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The Lindbergh Case: A Look Back to the Future - Page 3 of 3

All together, sixteen document examiners had either testified, or were willing to testify, that Hauptmann had written all of the ransom documents. The Lindbergh case is historic in that virtually every handwriting expert in the country had weighed-in with the prosecution.

Hauptmann's defense, characterized by a witness roster of half-baked, hare-brained publicity seekers, charlatans and a pair of off-the-wall wood witnesses put on the stand to counter the Rail 16 evidence, degenerated into tragic burlesque, then collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity. On February 11, 1935, Hauptmann was found guilty of murder. Because the jury did not recommend life imprisonment, Hauptmann, by law, was sentenced to death. Following two stays of execution and appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hauptmann died in the electric chair on April 3, 1936. At the time, virtually no one in their right mind considered Hauptmann innocent.

Today, most people who have an opinion on the Lindbergh case, believe that Hauptmann had somehow been railroaded to his death. A good percentage of these people are convinced that Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh were part of the conspiracy to frame him. Moreover, there are many who seriously believe that the Lindbergh baby was never killed, that he walks among us today in the form of one of nineteen Lindbergh baby claimants. The best known Lindbergh baby is Harold Olson, a retired computer salesman from Connecticut who has spoken to high school history classes. A few years ago, The Washington Post ran a feature article about a Lindbergh baby claimant from Akron, Ohio who was born two years after the kidnapping

For the Lindbergh case, the revisionist movement began in 1976 with the publication of a book by a tabloid reporter named Anthony Scaduto. In Scapegoat, Scaduto asserts that the Lindbergh baby was not murdered and that Hauptmann was the victim of a mass conspiracy of prosecution perjury and fabricated physical evidence.

In the mid-1980's, encouraged by Scaduto's book, and hooked-up to an anti-capital punishment lawyer, Hauptmann's widow, Anna, brought a series of federal lawsuits against the state of New Jersey and others. While losing all of her cases, Mrs. Hauptmann, because she cut such a compelling figure on television, won the hearts of the American public.

In 1985, a book by a British true crime writer and TV personality, Ludovic Kennedy—now Sir Ludovic Kennedy—called The Airman & The Carpenter, furthered the movement to demonize the investigators and experts in the Lindbergh case. Portraying the prosecution's document examiners as a bunch of lying old fogies, Kennedy cites a “leading British handwriting expert” who has concluded that Hauptmann had not written any of the ransom documents. Gunter Haas, the “leading British expert,” was a graphologist who advised couples, based on their handwriting characteristics, if they were compatible for marriage. I would submit that couples idiotic enough to do this, are probably quite suitable for each other. It's nice when stupid people find love.

In 1993 and 1994, two books came out that directly implicated the Lindbergh family in the baby's death. According to the first book, Charles Lindbergh killed the baby while playing a practical joke on his wife. In the second, the baby's aunt, in a fit of jealous anger, tossed the baby out the nursery window. Under both theories, the kidnapping was nothing more than a hoax to save the family embarrassment.

An HBO movie aired in 1996--staring Stephen Rhea and Isabella Rosalini--portrayed Bruno and Anna Hauptmann as a romantic couple ground up by a bunch of corrupt cops, experts and prosecutors. The movie--boring, badly acted, hack written, and historically ridiculous--bombed. Portraying the Hauptmanns as an attractive couple was like casting Hannibal Lector as a kindergarten teacher.

I would like to think that my two books on the case, The Lindbergh Case and The Ghosts of Hopewell, first published in 1987 and 1999 respectively, and still in print, have helped steal the case back from the people who have hijacked it for their own ideological and political purposes. The Lindbergh case needs to be restored to its rightful place in the history of forensic science. Since 1990, of the several biographies of the Lindberghs, all have contained versions of the kidnapping that are consistent with my view of the case, including the 1998 pulitzer-prize winning book by A. Scott Berg. While historians and serious readers have re-discovered the reality of the Lindbergh crime, it will take more than my book to offset the current popular history of the case. It will take a movie, and a blockbuster at that. Since the mother, in “Who Threw Momma off the Train,” is dead, who will play Anna Hauptmann?

In 1936, a writer would have had a hard time finding someone to publish a book based upon Hauptmann's innocence. Fifty years later, in the age of cutting edge forensic science, it was hard to find a publisher willing to buy a manuscript based upon Hauptmann's guilt. Between then and now, something has gone wrong with the way American's think. Occum's Razor has been replaced by Oprah Winfrey.

What one believes is now more important than what one knows. Science and rational thinking have lost ground to pseudo-science and magical thinking. A large percentage of the American public consider astrology, reflexology, iridology, and graphology as real sciences. Today, if you work at a muffler shop, you're a mufflerologist. People believe in psychics, flying saucers, alien abductions, ghosts, firewalking, dowsing, and spontaneous human combustion. In a gothic world of dark conspiracies where the moon landing was faked; Elvis Presley and the Lindbergh baby are alive; Oliver Stone is an historian; and J. Edgar Hoover is remembered as a self-loathing cross-dresser; there is no such thing as historical reality. In fact, one can argue that for most people history is dead.

In the 1930's, August Vollmer, John Wigmore, and others worked hard to get the expert into court. Seventy years later, judges should be throwing half of them out. In the filed of scientific document examination, the graphologists are no longer at the gate, they're in the courthouse. In America, everyone has a right to express their opinion, but not in court. If everyone is an expert, no one is.

Albert S. Osborn said it first, judges have to find a way to identify the phonies. But because these charlatans have become such clever impersonators, it's not easy. They have created bogus diplomas, phony journals, fraudulent professional organizations and counterfeit resumes. They're dug in, and it's going to take extreme measures to blast them out. If judges don't take responsibility for this task, little will change. Jurors are no longer capable of spotting the frauds. In fact, one way to avoid jury duty is to exhibit a rational mind and knowledge of science.

Merely sounding the charlatan alarm is not enough. Without a profound change in the way experts are qualified for court, and the way people think, juries will be unable to consistently recognize the truth. The only thing forensic scientists can do is to continue completing their day-to-day assignments with honesty and integrity. Albert S. Osborn, who mistakenly thought that the Lindbergh trial had ushered in an era of forensic enlightenment, would expect nothing less.

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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