Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart


In the months after the murders of Harold Thurmond and Jack Holmes, accusations of who was responsible for the violence at St. James Park flew back and forth. Some people wanted to blame the sheriff's office for not taking adequate precautions against the mob when he knew that there was a strong possibility of violence. Sheriff Emig denied it and the coroner's inquest agreed. The jury said, "Sheriff Emig used his best judgment in handling the situation to avoid a lynching of the prisoners." Others wanted to blame the Department of Justice whose agents were the lead investigators on the case. But ever since November 27, the FBI was careful to point out that at the time of the siege, the prisoners were in the state's custody. In an official Department of Justice synopsis of the case which is dated February 27, 1934, reports emphasize the responsibility rests with the state of California: "It is to be noted that at the time this lynching occurred, both Holmes and Thurmond were completely in the custody of state officials."

Eventually seven men, including Anthony Cataldi, were arrested on various charges connected to the killings. District Attorney Earl Warren, later to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, led the effort to prosecute the suspects. In the months after Governor Rolph professed his support for mob violence, he received strong criticisms from many different fronts. He was frequently called "Governor Lynch" and newspapers across the nation vilified his comments on the murders. The National War Veterans expelled him from their executive board and numerous public officials called for his impeachment. However, Governor Rolph was never able to make good on his promise to pardon the lynchers. In June 1934, barely eight months after the killings, Rolph died in Santa Clara County of a heart attack. The result, some said, of the stress brought on by the San Jose case.

The repercussions of San Jose justice extended overseas as well. But perhaps none were so telling as comments made by the Nazi Party, who in 1933 was just beginning their satanic rise to power in Germany. In their national magazine, published in 1934, the Nazis published photographs of the lynchings in St. James Park and used the killings as examples of the decadence of American life.

Video cover: Fury
Video cover: Fury

In 1936, Metro Goldwyn Mayer released Fury starring Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sydney and Walter Brennan. Written and directed by Fritz Lang, who had barely escaped with his life from Nazi Germany, the script was based on the terrible events at San Jose three years earlier. Its harrowing depiction of lynch mobs was unforgettable and strongly reminiscent of those at St. James Park. The comparison did not escape the notice of American audiences. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Story.

Though many thousands witnessed the events of November 26, 1933 in San Jose, no one was ever convicted of any crime related to the lynchings of Thurmond and Holmes.


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