Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case

As with many high profile cases that occurred several decades ago, the Lindbergh case has still been hotly debated as to if the correct person was charged (and in this case convicted and executed) and much speculation of the handling of the case as well as the subjects.

On March 1, 1932 Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr, the 20 month old son of Charles Sr. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was reported kidnapped from his home between 10 and 10:30 pm near Hopewell New Jersey. The family nurse, Betty Gow, had placed the child in his crib for bed around 8 and when she went back in at 10 the crib was empty.  Upon asking Charles Sr. and Anne Lindbergh if they had taken the baby and a short search, the police were notified by Oliver Whately, the caretaker around 10:25 pm.

Nearly immediately the crime scene was compromised.  There were servants, media, the family lawyer and members of the police (from different branches) swarming the home.  A ransom note was found in an envelope on a radiator in the nursery.  Reports are that it was not opened until after the police were on the scene.  Upon reading the note it stated that the child had been kidnapped and that a $50,000 ransom was being asked for.  The kidnapper stated that the police were not to be involved and also in what denominations they wanted the ransom money to be delivered in.  It was immediately believed that the writer of the note was of German decent based on the many spelling and grammar mistakes. There was also a distinctive symbol on the note in essence to show a signature   There were two interlocking circles and had three small holes in them.

An inspection of the grounds around the house was taken.  There appeared to be footprints in mud under the upstairs window of the nursery.  Also found were what appeared to be imprints from a ladder and pieces of a chisel nearby.  In some bush near the house three pieces of a ladder were found and on the road a set of tire tracks in the mud.  Neither the foot prints, nor the tire impressions were measured nor were there plaster casts made.  Later it was speculated whether or not it would have mattered if they had been as the scene was not cornered off and with all of the activity it would be hard to say if the prints belonged to a suspect or one of the many on the scene.  The same held true with partial fingerprints found on the ladder.  The nursery was checked for prints but it was later recorded that there were none available. Not just there were not prints of any suspects... that there were none.  There were no prints of Charles Jr.; there were no prints of the parents, in fact there were not even prints belonging to the nurse.  

Many have argued that at least a portion of the bungled investigation had to do with Charles Sr. himself.  It appears that he wanted to handle this himself with his people and not include the police.  Much speculation has come of that, many leading to theories that he, his wife, or someone close to him was involved in the kidnapping.  It has been said that neither Charles or Anne liked the media and the scrutiny his fame and wealth attracted.  I think he had learned not to trust people as well as I am sure his status in society gave him some sort of arrogance whether people saw it or wanted to believe it.  I also believe that he truly likely felt, at least in the beginning if he did as the kidnappers said his child would be returned.  Of course not reading the ransom note in the room before he had already notified police already went against that theory.  However, as it is often said no one knows how to react when something like this happens. His lawyer was immediately on the scene with the police and media.  Members of the Bureau of Investigation (later renamed FBI) were also involved but at the time kidnapping was not a federal charge so it was considered to be a local issue.

One of the more interesting characters in this story is John F. Condon, aka Jafsie.  The "code" name was developed from the initials of his name, J.F.C.  Jafsie was a 72 year old retired P.E teacher.  A day or two after the kidnapping he contacted the newspaper offering to be a go between for Lindbergh and the kidnappers.  Even on the surface this seems a little strange but Condon was known to be a braggart of a man who tended to over exaggerate his involvement in issues and seemed to be the type that would thrive on being involved in some way and looking like a hero of sorts.  In his defense however, Lindbergh was someone people admired and there did seem to be a true desire from people to do what they could to help.  Condon's message was sent to Lindbergh and apparently, or so it seems both Lindbergh and the kidnappers agreed.  The code name was used to send messages through the paper and by other means.  

Almost immediately the Lindbergh's offered a $50,000 reward for the return of their child and the state of New Jersey offered another $25,000.  This is a significant sum today, let alone in 1932, but to add to at the country was in the middle of The Depression.  This brought good, and bad people out of the woodwork.  One has to wonder how much resentment was being displayed also.  Apparently both the Lindbergh's and the state had what people believed to be enough money to simply throw away and yet there were people starving and without homes all over the country.  

In the meantime, another ransom note had been sent to Lindbergh.   It also had the same symbol for a signature as the first one had.  The postmark was from Brooklyn New York.  Remarkably the police did not get a copy of this.  First the mob got copies.  Initially the mob was considered to be suspects but Lindbergh did not believe this.  He was associated with people who knew mob members and soon they were offering their services to help.  It was even said that Al Capone, who was in jail on tax evasion at the time, offered to help in return for money or legal favors.  Lindbergh disputed that he ever considered Capone's offer, however, it has been said that he did speak to people about having Capone's tax debt erased.  Also, the newspaper was leaked a copy of this second ransom note  They not only printed it in their paper they made hundreds of copies of it.  Lindbergh supposedly said later he did not know this but I find this to be highly doubtful. The implication was now that the entire country knew the signature used on the ransom notes it could be duplicated easily.  All of this was going on as Condon is supposedly setting up meetings with the kidnappers. When a third ransom appeared, again with the postmark of Brooklyn the chief of police there offered his services in helping watch mail boxes and suspicious people.  Apparently not only did Lindbergh deny his request for help he angrily did so and since no other agency (as they were also being kept in the dark for the most part by Lindbergh) never asked for their help the New York police department did not get involved.  When the fourth ransom note arrived the amount was raised to $75,000 due to the fact that the police were involved (although very little), and the first note had forbid this.  

Soon after offering his help Condon and Lindbergh met up and drove to a local cemetery that they had been directed to go by the kidnappers.  By this time the second ransom, that had been leaked to the newspaper, had already been in circulation and Lindbergh had also turned down help from the police department.  Condon went into the cemetery while Lindbergh remained in the car.  Condon later stated that he saw nothing more than a man's shadow but knew from his accent that he was foreign.  He said he was told the man's name was John.  Soon he was known as "Cemetery John."  Condon also stated that he was told that the child was unhurt and being held on a boat but that the kidnappers were not prepared to accept the ransom at that time.  Condon indicated that they wanted proof these were the kidnappers and was assured that he would receive that. On March 16th clothes that were identified by Lindbergh and Betty Gow were sent at proof.  On April 1st a ransom note was received stating the kidnappers were now ready for the ransom.  While Lindbergh apparently wanted and accepted little help from the police or government he did allow them to record the serial numbers from the gold certificates and bills given in the ransom.  Once again, Condon and Lindbergh met up and were sent on a 'scavenger' hunt through the city, this time ended up at a different cemetery than the first.  According to Condon he informed "John" that only $50,000 could be obtained and that was accepted.  Condon claims that while again he did not fully see the man this was the same man he had met previously.  "Cemetery John" then gave Condon a note. The note stated that the child was being held on a boat on Martha's Vineyard named Nelly and the two women there were innocent and knew nothing of what was going on.  Lindbergh and Condon went searching.  They found no boat named Nelly, and so obviously did not find the child.

On May 12, 1932 a man had gone into the woods about 4 miles from the Lindbergh home to supposedly relieve himself and stumbled upon the body of a small child.  It was identified as being the body of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.  The body had apparently been in the field for months and animals had ravaged the body as parts of limbs were missing.  An autopsy was performed and it was determined that the cause of death was massive skull fracture.  The next day Charles Sr. had the body cremated.  The condition of the body brought up new issues but more importantly at this point Lindbergh had little choice but to let the police start a true investigation.  It was determined that it was likely that the body was placed there the night of the kidnapping, which meant that the child had died almost immediately.  Some speculated that it was possible that the death was accidental and could have come from a fall from the ladder when kidnapped since the ladder appeared to have broken.  It also brought light to the fact that if in fact the man Condon had been speaking to was involved at all, that he had lied about the condition of the child. During that time and throughout the years there has been speculation about if the body found was in fact Charles Jr. There were questions about the size of the child as well as the condition of his "soft spot" that can help determine age.  It seems that either this evidence was purposely ignored or debunked and it has been generally accepted that this was Charles Jr.

By June, and with the police involvement, being headed by Norman Schwarzkopf Sr. (father of future military leader, Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.), there was speculation that this had been an "inside job."  Most of that centered on the fact that this home had just been built but that the Lindbergh's were not residing there full time.  During the week they still resided in the Morrow home with Anne's family and only went to this home on the weekends, leaving on Monday's.  However, on this weekend they had extended their stay.  The reason was supposedly because the baby had a cold and they were going to stay until he recovered.  The kidnapping took place on Tuesday night.  All of the employees of the Lindbergh home were questioned and speculation soon fell on Violet Sharpe.  She was generally in the employment of the Morrow household but accompanied the Lindbergh's when they went to their home.  When first questioned by the police she seemed to waiver on her alibi. She stated she was out with other people but then could not, or would not, name names.  She was interviewed on three separate occasions but just before her fourth interview was to take place she committed suicide by taking cyanide.  After her suicide the people she had been with came forward and her alibi was established, well supposedly.  It was later believed that she had killed herself because she was engaged to another man and the night she had been out she had done a few things that lady's of that time were looked down upon and she feared losing her finance and her job.  The police were highly criticized for their treatment of Sharpe and she was no longer a suspect. For me, personally, I do not think her death, or her alibi should have changed things a whole lot.  If she, or anyone else inside the home was involved, even in a small way, the fact she was not there would not mean anything.  The fact remained that the kidnappers knew the Lindbergh's were at that house on that evening (a rarity) and knew where the nursery was.  In attempts to later try to explain this part a bit it was said that the caretaker, Oliver Whately, and his wife, Elsie, resided at the home full time and that he had often given unauthorized tours of the home.  Speculation was that the kidnapper(s) had been given one of these tours and that was how the room in which the nursery resided was established.  There never truly seemed to be an answer as to how the kidnappers knew the Lindbergh's were in this home on this night other than to speculate they had staked at both homes (although I have found no evidence that the Morrow home was checked) and simply knew they were there, or they just got lucky in the fact the Lindbergh's had decided to stay, something they had never done.  At any rate, the suicide of Violet Sharpe pretty much put an end to any investigation in that area and most people believe that.

So at this point the police have very little.  They have a broken ladder, a mangled body of a child that appeared to have died the night of the kidnapping and several ransom notes (to only two of which they can be absolutely certain are legitimate), a former P.E teacher who claims to have met the kidnapper and heard his voice, and they have serial numbers of the ransom money.  What they do not have is more significant.  DNA was decades away so that was out.  They also have no fingerprints, or blood to analyze, two things that are very common in cases today.  

The police also, very understandably started questioning John Condon.  Throughout the investigation of Condon, Lindbergh fully supported him, apparently never suspecting that his motives were anything other than genuine. As stated earlier Condon was known to be a braggart and to inflate his importance in situations and society.  He continued to search for "Cemetery John" even when the police ordered him to cease doing so.  I personally do not know that to think of Condon.  I can almost give him lead way on offering to be the "go-between" although apparently there was not one asked for.  I can even possibly understand Lindbergh wanting to believe Condon had no ill will or motive to be involved.  However, it seems that he became obsessed with being involved from the beginning.  If a criminologist saw this behavior today in a case the person would be be at the top of their radar and stay there, despite what anyone else said.  But again it appears that his conduct was soon ignored, likely because of the support from Lindbergh.  

During all of this President Hoover had announced that all gold certificates were to be turned in and exchanged by May 1, 1933.  Slowly they began trickling in and investigators were hoping this would bring the kidnapper out of hiding since some of the ransom had been in gold certificates.  The first tip of this was when $2,990 in gold certificates were exchanged.  The teller who took it did not get a description of the person as they were not checking the serial numbers immediately.  Each person had to fill out a paper though with name and address.  The name given was J.J. Faulkner.  The residents at the address given did not have the surname Faulkner but a previous resident did, Jane Faulkner.  She had since married and both she and her husband were questioned.  Although her husband was of German decent they were ruled out as suspects.  At this point ransom money was showing up all over the country, as far away as Chicago and even Minneapolis.  This could have been due to the fact of simple circulation and again since the police and government were exiled initially from the investigation.

By July of 1934 there was still $161 million in gold certificates still not turned in.  On September 18, 1934 a $10 gold certificate from the ransom was found by a teller at a Bronx bank.  Someone had written a license plate number on the bill and it was determined it came from a local gas station attendant.  He had written the plate number as he had been instructed to do so by his employer if anyone acted strange or it was suspected that they were passing counterfeit.  The plate was traced back to Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

It was soon discovered that Hauptmann was an illegal German immigrant with a criminal record in Germany.  When he was taken into custody he had another $20 gold certificate from the ransom on him.  It was speculated, and disputed, that while in custody Hauptmann was beaten at least once to get a confession.  His home and garage were searched where another $14,590 of ransom money was found along with other evidence.  When confronted with the ransom money Hauptmann claimed that he had a business partner, Isidor Fisch, who had owed him money.  Fisch had gone back to Germany in December of 1933 and had died there March 29, 1934.  Hauptmann said Fisch had left items, that apparently included the ransom at his house, and upon learning of Fisch's death he had found the money and felt entitled to it.  He never confessed to being involved with the Lindbergh case.

Upon the search of his home investigators claimed to have found a piece of wood in the attic that appeared to match the ladder found at the kidnapping scene.  By the time it was over it was claimed that the wood had been traced back to a manufacturer in South Carolina to a dealer in Bronx, New York.  Investigators also claimed to have found a notebook with a sketch of a ladder similar to the one used as well as Condon's address and telephone number (that had been published in the paper) written in pencil on a closet door.  

Eventually Condon and Lindbergh ID'd Hauptmann as "Cemetery John" based on his voice only.  Investigators had Hauptmann re-write the ransom letters too.  Again speculation and denials come into play here.  It was said that investigators made sure that the misspelled words and grammar mistakes were told to Hauptmann and told to write those that way again.  Some can say that this was to get an accurate handwriting analysis while others say it was used to prove that Hauptmann wrote the letters and wrote that way.  It is said that these were not the only evidence they used to prove Hauptmann's handwriting however and experts of the time testified at his trial that it was his.  

Hauptmann was first indicted for extortion based on the ID of Condon and Lindbergh in order to keep him in custody in New York.  On October 8, 1934 he was indicted for murder in New Jersey.  He still claimed to be innocent.  His trial lasted from January 2 to February 13, 1935.  His main attorney was Edward J. Reilly who was paid for by a local newspaper in order to "scoop" the story.  Many say Reilly lost the case for Hauptmann.  He has been described as an alcoholic, womanizer, liar and incompetent.  Two weeks after the trial he was found drunk and institutionalized, taken away in a straight jacket.  Some say it had nothing to do with the trial, the media or how he was portrayed in the trial but personal issues.  After 11.5 hours of deliberation Hauptmann was found guilty of 1st degree murder and sentenced to death on February 13, 1935.  

Going into the trial there were likely few that doubted Hauptmann's innocence.  Throughout the trial questioned were raised.  The biggest likely went back to how the kidnappers knew that the Lindbergh's were residing in that home on that night.  A witness testified to believing to see Hauptmann near the home a few days prior but nothing on that night.  It was discovered at some point that the ladder that was found near the home in pieces did not have any fingerprints connected to Hauptmann and that Schwarzkopf had ordered it be washed down and cleaned, presumably to say there were no prints at all.  I was unable to discover if any of the prints that were on the ladder were readable or connected to anyone. I did find something that said there were about 40 partial prints on the ladder but apparently nothing that could help at the time. There was much talk about the fact that Condon and Lindbergh had ID'd Hauptmann simply by his voice as well as questions about the wood and handwriting evidence.  Much of Reilly's case centered on the incompetence of the police.  

After being found guilty Hauptmann was apparently offered $90,000 from a newspaper for a confession and apparently to have his sentence commuted to life. He declined, maintaining his innocence.  Risking his career and calls for his impeachment Governor Harold G. Hoffman seriously debated on commuting Hauptmann sentence believing that it was possible he was not guilty.  Instead he granted him a short stay of execution, which still caused outrage.  Hauptmann was executed in New Jersey's electric chair on April 3, 1936.  

Soon after the kidnapping Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act AKA Lindbergh Law to which made it illegal to cross state lines in the commission of a kidnapping.  This is what had prevented the FBI from being involved initially.  

Many theories have been speculated to over the years.  Charles Lindbergh himself never seemed to help his own cause.  Among all the speculation of it being an "inside job" and his refusal to allow a proper police investigation, his behavior after seemingly placed him in a bad light. He was often thought to be considered un-American during the early days of World War II.  He openly spoke out against the war and America's involvement, at least until December 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  It was also apparently widely known not only in 1932 but throughout his life that he was racist, which in a sense contradicts issues of him not wanting America to enter a war against the Germans.  It was also learned after his death in 1974 that he had been unfaithful to his wife Anne for much,if not most of his marriage.  It was discovered that he had carried on and had children with at least three other women (two of which were sisters).  Of course as we have all been taught, a cheater does not make a killer and in this case the killer of one's child. It seems that no one has actually accused him of killing Charles Jr. but they have speculated that his death was an accident of some sort or he knew who the killer was and it was someone close to him and he helped cover it up.  Then again there were rumors that Charles Jr. was not developing correctly and was disabled.  This was speculated based on the fact that one of the ways the body was identified was due to having toes on one of his feet that crossed. Rumors spread that he may not have simply had a cold and was actually a very sick child.  Lindbergh had a reputation as a Man's Man sort of guy and many believe that he was not truly upset over the kidnapping believing Charles Jr. would grow up to be weak.  Of course this is all pure speculation.

There are many who believe that simply because he was a German immigrant that Hauptmann was set up and that his lawyer was correct when he talked of a conspiracy.  There are others that believe while he may have been guilty he did not work alone.  Which still leads to the question of how the kidnapper knew the family would be home and which room was the nursery.  It also struck me odd that when Condon first meets "Cemetery John" he says he was told that the kidnappers were not ready to accept the ransom as of yet.  He had already told the story of the baby being on a boat, and even sent clothing that was supposedly identified as being what Charles Jr. was wearing.  If presumably "Cemetery John" is the same man who kidnapped the child (by law standards it was Hauptmann) why would he risk one more day of receiving a ransom and the body being discovered?  Why too if the kidnapper felt it risky enough to do this (and apparently it worked since the body was not found for two months) was he so willing to only accept the original $50,000 that was asked for and not demand the extra $25,000 he had asked for and apparently Condon had.  Even today in 2013 handwriting analysis is often questionable so to use it in the 1930's seems even more so. I also question the wood evidence.  There have been experts recently that have confirmed that the wood found in Hauptmann's home and the wood used in the ladder was the same wood.  I am not sure I dispute that as much as the idea that in 1933 they were able to trace it back to the manufacturer and to the company as they claim to have.  It sounds a little too implausible to me for the times.  Then there was the fingerprint evidence, or lack there of.  Supposedly there were 40 partial prints on the ladder but none were readable.  Considering the time period I do believe this, however, I question the tactic of then washing the ladder rather than simply saying they could not lift any readable print.  I also find it curious that supposedly not a single print of any kind was found in the nursery... not even from household members.  By all accounts we are not talking partial prints like those on the ladder but any prints at all.  Why?  I find it a bit odd also that Hauptmann supposedly had so much of the ransom money left, aside from gold certificates that is.  When it came to those it was probably common knowledge that some sort of information would have to be given in order to turn those into the government.  As I recall only $1,000 of the $50,000 were in gold certificates.  Why did someone who had that money for over two years not start trading it out more?  If Hauptmann is to be believed he himself did not start spending that money until March of 1934 after his business partner died.  Now of course Hauptmann did not help his own cause as apparently it appears he did not work during this time period or search for work and he had a criminal history in Germany that included theft and prison time.  It has also been noted throughout the years that Hauptmann had an admiration for those who flew airplanes and that his son was even named after a famous aviator.  Why then would he kidnap the child of someone he likely admired and then not insinuate himself into the investigation to get close to Lindbergh, much like Condon did?  

There are those who believe today that Hauptmann was an innocent man.  His wife passed away in 1994 proclaiming his innocence until her death.  And then of course there are those just as convinced that Hauptmann was guilty and got as he deserved. Crimes in those days seemed to have swift justice. Suspects were found, tried, found guilty and executed.  This case was a bit different since the suspect was not found until almost 3 years after the crime.  However, it does seem once a suspect was found, evidence developed to prove the theory and as the times called for a swift trial and death sentence was handed down.  Then, 14 months later the defendant was executed, only taking that long due to the delay the Governor granted.  Were the police and/or government pressured?  Were they ticked off that they were all but banned from the investigation for the first few months?  Were they tired of waiting for gold certificates to show up since the deadline had long come and gone?  The full truth will never be known.  

I do believe that Hauptmann was involved in some way.  Whether that was a direct involvement or association with those who were, I do not know.  I do not believe that he came up with this plan and carried it out on his own without help though.  I think too many people took too many risks in this case and yet they all seemed to work out for them, that is until the end for Hauptmann.  



1 comment:

  1. Poor man. Knowing how prosecutors and other people in general behaves, I do not doubt at all that he perhaps was innocent. In his case maybe weights that he was a stranger, and was caught in tremendous machine without resources to fight, because he as I could see here, his lawyer was totally useless.

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