiles and on motorcycles.

'Get 'em! Get 'em!'

Armed with gas. more gas, and more gas, armed with riot guns.

It must have got about by telepathy, traveled to the front lines as surely as though an army had phones hooked up to the bomb proofs.

"Get 'em! Get 'em! The cops are coming!" galvanized the mob and the leaders to more strenuous efforts, still the bricks beat like an interminable tropic rain on the jail walls and bars and the steel door. Still the scene was plunged in darkness, blue darkness in which the slowly drifting smoke of the tear gas seemed to take the reflection from the very sky.

Door gives way

The third ram went into action. The leaders leaned as they strained at the great pipe, and in the darkness lunged at the door again. This time the double door gave way. It gave way with a tremendous crash, which stirred an entire block to frenzy.

Into the front corridor went the leaders with their ram. Screaming madly for vengeance they had come at close quarters with the defenders, men they had known all their lives.

Across the corridor is a heavy barred grating, with a door. This door was open. The ram went through the grating, tearing it from its moorings. On went the ram to the brick wall behind, where it stopped.

'We're getting 'em'

In the darkness below, in the No Man's land of a few minutes before, surged the mob, sending up yells in waves, like the ocean surf. It was a steady drum of sound, in which words were indistinguishable.

In the second story window at this moment appeared two of the leaders. "We're getting 'em... We're bringing 'em down.

If it was possible the sound from below rose to a greater volume. Those below could not get into the jail. There wasn't room for them in the narrow corridors and cells.

And while the crowd screamed, here was the scene inside a jail occupied by men who had stood by valiantly, whatever may be said, against overwhelming odds.

They all knew one another—remember that—the mob and the officers. This was not a masked job.

Jailer weeps

Howard Buffington, veteran jailer, wept. He knew he was helpless before these men. They ran up the stairways, through the jail. No one could shoot them down. What is the law? No one had been hurt yet. Joe Walsh and Felix Cordray, all of them veterans, were helpless.

The mob knew where their prisoners were, and there was little chance of mistake. The mob leaders knew Thurmond and Holmes personally.

They went to Thurmond's cell on the third floor, the old northeast cell of David Lamson. Buffington went along with the leaders. They took the keys from Buffington. Thurmond, in mortal terror, was clinging to the grating in the toilet of his cell.

Then there occurred a scene probably never enacted before in a lynching in the history of America.

The leaders prayed for Thurmond's soul.

They knelt in that jail cell, five or six of them, in the midst of the turmoil and the shouting, and they prayed to God Almighty for the man who was so soon to meet that God.

They arose with the whimpering prisoner, arms grasping him on either side and he stumbled down the stairs. He stumbled along tongue-tied with his last great terror.

The scene in the Holmes cell on the second floor of the prison was a different one. No one prayed for Holmes, the so-called leader of the Brooke Hart slaying.

Holmes was also concealed in the washroom off his cell, and when the crowd went in he denied he was Holmes.

With a last bravado he shouted: "I'm not Holmes."

But his destroyers laughed in his face. Too many of them knew him well. One man struck him in the face.

Holmes dragged out

"By God, you are!" shouted the men jammed in his cell. He fell to the floor. Grasping him by the feet they dragged him down the steps and out into the open, where Thurmond haa just arrived.

For a moment there was bedlam about the jail. A few on the outskirts of the crowd shouted that one was the wrong man. There was some doubt at first that two men had been taken. But those next to the men knew who they had.

Serpa threatened

There had been some howling in the jail for Tony Serpa, a youth recently convicted of manslaughter when he had been charged with murder. It was a short-lived cry. The mob leaders were not to be diverted from their purpose.

The snarling mob with the half-unconscious prisoners did not tarry before the jail. They moved with a kind of mindless precision down the alley beside the Courthouse to First street, and across that street to St. James Park.

Prisoners taken to park

That movement across First street seemed instantaneous. One moment the men were in the jail alley, there was yet a ray of hope for them even though policemen were wandering away in a bewildered manner. The next moment the mob had the prisoners in the park, and their end had come.

A great murmuring went up from the thousands who had thus far taken little part in the actual seizure of Holmes and Thurmond. These spectators, men women and children, streamed like a mighty surf toward the park.

They climbed the statue of William McKinley, and they milled about, gorging the entire west side of the big park.

'String 'em up'

There was not the remotest doubt where the sympathy of these people lay.

"String 'em up!" came from a thousand throats, from women as well as men, from grammar school boys, from business men with spectacles and from working men in rough garb.

There was some delay in getting a rope, some impatience from the crowd. Several men started climbing trees, and every man was given a cheer. The light was dim in the park, but there were a couple of arc lights and hundreds of flash lights.

Mob cheers hanging

After a delay of almost fifteen minutes, ropes were produced, and Thurmond, who was at the south end of the park, was the first man to be hanged. He was benumbed with fear, and his crazed mutterings were without meaning.

Thurmond was hanged to a low limb. As his body was slowly hoisted, the crowd broke into frantic cheering. Some one in that crowd must have had the technique of hangman's knots. Thurmond thrashed as he hung there, swaying to and fro, seeming to bend his body at the hips in a last spasm of life.

For perhaps three minutes he swayed there, his face blackening slowly, his tongue extended, although he was obviously unconscious.

"Brookie Hart—Brookie Hart," cried his executioners to the man who could no longer hear them.

Mob hurls taunts

The taunts went on as the man's body dangled at the end of the rope, slowly turning, now this way and now that, as though some mocking power were giving all a full view of him.

The crowd ran hither and thither, children scampering through the crowd to get the best view. Some children in arms were held 25 feet from the dangling man as the mob of onlookers milled about and gave vent to cries of triumph.

Holmes' execution followed that of Thurmond but a few minutes. In a despairing voice, which was nevertheless clear, he kept denying that he was Holmes, but the crowd knew better and those immediately about him did not bother to fling his words back at him.

Holmes, his bloody face turned on his captors, took death with more stamina than did Thurmond. As the rope was let down from a limb, he begged:

"Don't string me up, boys... Don't string me up."

Noose drops over head

And finally in a last instant of resignation... for he had been held up by the crowd and must have seen Thurmond's body swiging 50 yards away. He admitted he was Holmes.

"Yes, I'm Holmes," he gasped, and held his head up, and in the next instant the noose dropped over it, and with a cheer his body was flung into the air.

Holmes did not struggle as long as did Thurmond. It seemed that that last relinquishment of hope had taken the life from him. The rope about his neck, too, seemed to have left him nothing but reflexes to cause motion.

There was areport that both nooses were the hangman's knots which crush into the skull behind the ear, and destroy consciousness.

While Thurmond still dangled, his feet even with the faces of the crowd, Holmes was thrown far into the air. The crowd gasped for a moment as it observed that his body was stark naked.

Women faint

Now, as the men swung there, both playthings of the winds and the twisted ropes, many who had cried for their execution turned away. Several women fainted in the crowd, but there were thousands who did not faint; there were hundreds who looked on with smiles.

And the burden of all the talk was:

"Well, there won't be any kidnaping in this county for a long time."

The dead men swung there. Some of the more violent spirits were for cutting them down and burning them with gasoline. Thurmond's trousers were stripped from him and some of the mob set fire to his rubber coat, which burned for a few minutes.

The bodies hung in the park for almost an hour. Shortly before midnight came squads of San Francisco police officers. The crowd ran. These were the police for whom Sheriff Emig called when he ran out of tear gas about half an hour before his prisoners were seized. They were too late to save anything, but the dead clay of the murderers.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) before 1964, and copyright was not renewed.

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