Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart

'Fear of the Law'

Sensing a rising public anger over the Hart case and the possibility that Thurmond and Holmes may get off with an insanity plea, a San Francisco newspaper published an editorial on November 17 urging the death penalty to the accused. "Officers of the Department of Justice (FBI) have struck swiftly and decisively," the article said, "They have put the fear of the law into the hearts of other criminals whose warped and degenerate minds may have been planning other similar atrocities. As for the guilty, the facts of the case call for swift punishment...death. No two men will ever mount the scaffold with less sympathy..."

Threats of lynching and vigilante justice were everywhere. At Santa Clara University, rumors were rampant that a group of Brooke's friends were planning an assault on the jail. The sheriff's office was aware of the highly emotional state of San Jose's citizens and knew that there was a strong possibility of violence. The lurid details of the killing had been published in the newspapers ever since November 16, the day of Holmes' arrest. His statement, that he and Thurmond had tied up Brooke and thrown him into the bay, had inflamed the public. When it was revealed that they also shot at Brooke while he thrashed around in the dark waters, people were livid.

In San Jose, the news of the discovery of the body spread like an epidemic. Hundreds of phone calls asking for confirmation were made to the police and local newspapers. Crowds gathered at the sheriff's office where police had moved in large trucks and barricades. The jailhouse doors were locked and secured. Behind them, heavy weapons were handed out to deputies with warnings that a mob was gathering outside. The FBI however, made an inquiry at the jail and was told there was no immediate threat. According to a memo written a few days earlier, by Agent V.W. Hughes to Director Hoover, he was assured that an assault on the county jail was not imminent. "Mr Vetterli stated that contrary to the newspaper observation, there was no crowd outside...there was no indication or evidence of any possible violence." But by Friday night, November 26, the mood had changed.

The outrage over the killing of Brooke Hart was brewing like a hurricane in Santa Clara County.

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