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The Lindbergh Case: How Can Such a Guilty Kidnapper Be So Innocent?
By Jim Fisher

On April 3, 1936, almost four years after the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was snatched from his crib near Hopewell, New Jersey, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted of the crime, was led to the death chamber and electrocuted. At the time, only a few people doubted his guilt, but today, most people believe he was innocent. What happened?

The Hauptmann case got rolling in 1981 when Hauptmann's 83-year-old widow, Anna, sued the State of New Jersey and others for one hundred million dollars. In her suit, Anna claimed that the state had “Wrongfully, Corruptly, and Unjustly” executed her husband. Mrs. Hauptmann's suit received a lot of publicity, and marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the nation's most celebrated crime. People started having doubts.

In 1981, the year of Mrs. Hauptmann's suit, the governor of New Jersey announced that all of the Lindbergh case documents, in possession of the New Jersey State Police, the agency that did most of the investigation, were permanently available for public inspection. The 200,000 documents, comprised of New Jersey State Police, FBI, and New York City police reports, memos, and letters; as well as physical evidence, newspaper clippings, photographs, trial exhibits, and official logs and transcripts, were housed at the State Police Headquarters in West Trenton, New Jersey. The New Jersey State Police had spent five years sorting and cataloging this material.

In the winter of 1982, a one-hour television documentary called “Who Killed the Lindbergh Baby?” was aired on the Public Television Network. The program was produced by Sue Crowther of the BBC and written and narrated by the British author and TV personality, Ludovic Kennedy. The film featured old newsreel clips of Hauptmann and the trial, as well as interviews of people who believed he was innocent. Based in part upon a 1976 book entitled Scapegoat: The Lonesome Death of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the film, seen by millions, seemed to document the fact that Hauptmann had been maliciously framed and railroaded to his death.

The writer of Scapegoat, Anthony Scaduto, asserts that every piece of physical evidence against Hauptmann was fabricated, distorted, or tampered with. He further states that all the key prosecution witnesses committed perjury, and that the evidence of Hauptmann's innocence was suppressed by police and prosecutors. Even more shocking, Scaduto claims that the Lindbergh baby hadn't been murdered, that the infant corpse found two miles from the Lindbergh home was not Colonel Lindbergh's son. According to Scaduto, the Lindbergh baby is alive and well in the person of Harold Olson, a computer supply salesman from Connecticut.

Harold Olson's story is told more vividly in a 1981 book by Theon Wright called, In Search of the Lindbergh Baby. According to Wright, Al Capone masterminded the kidnapping as an extortion ploy to get himself out of jail. The bootleggers who kidnapped the baby took him to a small town in Michigan where he was found lying in a sack in the bow of a fishing boat by Roy and Sarah Olson, the people who raised him as their own.

After “Who Killed the Lindbergh Baby?” had been aired, Harold Olson publicly accused the New Jersey State Police of suppressing evidence that would prove his identity as Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. He was referring to the boy's fingerprints, taken from his toys shortly after the kidnapping. According to Olson, the New Jersey State Police didn't want it known that the baby hadn't been killed, since they had been instrumental in getting Hauptmann convicted of his murder. (As it turns out, the New Jersey State Police hadn't possessed these prints since 1936, and when they were found in 1985, the didn't match Olson's.)

Mr. Olson isn't the only person trying to prove he's Colonel Lindbergh's son. There are several others, fifteen in fact. Probably the most aggressive member of this club is Kenneth Kerwin, a man from Biddleford, Maine. In 1976, two years after Colonel Lindbergh's death, Kerwin sued for his share, as a rightful heir, of the Lindbergh inheritance. Although Kerwin's suit was dismissed, it delayed, for two years, the administration of Colonel Lindbergh's will.

In 1985, Anna Hauptmann's suit was laid to rest when a Federal Appeals Court upheld the District Court's 1983 dismissal of her case. Mrs. Hauptmann's attorney promised to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court. (He did, and in January, 1986, the high court refused to hear the case.)

In the spring of 1985, Ludovic Kennedy, the man who had narrated the TV show “Who Killed the Lindbergh Baby?” published a book called, The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann. Supposedly chock full of new, concrete evidence of Hauptmann's innocence, the book, hopelessly biased and misleading, mostly restates theories originally put forth in the 1930s which were then considered absurd. Today, these theories pass muster because people aren't familiar with the case. In November, 1985, several months following the publication of Kennedy's book, 20,000 documents relating to the Lindbergh case were found among the belongings of Harold G. Hoffman, the Governor of New Jersey at the time of Hauptmann's trial and execution. In 1936, Governor Hoffman had gambled his political career on the chance he could prove that the Lindbergh case had not been completely solved. He believed that Hauptmann had committed the crime, but thought there might have been accomplices. After granting Hauptmann a thirty-day reprieve, he ordered the New Jersey State Police to reopen their case, calling the Hauptmann investigation one of the most bungled in police history. When the New Jersey State Police failed to produce any new evidence, Hoffman hired a group of unemployed depression era private eyes to look into the matter. There was nothing to find, and when the fiasco finally collapsed, Hoffman was ruined politically, losing his bid for re-election. Following his death in 1954, it was learned that Hoffman, while governor, had embezzled $300,000 from the state. The fuss he'd created over the Lindbergh case had probably been motivated by his desire to distract attention from his thefts. The documents found in 1985, referred to as the Hoffman Papers, didn't do the job originally and, therefore, shed no new light on the case today. Nevertheless, to people unfamiliar with Governor Hoffman and his role in the Lindbergh case, they add new fuel to the on-going controversy.

At an October, 1985 press conference, with her attorney at her side, Mrs. Hauptmann said that her husband had been framed and that, “The case was built on lies only.” With tears in her eyes, she said, “All I want now is that his name should be cleared.”

The discovery of the Hoffman Papers has prompted Mrs. Hauptmann to file another law suit, this one asking for ten million dollars. Meanwhile, her attorney has asked the New Jersey State Legislature to officially declare Bruno Hauptmann innocent. So far, the legislature has rejected the idea, and it doesn't appear that such a resolution is forthcoming.

Today those who exploit the myth of Hauptmann's innocence take advantage of an uninformed and gullible public. The following account and analysis of the case is intended to inform, so the reader can make an intelligent decision regarding the innocence or guilt of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.


The 20-month-old baby was snatched from his second-story bedroom on the night of March 1, 1932. Colonel Lindbergh and his wife Anne were living in a recently built mansion in the remote Sourland Hills near Hopewell, New Jersey. Upon arrival at the scene, the police discovered a homemade ladder which the kidnapper had used to gain entry to the house. That ladder and a ransom note containing several misspelled words and a symbol comprised of two intersecting circles and three holes were the key crime scene clues. Several other ransom notes containing the same symbol and similar misspellings were sent to the Lindberghs and led to the payment of a $50,000 ransom on April 2, in a cemetery in the Bronx. Despite this payment, the Lindbergh baby was not returned. On May 12, 1932, ten weeks after the kidnapping, the partially decomposed body of a child was found in a wooded area about two miles from the Lindbergh home. The police identified the remains as the Lindbergh baby by matching-up his homemade undershirt with the cloth remnant from which it had been cut. Colonel Lindbergh and the baby's nursemaid, Betty Gow, also identified the body at the morgue. Besides the gravesite clothing, other points of identity included the baby's teeth, his hair, the dimple on his chin, and his overlapping toes.

The Lindbergh investigation, spearheaded by the New Jersey State Police, was painstaking and remarkably professional, but plagued by false suspects and wild-goose chases. The case floundered for two and a half years until a Manhattan gas station attendant penciled a customer's car license number on a $10 gold certificate given him by the purchaser, a bill that turned out to be part of the ransom pay-off. The car registration was traced to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter who lived in the Bronx, in an area near where most of the ransom bills had been passed. Hauptmann was arrested the next day, and shortly thereafter, the police found over $14,000 of ransom money hidden in his garage. Further investigation revealed that Hauptmann had quit his carpenter's job on the day the ransom money had been paid to the man in the Bronx cemetery. Following the ransom payment, during two and a half years of the Great Depression, Hauptmann, the unemployed carpenter, had spent $35,000, losing most of it in the stock market.

Four months after his arrest, Hauptmann was tried for murder in Flemington, New Jersey. The sensational trial lasted six weeks and produced front page newspaper headlines all over the world. The prosecution offered the jury two theories of how the child had died. The kidnapper had either killed the baby in his crib or had dropped him while climbing down the ladder. The ladder had split, apparently when the kidnapper climbed down with the added weight of the child.

Eight prominent handwriting experts testified that Hauptmann had written all fourteen extortion letters. Four other prosecution experts had been in the wings, ready to testify on rebuttal, but, they were not needed, because the Hauptmann defense failed to produce a qualified witness to say that Hauptmann had not written the ransom notes.

A federal wood expert names Arthur Koehler testified for the prosecution that the carpenter tools in Hauptmann's garage had left their unique marks on the kidnap ladder. He also maintained that one of the boards used in the ladder, called Rail 16, had once been a floor plank in Hauptmann's attic.

The intermediary who had delivered the ransom money to the man in the cemetery, John F. Condon (“Jafsie”), identified Hauptmann as the man he had given it to. Colonel Lindbergh testified that Hauptmann's voice was the voice he had heard coming from the cemetery that night. Several other eyewitnesses testified that they saw Hauptmann near Hopewell on the day of the crime of had seen him pass one of the ransom bills.

As an alibi, Hauptmann and his wife claimed they were together at her place of employment in New York City on the night of the kidnapping. Hauptmann further maintained that he had earned the money he had been spending over the past two years by playing the stock market. The defendant said that he had received the currency the police found hidden in his garage from a business associate named Isidor Fisch who had given it to him in a shoe box. About a year before Hauptmann's arrest, Fisch had gone home to Germany where he later died of tuberculosis.

According to Hauptmann, he had no idea what was in the box until he opened it and found the cash. Since Fisch owed him money, Hauptmann felt he had the right to spend some of it. He never let on to his wife that he had found the money, and he denied knowing it had anything to do with the Lindbergh case.

Hauptmann's chief defense attorney tried to prove that the kidnapping was an inside job by implicating the Lindbergh servants, John Condon, and others. He failed miserably, putting on the stand a motley assortment of crackpots, criminals, and liars who embarrassed and hurt Hauptmann. Hauptmann took the stand and was an unsympathetic witness who got caught in several lies that incriminated him further. Unable to produce one qualified witness to counter the handwriting and ladder evidence, and unable to satisfactorily explain having all of that money for so long, the Hauptmann defense degenerated into tragic burlesque then collapsed.

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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