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18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;
Lights! Cameras! Murder!: Life imitates art in this chilling tale of a wannabe filmmaker who set out to imitate his hero – the TV character, Dexter.
The Stepmother from Hell: What kind of a monster would torture a 6-year-old amputee and cancer survivor?
Black Widows of Hollywood: The barely believable tale of a couple of elderly women who targeted the homeless in a callous murder-for-profit scheme.
The Barbecue Murders: Marlene claimed that her parents had gone on an extended vacation. The bones in the barbecue pit said different.
Mob Rules: The kidnapping and murder of a much-loved San Jose businessman brings about a truly horrific end for the perpetrators.
The Werewolf Butcher: Jack had an ambition. He wanted to be the most notorious serial killer in America. He was certainly one of the bloodiest.
Evidence of Murder: A young girl gets lost in a cornfield and ends up in the clutches of a vile paedophile in this harrowing tale from southeast England.
Justice for Buddy: All Buddy wanted was a companion to share his golden years with, what he got instead was a female predator with a penchant for torture.
Plus 10 more shocking, bizarre and horrific true murder cases.
Alex Hart Sr. was a much-loved businessman in the city of San Jose, California. His landmark Hart’s Department Store, on the corner of Market and Santa Clara Streets, was an institution in the city. In the days before suburban shopping malls, everybody shopped there. And everyone who did loved the Hart family. Renowned for their munificence and community spirit, the Harts gave generously to many causes. They’d even donated their historic family home to the YMCA.
The undoubted golden boy of the Hart family was Alex’s oldest son Brooke. The 22-year-old, with his athletic build, wavy blond hair and blue eyes, was regarded as San Jose’s most eligible bachelor. He cut a dashing figure, cruising the city’s streets in his green 1933 Studebaker Roadster. It was said that the young ladies of the city came down to the department store just to get a look at him.
In 1933, when our story takes place, Brooke Hart had just graduated from Santa Clara University and had been made a junior vice president of the family business. Brooke, who had worked various jobs at the store throughout his youth, was being groomed to take over. Fate, however, had other plans. It came in the form of two desperate men, Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes.
The year 1933 was in the midst of the Great Depression, a dark period in American history marked by intense economic stress, disillusionment, and anger among the poor. Thurmond and Hart certainly fit that mold. A couple of high school dropouts who had grown up in the area, both were unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Holmes’ plight was particularly desperate. He was married with two young children. Eventually, the pair hit on a plan. They were going to kidnap one of the city’s wealthiest citizens and extract a ransom from his family. The victim they decided on, was Brooke Hart.
Brooke’s father, Alex, had never learned to drive a car, so Brooke was in the habit of driving him to and from work. His vehicle usually spent the day parked in a downtown San Jose garage and it was while retrieving it from that location on the afternoon of Thursday, November 9, 1933, that he was ambushed, forced into his car and then driven to a rural area about seven miles east of the city. There, the kidnappers changed vehicles, abandoning the Studebaker at the side of the road. From there they drove to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, where they carried out the rest of their scheme. Thurmond and Holmes had never intended holding Hart as a hostage. Their plan was to kill him. The young man was brutally bludgeoned with a chunk of concrete, then dropped into San Francisco Bay. The killers fired a shot at him as he floated in the water. Then they left.
By now, the Hart family was frantic with worry. Brooke’s routine was well established. He’d fetch the car and then return to the store to pick up his father. Today, however, he hadn’t returned and his car was missing from the garage. Alex Hart had just reported the matter to the police when the phone at the family residence jangled into life. There was a man on the line demanding $40,000 for Brooke’s safe return.
There was never any doubt in Alex Hart’s mind that he would pay the ransom. $40,000 was a huge sum in the financially fraught days of the Depression but the Harts could afford it. All Alex wanted was the safe return of his son. Still, like any good citizen, he immediately reported this latest development to the police. Within the next few hours, Brooke’s Studebaker was found beside a road in the area that is now Milpitas. Then there was another call from the kidnapper, reiterating the demand. Over the days that followed there would be further communications via telephone and postcard.
The police were by now sure that they were dealing with a bunch of amateurs who would slip up sooner or later. They were right. On the evening of November 15, the caller stayed on the line long enough for police to get a fix on his position. Thomas Thurmond was arrested as he walked away from a pay phone located just 150 feet from the San Jose Police headquarters. He quickly confessed, naming John “Jack” Holmes as his accomplice. Holmes was arrested later that same night.
As word of the arrests began seeping through to the public, so came the first rumblings of a lynching. The American people, still raw from the abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby, had no sympathy with kidnappers. When the San Jose papers confirmed the arrests the next morning, the County sheriff took the wise precaution of moving Thurmond and Holmes to the Potrero Hill police station in San Francisco. There, at around 1 o'clock that afternoon, Holmes finally admitted killing Hart.
Holmes said that he and Thurmond had planned the kidnapping for “about six weeks.” After ambushing Hart in the car park, they drove him to the San Mateo Bridge, where they bound his hands with baling wire and then attached two concrete blocks (brought along for that purpose) to his shoulders. Holmes then beat him on the head with another chunk of concrete, but Brooke started screaming so they picked him up, placed him on the railing and then dropped him into the water below. Unfortunately for them the tide was out, so the body didn’t sink. They then fired a shot at him and left. (A shell casing would later be found on the bridge but there were no bullet wounds to Brooke’s body. He likely drowned.)
With the admission that Brooke had been thrown into the bay, a police search was launched involving officers from Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda Counties. But the area that the searchers had to cover was huge and they had no luck until November 26, when a couple of duck hunters found a badly decayed and crab-eaten body about a mile south of the San Mateo Bridge. It was in such a horrific condition that the police warned members of the Hart family not to view it. Brooke Hart was identified by one of his friends.
The news was out now, raging through the community like a virus. People were angry. A beloved member of their community had been brutally slain and they wanted justice. Mob rule had taken hold and it would continue to build over the following week, first with the revelation that the killers were claiming insanity, then with an announcement by the DA that they could not be convicted on their confessions alone and might walk free unless corroborating evidence could be found.
The local media hardly helped cool the situation. Radio stations broadcast bulletins peppered with inflammatory statements, paying scant regard to the principle of presumed innocence. The local papers published equally provocative editorials. Meanwhile newsmen from across the nation began ascending, setting up their cameras in St James Park across the road from the Santa Clara Courthouse, where Thurgood and Hughes were now being held. Around them, an angry mob had begun to build.
Sheriff William Emig watched that growing crowd with trepidation. He and a small detachment of officers had been detailed to guard the prisoners but he knew that they’d be powerless against a sizable lynch mob. He therefore sent an urgent dispatch to the governor, asking him to mobilize a National Guard unit. Governor James Rolph refused. In fact, he responded by saying that he had no problem with a lynching and would personally pardon anyone involved.
Such a pronouncement from a public official could only have emboldened the mob and the radio stations soon picked up the cudgel, announcing on air that there would be a public lynching in St James Park at 9 p.m. that Sunday evening (November 27). That pronouncement was just the call to arms that the mob needed. By late afternoon on that chilly November day, over 1,000 individuals had braved the cold and descended on the park. By sundown that number had tripled. As the hour designated by the radio stations approached there were 5,000 men, women, and even children, gathered. The mood was angry and it continued to darken as the evening wore on.
By 11:00 p.m. the tone of the mob had reached a state of near hysteria. Wooden barricades that had been placed in front of the courthouse had been torn down and hurled at the building, along with rocks, bottles, and any other debris the would-be lynchers could find. Inside, the small force of police officers took cover behind desks and in closets, as missiles shattered the windows of the courthouse. When a section of the mob broke away and began raiding an adjacent building site for ammunition, Sheriff Emig knew that he and his few deputies had no chance of repelling the assault that would surely come. Soon the mob was battering at the courthouse doors, using steel pipes looted from the building site. Emig then played his last card. He ordered his men to fire tear gas. That served barely to slow the advancing horde. As the door of the building began to splinter and then burst open, the cops bravely stood their ground. Emig had ordered his men not to fire into the crowd. They were quickly overwhelmed and trampled underfoot, Emig himself suffering a skull fracture.
Fights had now broken out among the crowd, each man eager to get at the prisoners. They swarmed up the stairs, jostling for position. Thurmond and Holmes heard the crowd coming and cowered in the corner of their cells, paralyzed with fear. The elderly jailor had his jaw broken by a fist and was forcibly relieved of his keys. Then the prisoners were dragged, kicking and screaming, from their cells, Holmes put up a fight but was quickly subdued by fists and boots.
Thurmond and Holmes were now manhandled down the stairs and thrown into the street to the accompaniment of whoops and cheers. There, they were grabbed by their feet and dragged across the tarmac into the park, where burning torches illuminated the scene. They were kicked and beaten, spat upon and mauled with bricks and tree branches, every blow cheered by the onlookers. “Killers! Murderers!” they screamed.
Thurmond had by now given up the fight, either knocked unconscious or paralyzed by fear. But Holmes still struggled, suffering terrible injuries at the hands of the furious mob. Meanwhile, a youth had scurried up a tall elm in the northeast corner of the park and tossed a length of rope over a sturdy branch some twenty feet from the ground. The other end was fastened into a noose and pulled over Holmes’ head as he continued to fight. A few yards away, a second noose was placed around the head of a seemingly unconscious Thurmond. He was quickly hauled into the air and died oblivious to his end.
Holmes’ demise was far less peaceful. As he continued to fight, a group of men beat him to the ground with steel bars, breaking both of his arms. Then he was stripped naked and the rope firmly knotted around his neck. He was hoisted up, kicking out in ever weaker spasms as the life was choked from him, and the crowd celebrated his demise. Some of the lynchers then held burning matches under his feet while others in the crowd chanted “Burn! Burn!” The atmosphere was festive, the lynchers wild-eyed with righteous indignation. Hugs and backslaps were exchanged, while at the fringes police officers looked on impotently. Many probably agreed with their governor’s assessment – that justice had been done this night.
The frenzy did not abate immediately. For hours afterwards, people lingered at the scene watching the naked bodies of Thurmond and Holmes swaying in the breeze. Still others broke branches and gouged chunks of bark from the hanging tree. They carried these home as souvenirs.
The lynching of Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes was one of the darkest chapters in the long history of American mob justice. Many condemned the action but there were an even greater number who commended it. One such person was a professor at Stanford, who led her class in a minute’s applause in honor of the lynch mob.
Former President Herbert Hoover, then a lecturer at Stanford, was among the dissenters. He issued a scathing statement, severely criticizing the role of Governor Rolph in the deaths of the two men. John Holmes’ parents took matters even further. They sued Rolph for his role in the lynching of their son. The suit was dropped when the governor died of a heart attack in 1934. Seven people were eventually arrested for their roles in the lynching. None of them was ever tried or convicted.
Murder Most Vile Volume 12 features another 17 shocking true crime stories.