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Bruno Hauptmann

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Bruno Hauptmann

Bruno Richard Hauptmann (November 26, 1899April 3, 1936) was a German carpenter and criminal, sentenced to death and executed for the Lindbergh kidnapping, the abduction and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, the 20-month old son of famous pilot Charles Lindbergh.

Hauptmann was a machine gunner with the German army in WWI. After the war, as a carpenter he was unable to find a job and turned to crime. He burglarized three homes and robbed two women at gunpoint. He was caught and sentenced to five years, of which he served four. Not very soon after he was released, he was charged with another crime, but escaped prison.

He illegally tried to enter the US but was returned two times. At his third attempt in November 1923, he used a disguise and a stolen identification card and managed to enter the country. In 1925 he married Anna Schoeffler, a German immigrant he had met in the US. The two lived in a house in the Bronx; Hauptmann worked as a carpenter. He allegedly left his criminal ways.

The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh III occurred on March 1, 1932; after ransom money had been paid, the boy was found dead on May 12, 1932. In September 1935, a $10 USD gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered; it had Hauptmann's license plate number written on it. Other items related to the case were found in his home. However in recent years, the case against Hauptmann has come under serious scrutiny. For instance, one item of evidence at his trial was a scrawled phone number on a board in his closet. This was the number of the man who delivered the ransom. A juror at the trial said this was the one item of evidence that convinced her the most. A reporter later admitted he had written this in the closet for a story. It was revealed the police had beaten Hauptmann and intimidated other witnesses as well.

There were only two eyewitnesses at the trial who put Hauptmann anywhere near the Lindbergh estate at the time of the crime. It was later revealed one had an extensive criminal record and the other was legally blind. The police and prosecution handwriting experts claimed Hauptmann's writings matched that of the ransom notes. However, many other experts have disputed this, and it has even been professed the police altered the notes to make them better match Hauptmann's writing. Charles Lindbergh and the man who delivered the ransom money claimed Hauptmann was the man who received it. However, at the time of his arrest, Lindbergh and the other witness said that Hauptmann was not the man. The police claimed the crude ladder used to kidnap the child was constructed by wood from Hauptmann's attic, but even this has been disputed. Two authors have both made a very strong case this evidence was planted and doctored by the police. Hauptmann, who maintained his innocence, was arrested, tried and convicted of the crime, and sentenced to death.

New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman secretly visited Hauptmann in his death row cell on the evening of October 16, 1935 with Anna Bading, a stenographer and fluent speaker of German. Hoffman urged the other members of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals (now eliminated by the 1947 state constitution) to visit Hauptmann.

Despite Governor Hoffman's doubt regarding Hauptmann's guilt, Hoffman was unable to convince the other members of the Court of Errors to re-examine the case, and on April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed in the electric chair.

Anthony Hopkins played Hauptmann in a 1976 made for TV movie about the trial called The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. Stephen Rea also played Hauptmann in a 1996 HBO movie entitled Crime of the Century. The Armstrong Kidnapping Case in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by the tragedy as well.

See Lindbergh kidnapping for the details of the case.

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