On February 13, 1935, after thirty-two days of testimony, the jury found Hauptmann guilty of first degree murder and Hauptmann was sentenced to death in the electric chair. Hauptmann's attorneys immediately appealed the case but the New Jersey Appellate Court unanimously affirmed Hauptmann's conviction.
Following a thirty-day reprieve, Governor Hoffman's own investigation into the case, two hearings before the New Jersey Court of Appeals and Pardons, a last minute stay caused by a phony confession by a man kidnapped and beaten by a county detective associated with Governor Hoffman, Hauptmann was executed in the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey. Only a handful of protestors stood outside the prison that night, and when told of Hauptmann's death, they quickly dispersed.
As far as I'm concerned, the four most important questions about the Lindbergh case are:
- Were the baby's remains properly identified?
- Did Hauptmann commit the crime?
- If he did, did he have accomplices?
- Exactly how did the baby die?
Three secondary issues are:
- Why didn't Hauptmann confess?
- Did the New Jersey State Police bungle the investigation?
- Did Hauptmann get a fair trial?
Were the baby's remains properly identified? Yes, no one who has seriously studied the case, not even Ludovic Kennedy, believes that the body in the woods was anyone other than the Lindbergh child.
The first man to raise this issue was Ellis Parker, Sr., the celebrated and flamboyant detective from Burlington County New Jersey. When the baby was kidnapped, Parker was on the outs with Governor A. Harry Moore, and because of this, was kept off the case. Sitting on the sidelines, enraged and jealous, Parker tried to heckle in the insiders and draw attention to himself by raising doubts about the baby’s identity. He concocted the theory that bootleggers had planted an infant's body where the Lindbergh baby's were found. This was done, he said, to clear the area of Lindbergh case searchers who were impeding the flow of bootleg whiskey along the Princeton-Hopewell Road. Parker's idea echoed in 1949 by crime writer Alan Hynd who included it in his article about the case for True Magazine. In 1976, the myth was given new life by Anthony Scaduto in his book, Scapegoat.
The Mercer County Coroner bungled the autopsy, and as a result no one is sure what caused the child's death. But there is no question of his identity. Even so, there are fifteen people who claim they are Colonel Lindbergh's son. The history of this phenomena goes back to 1950 when a boy in his late teens showed up at the Lindbergh home in Darien, Connecticut. The boy told one of the Lindbergh children that he was Charles. Colonel Lindbergh came out of his study and seized the youngster by the arm and walked him away from the house. The police were called and they took the boy away. A few months later, he returned. This time he was arrested and spent the night in jail. Over the next fifteen years, people like this would show up at the Lindbergh house once or twice a year. The police in Darien and the local cab company worked out an arrangement in which the taxi drivers notified the police department whenever a stranger asked to be driven to the Lindbergh place.
Did Hauptmann commit the kidnapping? If one just considered the evidence not in dispute, it becomes clear that Hauptmann was involved in the crime. The undisputed evidence is as follows:
- Fourteen thousand dollars of the ransom money was found hidden in his garage after he told the police he didn't have it.
- Most of the ransom bills were spent in the Bronx and North Manhattan, not far from Hauptmann's home.
- The wooden kidnap ladder was homemade. It came in three pieces and when compressed fit across the inside of Hauptmann's car. it was crude but ingenious and light enough for one man to carry. Hauptmann was a carpenter by trade and one of the boards in the ladder had been purchased at a building supply store close to his house.
- Hauptmann didn't earn a wage from April 1932 (the month the ransom was paid) until his arrest in September, 1934. During this period, amid the Great Depression, he had purchased new furniture, several guns, expensive clothes, and had sent his wife to Germany. When arrested, he was wearing a homemade suit of fine material. By his own admission, he had invested $15,000 in the stock market. He had also alarmed his garage.
- Some of the ransom letters had been mailed from New York City, and the Lindbergh intermediary, John F. Condon, met twice with the kidnapper in Bronx cemetery.
- The physical description of the man in the cemetery, as given by John Condon after the meeting, matched Hauptmann almost perfectly. Condon said the man had a German accent, and Hauptmann was a German, having come to America as a stow-a-way in 1923.
- In Germany, Hauptmann had served five years in prison for burglary and robbery. He also had a record of escape, and had fled to America to avoid being sent back to prison. His criminal record is glossed over by those who support him.
- In his notebooks, and in his other writings unrelated to the case, Hauptmann had misspelled words the same way they had been misspelled by the writer of the ransom notes. Examples include New-York and singnature.
- In one of Hauptmann’s notebooks, the police found a sketch of a ladder segment that matches the design and construction of the kidnap ladder. There was also a drawing of a window.
The most damaging evidence against Hauptmann, the handwriting evidence is only disputed by Hauptmann's most zealous supporters. An unbiased analysis of this evidence by those familiar with the science of questioned documents leaves no doubt that Hauptmann had written all fourteen of the ransom notes. The evidence is as follows:
- At Hauptmann's trial, eight of the world's most prominent handwriting experts, including Albert S. Osborn, the virtual father of the science, testified that all of the ransom documents, as well as the address on the package that contained the baby's sleeping suit mailed to Colonel Lindbergh, had been written by Hauptmann.
- Four rebuttal handwriting experts would have testified for the prosecution but were not needed.
- Although he wasn't needed at the trial, the head of the FBI crime lab examined the ransom notes, and at a grand jury hearing in 1934, testified that Hauptmann was the ransom note writer.
- Two handwriting experts who had been asked to look at the questioned documents evidence on behalf of Hauptmann could not help the defense because “they found Hauptmann to be the ransom writer.”
- Three of the so-called experts for the defense were not put on the stand by Hauptmann's attorney because of their opinion that the ransom letters had been altered by the police to match Hauptmann's sample writings. This was so absurd it would embarrass the defense.
- The lone handwriting witness that did testify for the defense was clearly unqualified.
- At least six modern-day handwriting experts have reexamined the questioned documents evidence. They all agree that Hauptmann was the ransom note writer.
At the conclusion of the trial, someone characterized the prosecutor's use of the wood evidence by saying that the prosecution had hung the kidnap ladder around Hauptmann's neck. (It's interesting to note that Hauptmann's chief defense attorney used a drawing of the kidnap ladder as the logo on the official defense stationery. Even Hauptmann's own attorney connected him to this crime scene evidence.)
Hauptmann is connected to the kidnap ladder in the following ways:
- Rail 16 of the ladder had once been a floor plank in the attic of his house. It would have been impossible for the police or the prosecution to have fabricated this evidence. It was later determined, however, that people working for Governor Hoffman had tampered with the floor joist in Hauptmann’s attic in an effort to discredit this evidence.
- The kidnap ladder contained marks made by some of Hauptmann's carpenter tools.
- Nails found in Hauptmann's garage were made at the same place and time as those in the kidnap ladder.
- A piece of the ladder was traced to a store in Hauptmann's neighborhood.
At the trial, Hauptmann's attorney put a lumberman on the stand to counter the wood testimony of the government expert, Arthur Koehler. The lumberman was not a criminalist, and when the prosecutor was finished cross examining him, the man was reduced to laughing stock.
A few days after Hauptmann's arrest, A New York City detective found John Condon's phone number penciled inside a closet in Hauptmann's apartment. Also scrawled in the closet were the serial numbers to a five hundred and one thousand dollar bill. When shown the writing, Hauptmann identified it as his. Later he denied having written it. Hauptmann's supporters say this evidence was planted, but no one has produced concrete evidence to back up this claim.
The prosecution also produced six eyewitnesses, including the Lindbergh intermediary, John F. Condon. Since none of these people saw Hauptmann commit the kidnapping, their testimony was essentially irrelevant. Because Hauptmann was connected to the crime through the ransom money, the ransom letters, and the ladder, their testimony was unnecessary. The fact that some, or even all of them, were unreliable, is a red herring, and should not be taken as evidence of Hauptmann's innocence. Following the trial, the jurors were asked what evidence had influenced their decisions, and none of them mentioned any of the eyewitnesses.
Hauptmann's accounts of how he obtained so much of the ransom money, the infamous Fisch story, does not hold up well under close scrutiny. It’s too convenient, and nobody who investigated the case of witnessed the trial believed it.
Did Hauptmann have accomplices? The Lindbergh kidnapping is the most thoroughly investigated crime in American history. It was investigated by the New Jersey State Police, the FBI, the New York City Police, the Jersey City Police, the Newark Police, and dozens of county detectives, private eyes, an army of scoop hunting newspaper reporters from New Jersey and New York City. From all of this, not one piece of concrete evidence suggesting an accomplice has surfaced. In fact, all of the evidence suggests that Hauptmann was a lone wolf.
- Hauptmann had either spent of stashed the entire amount of the ransom payment. If there were accomplices, they did it for nothing.
- After Hauptmann's arrest, no more ransom bills turned up in circulation.
- There was only one set of footprints at the crime scene.
- The ladder was built and handled by one man.
- In Germany, when Hauptmann used a ladder to burglarize a home, he acted alone.
- In the ransom negotiations, the kidnapper, who called himself “John,” agreed on the spot to a $20,000 reduction in the extortion payment. If there had been accomplices he may not have had this authority