On March 1st 1932, firstborn son of Aviator and American hero, Charles Lindbergh was discovered missing from his crib by his Nanny, at approximately 10pm. His Mother and Father were in the house, and heard nothing save for the sound of what seemed to be a wooden crate falling, a short while earlier.
When Betty Gow raised the alarm, firstly going to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was in an upstairs room, and finding her alone, down to the father in the library, Lindbergh followed her upstairs and entered the room. He saw the bedclothes, still pinned to the mattress of the crib, where they fastened the baby to prevent his movement but no baby. He took in what appeared to be footprints in clay leading from the window to the crib, and a note laid on the radiator by the window. Lindbergh went to search the house, before taking his rifle and going out into the night to search the grounds. Upon his return his friend had called the local police, then the New Jersey State Police were notified.
A home-made wooden ladder, broken in two places was found propped awkwardly against the outside of the house up to the Nursery window.
Over the course of the next week, a retired school teacher, Doctor John F Condon put himself forward as intermediary between the Lindberghs and the supposed kidnappers after adverts in the newspapers were used as a contact medium. More ransom notes had also been received, always by Dr Condon, and then passed to Lindbergh. Some of the ransom notes were left under stones in later-notified places. On at least two occasions they were delivered by taxi drivers, who had been paid to deliver them.
After no less then thirteen ransom notes, and following the receipt of a baby sleep suit which was sent to Condon by ‘John’ as proof of the baby’s identity, as agreed, the sum of $50,000 was eventually negotiated. Lindbergh drove Condon to one of the subsequent meetings with the alleged kidnapper ‘John’ in a cemetery. The ransom was paid, the baby was claimed as being kept on a boat, ‘Nellie’ at a Marina nearby. After extensive searching of Martha’s Vineyard, where the boat was allegedly moored, the boat turned out as fictitious, the baby was still missing.
On the 29th of March, when baby Lindbergh had been missing for four weeks, the Nanny found the baby’s thumb-guard, an aide to prevent sucking the thumb, near the gates to the property. On May 12th, 1932, just a few miles away from the Lindbergh home, 45 feet from the highway, a trucker’s mate accidentally stumbled across the badly decomposed remains of a baby, when stopping to relieve himself. The baby was partially buried, face down, in the undergrowth. The authorities were alerted, and Charles Lindbergh and the Nanny formally identified his remains the next day as those of their missing baby.
It has been said that Charles acted very strangely, insisting on viewing his son in his entirety despite the extensive decomposition, and the poor condition of the remains. His scalp, what remained, contained a small amount of the blond curly hair. His left hand, leg and right forearm were missing and his skull had been crushed. The Coroner performing the autopsy stated that it was highly likely that baby Lindbergh had died from a massive blow to the head, quite possibly during or shortly after the kidnapping, and died immediately, corroborated by the proximity to the house where the body was found.
Lindbergh had his son cremated the same day. Discrepancies in the height of the baby, 33 inches, which was about right for his age, are inconsistent with the diameter of the fontanelle, one inch in diameter, which would suggest a much younger baby than the 20 month old Charles. The overlapping toes, on the right foot, however were consistent with a known malformation of the feet that the baby suffered.
On the day of his identification, and cremation, the FBI were summoned to assist in the case. The ransom had been paid for the most part in gold certificates of $10 and $20 denominations, the serial numbers recorded. These certificates were checked off religiously as they appeared In May 1933, a full year since the discovery of the baby’s body, $2980 were paid into a federal bank in one transaction, by a mysterious man, J.J. Faulkner, whose identity was found to be false. He was never traced.
In June 1932 a servant in Anne’s mother’s home, Violet Sharpe, committed suicide. She had been questioned as part of the investigation, and was informed she was to be re-summoned for further questions. Her background however, and her movements for the night of the kidnapping were proven.
In September 1934, the first solid suspect in the case was traced via a payment made at a gas station, using one of the gold certificates, which was subsequently paid into a bank account and the serial number picked up as one of those in the ransom payment. The suspicious attendant at the service station had jotted down the licence number of the car which was filled, onto the certificate and this vehicle was traced to Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant carpenter. His description fitted that of the kidnapper ‘John’ as described by Dr Condon.
A search of Hauptmann’s house revealed planks of wood, identical to those used to build the home-made ladder, with identical tool marks, as part of his attic floor. Condon’s name and contact details were written on a wall inside a cupboard, and over $13,000 was found in a box in the garage. Hauptmann claimed the money was left in his keeping by a friend Ischel Fischer who had since died. Analysis of his handwriting by FBI experts confirmed that it matched that on the ransom notes. And Hauptmann was subsequently formerly identified by both Condon as being ‘John’ and one of the taxi drivers who had been hired to deliver a ransom note.
Hauptmann went on trial at the beginning of January 1935 in New Jersey. On February 13th, after just six weeks, the Jury found him guilty of extortion and the kidnap and murder of baby Charles Lindbergh. He was sentenced to death immediately following the trial. New Jersey Governor Harold Hoffman, although believing Hauptmann to be guilty, felt he had not acted alone, and in December 1935, tried to persuade him to admit his part in the crime and name his accomplice, in return for a commute of his death sentence to that of life. Hauptmann refused, again pleading his innocence. He claimed that he had been beaten until he supplied the handwriting in the style the FBI requested to form a match and again that the ransom money was given to him for safe-keeping.
Hauptmann was executed by electric chair on April 3rd 1936. His own son, Mannfried was just three years old, having been born in 1933, the year after the Lindbergh baby was murdered. It transpired that Hauptmann had a criminal record for robbery, and was in the country illegally. Immediately following the kidnapping, in March 1932, after nine years working in New Jersey as a carpenter, Hauptmann had stopped working, and started trading quite extensively in stocks and shares, and never worked again.
There have been a number of conspiracy theories over the years, including those of Lindbergh’s alleged involvement in his child’s disappearance, mainly as the result of his deformed feet and a ‘rather large head’ resulting in a less than perfect and therefore unacceptable son, based largely on his reaction to his firstborn’s disappearance, the discovery of his remains, the discrepancy of the autopsy report and his wife “laughing” at the newspaper reports about the trial. Lindbergh was later accused of being involved in the Nazi party, and it has been theorised that they were behind the kidnapping as a method of pressure. Other theories involve the intermediary, Dr John Condon as being the co-conspirator in the plot.
Following their son’s death and the trial, the Lindberghs moved temporarily to England to escape the media limelight, and fearing for the safety of their younger son, Jon who was born 3 month after his brother was found dead. They apparently scattered their murdered child’s ashes in the Atlantic on the journey to England via boat. Charles and Anne had a further four children.
In 2003, the surviving siblings of Charles Lindbergh Jr obtained permission to approach the New Jersey Museum, where small parts of their brother’s remains which had been removed as evidence prior to his cremation, were being kept after being ruled ‘historic artefacts’ and legally claim their brothers remains. These small pieces of bone, skin and other samples were taken away without further details given as to their disposal. It has been claimed that this was the result of a possible new investigation being opened into the case, and the chance of DNA tests being ordered on these remains to confirm that the body was indeed that of Charles Jr. It was around this time that it was revealed that Lindbergh had had seven other children with three mistresses in Europe who were unaware of their father’s real identity. Two of the mistresses were sisters. DNA tests proved the familial connection. All the children were born between the 1950s and 1970s.