Charles Lindbergh is an American aviation legend. At the height of his career, he was handsome, breaking records and he was beloved like a comic book superhero. History has remembered him as such, but history has also remembered him as something else, something heartbreaking. He was the father of a boy who was not even two years old when he was stolen from his family and murdered. Charles and his wife Anne endured months of ransom notes and searching for their child, only to find that he had probably been dead before they even realized he was missing. It was the story of a generation. It created a media frenzy that drove the Lindberghs from the United States. Most of all, it was horribly sad.
On the night of March 1, 1932, the Lindbergh family was relaxing in their Hopewell, New Jersey home. Charles Lindbergh Jr. was tucked away in his crib and the rest of the household was going about their business as usual. At around 10 o’clock, the Lindbergh’s nanny went to check on her charge. He was not in his room. She informed the baby’s parents immediately. A search was conducted and the police were informed. The child was not in the house. It is thought that the kidnapper(s) stole him from his room around 9 p.m. A note asking for $50,000 in ransom money was on the windowsill of the room.
When police arrived to conduct their investigation, they found several clues, but none of them would prove helpful until years later. There was mud on the floor of Charles Lindbergh Jr.’s room, presumably dragged in on the kidnapper’s shoes. Also found were the remains of a broken ladder, which the kidnapper probably used to reach the boy’s window. Police found footprints below the window, but none was clear enough for forensic use. There was no indication that the kidnapper hurt Charles Lindbergh Jr. inside of the home.
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Police spoke with household workers and people close to the Lindbergh family. There were no leads to be found. All they had to go on was the ransom note and the twelve others that followed. Charles Lindbergh got the second ransom letter on March 6. It stated that the amount required was now $70,000. A third note arrived two days later, stating the correspondence would now go through the newspaper. Negotiations for payment of ransom began the next day. Several more ransom notes followed, all handled through an agreed-upon intermediary. The kidnapper(s) produced the child’s sleepwear as proof that they had Charles Jr. After a series of more exasperating communications, the amount was increased to $100,000.
Eventually, $50,000 was turned over to a man with the alias John in exchange for information on Charles Lindbergh Jr.’s whereabouts. The information was false. The area was searched several times. The child was not there. John lied and ran with the money. More than one month later, a motorist found Charles Lindbergh Jr.’s body on the side of the road less than five miles from the Lindbergh residence. The baby suffered massive head injuries. His tiny body was marked with animal bite wounds and it was decaying rapidly. An autopsy showed that the kidnapper killed Charles Jr. right after he stole him. It is possible that the kidnapper accidentally dropped the baby when exiting the house. By today’s standards, that is still murder.
The investigation continued, this time in an effort to catch the person or persons who had stolen Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son, murdered him, and then extorted money from his grieving parents. There were numerous false leads and claims. Police sifted through these whilst trying to find the money used to pay the killer or killers. It was years before investigators finally got a worthwhile lead.
On August 20, 1934, some of the gold certificates used as ransom turned up in New York. These certificates eventually led back to Bruno Hauptmann, who fit the description of John. The police searched his house and found $13,000 of the ransom money, the same type of wood used to make the ladder, the intermediary’s contact information, and goods paid for with ransom money. Later, his handwriting was compared with that on the ransom notes – it matched. Bruno’s case did not look good, but he denied everything.
Hauptmann was brought to trial on January 3, 1935. Charles Lindbergh was there every day of the five-week trial. It must have wreaked havoc on him and his wife. In fact, after the trial, they could no longer bear to live in the United States where the press hounded them and their loss haunted them. It did not matter that Hauptmann was found guilty and executed; they would never find peace.
Conspiracy theorists posited the possibility that Hauptmann was framed. Crime buffs stated (correctly) that Hauptmann was convicted on circumstantial evidence that left a shadow of a doubt. The fact is that the evidence against Bruno was convincing. If he was framed, it was an elaborate frame-up. Either way, the Lindbergh baby was denied a long life because someone sought the wealth of his parents.
FBI, The Lindbergh Kidnapping, retrieved 12/2/10.