Lindbergh kidnapping

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Lindbergh baby kidnapping poster.

The Lindbergh kidnapping was the abduction and murder of the toddler son of world famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, Sr. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1932. It also formed the inspiration for the Agatha Christie novel Murder On The Orient Express.

Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. (June 22, 1930March, 1932) was dubbed "The Eaglet" by the media after his father's exploits in flying airplanes. Later he became known as the Lindbergh baby.

To escape the media, the Lindberghs had built a 390 acre (1.6 km²) estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, where the whole family lived. Normally, Lindbergh would return to Englewood, New Jersey during the weekday, but his son had a cold on the day he would be kidnapped, and remained at the house in Hopewell.

The 20-month old child was abducted at about 9:00 pm on March 1, 1932. He was snatched from his nursery by a person who entered the house by climbing up to the second floor nursery window by a ladder. The nurse, Betty Gow, checked on the child at 10:00 pm, only to find him missing. Earlier, the Lindberghs had heard a loud noise while they were in the living room, around the time that the child was kidnapped. At 10:25, Ollie Whately, the Lindbergh caretaker, called the police.

There were extensive negotiations with several purported kidnappers and purported associates. There were several hoaxes on where the child was and who had him. Eventually, a ransom of $50.000 in gold certificates was handed by an intermediate, Dr. John Condon, to a stranger, who seemed to be the true kidnapper. Dr. Condon would later identify the stranger as "sounding foreign". The stranger asked Dr. Condon " ... would I burn [be executed], if the package [baby] were dead?" When questioned further, he assured Dr. Condon that the baby was alive. When the exchange was complete, the stranger instructed that the kidnapped child could be found on a boat named "Nellie" near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. This was not true, however.

Seventy-three days after he was kidnapped, on May 12, the body of the Lindbergh child was accidentally found in Hopewell, four and one half miles southeast from his family's house. The body, which was lying face down was covered with leaves, insects, and rotting vegetation, was badly decomposed, to the point where they could not tell if he was a boy or a girl. His organs were eaten by animals, and his left leg was missing below the knee. He was positively identified by his father and nurse. Because the child had a hole in his head, the investigators could tell a massive blow to the head had killed the child shortly after his kidnapping.

During the following three years, numerous gold certificates from the ransom money turned up in circulation. Attempts to trace the bills to the kidnapper or kidnappers failed, but provided investigators with several descriptions that matched that of the stranger met by Dr. Condon. The geographical pattern of the sightings led the investigators to conclude that the wanted person or persons lived in The Bronx. A circular was sent out to gas stations throughout New York state with a list of the serial numbers of the ransom bills. The station attendants were requested to write the registration number of any vehicle driven by someone who used one of the bills to pay for petrol.

More than three years later, on September 18, 1935, a gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered; it had a license plate number written on it. The license plate belonged to a blue Dodge Saloon owned by Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record. Hauptmann was arrested the next day and charged with the murder. The trial attracted wide media attention and was dubbed "trial of the century". Evidence produced against Hauptmann included over $14,000 in ransom money found in his garage, a hand-made ladder supposedly used in the kidnapping (which matched wood and carpentry equipment found in his home), and testimony alleging handwriting similarities to that found on the ransom note. Hauptmann was positively identified by Condon as the man to whom he had delivered the ransom money. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates, that he had been seen in the area of the Hopewell estate on the day of the kidnapping, and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment. Based on this evidence, Hauptmann was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on April 3, 1936.

The Lindberghs moved to Europe in December 1935, partly to evade the spotlight over their first son's death.

Some people are doubtful that Bruno Hauptmann killed the Lindbergh baby, and several books have been written about the child's death. Hauptmann's widow was particularly active in calling for his exoneration. Governor Harold G. Hoffman granted a temporary reprieve of Hauptmann's execution, expressed doubt about the trial's fairness, and made the politically unpopular move to have the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals review the case. Some theories have suggested that Hauptmann participated in the kidnapping but did not kill the child; others have suggested he was uninvolved. One theory claims that Charles Lindbergh himself accidentally killed his son after playing too roughly with him. This explanation points to Lindbergh's refusal of an autopsy on his son's body and his commandeering of the investigation as evidence of foul play. Hauptmann himself always maintained his innocence, claiming that the money that had been found belonged to Isidore Fisch, a deceased friend. Hauptmann turned down a $90,000 offer from a Hearst newspaper for a confession, which would have benefitted his wife and child, and refused a last-minute offer to commute his execution to a life sentence in exchange for a confession.

As a result of this crime, the "Lindbergh Law" was passed, which made kidnapping a federal crime in the United States.


  • George Waller, Kidnap :The Story of the Lindbergh Case, Dial Press, New York, 1962.

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