The Lindberg Kidnapping – March 1, 1932

Today in History:

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

On March 1, 1932, in a crime that captivated an entire nation became known as “the crime of the century”, Charles Lindberg III’s eighteen month old son, Charles Lindberg Jr., was abducted from his family home in East Amwell, New Jersey, near the town of Hopewell, New Jersey. Lindbergh and his wife Anne discovered a ransom note demanding $50,000 in their son’s empty room. The kidnapper used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and left muddy footprints in the room. For three days, investigators found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000. After the ransom was paid, a note was given stating that the child was being held on a boat called the Nelly at Martha’s Vineyard. The child was supposedly in the care of two women who, according to the note, were innocent. Lindbergh went there and after an exhaustive search there was no sign of either the boat or the child. Over two months later, on May 12, 1932, his body was discovered a short distance from the Lindberghs’ home. A medical examination determined that the cause of death was a massive skull fracture. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and was found less than a mile from home. The heartbroken Lindberghs ended up donating the mansion to charity and moved away.

Charles Lindberg Jr.

After an investigation that lasted more than two years, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the crime. A large amount of the ransom money was found in Hauptmann’s home. Other main evidence, besides the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann. The prosecution also tried to establish a connection between Hauptmann and the type of wood that was used to make the ladder. In a trial that was held from January 2 to February 13, 1935, Hauptmann was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. Hauptmann proclaimed his innocence to the end, even turning down a $90,000 offer from a Hearst newspaper for a confession and refusing a last-minute offer to commute his execution to a life sentence in exchange for a confession. He was executed by electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison on April 3, 1936, at 8:44 in the evening.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

Newspaper writer H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping and subsequent trial “the biggest story since the Resurrection”. The crime spurred Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act, commonly called the “Lindbergh Law”, which made transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime.