Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 26, 1933: Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes

Join me in a jaunt to the past through the pages of November 27, 1933 issue of The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland:



Thurmond and Holmes, Abductors of Brooke Hart, Son of Wealthy San Jose, Cal., Merchant, Were Lynched Last Night; Governor Praises Action.

SAN JOSE, Calif., Nov. 27 (AP).—Thomas H. Thurmond and John M. Holmes, confessed kidnaper-slayers of Brooke Hart, were lynched here last night by a mob of 100 men who smashed their way into the county jail after a two-hour battle to seize the pair. A whooping, cheering crowd estimated at 6,000 persons looked on.

Thurmond, first to confess, was unconscious when dragged to St. James Park, 100 yards from the jail, partially stripped and hanged to a tree.

Fights For Life.

Holmes, a powerful man, fought for his life in vain. Twice he wrenched his hands free and lifted the noose from his head, but the third time it was put there to stay and, still kicking, he was yanked into the air.

In the glare of torches and flashlights the bodies dangled for half an hour or so—a macabre picture for the thousands who assembled swiftly after the news of the lynching movement spread through the city. Then the lifeless forms were cut down and there was no further attempt to interfere with officers.

Thurmond's body had been burned slightly by flames from blazing newspapers held by the mob as torches during the hanging.

The lynching, occurring only a few hours after the torn body of young Hart, son of a wealthy San Jose merchant, had been taken from San Francisco bay, climaxed a spectacular battle between officers barricaded in the jail and the determined mob.

The muttering throng began to gather about the jail about 9 p. m. The jail, an antiquated brick building to the rear of the courthouse, had been prepared against the possibility of a lynch movement but was unable to withstand the improvised battering rams of the attackers. Automobiles parked across the alleys about the jail building, did little to impede the advances of the beseigers [sic].

Two shots, fired from the ground as a signal, started the first attack. A barrage of rocks, gathered from across the alley where a new post office building is under construction, clattered against the jail walls. Officers within the jail let loose with three tear gas bombs. Blinded and weeping, the attackers fell back.

By this time some 3,000 persons had gathered to match [sic]. The 35 officers in the jail building sent out a call for more tear gas. All lights in the building were extinguished.

The blinding tear gas from the first three bombs was still hanging like a thin veil about the building when the second attack began. Several attackers took from the post office building a piece of steel pipe eight inches in diameter and about 20 feet long and used it as a battering ram, smashing in the jail door. Officers turned loose another barrage of tear gas, momentarily stopping the assault. After waiting a few moments for the gas to lift, the mob stormed ahead once more, playing a fire hose on the building as it advanced. A second group seized another pipe and joined the attackers. The steel doors of the jail gave way and the mob poured in, encouraged by cheering thousands outside.

Sheriff Knocked Out

Sheriff William J. Emig, whose quick action had resulted in the arrest of Thurmond while the latter was making a ransom demand by telephone to the Hart home a week after the young victim had been put to death, was knocked senseless. Other officers were manhandled and brushed aside.

The deadly mob demanded Antone Serpa, recently convicted of manslaughter in the slaying of Leonard Remonda, a ranch foreman. Deputy sheriffs persuaded the group to let Serpa alone and the invaders pressed on.

In the cell which had imprisoned David A. Lamson now under sentence to hang for the murder of his attractive wife Allene at Stanford University last May, the mob laids [sic] hands upon the whimpering Thurmond, dragging him to the street and raining blows upon him.

Holmes struggled as he was dragged from the cell that once had held Douglas Templeton, now serving a life sentence for the murder of his aunt. Likewise he was dragged out and pummeled.

Begin Death March

Cheers, jeers and catcalls from thousands of watchers became the death march of Thurmond and Holmes, Down the alley between the Court House and the partially constructed postoffice [sic] and across the street in the palm fringed park they were dragged. Officers who had given up the fight, were closed out of the picture as the approving thousands lined the bordering streets.

The mob selected the limb of a tall tree, looped a rope around the unconscious Thurmond's neck, and hoisted him aloft while the crowd whooped its approval. The clothing was torn from the lower part of the body and he hung there half clad.

The business of choosing a limb for Holmes required about ten minutes. A tree some 200 yards from where Thurmond was dangling was finally selected. He was stripped of all clothing and jerked upward.

Street lights and flashlights shedding intermittent gleams through the leaves, gave the scene a peculiar ghastliness. The crowd, augmented by thousands who had emerged from the theaters just in time to witness the gruesome climax, quieted. Photographers whose equipment had been seized in the earlier stages of the spectacle were not molested.

The body of Thurmond was cut down finally and the crowd swarmed into the park to break souvenir twigs from the hanging limb. The assembled thousands were beginning to drift away when the body of Holmes was taken down.

Hours after the lynching the tear gas still hung about the jail like a sinister veil. The doors of the building were filled with wreckage. Two steel barred doors that had been smashed were barely hanging on their hinges and the heavy pipes that had served as battering rams lay in a corridor.

Not an arrest was made. The only shots that were fired, with the exception of the charges from the tear gas guns and bombs, were the two that started the attack on the jail.

Sheriff Emig, after recovering consciousness, stood by, helpless, until the crowd had wreaked its vengeance. Then he went to a hospital for treatment. Howard Buffington, a deputy who was struck from behind while pleading with the mob, and state highway patrolman Nick Gladner, also received emergency treatment. Several persons were struck by flying missiles or were burned by tear gas bursts.

Earlier in the evening in Sacramento, when Governor James Rolph, Jr., was asked if he would call out national guardsmen to reinforce the officers, the chief executive said:

"What, call out the troops to protect those two guys? That's the sheriff's job."

Informed later that Thurmond and Holmes had been lynched Rolph said:

Praises Action.

"This is the best lesson that California has ever given the country. We showed the country that the state is not going to tolerate kidnaping."

The lynching was the first in California in 13 years. The last time a mob took the law into its own hands was December 10, 1920, when George Boyd, Terance Fitts and Charles Valento, San Francisco gangsters accused of killing three police officers, were hanged from a tree after being dragged from the Sonoma county jail at Santa Rosa.

John Holmes

Thurmond on top and Holmes on bottom.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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