The Crime of the Century
A Review of Jim Fisher’s The Lindbergh Case
Kevin Phillips is an analyst and historian who has written fourteen books and correctly predicted financial crises, including the Great Recession. He gained prominence in 1968 as chief political strategist for Richard Nixon. He has devoted hours working and commenting on American political, economic, and cultural crises that have occurred and have yet to occur.
BY JEFF VANDEMOORTEL
The Lindberg Case deals with the well-known “The Crime of the Century,” in which Charles Lindbergh’s (a world renowned pilot of the late 1920s) son was kidnapped at the Lindbergh’s house in Hopewell, New Jersey. On the first of March in 1932, the local police department received a frantic call from whom they believed was Charles Lindbergh saying that his infant son had been kidnapped. The local police officers were shocked, saying, “Some guy said he was Lindbergh- said the baby was kidnapped. Jesus! Now what am I supposed to do? I mean, he’s probably a nut. We get this shit all the time.”1 When local authorities arrived at the crime scene, they had no idea that this case would lead them on such an amazing wild-goose chase for a period of over three years. In this book, Jim Fisher thoroughly covers the case from the initial kidnapping, through the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, and to the execution of Hauptmann on April 3, 1936.
The story opens up with the initial call by Charles Lindbergh to the Hopewell Police Department reporting the kidnapping. It was a strange coincidence that on that very day the Lindberghs chose to stay at their house in Hopewell due to the fact that the Lindbergh baby was sick, diverting them from their normal routine, the baby was kidnapped. If the Lindberghs had followed their routine schedule, the kidnapping would have probably never occurred or would have been postponed to a later date. “They’ve stolen our baby,” Mrs. Lindbergh cried as she found the ransom note left behind by the kidnappers in the baby’s nursery.2 The local police soon arrived at the Lindbergh’s place and thoroughly searched the premises where they found a homemade ladder and a set of footprints that led the police from the house in a southwestern direction. Other than the ransom note, the most vital physical evidence there was, was the three-piece homemade extension ladder found just outside the nursery. At the time of the kidnapping, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf was the head of the New Jersey State Police and thus placed himself in charge of the Lindbergh kidnapping with the help of Captain John J. Lam, Lieutenant Arthur T. Keaten, and Colonel Henry L. Breckinridge (Lindbergh’s friend and person attorney). Shortly after the police had arrived, they opened the ransom letter, after checking for fingerprints. Inside the ransom letter, the kidnappers demanded $50,000 in increments of $25,000 in 20s, $15,000 in 10s, and $10,000 in 5’s. The next day the kidnapping was front page news throughout the world.
The Lindberghs first tried to contact the kidnappers through the newspaper, and with the help of John C. Condon, were able to make contact through the Bronx Home News. John C. Condon was a Good Samaritan who had placed an article in the Bronx Home News saying that he would do whatever it takes to help out in the kidnapping. Two days later, the kidnappers asked Condon to act as a go-between between the kidnappers and the Lindberghs. The kidnappers and Condon communicated through the Bronx Home News, using special names to hide their identity including Jafsie (J.F.C.) for John F. Condon. The first face-to-face meeting with the supposed kidnappers took place on March 12, when Condon and one of the kidnappers met in Woodlawn Cemetery. After an hour and fifteen minutes, the two men departed with the promise that the kidnapper would soon send a “token,” the sleeping suit from the baby that he was wearing on the night of the kidnapping. On the night of April 12, a second meeting took place between John and the kidnapper to exchange the ransom money for the Lindbergh baby. With the promise that the child was safe, Condon gave the marked ransom money over to the kidnapper for a note that supposedly lead them to the child. However, the kidnappers had double crossed them, and the baby was not found. One month later, on May 12, the body of a baby was found in the woods two miles from the Lindbergh house in Hopewell, and soon the body was positively identified as the Lindbergh baby. “The baby is dead…. we’re certain it is him.” Schwarzkopf explained to Mrs. Lindbergh.3
Soon after the news of the child’s death, the police and F.B.I. took full authority of the investigation with no interference from the Lindberghs or anyone else emotionally involved. On June 22, Congress passed a kidnapping bill, the Lindberg Law, which states that if the victim was not returned within a week, it was presumed that the kidnappers had taken the person across the state line. This, in turn, would give authorization of the case to the F.B.I. By mid-1933 the ransom money had begun to turn up in the community businesses and was eventually traced down to the Corn Exchange Bank in the Bronx on September 18, 1934, after the head teller wrote down “Cemetery John’s” license plate number on one of the ransom dollars.4 Soon after, the police were notified and an arrest was made. Richard Hauptmann was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. While police searched Hauptmann’s house, the police officers noticed that Hauptmann’s tool chest was missing a ¾ inch chisel matching one that had been found at the original crime scene. After Hauptmann was booked and jailed, the New Jersey State Police handed Hauptmann a pen and a sheet of paper and asked him to write down the words dictated to him. As Hauptmann wrote, it became obvious that he was trying to alter his writing style so his handwriting would not match the one found on the ransom note and letters. Back at Hauptmann’s house, the police began to search Hauptmann’s belongings coming up with nothing. However, when they began to search the garage, it was a different story. The police pried a board off one of the walls and uncovered a shelf that held two packages wrapped in newspaper. Both packages contained ransom money adding up to $1,830.00. After an hour, the police found another loose plank, and once it was pried off, found a one-gallon paint can containing $11,930 of the Lindbergh ransom money. Eventually, the police found over twenty-five per cent of Colonel Lindbergh’s ransom money hidden in Hauptmann’s garage. It looked as if Hauptmann was guilty of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child. Hauptmann had the ransom money and his writing matched the writing on the ransom note. Hauptmann had also been identified by two eye-witnesses and was an ex-felon when he lived in Germany. With all this evidence against him, New Jersey authorities had enough evidence to extradite Hauptmann to New Jersey from New York, where he could be tried for kidnapping and murder.
After searching the garage, police authorities examined Hauptmann’s attic where Lt. Lewis J. Bormann of the New Jersey State Police Department noticed that a plank from the floor in the southwest corner was shorter than the other planks. Believing that this plank was part of the ladder found at the home where the kidnapping took place, the authorities called in experts to take a closer look. Many, however, believed this evidence was tainted. “The agency said that they couldn’t understand why it had taken Lieutenant Bormann six days to find this gap.”5 While contemplating the mysterious gap in the attic, carpenters, once again, turned their attention to Hauptmann’s garage. While the carpenters were dismantling Hauptmann’s garage, they found $840 of the Lindbergh ransom money bringing the total to $14,600 as well as a German Liliput KAL 4.25 (.25 caliber) model 1926 loaded with five rounds. Soon after the carpenters dismantled the garage, experts found that the missing planks from the attic floor did indeed match rail 16 of the ladder that Bruno Hauptmann used to carry out his kidnapping. The trial for the kidnapping and murder for the Lindbergh baby began on January 2, 1935, where Hauptmann pled ‘not guilty.’ James Fawcett was Hauptmann’s chief defense attorney, but on November 2, two months before the trial began, Hauptmann announced that James Fawcett had retired from the case, and that he had hired Edward J. Reily to replace him. On the first day of the trial, the County Courthouse was packed with one hundred fifty prospective jurors, one hundred reporters, fifty cameramen, twenty-five communications technicians, prosecution and defense lawyers, dozens of Lindbergh case investigators, thirty miscellaneous police officers and court officials, and three hundred spectators who had to fight their way into the courthouse. As the court crier cried out, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” the Honorable Thomas W. Trenchard of Trenton, New Jersey took the stand.6 On January 8, the trial’s fifth day, John C. Condon identified Bruno Richard Hauptmann as “Cemetery John.” This was the first real big turn in the trial. On February 13, the thirty-second and final day of the trial, Hauptmann was found guilty of murder in the First-Degree. Nine months later, on October 9, the fourteen judges on the New Jersey’s Court of Errors and Appeals voted unanimously to affirm Hauptmann’s First Degree murder conviction after an appeal by Hauptmann and his attorneys. Fearing the worst for their new baby, the Lindberghs fled to Liverpool, England on December 22, 1935, after being frightened by a number of lunatics who had threatened to kidnap and murder the young child. Four months later Bruno Hauptmann was sentenced to death by electrocution. Hoping to get a confession, Hauptmann’s execution had been postponed. It was obvious Hauptmann was not going to confess from the words he spoke saying, “The poor child has been kidnapped and murdered, so somebody must die for it. For is the parent not the great flyer? And if somebody does not die for the death of the child, then always the police will be monkeys. So I am the one who is picked to die.”7 At 8:44 P.M., on April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was electrocuted, and by 8:45 P.M. he was pronounced dead. Hauptmann’s body, like the remains of the Lindbergh baby, was cremated.
Jim Fisher wrote The Lindbergh Case with an unbiased approach. Not leaning to the side of Hauptmann’s guilt or innocence, Fisher placed countless facts and information based on the kidnapping and murder in his book. In a review by Kirkus Book Review, they say, “Fisher spins a good real-life crime yarn and builds evidence both for and against Hauptmann, but the man, himself, is still an enigma, the question of accomplices was never convincingly answered, and the case remains a mystery.”8 As well as the review by Kirkus Book Review, Jim Crawford’s review of The Lindbergh Case notes, “No matter what else one may think about this work, Fisher’s book deserves to be read, if for no other reason than that it presents a thorough survey of the ‘official evidence’ in the police files.”9
Jim Fisher spent over four years researching the evidence of The Lindbergh Case before writing the book. In addition to his book, Jim Fisher wrote The Ghost of Hopewell: Setting the Record Straight in the Lindbergh Case which specifically addressed and dismissed bogus claims by revisionists. Jim Fisher wanted to set the record straight due to the fact that “the case has become legendary, and such has become fodder for conspiracy theorists, sensationalists, and revisionists promoting their own agendas.”10 The strong point of The Lindbergh Case was all the facts Jim Fisher included in the book. All the information and facts keep the reader enticed and cause the story to go by quickly. However, the weak point of Fisher’s book is the repetition of facts and sayings throughout the story, as well as rail sixteen (found on the night of the kidnapping on the ladder used to enter the house) and the importance of Hauptmann’s garage.
According to Fisher, the 1930s was the time of despair and sorrow, not only due to the fact of the stock market crashing, but to the Lindbergh family. After the Lindbergh’s baby’s death, the media had caused the Lindbergh family to flee the United Stated because of the threats to their second newborn child. The 1930s was a time for gangsters and the underground society including the mafia and Al Capone, who offered his help in the Lindberg investigation as a publicity stunt. This case caused the implementation of countless new laws for the F.B.I. and police, including the Lindbergh Law which dealt with the F.B.I. and kidnapping.
The 1930s was a time of devastation as well as a time for rebuilding. After the stock market crashed in late 1929, the United States was at its all time low. However, with the help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt the United States was in a time of rebuilding by the mid 1930s. Nevertheless, the mid 1930s still was a time of devastation for the Lindbergh family instead of optimism. Overall the 1930s was a step-back in America’s history as well as a major step back in the Lindbergh’s lives. Today, children are still at the risk of being kidnapped, however, with stricter laws and better equipment, it is easier to catch and convict kidnappers than it was back in the 1930s.
In all, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was executed for the senseless death of the Lindbergh child after countless work hours and extreme man power done by the police, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the long trial and ransom money spent by the state of New Jersey and Lindbergh himself. Even though some of the evidence against Hauptmann appeared to be was questionable, the court had enough solid evidence to find Hauptmann guilty. The Lindbergh case lasted a total of four trying years from the night of the kidnapping to the date of Hauptmann’s execution. After this unfortunate event, Charles Lindbergh hid in the shadows, and after having moved to England, was never seen again in the spotlight. The Lindbergh Case reflected the time period in which it occurred causing great catastrophe and sadness for the Lindberghs’ resembling the stock market crash of the late 1920s to the early 1930s which caused great catastrophe all throughout the United States effecting the lives of millions throughout the world. The 1930s had a very extreme lasting impression both economically and physically on the United States which helped shape the way the United States is run and maintained today. The devastation of the 1930s served as a learning point to help the United States work through other depressions and trying times that the United States has encountered and/ or will encounter. The Lindbergh Case set a dark cloud over an already unpopular and unwanted devastating decade.
1: Fisher, Jim. The Lindbergh Case. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1973. 7.
Jeff Vandemoortel was born in Long Beach on July 12 , 1993. He grew up in Huntington Beach and moved to Irvine when he was nine. Attending Irvine High, Jeff plays baseball for the Vaqueros. Jeff aspires to attend a good four year college and major in business.
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