In America in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was hard to find a bigger hero than Charles Augustus Lindbergh.
His extraordinary exploit in “The Spirit of St Louis” in 1927 made him the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and made “Lucky Lindy” a household name.
Perhaps only Babe Ruth was more recognizable than The Lone Eagle in those days, which is why the RedState Department of History pauses to recognize today’s anniversary — of an event that captured worldwide attention the day it happened and held it for years afterwards.
In 1929, Lindbergh married Anne Morrow, and their first child, Charles A. Lindbergh Junior, was born about eleventh months afterward — on his mother’s 24th birthday.
On March 1, 1932, the young Lindbergh was kidnapped from his nursery on the second floor of the family home in New Jersey and on this date in 1932, the boy’s body was found near the top of a hill less than five miles from his home.
At the time of the kidnapping, a ransom note had been left. The ensuing hue and cry produced a manhunt nearly as large as Lindbergh’s celebrity.
After the kidnapping, hundreds of onlookers swarmed the Lindbergh property, but all they succeeded in doing was destroying the physical footprint evidence on the grounds. Soon, the New Jersey State Police took charge of the investigation, under the leadership of its commander, H. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., whose son, H. Norman “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, Jr., would go on to command U.S. and coalition troops in the first Gulf War.
The note was crude, filled with spelling errors and grammatical issues:
Have 50.000$ redy 25 000$ in
20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and
10000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days
we will inform you were to deliver
We warn you for making
anyding public or for notify the Police
The child is in gut care.
Indication for all letters are
Singnature [Symbol to right]
and 3 hohls.
“Hohls” referred to physical holes. The signature contained three piercings of the paper upon which it was printed.
A ransom payment was put together, but there was a catch. Most of the money was in gold certificates, which President Franklin Roosevelt had ordered to be turned in and exchanged for new currency before May 1, 1933. Thus, the thought was that the kidnapper would have to turn in the currency to have money of any value, and could be apprehended.
Detectives soon realized that most of the money, which contained traceable serial numbers, was being spent in New York along the Lexington Avenue Subway, but it wasn’t until one of the bills was found at a gas station that investigators got their first good lead. The person who took the bill wrote down the license plate number of the car whose driver had left the bill, and police soon traced it to a man named Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
Hauptmann was what some today would call an “undocumented immigrant.” A German, he had a criminal record in his homeland and soon police were asking uncomfortable questions about how Hauptmann had acquired $14,000 of the ransom money, which was found in his garage.
Police also found a diagram of a ladder similar to one found at the Lindbergh home on the day of the kidnapping; the home address and telephone number of John Condon, a Bronx schoolteacher who had acted as intermediary between the Lindbergh family and the kidnappers, on the inside of a closet door; and wood found in his attic which was determined to be an exact match to the wood in the aforementioned ladder.
Hauptmann was arrested and charged with kidnapping and capital murder. Kidnapping was not a federal crime at that time so state law governed the case.
There was no physical evidence linking Hauptmann with the murder of young Lindbergh. No witness had placed him at the crime scene, his fingerprints were not found anywhere on the Lindbergh property including the nursery, on the ransom notes, or on the ladder.
Hauptmann claimed the ransom money was left in his garage by a friend who had returned to Germany in 1933 and died there in 1934. He said he had written Condon’s information down because he was interested in the case. The jury, though, didn’t believe his testimony and convicted Hauptmann of the crime, and he was immediately sentenced to death.
His appeals went on for two years, and eventually, he turned down an offer of life imprisonment in exchange for a confession. Hauptmann professed his innocence until his electrocution on April 3, 1936.
The story, though, lives on to this day. At the time, there were rampant theories that others were responsible for the kidnapping and murder – some of which blamed Lindbergh himself. Hauptmann’s widow, Anna, spent the rest of her life attempting to clear her husband’s name.
Lindbergh eventually fathered twelve more children — five with his wife and seven with three German mistresses, whose existence was not made public until after Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s death in 2001.
Lindbergh himself died in Hawaii in 1974 at the age of 72, but the story of his first child, and Hauptmann’s trial and execution — called by H.L. Mencken “the biggest story since the Resurrection” — live on.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!