Nowadays, the idea of media coverage in real-life courtroom drama is so prevalent that multiple TV channels, dozens of magazines, and countless websites are solely devoted to the subject. Back in the early 1930s, however, neither TV nor the Internet had been invented, and the very concept of investigative journalism had only just begun, and it was practiced by muckrakers more interested in political corruption than human-interest stories. One of the earliest instances of media showing an obsession with true crime came in 1932, when the infant child of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from his home.
While no family could prepare for the horrors Lindbergh felt in discovering his child missing, the media circus that soon followed was nothing new to him. If anything, it was by Lindbergh’s own request that the entire world soon took interest, and from the perspective of a father looking for his lost son, it’s easy to understand why he welcomed it. Of course, the media doesn’t always have such noble intentions, and thus, plenty of sensationalist stories were written that might've ultimately done more harm than good in finding the missing baby.
In the end, Lindbergh’s baby was found dead, and two years later, a man named Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found guilty of the kidnapping and murder. With how much has been written about the crime since it took place, while there’s little doubt Hauptmann was at least partially guilty, there’s still a whole lot about the Lindbergh trial that deserves a second look. Even if the trial itself went the way it should've, witnessing a burgeoning media cover such a harrowing event remains fascinating to unpack. Keep reading for 15 facts about the Lindbergh kidnapping that confuse us to this day.
15 Lindbergh Was The Most Famous Person In The World
Before anyone can discuss the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., a moment should be taken to explain why his disappearance was so newsworthy in the first place. Kidnappings are always terrifying for the family involved, but Lindbergh wasn’t the first missing child in American history, though his kidnapping was the first to become an international news story. The reason Lindbergh’s kidnapping had such a higher profile than any other's was his father’s fame, which wasn’t just national but global. Charles Lindbergh, Sr. was arguably more well-known than anyone else in the world at that point, famed for his incredible pioneering work in aviation, including piloting the first ever solo flight from the United States to Europe. For this feat, Lindberg was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year and toured the world giving speeches and signing autographs for his many fans. To this day, whenever someone this famous has personal problems, the news takes notice.
14 Little Lindy Was Last Seen Alive In His Bedroom
The Lindbergh family nightmare began on March 1, 1932, shortly after family nurse Betty Gow laid the infant Charles Lindbergh, Jr. to rest in his crib. Two hours later, Charles, Sr. heard a strange noise, and a few minutes later, that same nurse discovered that the baby, popularly known as Little Lindy, was no longer in his crib. Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, was informed and appropriately shocked, causing Charles to grab his gun and frantically search his property for anyone who could've snatched their child. When no one was found, the police, followed by Lindbergh’s many connections in the media, were soon notified. Charles did find a random note and pieces of what looked to be a homemade ladder, both of which would later form key pieces of evidence when a suspect was named.
13 No Adult Fingerprints Were Found At The Scene
There’s no way to know how the Lindbergh kidnapping would've gone in the modern era, considering the countless advances made in the field of forensics over the past several decades. At the time, all police experts could really do was check the scenes for fingerprints, not yet able to look for any other traces of evidence that humans have a tendency to leave behind. This proved particularly unfortunate when Little Lindy was discovered to be missing because more than one team of experts was unable to find a single adult fingerprint at the crime scene. The only prints anyone could find naturally belonged to the infant victim. It’s also worth noting that the ladder found by Lindbergh outside of his child’s room was equally free of any sign a human had actually touched it. Granted, none of this is that big of a mystery since gloves did exist, but it nonetheless sure made things tough for investigators.
12 The Kidnapper Left A Bizarre Ransom Note
With no fingerprints anywhere near the scene, all police and the Lindberghs had to go by when searching for the family’s missing child was a ransom note left on the windowsill of the victim’s bedroom. Whoever wrote the note clearly didn’t have the best understanding of English grammar or spelling, though this wasn’t that shocking in an era when education wasn’t as widespread as it is today. Even so, this provided a helpful hint to investigators, who believed the specifics of the poor grammar implied that a German native had written the letter. That hardly explains the second strange piece of the note, however, in that the kidnapper created a bizarre symbol of holes, lines, and circles, which was adopted as his signature from then on. Weird clues aside, the point of the ransom was clear: the criminal wanted $50,000 in the next 2-4 days, and the Lindberghs had to pay if they wanted to see their child again.
11 Lindbergh’s Fame Immediately Brought Incredible Attention To The Case
Left without any hardcore evidence that could help track down his child’s kidnappers, Charles Lindbergh began using his considerable influence to find whatever information possible that might help his son safely come home. In addition to New Jersey police, including famed general Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. and several other notable war heroes at the time, Lindbergh also had the aid of supporters worldwide writing supportive letters to local newspapers. Though kidnapping was then considered a local crime, Lindbergh’s notoriety attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau of Investigation, which would officially evolve into the FBI before the case was closed. Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt also both took personal interest in finding Lindbergh’s kidnapper, all because they, along with the whole world, could sympathize with the terror of losing a child. In the aftermath of the subsequent trial, the “Lindbergh Law” was passed, making kidnapping a federal crime, ensuring this treatment wouldn’t just be given to celebrities.
10 There Were Suspected Ties To The Mob From The Start
This is where things start getting a little weird. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, from the very beginning, Charles Lindbergh and his associates believed the mafia was somehow responsible for his child’s disappearance. Lindbergh asked two speakeasy owners to ask around for information, a request that was soon granted by pretty much everyone in the organized crime world. There was a catch, however, in that none of them actually knew anything, and were most likely just pretending, so authorities would cut them slack on earlier crimes. For example, infamous gangster Al Capone wrote a letter from his Chicago prison cell stating the full forces of his crime family would help the Lindberghs find their baby… with the small favor of his unconditional release from jail being all he wanted in return. Knowing how gangsters operate, lying and trickery are hardly surprising behaviors, but it hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from believing the mob was genuinely in on it all along.
9 A Massive Reward Was Offered For Any Helpful Information
Looking back at that ransom note for a second, $50,000 doesn’t seem like that tough a sum for the most famous person in the world to raise. Even taking into consideration inflation, the amount would be closer to $825,000 today, something any parent would be willing to pay for their child’s life so long as they had it. As it would turn out, Lindbergh had more than the money necessary to do this, despite the fact it took place in the midst of the Great Depression. However, initially not wanting to negotiate with terrorists and equally unwilling to wait the 2-4 days the kidnapper demanded, Lindbergh instead offered that amount as reward money for anyone who could help save his child. The New Jersey police offered an additional $25,000 on top of that, which in today’s terms would have made whoever found the kid a millionaire. These reward offers might have posed a problem, though, considering the kidnapper caught wind of them and upped his ransom amount accordingly.
8 A Third Party Received Further Ransom Notes
Here’s where things get seriously confusing. In the tumultuous period when everyone in America was offering the Lindberghs whatever help they could, the kidnappers apparently decided a Bronx schoolteacher named John Condon was the only man they would deal with. Condon had written a letter to a local newspaper offering his own modest reward as a Good Samaritan, which apparently convinced both the Lindberghs and the kidnappers that he was the man for the job. Bizarrely, the police at the time seemed to agree this total stranger was fit to make a drop-off and serve as a continued intermediary between the kidnappers and themselves. Why anyone trusted this random schoolteacher to serve such an integral role in a federal investigation is a complete mystery, with the only real explanation being they didn’t quite have any other options. By the time the kidnappers sent notes directed to Condon, there was nothing the Lindberghs could have done to remove him from the scenario anyway.
7 “Cemetery John” Collected The Ransom
Once John Condon got involved in the Lindbergh case, he pretty much started to run the show, receiving letters from the kidnappers, delivering them to police, and then doing whatever they told him to do from there. After some six or seven letters, Condon met with a mysterious man he called “Cemetery John,” who conveniently stood in the shadows and made it hard for Condon to accurately describe him. Regardless, Cemetery John and Condon went on to exchange notes that raised and lowered the ransom amount several times, before finally agreeing to a drop-off on April 2, 1932. Condon delivered the money to a man who “wandered off into the woods” after giving him one last note, claiming the child could be found in a boat near Martha’s Vineyard. Police searched the area without finding a thing, and though Condon swore he could identify Cemetery John if seen again, his story more or less stops here.
6 Little Lindy’s Body Was Found Near His Home
The only worse experience for a family than learning their infant child has been kidnapped would be the inevitable second act to this sort of story. Two months after his disappearance, Charles Lindbergh, Jr.’s body was found partially buried and badly decomposed less than five miles away from his parents’ home. Allegedly, a trucker had stopped along his route to relieve himself in the woods, discovered the body while doing his business, and immediately contacted police. Charles Lindbergh and nurse Betty Gow both identified the body as that of the missing child. Initially, the FBI had been interested in the case as mentioned, but without many leads, there was nothing the organization could really do. Nonetheless, now that the kidnapping case became a murder case, President Hoover declared that all government agencies should lend their full resources to the New Jersey police.
5 Police Briefly Suspected An Inside Job
Obviously, the mere fact Charles Lindbergh, Jr.’s kidnapping case turned into a murder case didn’t exactly make it any easier for police to solve. On the other hand, that the body had been found so close to the house made pretty much everything to happen up to this point highly suspicious. The body’s state of decomposition also suggested that the baby had been dead for quite some time, possibly making the whole business about a ransom obsolete from the beginning. Certain investigators thus believed the Lindberghs might have been involved in making it up from the start, though none of these suspicions amounted to much. It’s entirely possible the criminal attempted a kidnapping, accidentally killed the child in the process, and simply went about the rest of his plan anyway, concealing the death and fleeing with his money. However, the stress of being a suspect drove Violet Sharpe, one of the Lindberghs' employees, to commit suicide. It was later discovered she had nothing to do with the crime.
4 Richard Hauptmann Was Found With Some Of The Ransom Money
For over two years, the greatest resource that police or the Lindberghs had in the search for the person who murdered their child was the U.S. Federal Reserve tracking the ransom money delivered by John Condon. Some thought Condon might even have been involved, though no full investigation ever took place. Several thousand dollars of gold notes included in the ransom payment were deposited to a federal bank, but efforts at tracing the depositor proved fruitless. Finally, in September of 1934, more of these gold notes were discovered, spent by a German immigrant named Bruno Richard Hauptmann. Police immediately took notice and began searching for Hauptmann, wasting no time in capturing the man outside of his home. In addition to spending the money, Hauptmann matched the description of “Cemetery John” given by John Condon, and another $13,000 worth of bills from the ransom was soon found in his home.
3 Hauptmann Claimed The Money Was Given To Him By A Friend
From the moment of his capture, Richard Hauptmann firmly denied any involvement in Charles Lindbergh, Jr.’s kidnapping or murder. According to him, the $13,000 found in his home, plus all the other ransom money he had been seen spending, was all a gift given by a friend, Isidor Fisch, who had conveniently died in Germany several months earlier. Fisch had allegedly owed Hauptmann a large sum of money, explaining why he had no problem in taking it without question. Hauptmann’s wife stood by his story for decades, although she also admitted to having never seen nor been told about the shoebox where all the money was found until hearing about it during the trial. It could also be said that Hauptmann’s story about the money wasn’t that important since experts also found the same sort of wood used to make the ladder used in the kidnapping in his attic, along with the exact type of tools he would’ve needed to make it.
2 Hauptmann Was Tried And Deemed Solely Responsible For The Crimes
Despite the staggering circumstantial evidence against him, Richard Hauptmann continued to proclaim his complete innocence throughout a five-week trial. Not even after Hauptmann was sentenced to death and told that the sentence could be commuted to life imprisonment via a confession did he change a word of his story. As noted, Hauptmann’s wife likewise proclaimed his innocence until her death decades later, ceaselessly petitioning New Jersey courts to exonerate him for the conviction to no avail. Quite frankly, all these years later, the evidence against Hauptmann probably wouldn’t hold up in court, at least not beyond all reasonable doubt. That said, his story doesn’t sound believable in the slightest either, and he almost definitely had to have some involvement in the crime to wind up with that much of the ransom money. The fact three-quarters of said money was never found, however, means he may not have acted alone. Even so, Jersey courts decided he did, finding him guilty of murder in the first degree.
1 Conspiracy Theories Have Persisted For Decades
Whenever media give this much attention to a single event, skeptics will question every single piece of reporting on the matter and assume it's some sort of massive conspiracy. Being the first chance many skeptics had at doing this, the Lindbergh kidnapping case remains a favorite topic of discussion amongst those who feel the world simply isn’t as it seems. In addition to Richard Hauptmann’s wife repeatedly proclaiming his innocence after his execution, films and books have been written suggesting he may have been innocent or at least that he wasn’t acting alone. Again, it’s our stance that Hauptmann was almost certainly involved, and that falls in line with what the courts decided, so there are probably fewer mysteries to the Lindbergh kidnapping than these doubtful cynics believe and/or hope. That said, it remains a fascinating case to study all these years later, showing how the entire world can be watching a crime without anyone being able to figure out for sure what really happened.
Sources: FBI, History, PBS
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