The Lindbergh kidnapping

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In what was called the crime of the century, the Lindbergh kidnapping was the abduction and murder of the twenty month-old son of world famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh Sr., on March 1, 1932. In addition to fame, the Lindbergh’s were known as an affluent family during the Great Depression.  While their social status and ability to pay a ransom made them more susceptible to be a kidnapping target, the very young age of their child increased the inherent risky outcome of such an act altogether (Douglas et al., 1992).                                      

Lindbergh Jr., was snatched from his nursery by someone climbing up to the second floor nursery window using a ladder that was later found near the house. The kidnapper(s) left behind a ransom note that was followed by twelve more, requesting $70,000 dollars. The New Jersey State Police, assumed charge of the investigation, but Lindbergh Sr. wanted his friends to communicate with the kidnappers.

Eventually, a ransom of $50,000 in gold certificates was handed over to the kidnapper by an intermediate, Dr. John Condon. Dr. Condon would later identify the stranger as "sounding foreign" (Fisher 1999).

        Seventy-three days after he was kidnapped, the body of the Lindbergh child was, by accident, found in Hopewell, New Jersey, four and one half miles southeast from where he was abducted. The body of the child had a hole in his head, allowing the investigators to conclude that a massive blow to the head had been the cause of death, shortly after his kidnapping. During the following three years, numerous gold certificates from the ransom money turned up in circulation. The investigators’ attempts to trace the bills to the perpetrator(s) of this crime was leading them nowhere except for providing a consistent  physical description of a man just as Condon had described. More than three years later, a gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered, that had a license plate number written on it. The license plate belonged to a vehicle owned by Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record. Hauptmann was arrested the next day and charged with the murder.

        In February 1935, after a sensational, six-week trial, Hauptmann was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the twenty-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh, Sr. Although circumstantial, the evidence against Hauptmann included over $14,000 dollars in ransom money found in his garage, a hand-made ladder used in the kidnapping - found to match wood and carpentry equipment located in his home, and expert testimony depicting handwriting similarities to that found on the ransom notes, left few to doubt his guilt. Hauptmann was also positively identified by Condon as the man to whom he had delivered the ransom money. The testimonial evidence, offered by the prosecution, identified Hauptmann as the person who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates; as having been seen in the area of the Lindbergh home on the day of the kidnapping; and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment. Hauptmann chose to die maintaining his innocence. Since he never confessed or implicated others in this murder-kidnap, many theories and pundits, motivated by ulterior motives as well, sprung up, weaving far-fetched conspiracies and putting in doubt the evidence against Hauptmann and ultimately the value of his adjudication and execution.

The last 73 years have also produced dozens of books, publications and writings on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, ranging from thorough, factual, accurate, and evidence based arguments and narrations to works that borderline on tabloid and fiction style. Among the most recent is Lloyd C. Gardner’s book titled: “The Case That Never Dies” (2004). By presenting a vast body of research in his book, Gardner tries to give the impression that he is just facilitating the reader with data so he/she can reach their own conclusions. At the same time, Gardner discusses many of the conspiracy theories regarding this case. He does not discard any of these red herring analyses, but allows an ongoing sense of innuendos.

        Gardner, instead of presenting the actual forensic evidence objectively, continuously dwells on discrepancies in witnesses’ statements, or on the chain of custody of certain pieces of evidence (the ladder), not an unusual occurrence in many criminal investigations. Through his arguments, Gardner posits that the evidence was fabricated, police fumbled the investigation, Hauptmann had inadequate legal representation, and ultimately was wrongly convicted and executed.  At times, he either draws no conclusions where there need be, or contradicts his own findings.  Gardner ends his book with a plea against capital punishment, irrelevant to the issue of whether Hauptmann did the crime or not, but relevant to his ulterior motives’ issue.

        It is puzzling that any serious person could study the Lindbergh case objectively and not conclude that the evidence against Bruno Richard Hauptmann was, and is too devastating to warrant even a single book doubting Hauptmann’s authorship in this murderous crime. In reviewing the vast literature on the Lindbergh case, one realizes that among all the evidence linking Hauptmann to the kidnap and murder of Lindbergh Jr., three pieces of physical evidence stand out and unequivocally link Hauptmann to the crime - the ladder, the ransom money, and the ransom notes. We will be discussing how Gardner presents these important pieces of evidence and the conclusions he draws in claiming that Hauptmann’s case never dies. Gardner argues that the police investigation and the evidence used against Hauptmann put in doubt the validity of his guilt and the sentence rendered.

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The Ladder

        While examining the ladder-evidence, Gardner, makes the argument that the ladder-construction was barely functional and poorly built. On this issue he writes:

“…would a person who knew anything about carpentry build a ladder so close to the margins? A person planning to steal the most famous child in the United States, and who had devised a foolproof signature, had neglected to ensure his most important accessory for the crime - how likely was that?” (Gardner  2004:114).

        But as Fisher (2000) points out, using few pieces that were narrow and light were an ingenious way to build a functional ...

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A very good essay. Reference could also be made to hoaxes during the investigation (e.g. Gatson Means). 4 Stars.