Providing much-needed linkage between Hayward and Foster City since its opening on March 2, 1929, the San Mateo Bridge has seen its fair share of nefarious activities during its decades of history.
At the time of its opening, it was the longest bridge in the world (at 7-ish miles). It was privately-owned, its owners hoping to make a profit from mid-peninsula travelers going across the San Francisco Bay (it would become a government entity on Sep. 12, 1951).
It was a boon to leisure drivers and commuters, but it also had a dark side, as chronicled by local historian Mitchell P. Postel. There were numerous crimes associated with the bridge during its 90+ year history, a sample of which, three notorious early crimes, is outlined here.
Probably the most infamous crime linked to the bridge involved a kidnapping and murder of a wealthy young San Jose man. On Nov. 9, 1933, Brooke Hart was snatched by two desperate men, John Holmes and Harold (called Thomas in some sources) Thurmond, from downtown San Jose. The two men were going to ask for $40,000 in ransom, but they had no intention of keeping Hart alive. They drove Hart halfway across the San Mateo Bridge and then forced him out of the car, smacked him on the head with a brick, tied him up, and tossed him over the side of the bridge. Hart did not sink immediately, so the two men shot the flailing man. A police investigation fingered Holmes and Thurmond as the murderers, and they were sequestered in the jail in San Jose. Irate citizens stormed the jail, dragged the two men out, and hung them from nearby trees. My godfather was a young boy living in the area at the time and remembered the angry shouts that could be heard a couple of miles away from the lynching site.
One year later, a patrolman was hanging out at the bridge's tollbooths and heard a faint call for help coming from inside a passing car. Giving chase, he managed to stop the vehicle and rescue a young child the driver had kidnapped.
One year after that, in 1935, Jerome Von Braun Selz killed a woman and dumped her body along Skyline Boulevard. Police traced the crime to Selz, who blamed the murder on another man, a Bulgarian soldier. As it turned out, the soldier was yet another victim of Selz's who had been taken to the bridge and thrown over the side.
These classic crimes are only a small snapshot of the dark doings that have featured the bridge. Criminal activity continues to haunt the bridge up to the present day. As late as May of 2021, The Daily Journal reported on California Highway Patrol officers who stopped a Chevrolet and a BMW that had been racing across the bridge's span at more than 105 mph.
The bridge is a beautiful and impressive feat of engineering that will, unfortunately, be tainted by dark deeds in the years to come.
For colorful snapshots into our area's past, check out Dan Calic's excellent Portal to our Past blog here.