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The Polygraph in the Lindbergh Case - Page 2 of 3

A few days later, when Schwarzkopf brought the subject up with Colonel Lindbergh, Lindbergh showed little interest. He said he didn't like the idea of subjecting the servants to a lie detection test. Why humiliate and insult innocent people?

Schwarzkopf didn't get back to Goddard or Keeler. Without Colonel Lindbergh's support, there could be no polygraph. The subject was dropped - for the time being.

There were many who believed the kidnapping had been an inside job. Al Dunlap, the editor of a popular police and crime magazine called The Detective, believed this and criticized Schwarzkopf for not subjecting the servants and others to lie detector tests. In an article entitled, "Why No Lie Detector for the Lindbergh Case?" he called Schwarzkopf's investigation a "monumental fizzle," stating that it had been "miserably bungled from every angle."1 Dunlap wrote:

Whoever engineered and did it, had to know that the Lindberghs intended to occupy the house (the one in Hopewell) on that particular night; (The Lindberghs spent week days at the Morrow Estate across the state.) that the baby would be in that particular room; and alone and asleep at a particular time. He or she would also have to be well acquainted with the Scotch Terrier dog that usually guarded the nursery door; also be known to the baby so as not to cause an outcry.

Dunlap couldn't understand why Schwarzkopf hadn't used a polygraph to ferret out the Lindbergh-Morrow employees who, in his mind, had possibly cooperated with the kidnappers.

Schwarzkopf's investigation floundered another twenty-one months without a solid suspect. By now, dozens of people close to the case, including John F. Condon, Lindbergh's go-between, were being accused without sufficient grounds. In desperation, Captain Russell A. Snook, the man in charge of New Jersey's Fingerprint and Identification Bureau, wrote to August Vollmer asking about the polygraph. On January 29, 1934, Vollmer responded with a letter outlining the polygraph's history. Regarding the instrument's uses, Vollmer wrote:2

. . . Police departments of this country are overlooking a very important and valuable tool when they fail to take advantage of the possibilities of this instrument. . . . The most valuable use of the lie detector is in its application by the police for the purpose of clearing suspects and detecting guilt.

Two months later, Captain Snook wrote back asking Vollmer for statistical data that proved the polygraph's accuracy. Vollmer replied as follows:3

With reference to the total number of cases I have examined myself, it would be hard to say with even a degree of accuracy, but roughly I should place the estimate close to 2,000 individuals who have been run on the machine while I was there and supervised the operation or where I in fact conducted it myself. In these cases I can only recall one where the machine might be said to have scored a failure. Looking back over the record, it is now my opinion that the machine was right and our interpretation was wrong. The number of persons run on the machine in Berkeley since it was first introduced is nearer 5,000 than any number, but the exact number is not known because no record was kept.

In some cases it is necessary to run a hundred or more people to get the guilty person - in still other cases a single suspect clears the case. It is not uncommon practice for the men of the department to put all the men in a fraternity house, or all the girls in a sorority on the machine to discover a pilferer and upon one occasion when I was in Los Angeles we put through 125 policemen in one of the stations in order to find the man who had stolen a pistol which was needed for evidence.

Convinced that the polygraph could resolve his inside job question and rule out dozens of weak suspects, Schwarzkopf approached Colonel Lindbergh for the second time about arranging a series of polygraph tests. Lindbergh was still hesitant - he was certain the domestic help had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime. The polygraph was again rejected.

Five months later, the New Jersey State Police, New York Police, and FBI arrested a 36-year-old German carpenter from the Bronx named Bruno Richard Hauptmann. A day later police found almost $14,000 worth of the ransom money hidden in Hauptmann's garage.

1. Al Dunlap's article was published in the September, 1932 edition of The Detective. It has been reprinted in: Dilworth, Donald C. (ed), Silent Witness: The Emergence of Scientific Criminal Investigations, (Gaithersburg, MD: International Chiefs of Police Association, 1977) pp. 153-8.
2. Vollmer to R.A. Snook, January 29, 1934. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.
3. Vollmer to R.A. Snook, April 5, 1934. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com