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The American Experience

The Kidnapping

Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. was born on June 22, 1930. The son of Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the daughter of a diplomat, Baby Charlie was destined for fame. But his parents could not have imagined just how famous their baby would become, nor could they have imagined the tragedy that would put him and themselves on the front pages of America's newspapers.

Baby Charlie Baby Charlie was suffering from a cold during the last weekend in February, 1932. On Tuesday, March 1, Charles and Anne were spending a quiet evening at home in Hopewell, New Jersey. Betty Gow, Charlie's nurse, rubbed medication on the baby's chest to relieve congestion. At about 7:30, Betty and Anne put Charlie Jr. to bed. Betty and the Lindberghs went on about their separate chores that night. At 10 p.m., Betty Gow made a horrible discovery -- baby Charlie was gone.

Charles Lindbergh later recounted his initial reactions: "...I went upstairs to the child's nursery, opened the door, and immediately noticed a lifted window. A strange-looking envelope lay on the sill. I looked at the crib. It was empty. I ran downstairs, grabbed my rifle, and went out into the night..."

The "strange-looking envelope" that Charles Lindbergh found on the window sill contained a badly written ransom note:
Dear Sir,
Have 50,000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills. After 2-4 days will inform you were to deliver the Mony.
We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Polise the child is in gut care.
Indication for all letters are singnature and 3 holds.

Baby Charlie WANTED poster By 10:30 that night, radio news bulletins were announcing the story to the nation. Nearly every newspaper in the country gave the story prominent placement in their March 2 editions. Soon, sightings of the Lindbergh baby were coming from all quarters: California, Michigan, Mexico. None turned out to be genuine.

Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf of the New Jersey State Police was officially in charge of the investigation, but Schwarzkopf, the father of 1991 Gulf War leader U.S. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, willingly ceded major responsibility for the investigation to Charles Lindbergh. But running a kidnapping investigation was no job for an amateur. Lindbergh's inexperience allowed for major errors -- footprints near the house were trampled and pieces of evidence were handled by a variety of people assembled at the compound. Other blunders would follow.

Command headquarters were established in the Lindbergh's Hopewell home, and Lindbergh let it be known that he had appointed an intermediary to deal with the kidnappers. But others -- acting independently -- were vying for the job of go-between. On March 9, 1932, John F. Condon, a 72-year-old retired teacher and coach from the Bronx, called the Lindberghs claiming that he had made contact with the kidnappers. Condon had written a letter to the Bronx Home News offering to act as an intermediary between Lindbergh and the kidnapper. The day after his letter was published someone purporting to be the kidnapper contacted him. Condon, operating under the alias "Jafsie," was allowed by Lindbergh to try to contact the kidnapper. A series of graveyard meetings took place. Condon came to refer to the kidnapper as "Graveyard John." On April 2, the ransom money was delivered by Condon to Graveyard John while Charles Lindbergh waited in a nearby car. Graveyard John gave Condon a note supposedly revealing the baby's whereabouts. The note led Lindbergh and Condon in search of a boat called the Nelly, "between Horseneck beach and Gay Head near Elizabeth Island." No boat and no baby were found. Lindbergh had been double-crossed.

Then, on May 12, 1932, 72 days after the kidnapping, the decomposed body of a baby was found in the woods near the Lindbergh house. The child had been dead, probably due to a fractured skull, since the night of the kidnapping. Two days later Charles Lindbergh identified his son's body by examining its teeth. The kidnapping investigation was now a murder investigation.

Serial numbers from the money used to pay the ransom had been carefully recorded, despite Lindbergh's initial reluctance. The first bill surfaced in New York only three days after the ransom was paid. Over the next two years more and more would appear. Slowly the authorities moved forward.

Mugshot of Bruno Richard Hauptmann Finally, on September 19, 1934 police arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter. A search of Hauptmann's home yielded fourteen thousand dollars of the Lindbergh ransom. He claimed to be holding it for a friend, Isidore Fisch, who had since died. Despite his pleas of innocence, Hauptmann was indicted in October 1934 for the murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann The "Trial of the Century" got underway in the small town of Flemington, New Jersey on January 2, 1935. Sixty thousand people -- reporters, novelists, movie stars, and society matrons -- crammed into tiny Flemington. The town had one hotel and one bar to accommodate some of the biggest names in journalism, Walter Winchell, Fanny Hurst, and Damon Runyon among them. Hauptmann was defended by Edward "Big Ed" Reilly, a flamboyant attorney who was reputed to have seen his better days. Both Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were called as witnesses. Charles testified that he recognized Hauptmann's voice from the night that he and Condon had delivered the ransom money to the cemetery. When Hauptmann took the stand he denied all involvement with the crimes. He went on to say that he had been beaten by the police and forced to alter the way he wrote so that his handwriting matched that found in the ransom note. Testimony ended in early February of 1935. Following 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Hauptmann guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to death. At 8:44 p.m. on April 3, 1936, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was put to death in the electric chair. Right up to that moment doubts about Hauptmann's guilt existed. Appeals were made all the way to the Supreme Court. None were successful. The Governor of New Jersey himself voiced doubts about the verdict.

Following Hauptmann's death, some reporters and independent investigators came up with numerous questions regarding the way the investigation was run and the fairness of the trial. Questions were raised concerning issues ranging from witness tampering to the planting of evidence. Twice during the 1980's, Anna Hauptmann sued the state of New Jersey for the unjust execution of her husband. Both times the suits were dismissed.

photos courtesy of New Jersey State Police




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