The Trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann

Hauptmann the accused kidnapper of America’s greatest hero aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby was to have his day in court. Lindbergh became the first worldwide celebrity five years earlier when he flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic. Public interest was at a peak, as this was the most interesting case since Scopes monkey trial back in July of 1925.  Bruno Hauptmann a German-born defendant who fought against U. S. forces in World War I was extradited from New York to stand trial for the murder and kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, and he arrived in Flemington, NJ on Oct. 19, 1934.  During the five months he was there, the town became the epicenter of the world, because of this national sensation and reporters, cameramen, curious onlookers all swarmed in on Flemington.

On the cold, rainy night of March 1, 1932, sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 o’clock, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the twenty-month-old child of Charles and Anne Lindbergh dubbed “the Eaglet” by the press, was snatched from the second-floor nursery of their Hopewell, New Jersey home.  The kidnappers left a small, white envelope on a radiator case near the nursery window.  It contained a ransom note with some misspelled words:

Dear Sir!
Have 50,000$ redy 2500$ in 20$ bills 1500$ in 10$ bills and 1000$ in 5$ bills.  After 2-2 days we will inform you were to deliver the Mony.  We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the polise the child is in gute care.  Indication for all letters are singnature and 3 holes.

In the bottom corner of the letter was a design that consisted of two interconnected circles and three small holes.  The kidnapper used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and muddy footprints were found in the room.  For three days, investigators had found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers.  Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000.  On April 2 the kidnappers gave instructions for dropping off the money.  When the money was finally delivered, the kidnappers indicated that little baby Charles was on a boat, but after an exhaustive search, there was no sign of the boat or the child.  On May 12, the body of the kidnapped baby was accidentally found, partly buried, and badly decomposed, about four and a half miles southeast of the Lindbergh home.  He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and its head was crushed, there was a hole in the skull caused by a blow and some of the body parts were missing.

The kidnapping looked like it would go unsolved until September 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom turned up. Suspicious of the driver who had paid with a $10 gold certificate, the gas station attendant wrote down his license plate number.  It was tracked back to Bruno Hauptmann and when his home was searched, detectives found $13,000 of Lindbergh ransom money hidden in his garage.  Hauptmann was a 35 year old carpenter and he claimed that a friend had given him the money to hold and that he had no connection to the crime.  The main evidence, apart from the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann and his connection with the type of wood that was used to make the ladder.  After March 1, 1932, the date of the kidnapping, Hauptmann began to trade rather extensively in stocks and never worked again.

Hauptmann was indicted for murder and his trial began on January 3, 1935, and lasted five weeks.  The case against him was based on circumstantial evidence, however he did have a prior criminal record back in his homeland that included burglary. The evidence and intense public pressure was enough to convict Hauptmann.  In April 1935, he was executed in the electric chair.  Public outrage led the U.S. Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act (known as the Lindbergh Law) on June 22, 1932, the day that would have been Charles’s second birthday, thus kidnapping was made a federal crime in the aftermath of this high-profile crime.

Some gold certificates made up part of the ransom payment and they began surfacing in the New York area.  Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order on April 5, 1933, stating that all circulating gold certificates must be exchanged for Federal Reserve notes by May 1, 1933.  This was done to prevent the hoarding of gold during the Great Depression, but it benefited investigators by making the ransom money easier to track.

During the trial of the century, Lindbergh took the stand in the courtroom to testify that he recognized Hauptmann’s voice from the night of the ransom payment.  Edward J. Reilly of Brooklyn, chief counsel for Bruno Richard Hauptmann, produced two alibi witnesses who said that Hauptmann was in Christian Fredericksen’s restaurant on the night of the kidnapping.  Hauptmann was called to the witness stand by his defense attorneys, and he professed total innocence, claiming that he had been subjected to beatings by the police, and he stated that he had been forced to produce handwriting samples that matched the ransom notes.

Lindbergh was known to be a practical joker, and once he hid the baby from his wife Anne as a prank.  Lindberg wanted to have total control over the investigation and he worked with the State police, but he did not want to involve the FBI.  Some people may have twisted the facts around for their own results, saying that Lindbergh accidentally killed his son.  In 1993, a book titled The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax by Gregory Ahlgren and Stephen Monier showed their contempt for the aviator.  Another book written by a tabloid reporter named Anthony Scaduto asserted that the Lindbergh baby was not murdered and that Hauptmann was the victim of a mass conspiracy of prosecution perjury and fabricated physical evidence.   In 1996, plaintiff Anna Hauptmann brought a law suit against the State of New Jersey and others in Federal District Court in Newark, and her accusation charged that they were responsible for a horrible miscarriage of justice in the wrongful death of her husband and violation of her rights.

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #130, hosted by Yves.

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