The "wanted" poster that roused a nation.
The Lindbergh estate in Hopewell. The kidnapping took place across the county line in Hunterdon.
The ransom note: "Dear Sir!"
ALSO IN 1932
* Promising "a New Deal for the American people,’’ Franklin D. Roosevelt won landslide election as the 32nd president and swept Herbert Hoover out of the White House. To a country devastated by the Great Depression, Roosevelt — who offered few specifics other than a promise to balance the budget — seemed to bring much needed energy, optimism and cheer.
* Mayor of Trenton since 1911, Frederick Donnelly abruptly resigned, explaining that he wanted to retire to private life after the death of his 36-year-old son, Frederick W. Donnelly. The elder Donnelly would himself die in 1936.
* A force of World War I veterans calling themselves the "Bonus Army’’ descended on Washington to demand extra payments for their service. When Congress refused, Army troopers led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur dispersed them with bayonets and tear gas.
* Two of the world’s wealthiest men committed suicide; Kodak’s photography pioneer George Eastman, who dreaded old age and illness, and Swedish scammer Ivar Kreuger, who feared pirson when his International Match Co. turned out to a $560 million swindle.
* Trenton became an international port town when the British liner S. S. Bristol City docked at the newly opened Marine Terminal on July 4. To accomodate ocean-going vessels, the Delaware River had been dredged and deepened. But from the moment it was dedicated, the terminal was obolescent as ships grew too big for it. By 1940, the port was in decline.
An American hero: Charles Lindbergh.
Anne Lindbergh and Charles Jr.
The convicted killer: Bruno Hauptmann.
|1932: Crime of the century|
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian|
|Charles Lindbergh came to New Jersey in 1932 to reclaim his privacy after five years of living as the most famous, most photographed, most admired man on earth.
But instead of finding peace at his newly built estate in Hopewell Township, the hero aviator lost his infant son to a kidnap-murder that that was instantly billed the most infamous crime in U.S. history.
Even to a public hooked on contemporary crime novels and Court TV, the Lindbergh case of 1932 remains endlessly fascinating.
It offers the heartbreak of a baby's death, the detective drama that led to Bruno Hauptmann's arrest two years later -- and the intriguing, if unproved, theory that the authorities may have executed the wrong man.
But before there was a Lindbergh case or a Lindbergh baby, becoming a public idol was the furthest thing from young Charles Lindbergh's mind.
He just wanted to land his plane in one piece.
On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh determined to fly the Atlantic, New York to Paris, in a stunt that wowed the public as a daring dash against all odds. He had no radio, no co-pilot, and no precedents -- for no one had ever attempted to cross an ocean alone.
When he landed "The Spirit of St. Louis" at Paris' Le Bourget airfield, after 34 hours of nonstop flying from New York, a crowd of thrilled Frenchmen carried him off in jubilation.
Lindbergh was never more than what he seemed to be -- a shy, unpretentious Minnesota boy, only 25 at the time of his record-breaking flight. He did not posture or publicize himself. But his very modesty only seemed to make him that much more of a hero.
Well-wishers wanted to shake his hand everywhere he went. Newsmen pursued him, desperate for a quote, a photo, a bit of gossip. Cranks and charlatans wrote him with schemes to cash in on his good name.
On a goodwill flight to Mexico City soon afterward, he met his future wife, Anne Morrow, daughter of a prominent New Jerseyan who was ambassador to Mexico.
She, too, was shy, but perceptive. "Fame - opportunity - wealth and also tragedy & loneliness & frustration rushed at him in those running figures on the field at Le Bourget," she later wrote.
In 1930, the newlywed Lindberghs had a baby, Charles Jr. His birth was front-page news everywhere, but the family shunned all publicity and shielded themselves from prying eyes by retreating to a new home.
They bought a 425-acre tract in the remote Sourland Mountains, 14 miles north of Trenton, at a site Lindbergh personally selected by flying overhead. Surrounded by thick woods and hills and accessible only by a twisting dirt road, the ir dream house where they could raise their toddler son in peace.
The fieldstone house became front-page news, too, and many a newspaper printed maps of it along with pictures of its private airstrip.
The Lindbergh were a busy couple. But not too busy to coddle and play with their baby. Charles Jr. had the blond hair and dimpled chin of his dad, the slender features of his mom. Charles Sr. would take him for "airplane rides" by tossing him in the air, and teach him the names of his toy animals.
The boy loved it. But he also got sick a lot, as toddlers do. On the night of March 1, 1932, he caught a cold.
His Scottish nursemaid, Betty Gow, sewed him a flannel nightshirt, tucked him into a crib and let him sleep.
At 10 p.m., she went upstairs to check on him. The crib was empty.
Betty Gow was a nervous wreck. The father stayed calm. He phoned the state police in Trenton.
"This is Charles Lindbergh," hhe said. "My son has just been kidnapped."
The troopers had few clues to go on. The kidnapper, or kidnappers for all anyone knew, left behind a homemade ladder in three pieces, which had been used to get into the second-story nursery. There was a crudely written ransom note, too.
"Dear Sir!" it began, and went on with a demand for $50,000.
"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."
Once, it had seemed like nothing could shock an America already punch-drunk from gangsterism and the Great Depression. But the Lindbergh kidnapping opened the country's heart.
Offers of help poured in from every corner of the United States. It wasn't just that Charles Lindbergh was a hero -- it was that every parent could share in the horror of having a child stolen away.
The Lindberghs, editorialized the Trenton State Gazette, "enjoy an esteem which is worldwide. Now the sympathy which their sorrow arouses is equally limitless and sincere."
Thousands of police officers from New Jersey, New York and the FBI joined the case. Anne Lindbergh gave out the baby's diet for the kidnapper to read -- half a cup of orange juice, cooked cereal and vegetables, two table
spoons of stewed fruit -- and every big newspaper in the country carried it.
From his jail cell in Chicago, Al Capone offered to help in the search, insisting that his underworld contacts could free the boy with a single phone call.
At about the same time, Congress felt spurred to enact the so-called Lindbergh Law, making kidnapping a federal crime punishable by death.
In the Bronx, N.Y. a retired school principal named John "Jafsie" Condon offered to act as a go-between to exchange money for the baby. He set up a meeting in a cemetery with the shadowy man who wrote the ransom notes. At one meeting, the stranger -- Condon later described him as a "triangle-faced" man -- asked a question.
"Would I burn if the baby is dead?" he asked.
Lindbergh had to believe the baby was alive. He authorized payment of the full $50,000, which was delivered to the man in the cemetery on April 2 in return for a written slip of information.
The note said that the baby was located on a boat off Cape Cod. An intense search, joined by Lindbergh himself flying up and down the Massachusetts coast, turned up no boat and no sign of the baby.
Still, America kept up hope for Charles Jr.'s return. In the comics world, Dick Tracy fulfilled everyone's fantasy that spring by rescuing the kidnapped son of a beloved hero and then pounding the tar out of the brutal gangster who committed the crime.
In the real world, the Lindbergh baby was dead, of course.
He had been dead from the instant he was snatched out of the Hopewell estate. On May 12, truck driver William Allen of Trenton pulled over to the side of Hopewell-Mount Rose Road to relieve himself. In the woods, just four miles from the Lindbergh home, he stumbled over a mound of earth and leaves that concealed a small, skeletal body.
A coroner identified the body as Charles Lindbergh Jr. Cause of death was "external violence" to the head.
Even in death, the baby did not get any rest. Photographers sneaked into the Swayze & Margerum funeral parlor on Trenton's Greenwood Avenue, took pictures of the dead body and hawked them on the streets.
It took 2 1/2 years for police to catch a break in the Lindbergh case.
Serial numbers on the ransom notes had been recorded and passed on to businesses and bank clerks across the country. One of the bills found its way to a Bronx gas station, and was traced to a car belonging to 35-year-old Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who lived a few blocks away.
Hauptmann was taken in for questioning Sept. 19, 1934. He turned out to be a wiry, triangle-faced German immigrant and carpenter. For two years he had done no work and lived independently, off money he said he earned playing the stock market.
Cops tore apart his apartment in the presence of his wife, Anna, and year-old son. Detectives peppered him with accusatory questions. Why did you kill the Lindbergh baby? Where did you hide the money? Did you have confederates?
Under pressure, Hauptmann stayed cool and stuck to his claims of innocence. But he told a lie: that he had no ransom money in the garage. Cops later found thousands of dollars worth of Lindbergh money there.
They also said they found a missing floorboard. Placed in the gap, a plank from the kidnapper's ladder matched it perfectly.
In January 1935, Hauptmann went on trial in Flemington. (The venue was Hunterdon County, not Mercer County, because a check of deed maps proved that while the front door of the Lindbergh property was in Mercer County, the nursery itself where the crime occurred was over the county line in East Amwell).
H. L. Mencken was only half-kidding when he called the trial "the greatest story since the Resurrection."
More than 10,000 people surrounded the Main Street courthouse on days of especially dramatic testimony. Walter Winchell, Damon Runyon, Edna Ferber and Dorothy Kilgallen were among the celebrities covering the event for the New York papers.
"Outside the courthouse, one man would sell pennies for 10 cents -- each penny was engraved with 'Lindbergh trial, Flemington, New Jersey," recalled Thelma Miller, who was a teenager when her dad, a sheriff's deputy, got her admitted to the trial as a spectator.
"Another man was selling little replica ladders. And all these ladies around in fur coats and diamonds -- it was quite a scene."
The trial had a hero and a villain. The hero was Lindbergh, who came to the trial every day. The villain was the foreigner Hauptmann.
In the court of public opinion, he was a baby-killer, a monster. Even though he preferred "Richard," the press turned him into the more sinister-sounding "Bruno" for headline purposes.
In the Flemington courthouse, he was probably doomed from the moment that Lindbergh testified against him.
Lindbergh said he could identify the defendant from two words he shouted at Condon during a ransom drop: "Hey, doctor!" And when subjected to withering cross-examination from the lead prosecutor, David Wilentz, Hauptmann turned snappish and unsympathetic. He even had to admit the lie about the ransom dollars.
Assigned to guard Hauptmann was a young state trooper, Hugo Stockburger. Now 92 and living in Milltown, Stockburger said he never experienced anything as intense in his life before or after the trial.
"I would sit down at the witness stand with Hauptman's right wrist in my hand -- they wouldn't handcuff him because it made him look like a criminal," Stockburger said. "Reporters passed me notes: What did he say? What did he have for breakfast?"
Stockburger, who also guarded Hauptmann's Flemington cell from noon to 6 p.m., was a German immigrant like his prisoner. But they rarely conversed, except to talk about the weather.
"Some people ask me, did you have compassion for the guy? I say, compassion? This guy was a cold-blooded killer. The day after he was convicted, his expression was the same as any day during the trial."
Hauptmann was found guilty of murder on Feb. 13, 1935, and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Under New Jersey's capital murder statute, the prosecution did not need to prove he intended to kill the baby; only that the baby died as result of a break-in. No one ever determined whether Charles Jr. was clubbed over the head or died in a fall.
There were some who believed Hauptmann was an innocent victim of a frame-up; that belief is just as widespread today, in an era when faith has diminished in government and the courts.
Yet all Hauptmann's appeals were turned down at the time, and up to the present day no one has offered definitive evidence that any other person was responsible.
April 3, 1936, was Hauptmann's execution date. Three jolts of electricity -- 2,100 volts each -- killed him. When the hearse carrying his coffin motored out of the death house of New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, fleets of cars gave chase with newsreel cameramen standing on the roofs.
Charles Lindbergh was not around for comment. Five months before, feeling embittered and hounded, he had deserted his Hopewell estate for a new home in England -- seeking not simply privacy, but isolation.