Tampa had built a flourishing cigar manufacturing industry by providing liberal incentives to manufacturers.  The unionizing of workers and the violence erupting from strikes threatened the town's economy.  Two Italian immigrants were accused of union sympathy and of shooting J. F. Esterling, a bookkeeper for the West Tampa cigar factory.  City fathers were alarmed that an "American" would be subjected to attack.  While the "conspicuous" immigrants, neither one of which was recognized previously as strikers, were being taken to a safer jail in a horse-drawn hack, a mob separated them from a suspiciously modest guard consisting of one deputy sheriff and fireman.  The mob fled in automobiles, a luxury afforded by only the elite in Tampa, which suggested that they were "men with boiled shirts, high collars, diamonds, and kid gloves."

The lynchers' note read: "Beware! Others take notice or go the same way. We know even more. We are watching you. If any more citizens are molested look out."  The note was signed, "Justice." Warning notes posted at lynching sites were common forms of intimidation; in this case it was a clear threat to other strikebreakers.  Threatening notes and letters, and now email messages are still used throughout the United States by moral regulators and right-wing groups such as the Klan.  Mobs costumed their dead victims in mocking fashion, dressing them with hats and other objects; in this case a hat and pipe. In one incident the killers posed the corpse upright in a chair and glued on cotton sideburns and hair to recreate the stereotype of the "good old darky."

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