Book: Swift Justice

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Swift Justice: Murder and Vengeance in a California Town

Author: Harry Farrell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

In 1933, a nightmare shook the quiet town of San Jose, California, when a young man named Brooke Hart was abducted while leaving his father’s department store. In the days that followed, the Harts, local and state police, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI scrambled to outwit the kidnappers, whose demands kept them at bay until they—and Brook Hart’s murder—were at last discovered.

Then the unthinkable: A band of vigilantes stormed the San Jose jail and hanged the two criminals in the town square as ten thousand watched. The next day the governor hailed the lynching as “a fine lesson”.

The San Jose lynching, which divided the nation and haunts the city still, is a chilling tale of fear, fury, and the collapse of justice—of a small American paradise turned inferno.


In 1933, a couple of losers kidnapped and killed the son of a department store owner in San Jose, California. Little did they know of the fury they would unleash. The men were captured, and then, just hours after the victim’s body was found, a mob stormed the city jail and held “a necktie party” (lynching) in a nearby park. Harry Farrell is a superb writer who researched this case so thoroughly that he has the details to produce an unnerving degree of suspense. He provides ample maps, photos, and reproduced newspaper articles, making it all too easy to visualize the horrifying events. His interviews even include descriptions of the noise of the mob as heard from afar: “a kind of keening that stirred a primeval tingling on the back of my neck.” And his account of the politics involved, including the governor’s praise for the lynchers, is a shocking denouement to the story. Swift Justice won the 1993 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.

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