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The Lindbergh Case: Your views?

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by LizzieMaine, Dec 28, 2012.

  1. It truly was the Crime of the Century: the abduction and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. galvanized the world, and even now, eight decades gone, rarely does a year pass without a new book being published or a new theory being promulgated on exactly what happened and how. With a new PBS documentary coming out in January examining the role of forensic evidence in the case, it might be a good time to see what Loungers think about the case.

    Here are my own views, based on reading too many books covering both sides of the debate, along with much of the original trial coverage in the press of the time:

    * Charles A. Lindbergh Junior is dead. He was killed the night of March 1st, 1932, and his body was found two and a half months later by a truck driver who stopped at the side of the road to relieve himself and stumbled over the remains half buried in the woods. Latter-day claimants to the contrary, that corpse was, in fact, the Lindbergh Baby. Aside from a mild case of rickets, the baby was physically and developmentally normal.

    * Neither Charles nor Anne Lindbergh, nor any member of the Morrow family, nor any member of the domestic staff of the Lindbergh or Morrow homes had anything to do with the abduction or death of the child.

    *Dr. John F. "Jafsie" Condon was exactly what he seemed to be: an elderly neighborhood windbag who liked to see his name in the paper, and who offered himself as the ransom intermediary without ever actually expecting to be taken up on the offer. He had nothing whatever to do with the actual crime.

    *The mysterious fur trader/con man Isidor Fisch had nothing to do with the actual kidnapping or murder. He may very well have helped to launder the ransom money -- without knowing of its true origin -- but there is no evidence that he actually committed the murder, or that he was in any other way connected to the case.

    *The note found in the baby's bedroom and the various messages to Lindbergh and Condon were from the same source, and were written by the same man.

    *One man committed the crime and collected the ransom money. The weight of the circumstantial evidence points to one man, and one man only: Bruno Richard Hauptmann. He may have been aided by accomplices -- such as Fisch -- in disposing of the money, but they were not involved in the main crime.

    I used to think Hauptmann was framed, but the more I read and the more I thought about the case, the more I agreed that the original jury made the right decision. Your views -- and why?
  2. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    My reading on the case suggests that it was badly bungled at all levels. I don't believe Hauptmann was guilty. By the way, if Hauptmann got the money from Fisch then your theory falls to the ground. If Fisch, a con man, somehow got his hands on some of the ransom money and used it to pay a debt to Hauptmann before he skipped the country then there is nothing to connect Hauptmann to the crime. The rest of the evidence that convicted him was faked up or not trustworthy. His attorney handled the case badly, in fact it was the last important case of his career before he was hospitalized with dementia caused by tertiary syphilis.

    It doesn't make sense that Hauptmann the master criminal was clever enough to carry out the crime of the century, evade a nation wide manhunt, hide the "hot" ransom money for years, then got caught passing it in his own neighborhood.

    His story that he was given the money in payment of a debt and spent it not knowing it was connected to the Lindbergh kidnapping, seems more likely.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2012
  3. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    There was a rather horrible theory that Lindbergh, a cruel practical joker, faked the kidnapping and accidentally killed his baby son. The rest of the case followed from his efforts to cover up. The ransom was paid to an opportunist who hadn't kidnapped anybody.

    I don't put much stock in this theory but it is plausible, given the way Lindbergh interfered with the investigation.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2012
  4. The "Fisch Story" was Hautpmann's main alibi, but there are deep holes in it, not the least of which are Hauptmann's own finances between the payment of the ransom on April 2, 1932 and his arrest in September 1934 -- despite having less than $4000 in documented assets on April 1, 1932, Hautpmann went on a spending spree that summer: stock investments, expensive household goods, a trip to germany for his wife, a canoe, and various other luxury purchases, despite not holding an actual job and despite a documented record of *losing* money in the stock market. Adding up all his expenditures during that period, combined with the $14,600 of ransom money found in his garage, you get a figure about $50 short of the total $50,000 ransom paid. Pretty damning, especially since much of this spending happened during the spring of 1932 -- before Hautpmann even met Fisch -- and continued thru 1933. Hauptmann himself claimed Fisch gave him the money no earlier than November 1933, so even if you accept the "Fisch Story", where did all the money come from that he was spending over the previous year and a half?

    I don't think Fisch is the type who could have done the kidnapping. He was a cheap street-corner con man, a wormy little hustler who eked out a living from petty swindles. He didn't think big, and it took a big thinker to steal the child of the most famous man in the world. Hauptmann was a big thinker. He had a criminal record in Germany, and his crimes weren't as petty as he made them out to be. Not only had he been a burglar, but he burgled the house of the Burgomeister of his home town, the most prominent target available. When he was sent to prison, he escaped -- and left his convict uniform on the doorstep, with a note of compliments to the warden. That's the kind of big-shot personality it would take to come up with a crime like the Lindbergh crime.

    As to the theories that Lindy himself killed the child as the result of a joke, the hoax would have to have been manufactured immediately -- the ladder was found in the yard within minutes after the disappearance of the child, and even Lindbergh couldn't have cooked up a frameup that quickly, especially one involving wood taken from the attic of a patsy who wouldn't even be arrested until two and a half years later.
  5. There are a number of famous cases such as this one, where if you go back and examine the evidence, you get the disappointing conclusion that they got it right in the first place. I think the JFK assassination is another example. (PLEASE! Let's not jump on that bandwagon from this interesting thread!)
  6. What Lizzie said and for the reasons she said it.
  7. DJH

    DJH I'll Lock Up

    Thanks for posting this, Lizzie - a most interesting case.

    Interestingly, although I knew about Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic and a little of his political views, I had never heard about the baby kidnapping until I moved to the US and read a biography of him (I grew up in the UK).

    I might have to delve into some of these new books on the matter to learn more.
  8. One of the things about the case that makes it so fascinating is the enigma of Hauptmann himself -- a man who, on the one hand, seemed to sincerely love his wife and son, and who was very popular with his circle of friends in the close-knit German community in the Bronx. One reason Anna Hauptmann was still proclaiming Richard's innocence as late as the 1990s is that she simply couldn't conceive of him lying to her, despite evidence that he had repeatedly done so in the matter of the ransom money. On the other hand, to do what the kidnapper did -- to kill the child, strip off its sleeping suit to use in the extortion plot, and then bury the body in a ditch at the side of the road -- suggests a truly vicious man. Could the gentle mandolin-playing "friend of nature" Richard Hautpmann be the Jekyll and the brutal killer Bruno Hautpmann be the Hyde? He took his secrets -- and he had many of them -- to his grave, and we'll never have definitive answers to what made him tick.

    Interestingly, the prosecutor in the case, David Wilentz, and the psychologist who advised the prosecution, Dr. Dudley Schoenfeld, both wanted to see Hauptmann's sentence commuted to life -- in order to study him, to try and figure out just who he really was inside. But New Jersey law at the time required a death sentence for first degree murder, and their hands were tied.
  9. DJH

    DJH I'll Lock Up

    And from the notes you posted Lizzie, it is quite remarkable how just about all of the ransom money ended up being accounted for. Hauptmann certainly either kept good records or left an easy to follow trail.
  10. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    A lot of the evidence against Hauptmann fails to hold water if you examine it closely. His lawyer failed to challenge the evidence against him at the trial, and instead put forward a bizarre theory that it was an inside job by the maid.

    As far as the Kennedy assassination goes, the official conclusion of a US government investigation is, that there was more than one gunman, in other words a conspiracy. And according to evidence put forward by the Dallas police department Oswald could not have shot Kennedy.

    I don't know if Hauptmann was guilty in the Lindbergh case or not. Unfortunately the whole case was badly mishandled. We may never know the truth.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2012
  11. I agree that Hauptmann had very poor representation. Journalist Sidney Whipple published an edited digest of the trial testimony in 1935, which is well worth tracking down and reading thru -- you'll see what people actually said on the witness stand, and how the lawyers on both sides handled the witnesses. Edward Reilly, Hautpmann's attorney, had been an excellent criminal lawyer, but he was also a preening media-hound, who came to court dressed like a floorwalker complete with spats and a carnation in his lapel, and a drunk besides. The associate lawyers on the defense staff, especially Lloyd Fisher, the second-in-command, were excellent attorneys, but they were constantly undermined by Reilly's poor handling of the case. While the prosecution presented accredited, acknowledged experts to testify about the wood evidence and the handwriting evidence, Reilly was forced to make pleas on the radio for anyone who could help Hauptmann to come forward. His witnesses turned out to be a dubious parade of eccentrics, spotlight-seekers, and goofballs -- one of them entertained the jury by doing an impression of Will Rogers during his testimony, another asked one of the prosecution witnesses to help him with a difficult point in his own testimony. Hauptmann himself complained that "these witnesses are killing us."

    The only reason Reilly was on the case was because the Daily Mirror, the Hearst tabloid in New York, made a deal with the Hauptmanns: in exchange for their exclusive cooperation on interviews and publicity, the Hearst Corporation would foot the bill for Reilly, who was supposed to come into Flemington and show the rubes what a big-city lawyer was like. The rubes were not impressed, and Hauptmann went to the chair -- which may have been the goal the Mirror had in mind all along.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2012
  12. Rathdown

    Rathdown Practically Family

    There really are only three credible theories concerning the Lindbergh kidnapping: Hauptmann did it; Lindbergh did it; or it was done by an unknown third party. Starting with the last theory, I do not believe there has ever been any solid evidence (as opposed to mere conjecture) that the crime was committed by some unknown person. As far as Lindbergh accidentally killing his son by shaking him to death, there are problems with the time line of the events which would seem, to all but the most dyed-in-the-wool conspiracists, to rule out this possibility. That leaves us with Hauptmann, who may, or may not, have acted alone. It has always been my contention that the Lindbergh child died as a result of the kidnapping, quite possibly by being accidentally dropped as he was lifted out of the bedroom window by his abductor. His death, in my opinion, was unintentional. Whether the death was instantaneous or occurred hours or even days after the kidnapping, the effect was the same: Hauptmann had to dispose of the body, and still collect the ransom money.

    Hauptmann managed to do both, and for nearly two years eluded detection before his arrest and ultimate trial for what at the time was regarded as both the crime, and the trial, of the century. All of which Lizzie has neatly laid out.
  13. The real question for me has always been one of accomplices. When Dr. Condon received his first phone call from the kidnapper, he told investigators that the person on the other end of the line was relaying what Condon was saying to someone else in the room. This might have been a fake, to convince Condon that there was a "gang," or it might have been real. Condon himself -- the only man to have spoken face to face with the kidnapper before Hauptmann's arrest -- went to his own grave insisting that there were accomplices who were never discovered, and he had had several odd experiences which suggested this might have been true.

    So, who? Fisch? The timeline doesn't work -- Hauptmann had told investigators, and Hauptmann's friends agreed, that he didn't meet Fisch until the summer of 1933. Mysterious Italians? Condon claimed he heard a voice speaking Italian in the background of one of the phone calls he received, but there's no evidence that Hauptmann knew or had close association with any Italians -- his entire circle of known friends and colleagues were Germans. Hauptmann's best friend was another German carpenter by the name of Kloppenburg, but investigators could find nothing linking him to the crime. Anna Hauptmann? Impossible -- she was working in a bakery the night of the kidnapping.

    And yet, there's a lot about the crime that seems to beg for accomplices. It would have been extremely clumsy to carry the baby out the nursery window using the ladder found at the scene. Was it a two-man job? A small, swarthy-looking man brought a ransom message to Condon's home at one point during the negotiations, and was never found -- who was he? Why didn't he ever come forward? If he wasn't Fisch -- and Condon's daughter, who took the note at the door, testified that he wasn't -- who was he? Hauptmann likely had some kind of help disposing of the ransom money -- there was only $14,600 left of the $50,000 in 1934, and most of the marked currency was never found. Hauptmann spent the amount of the ransom -- but where did the actual bills go? Is this where Fisch came into the deal? Only Hauptmann knew -- and he never told.
  14. Stearmen

    Stearmen I'll Lock Up

    One point I will disagree with Lizzie on is the notion this was a grand well thought out kidnapping. If you look at the evidence, the crude ladder, going in through the window, probably dropping and killing the baby, it was amature hour! The only thing the kidnaper needed to know was, where the baby was kept at night, and was there an adult attending to the baby in the room. Then it was just a mater of leaning a lader against the wall, no guards after all, open the window, which was not locked, why would it be in the early 1930s country, and still the baby. I do think he dropped the baby while trying to negotiate the ladder. I just don't see that it was that masterful of a crime, Audacious yes, masterful, no! But like the prison brake, this crime would fit the pattern of Hauptmann.
  15. Hi All

    This is a little off topic but General Schwartkoff who passed a few days ago. RIP General, His Father was the lead investigator for the NJ State Police at the time, a key figure in solving the case. Just thought I mention.
    Best regards
  16. I think there were elements of the crime that were ingeniously thought out -- the logo used on the kidnap notes, for example was absolutely foolproof: even if you were looking right at it it was next to impossible to duplicate unless you had access to the device that was used to punch the three holes, which were aligned exactly the same distance from the edge of the page and exactly the same distance apart from each other on every one of the notes. This "singnature" made it impossible for any outsider to horn in on the ransom negotiations, and coming up with the idea of it was the sign of someone who had done a lot of hard thinking beforehand.

    The ladder, as rickety as it was, was also very clever in its design: the three parts nested smoothly into each other, so that the entire unit could be easily carried inside a car: inside Hauptmann's 1931 Dodge, to be exact. And there were also the precise specifications given in one of the ransom notes for the container in which the ransom money was to be presented, complete with a diagram. This last detail is something that I couldn't figure out for a long time: why would someone go to all that trouble when a canvas bag would have done just as well. But then I tried to think about it the way someone with delusions of grandiosity would, and that's exactly how they'd do it: fussing over such little details the way an angry kid fusses over the details of a revenge fantasy.

    On the other hand, as you say, there was a lot of the case that didn't seem to be planned at all. Most significantly, there seem to have been no plans made to care for the child: although "Cemetery John" told Condon that the baby was being cared for by "two women who are innocent", no evidence was ever found that such women actually existed or were involved in the plot, or that any other arrangement had been made to accomodate the child during the ransom negotiations. Once you have the child of the most famous man in the world, what do you do with him? Unless your plan was to kill him right from the beginning.
  17. Sadly, I think that may have been the case that they planned to kill the child outright... but there's also a lot of cases of kidnappers who put these ingenious plans into place (or have derived them) and they forget one key element about the welfare of the child- something as simple as potty breaks or feeding them even if they have this elaborate plan.

    There's also the scenario where something went wrong during the kidnapping and the child died early on by accident (or if by murder, unplanned murder), making any plans to take care of the child totally useless. For example, the kidnapper(s) could have shaken the baby for example if he wouldn't stop crying, and the baby had a brain bleed; or the child could have been dropped or had an asthma attack. Even if they had a couple of women lined up as caretakers, it wouldn't have mattered because the child had passed before they could do anything with him. At that point, they're guilty of murder and kidnapping; might as well try for the money and pretend the kid is alive.
  18. Aristaeus

    Aristaeus A-List Customer

  19. As the discussion goes along, it might be helpful to have a convenient scorecard of the key figures in the case. So...


    Charles and Anne Lindbergh, the First Couple of Aviation, posing outside their newly-constructed home in the Sourland Mountains of New Jersey...


    ...where on the windy, cold night of March 1st 1932 their eighteen-month-old son was abducted and murdered.


    Col. Henry Breckenridge, Lindbergh's close friend, attorney, and advisor, who became his right hand man in the investigation of the crime.


    Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Chief of the New Jersey State Police, who took personal charge of all police work in the case.


    Betty Gow, the Scottish nursemaid who was the last member of the Lindbergh household to see the baby alive.


    Dr. John F. Condon, retired Bronx school principal and Fordham University professor who became "Jafsie," the go-between who delivered $50,000 of Col. Lindbergh's money as ransom for the baby to...


    "Cemetery John," as drawn by a police artist from Condon's description in April 1932, several weeks before...


    ...truck driver William Allen discovered the child's mutilated, decomposing body in a shallow grave along a road about two miles from the Lindbergh estate.

    The discovery of the body unleashed police, who had been held back by Lindbergh as long as there was hope of recovering the baby alive. Among the investigators was...


    ...Arthur Koehler, one of the nation's leading authorities on wood and lumber products, operating from the U. S. Department of Forestry. Koehler mounted a careful investigation of the wood in the kidnap ladder, tracing it to the mills where it was manufactured, and from there to lumber dealers in the Bronx, where the search for the kidnapper began to focus after ransom bills began to turn up in that borough's German district thruout 1932 and 1933.

    (to be continued)
  20. The investigation continued thru 1933 and 1934 with ransom bills continuing to appear, concentrated mostly in the Bronx.


    In late September 1934, two alert filling-station attendants in the Bronx, John Lyons and Walter Lyle, received a ten dollar gold certificate from a German-sounding man driving a 1931 Dodge sedan. Made suspcious by the man's comments, Lyle noted the driver's license plate number on the back of the note, fearing the man might be a counterfeiter. The bill was intercepted as Lindbergh ransom money at a local bank, and traced to Lyle's service station -- where a description of the man was given, matching that of "Cemetery John." Authorities tracked the license number to...


    Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal-immigrant German carpenter who lived in the Bronx. Police ran him down in a short car chase, searched his home, and discovered $14,600 in ransom bills hidden in his garage. Hauptmann told police the money was given to him in a shoebox by...


    Isidor Fisch, a young fur trader and, it turned out, con artist who had been Hauptmann's partner in a variety of business ventures. Fisch had returned to Germany in the winter of 1933, where he died of tuberculosis. Hauptmann claimed to have opened the box after Fisch's death and discovered the money -- which, since Fisch owed him money from a loan, he proceeded to spend.

    The "Fisch Story" was ridiculed by...


    New Jersey Attorney General David Wilentz, who personally prosecuted the case when it came to trial in Flemington, New Jersey in January of 1935.


    Hauptmann was represented by Edward J. Reilly, "The Bull of Brooklyn," once one of the top criminal lawyers in the country, but lately fallen on hard times.


    Jurors (top row): Robert Cravatt, Philip Hockenburry, George Voorhees, May Brelsford, Liscom Case, and Howard Biggs.
    (bottom row): Elmer Smith, Ethel Stockton, Charles Snyder, Verna Snyder, Rosie Pill, and Charles Walton


    Judge Thomas Trenchard, who took a dim view of the celebrity thrill-seekers who infested the courtroom thruout the trial.


    Dr. Albert Osborn, the father of the science of forensic handwriting analysis, who determined that Hauptmann was the author of all fifteen ransom notes.


    Anna Hauptmann and son Manfried. Shocked by the charges against her husband, she remained convinced of his innocence for the rest of her life.


    The only eyewitness to the kidnapping -- and the one who could never testify.
    Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. 1930-1932

    Of the principal figures in the case, Betty Gow, Anna Hauptmann, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were all still alive as late as the 1990s, with Mrs. Lindbergh surviving until 2001. Juror Ethel Stockton was the last surviving significant personality from the case, passing away in 2002 at the age of 100.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012

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