Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kidnapping and Murder of Brooke Hart

'I Can't Drive!'

On November 15, after the Harts had received several other false contacts from people who tried to extort money from the family, a second letter from the kidnappers was received. In this long and detailed communication, Alex Hart was ordered to take the $40,000 in cash and drive alone in the Studebaker toward Los Angeles. If he agreed to this arrangement, the numeral "2" was to be written on a large sign and placed in a window in Hart's Department store. Alex Hart was willing to comply but unfortunately, he had never learned how to drive a car. The sign was placed in the window with an additional note. "Accordingly," the FBI report said, "the numeral "2" was placed in the window, but in view of the fact that Mr. Hart could not drive a car, in large black letters were printed the words, "I cannot drive."

By early evening, the kidnappers had gotten the message, because at 8:00 p.m., the phone at the Hart residence rang. It was someone who claimed to be holding Brooke captive. The FBI agent in the home listened in on the call while the phone operator began to relay the caller's location to the police on another line. The FBI report on the phone call recited the conversation.

"Is this Mr. Hart?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Mr. Hart, you had our serial number in the window this afternoon."

"Yes, it was there. I can't drive!"

"Mr. Hart, you get...some member of your family and leave PDQ!"

"I can't drive! And I'm in no physical condition to make a trip!"

"Mr. Hart, I want your answer," the voice insisted, "Yes or no! Will you go?"

"I am willing to deal with you," Hart pleaded, "to do anything in my power to get my boy back, but I am unable to leave now."

Sheriff William Emig
Sheriff William Emig

The man insisted that the switch had to be made now. Hart would have to find someone to drive the car but the money had to be paid tonight. While the conversation continued, police were notified that the call was being made from a pay phone at a garage on South Market Street in downtown San Jose. Within seconds, a dozen cops, including Santa Clara County Police Chief William J. Emig, were speeding toward the location. In the meantime, Alex Hart stonewalled the man on the phone.

"I want to deal with you," he assured the caller, "to be fair, but I can't go. I'm ill! Can't we get somebody that will be satisfactory to you as a go-between?"

"Well, who would we get?" the caller asked.

"I don't know, somebody you name. Or I can name somebody."

"Mr. Hart, I've got orders from headquarters," the voice turned angry, "and this is the last time, this is your last chance. That's all I can say. Will you go...or not? If you don't go now, it will be just too bad!"

"No, I won't go! I haven't any assurance that you have the boy. Can't you give me any assurance?"

"We have your boy! Will you leave now?" the caller was getting angrier by the minute but Alex Hart dragged out the conversation as long as he could.

"Well, where should I go? When?" he said.

"Follow the instructions of that letter this afternoon. Leave for Los Angeles in the car. Your boy will be returned!"

"How do I know I'll get my boy, or where?" Just then, the police pulled up outside the Plaza Garage. They saw a man talking on the phone with his back facing them. He never noticed the gang of very excited police officers until they were almost on top of him. As they opened the door to the booth, the caller hung up. When he turned around, he was face to face with Chief Emig.

"What's your name?" the chief shouted.

"Harold Thurmond," the frightened man replied.

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