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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Trial of the Century: the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.

ᴛʜᴇ ғɪʀsᴛ ᴘᴏsᴛ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ʟɪɴᴅʙᴇʀɢʜ ᴛʀɪᴀʟ sᴇʀɪᴇs. ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜɪɴɢ: ɪᴛᴇᴍs ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴀʀᴇ ᴄᴜʀʀᴇɴᴛʟʏ ʙᴇɪɴɢ ʀᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜᴇᴅ ᴍᴀʏ ʙᴇ ᴜᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇᴅ ᴘᴇʀɪᴏᴅɪᴄᴀʟʟʏ. 

Lucky Lindy
Charles A. Lindbergh, or “Lucky Lindy,” rose to fame as an aviator in the 1920s after he completed the first ever solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was an A-list celebrity in the early ‘30s, helping to popularize aviation for pleasure, commerce, and mail. He was married to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American royalty whose father was, at different times, a partner in JP Morgan, US Ambassador to Mexico, and a US Senator from New Jersey. They wed in 1929, and shortly thereafter, in June of 1930, they had a son - Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.
The famous young couple seemed to have an idyll life. Charles was a happy, healthy baby with a head of bright blonde curly hair. When you think of the media surrounding Prince William and Kate and their children - that’s how the Lindbergh family was worshiped. Everyone knew about them, and they seemed to live in this perfect dream world.

The Kidnapping
Tragedy struck on March 1, 1932. The Lindberghs lived in Highfields, an estate in East Amwell, NJ. This part of Jersey is very rural, even today. It’s surrounded by twisty roads that lead in and out of thick deciduous woods and fields of corn and other crops.
Charles Jr.’s nurse, Betty Gow, put the baby in his crib at around 8pm. Charles’ room was on the second floor of the house, and Gow went back downstairs. If I recall correctly, both Anne and Charles were downstairs in the library, until Anne went to take her bath.
At around 9:30pm, Charles Lindbergh Sr heard a loud noise; he thought a slot had fallen out of a crate in the kitchen. Betty Gow returned to the baby’s room, only to discover that he was not in his crib. Thinking he might be with his mother, she went to inquire with Mrs. Lindbergh, who was just then getting out of her bath. She did not have her son.
Gow then ran downstairs to the library where Mr. Lindbergh was reading. Charles immediately went to examine his son’s room, finding the crib empty as well. Charles discovered a handwritten note placed on the windowsill above the radiator:
Dear Sir!
Have 50000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills After 2-4 days we will inform you were to deliver the Mony.
We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police The child is in gut care. Indication for all letters are singnature and three holes.
Lindbergh rushed outside with a firearm to search for the intruders, and the police were summoned. They arrived in about twenty minutes - again, this is pretty rural. The Hopewell Police arrived and after the initial report, the case was turned over to the New Jersey State Police.
After searching the yard, police discovered a ladder in two pieces hidden in bushes and underbrush near the home. The two sections of the ladder fit together, however, the center slat was broken, as if it had snapped during ascent or descent.
Other forensic evidence was found at the scene of the crime:
  • Footprints were found beneath Charles Jr’s second-story window, though they were “impossible to measure.”
  • Traces of mud were found on the floor of the nursery
  • A tire print was discovered in the mud later on that night -No bloodstains or adult fingerprints were found in the nursery. Charles Jr.’s fingerprints were found on the lower half of the nursery.
The Notes
This case was a huge, huge deal. You think we have media circuses today? Everyone was informed about the Lindgergh case. President Herbert Hoover declared he would “move heaven and earth” to find the baby Lindbergh. Al Capone and other crime bosses offered help from prison (in exchange for favors or release, of course). Lindbergh took charge of the investigation, and Anne was swept up in the hubub, devastated.
New Jersey offered $25,000 for tips leading to the recovery of the baby. The Lindberghs offered $50,000 additional of their own money. The infamous WANTED poster
A second ransom note was received on March 6, 1932, postmarked from Brooklyn:
Dear Sir. We have warned you note to make anything public also notify the police now you have to take consequences- means we will have to hold the baby until everything is quite. We can note make any appointments just now. We know very well what it means to us. It is realy necessary to make a world affair out of this, or to get your baby back as soon as possible to settle those affair in a quick way will be better for both- don't be afraid about the baby- keeping care of us day and night. We also will feed him acording to the diet.
We are interested to send him back in gut health. And ransom was made aus for 50000$ but now we have to take another person to it and probably have to keep the baby for a longer time as we expected. So the amound will be 70000 20000 in 50$ bills 25000$ in 20$ bill 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000 in 5$ bills Don't mark any bills or take them from one serial nomer. We will form you latter were to deliver the mony. But we will note do so until the Police is out of the cace and the pappers are quite. The kidnapping we prepared in years so we are prepared for everyding.
The Lindberghs set out to appoint a go-between to work with the kidnappers to deliver the ransom. The kidnappers sent a third ransom note to the Lindbergh’s attorney, asking for them to place an ad in the papers to communicate. A retired school principal, Dr. John F. Condon, in the Bronx in NYC published a piece in the “Bronx Home News” offering to act as a go-between and pay an additional $1,000 ransom. The next day a fourth note from the kidnapper was delivered, accepting Dr. Condon as a go-between. His code name was “JAFSIE,” based on his initials.
The note to the Lindberghs, notifiying them of Dr. Condon’s approval as the go-between:
Mr Colonel Lindbergh Hopewell
Dear Sir: Mr Condon may act as go-between. You may give him the 70,000$ make one packet the size will be about-- (drawing appeared)
We have notifyed you already in what kind of bills. We warn you not to set any trapp in any way. If you or someone els will notify the Police ther will be a further delay. Affter we have the mony in hand we will tell you where to find your boy. You may have a airplane redy it is about 150 miles awy. But before telling you the adr. a delay of 8 houers will be between.
A representative of the kidnappers who called himself “John” met with Dr. Condon in a local park. Condon asked for proof the baby was alive, and was promised that the baby’s pajamas would be returned. He did not get a good look at the kidnapper; not enough to identify him. He spoke with an accent, what Condon described as “foreign.” The pajamas were sent and confirmed to be Charles Jr’s.
Finally, a month after the kidnapping, the payment of the ransom was arranged. The payment was in a custom-made box and consisted of gold certificates that were going to be withdrawn from circulation in the near future, all with the intent to draw attention to the kidnapper and aid in identifying him. The serial number of each bill was recorded, though the bills themselves were not marked.
On April 2nd, Dr. Condon met with “John” again, presenting him with only $50,000. John accepted the money and gave Condon another note, claiming the child was on a boat in Martha’s Vineyard, in the care of two innocent women. The child was not found in Martha’s Vineyard, and the exchange of messages continued. At this point, Dr. Condon said he would be able to identify “John” if he saw him again.

The Corpse
On May 12, two months after the kidnapping, a delivery truck driver pulled to the side of the road in Hopewell Township, NJ, to take a leak. As he wandered off the road into a cove of trees, he discovered something gruesome: a decomposing corpse of an infant, 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh home. The child had quite obviously been killed via a blow to the head, and had been dead for about 2 months. The body was later cremated.

The Gold Certificate
On September 18, 1934, a hit came on one of the ransomed gold certificates, at a Manhattan bank. A New York license plate number was penciled in the margin, and as the gold certificate was traced back to the gas station at which it was spent, the clerk explained that he wrote down his customer’s license plate number as he thought they were acted suspicious and might be a confeiter. The plate was licensed to one Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
Hauptmann was a German immigrant, married to wife, Anna, and had one infant son, Manfried. He was 34 years old and come to America as a stowaway, settling in New York City. He had previously been convicted of crimes and served time in prison in Germany, and had served in the German military. He worked as a carpenter, though shortly after the kidnapping, he began to trade stocks and stopped working.

The Case Against Hauptmann
  • The most damning evidence, according to the jury and many modern observers, was that a floorboard in Hauptmann’s attic matched the woodgrain of the 16th rail of the ladder exactly. Additionally, the nail holes in Rail 16 corresponded exactly with four nail holes found in the joists of the Hauptmann’s attic. Other evidence suggesting that a piece of the joist was sawed off was found (the wood wouldn’t have been left exposed, there were saw marks, etc).
  • Hauptmann had a prior conviction in Germany for burglary, entering a second-story window using a ladder.
  • Hauptmann’s handwriting matched the ransom notes.
  • Dr. Condon’s address and phone number were found written inside a closet at Hauptmann’s home
  • Hauptmann called out of work on the day of the kidnapping and quit his job two days later.
  • Hauptmann was seen in East Amwell in the days before the kidnapping.
  • $14,590 of the ransom money was found in Hauptmann’s garage
  • Witnesses identified Hauptmann as spending some of the gold certificates
  • Hauptmann misspelled the same words that were misspelled in the notes

Evidence for Hauptmann’s Innocence
  • Though Dr. John Condon testified that Hauptmann was the same “John” he had met with previously, he was unable to pick out Hauptmann in a police lineup, and described him as having different features
  • Hauptmann testitifed that he had been instructed to misspell words in the handwriting samples he was made to provide (though some of these samples came from his work ledgers and other sources)
  • The police beat Hauptmann while he was in custody (not really evidence IMO)
  • Hauptmann’s prints were not found on the ladder, nor in any part of Lindbergh’s home, nor on the child’s body. No evidence was found on the body linking Hauptmann to the murder.
  • Allegations that police pressured witnesses and tampered with or planted evidence
  • A reporter later confessed to having written to writing Condon’s name and address in the Lindbergh home
  • Complaints that police allowed crime scenes to be contaminated

The Electric Chair
Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to death in “Old Smokey” -- yes, that really was the name for our old electric chair. You can see Old Smokey today in the Newseum in DC. Hauptmann’s ladder and other evidence is on display in the NJ State Police Museum.
Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936. His last words were in his native tongue, "Ich bin absolut unschuldig an den Verbrechen, die man mir zur Last legt" -- "I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened."
His widow campaigned for her husband’s innocence until her death.

Points I often hear brought up
  • Many think someone within the household was in on the crime, and the finger is usually pointed at Betty Gow. The kidnapper had to know which window was the baby’s bedroom, and there was one window where the shutters did not latch properly - this points to it being an inside job. (The flipside to this is Hauptmann was seen casing the house - then again, that’s if you believe the eyewitnesses.)
  • The Lindbergh’s dog often barked at strangers and never fussed on the night of the kidnapping, indicating the dog was familiar with whoever the kidnapper was
  • A big deal is often made of how convincing Hauptmann was in person. He had piercing blue eyes, and when he testified of his innocence, he could be quite convincing until you stepped back and took a look at the evidence. He convinced his lawyer that he was innocent, and the lawyer believed him even after his death
  • The Union Hotel, where many reporters stayed to cover the case, is haunted (across the street from the Courthouse)
  • The jail where Hauptmann was held is haunted (this was not where he was executed, he was just held there during the trial since it is directly behind the Courthouse)
  • The consensus seems to be that Hauptmann was guilty, but the housemaid was in on it.

What I Think Happened
This was intended to be a kidnapping, not a murder. Hauptmann plucked Charlie Jr. from his crib intended to hold him for ransom, but as he was climbing down the ladder, the rung broke, he dropped the child, and the baby died instantly. Hauptmann had no choice but to continue now - he stashed the ladder and dashed off, panicked.
I do not think Hauptmann was very bright. I think he underestimate the celebrity of the Lindberghs and how much attention the case would attract. I think the crime was poorly planned, being that the notes were handwritten and he met in person with Condon (I’m not sure what to make of Condon’s failure to identify, but we all know how faulty eyewitness evidence can be). Particularly since the crime didn’t go according to plan, Hauptmann did not seem to have a fall-back for this. This is evidenced when he jumps on the fact that they went to the police and made a fuss - he could not possibly have expected they wouldn’t, could he? - he seems almost over-eager to lord holding the baby for longer over their heads. Why? Because the baby is dead, and has been since the first night.
Hauptmann had no plan for disguising his use of the easily-traceable gold certificates - why accept the money, less than he had demanded and not in the form he had requested? Because he’s already panicked and glad that he’s getting anything, and the entire crime is poorly planned.
This doesn’t seem like it would have been a one-man job -- but, on the other hand, it also seems so poorly planned that it may have been. I question that Hauptmann’s wife, Anna, was considered innocent.


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