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Baby Kidnapper To Electric Chair: Lindbergh Case Debunked

Perhaps only our great (great-great, or great-great-great) grandparents would have remembered one of the most infamous and heinous crimes of the early 20th century. It was around 10:00 p.m. on March 1, 1932, when the lives and marriages of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lindbergh were rocked to their very core. That night the wealthy and famous couple's adorable twenty-month-old son went missing from his nursery. 

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was world-renowned for his successful solo transatlantic flight from New York City to Paris from May 20-21, 1927 before the notorious abduction of his child. Lindbergh was an avid aviator and met his future wife, Anne Morrow, daughter of Dwight Morrow, US ambassador to Mexico while visiting the country. She served as Charles' co-pilot and navigator during many flights across multiple countries and around the world. 

Overshadowing their airborne accomplishments, the disappearance of their toddler devastated the world with headlines seen all over the globe. On the date in question, baby Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. was discovered missing by the child's nurse, Betty Gow. It was immediately reported to local authorities and a search of the premises revealed a ransom note demanding $50,000 (worth nearly $1 million by today's standards) for the safe return of the infant. 

Investigators on the scene also found traces of mud on the floor of the nursery and dirty immeasurable footprints underneath the window. A pair of broken sections of a ladder used to reach the second story window was also discovered. This led authorities to believe the ladder had failed either during the ascent or descent of the culprit and child. 

Detectives Dig Deeper

Detectives were unable to locate any bloodstains or fingerprints at the scene of the crime. No plasma or bodily fluids left behind might have meant the child wasn't injured and a lack of fingerprints pointed to an abductor who was careful enough to conceal their identity.

Authorities continued to dig deeper into their investigation and when questioning the Lindbergh's household employees and staff. The couple banned together with investigators in an effort to unmask anyone associated with the crime.

Multiple attempts to communicate with the kidnapper(s) included widespread appeals to open negotiations with the perpetrator(s) in the press. Police and legal authorities were also cooperating with known criminals and mafia characters in hopes of connecting a suspect to the crime.

Six days after the abduction, there was a second ransom note received on March 6, 1932, postmarked in Brooklyn, New York. This time the demand was increased to $70,000. Attention to the case was massive with a police conference called by the governor of New Jersey attended by prosecutors and government officials. Lindbergh's attorney Henry Breckenridge employed private investigators to pry further into the case. 

A third ransom demand was delivered to attorney Breckenridge's office just two days later on March 8th requesting a mention in the press. A fourth note was received by a local physician named Dr. Condon indicating he could be a possible go-between with an exchange of the ransom with the kidnapper. The next day, a fourth ransom note was received by the good doctor.

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Ransom Notes Continue To Rage

On March 12th around 8:30 p.m. following an anonymous telephone call, Dr. Condon received the fifth ransom demand. This time the note was delivered by Joseph Perrone, an NYC taxi driver who received it from an unidentified stranger. This message revealed a sixth note would be found underneath a stone at a vacant area near an outlying subway station.

As instructed, the physician located the next note and met with a man named "John" at the Woodlawn Lawn Cemetary near 233rd Street and Jerome Avenue in the Big Apple. The pair discussed payment of the ransom and the stranger agreed to provide a token of the child's identity and potential proof of life. Dr. Condon was accompanied by a bodyguard and over the course of several days, he didn't receive further contact from the mysterious stranger.

The doctor continued his efforts to contact the kidnaper with advertisements in the media. His efforts paid off when little Lindbergh's sleeping suit and a seventh ransom note were received by the physician on March 16th. An eighth request for the cash was received by Dr. Condon on March 21st insisting on completing the initial payment plus "interest."

This note revealed the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby had been planned for over a year and the culprit was growing impatient. On March 29th, Nurse Betty Gow found the infant's thumb guard that he was wearing at the time of the abduction at the gates of the Lindbergh estate. Along with the discovery of this device, a ninth ransom note was received at Dr. Condon's office a few days later on April 1, 1932.

This time, the ninth note threatening to increase the demand for cash to $100,000 and the kidnapper declined further communication with the press. A tenth demand instructed the doctor to have the money available on the following night. An unprecedented eleventh request also came on April 2nd from an unidentified taxicab driver delivered to the doctor. 

Committed to the cause, Dr. Condon would locate a twelfth ransom note under a stone in front of a greenhouse at 3225 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. This twelfth note was followed by another meeting with "John" attempting to reduce the ransom back down to $50,000. The amount made up mostly of gold certificates was given to the stranger in exchange for a receipt. An unlucky thirteenth note contained instructions about finding the child on a boat named "Nellie" near Martha's Vineyard in nearby Massachusetts. An extensive search of the area near the namesake vineyard area revealed nothing.

A Sad And Gruesome Discovery

Back and forth communications with the doctor, the investigation itself, and potential leads began to grow cold. Sadly, on May 12th, 1932, the tiny body of little baby Lindbergh was found. He was accidentally uncovered about four and a half miles southeast of the Lindbergh home. The partially buried and badly decomposed body of the infant was discovered by a truck driver named William Allen along with his companion Orville Wilson.

Baby Lindbergh's head was crushed with a visible hole in his skull and some of his body parts were missing. An autopsy would later reveal the toddler did in fact die as a result of a direct blow to his head. The report revealed he had been deceased for about two months, which means he was likely already dead at the time the last few ransom demands were delivered. After he was positively identified, Charles Lindbergh Jr. was cremated in Trenton New Jersey on May 13, 1932.

It's obvious everyone involved was hoping to resolve this case without this disturbing result. Due to the overwhelming press coverage and massive public interest in the case, a hard-core investigation continued to persevere. A timeline of the investigation over the next two years briefly followed this path:

May 23, 1932: The FBI notified banks in the greater New York area to keep a close watch for the ransom certificates.

May 26, 1932: A reward of $25,000 for information leading to the apprehension, arrest, and conviction of the kidnapper(s) is offered.

June 10, 1932: Violet Sharpe, a waitress in the home of Mrs. Lindbergh's mother (a one-time suspect who was cleared of the crime) commits suicide by swallowing poison. This was just before authorities were requested to re-question her about the case even though she was ruled out as a suspect.

January 17, 1934: Another letter was issued by the FBI asking banks to keep an eye out for the ransom certificates.

A Break In The Case

On September 18, 1934, at around 1:20 p.m. the assistant manager of the Corn Exchange Bank and Trust Company in New York City advised the FBI that a $10 gold certificate had been discovered by a teller in the bank. The note was traced back to a nearby gas station as payment for five gallons of gasoline. The filling station attendant was suspicious of the payment and recorded the license plate of the purchaser. The license number belonged to Bruno Richard Hauptmann who lived in the Bronx. 

The FBI and local authorities put the home of Hauptmann under close surveillance beginning later the same night. At approximately 9:00 a.m. on the following day, on September 19, 1934, a man closely fitting both descriptions given by Dr. Condon and the service station attended was arrested upon leaving the residence. A $20 gold ransom certificate was found in the possession of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter who had been in the country for about eleven years.

With multiple witnesses identifying the carpenter in association with the crime and another $13,000 of ransom certificates uncovered in Hauptmann's garage, authorities had enough evidence to indict him for extortion and later for murder. The trial of Hauptmann began on January 3, 1935, in Flemington New Jersey, and lasted for five weeks. 

The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and eye-witness accounts. Tool marks on the ladder matched those owned by Hauptmann. Wood from the ladder matched the same wood used as flooring in his attic. Handwriting on the ransom notes matched samples of Hauptmann's penmanship. It was enough for jurors to return a guilty verdict for murder in the first degree on February 13, 1935, and he was sentenced to death.

An appeal that was filed to avoid the death penalty was denied on December 9, 1935, and he was scheduled to be electrocuted on January 17, 1936. The Governor of the State of New Jersey granted him a 30-day reprieve and Hauptmann was re-sentenced to death during the week of March 30, 1936. On that date, his petition for clemency was denied and on April 3, 1936, at 8:47 p.m., Bruno Richard Hauptmann was put to death on the electric chair.

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