3/1/1932 - Tragedy comes to New Jersey in the form of a kidnapping and murder that will be called "The Crime of the Century," when Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., the 20-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean, and his wife, Anne Spencer Morrow Lindbergh, discover their baby boy has been stolen from his crib.
Put to bed at roughly 8:00 in the evening by Betty Gow, two hours later, when the nurse maid goes to check on the tyke, she discovers the baby is missing. Parents alerted (reading in the library which is directly under the nursery, Lindbergh believes he hears a thumping noise at around 9:30), the home is searched from top to bottom but Jr. is nowhere to be found ... what is discovered however is a ransom note in a white envelope on a radiator in the baby's room, and outside, some muddy footprints, and in some bushes on the grounds, three sections of a crude home-made ladder. Trouble brewing, the ransom note left behind reads:
Dear Sir! Have 50.000$ redy 25.000$ in 20$ bills 15.000$ in 10$ bills and 10.000$ in 5$ bills After 2-4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police The child is in gut care. Indication for all letters are Signature and three hohls.
Below the message, there are two interconnected circles in blue around a red circle, with the red circle pierced by a hole and two more holes outside each of the blue circles.
Police Chief Harry Wolfe of the nearby town of Hopewell is the first officer of the law to arrive on the scene, followed closely by his men, then members of New Jersey State police show, and later on in the case, investigators from J. Edgar Hoover's Justice Department organization, hundreds will eventually be involved in trying to solve the crime. Scores of newspapermen will also flood into the region. Soon searchers have fanned out over the Lindbergh property and nearby lands, but nothing comes from their efforts ... Jr. is gone and stays vanished.
Before ... happy parents
As famous as a person can be in the 1920s and 1930s, the crime against the Lindbergh Family captures the full attention of the nation, and along with officers of the law, President Herbert Hoover offers the full services of the government, several military men, including William Joseph Donovan, the man called "Wild Bill" that will run the OSS during WWII, volunteer their services, and even Al Capone asks to help if underworld contacts are needed to have the baby returned safely (for a reduction in his sentence for income tax evasion of course). Eventually one individual will surface as the contact between the parents and the kidnappers, Dr. John F. Condon, or as the papers will call him, Jafsie, a well known Bronx personality and retired school teacher who gets the thankless job by writing a letter to the local Home News in which he notes his willingness to serve as an intermediary, and volunteers $1,000 of his own money for the return of Jr.
Investigating the ladder
Eventually, after a meeting in a cemetery with an accented stranger calling himself John, the kidnapper showing his possession of the baby by providing the tot's sleeping suit to Condon, and an exchange of thirteen ransom notes, $50,000 in the denominations requested is given to John by Condon on April 2nd, and as he said he would, the mysterious man provides details on where Jr. can be found in the care of two women on a boat called the "Nellie" docked near Martha's Vineyard. After two days of searching the Vineyard however, the baby is still missing ... a status that sadly finally changes on May, 12th.
The dead baby
Needing to take a leak and seeking some privacy, delivery truck driver William Allen, on a run through New Jersey, parks and walks forty-five feet away from the road into a grove of trees to unzip ... he is about 4.5 miles away from the Lindbergh home, and at his feet are the remains of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. Authorities notified, the badly decomposing body is taken to Trenton, New Jersey for an autopsy ... the corpse is missing its left leg and both hands, chewed away by wild animals, but there are remains enough for a positive identification and a determination of cause of death ... the baby has died from blunt force trauma to the head on the night of the kidnapping. Murder!
Style of the ransom money
Case cold, Executive Order 6102 requiring gold certificate dollars to be exchanged by May, 1, 1933 is the opening needed for the authorities to finally catch the killer. Tracking the ransom money, on September 18, 1934, New York Police Detective James J. Finn and FBI Agent Thomas Fisk receive one of the bills, a $10 gold certificate from the kidnapping, bearing a New York license plate number written in pencil ... 4U-13-14NY. Tracing the bill back from the bank that turned it in to its point of origin, the men discover it was used to buy gas at a service station in Manhattan, and suspicious because the certificates were suppose to be out of circulation, manager Walter Lyle, wrote down the license plate number of the man that passed the bill ... a thirty-four-year-old German immigrant, a carpenter by trade, with a criminal record in his homeland for armed robbery and burglary, living at 1279 East 222nd Street in the Bronx named Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
Showing police they might have the right man, Hauptman tries to flee when he notes a team of lawmen following him. Flooring his car and speeding through several red lights, he is finally caught between 178th Street and East Tremont Avenue when he is accidently boxed in by a municipal sprinkler truck. Soon newspapers will be calling him "The Most Hated Man In The World!" At the trial for his life which begins on January 2, 1935, evidence will be presented that the ladder found matches wood found at Hauptmann's residence, Hauptmann is in possession of over $14,000 of the ransom money, Hauptmann's handwriting matches the ransom notes, Dr. Condon's address and phone number are found among Hauptmann's possessions, and that Hauptman is the man Condon identifies as the "John" from the cemetery meeting and ransom exchange. Guilty! Hauptmann is sentenced to death and death is what he gets. After a series of appeals fail, on April 3, 1936, Hauptmann has a bizarre last supper of coffee, milk, olives, salmon salad, fruit salad, corn fritters, cheese, and chocolate cake, then sits in New Jersey's electric chair. His last words are, "I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened."
Hauptmann is not alone in being "burdened" by the crime. Little Charlie's parents are never the same, in response to the tragedy, Congress passes a bill, the Federal Kidnapping Act (it will become better known as the "Lindbergh Law"), which is signed into law by President Roosevelt and makes kidnapping a federal offense, socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean loses $100,000 in a con to retrieve the child (former FBI agent will Gaston Means will be sentenced to 15 years behind bars for his part in the con), and boat builder John Curtis will claim to have held the child in his arms and be sentenced to a year in jail when he admits his tales are a lie. Worst though is the fate of twenty-eight-year-old British Lindbergh servant Violet Sharp.
Nervous giving testimony as to her whereabouts on the night of the crime, police begin to believe she is involved in the kidnapping when her story wavers and changes ... the result is five heavy-handed "interviews" with police, and after the baby's body is discovered and a sixth session with authorities is demanded, the woman breaks and commits suicide, dying from an ingestion of the potassium cyanide used to polish silverware in the mansion (for his role in the excessive questioning of Sharp, many papers of the day will condemn the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Colonel Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, the father of future Desert Storm hero, General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf). Tragically, after her death it will be proven that she had no involvement in the crime whatsoever.
Rest in peace Little Charlie!