“Betty opened the room, closed the French window, and plugged in the electric heater. Walking towards the baby’s crib, she realized that she could not hear the baby breathing. “I thought that something had happened to him,” Betty would later retell, “that perhaps the clothes were over his head. In the half light I saw he wasn’t there and felt all over the bed for him.” Betty raced through the passageway into the master bedroom, just as Anne was exiting the bathroom. “Do you have the baby, Mrs. Lindbergh?” she asked. Bewildered, Anne said, “No.” “Perhaps Colonel Lindbergh has him then,” she said. “Where is Colonel Lindbergh?” Anne instinctively went into the baby’s room while Betty ran downstairs, through the living room and up to the door of the library where Lindbergh was sitting at his desk. “Colonel Lindbergh,” Betty said, trying to catch her breath,”have you got the baby? Please don’t fool me.” “The baby?” he asked. “Isn’t he in his crib?” Before she could answer, he had jumped from his chair and run upstairs to the baby’s room, Betty at his heels. Just from the look of the bed clothes, Lindbergh “felt sure that something was wrong.” He went to the master bedroom, brushing past Anne, who asked if he had baby. “He did not answer me,” she later recounted. “Someone had already told him.” Charles went to his closet and loaded the rifle he kept there. He headed back toward the nursery, followed by Anne and Betty Gow. “Anne,” he said, now looking right into his wife’s eyes, “they have stolen our baby.” “
This was the scene at about 10:00 p.m. on the evening of this date, March 1, in 1932 at the Hopewell, New Jersey home of Colonel Charles A.Lindbergh, and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh (pictured left, with Col. Lindbergh), as described by author A. Scott Berg in his 1998 book, “Lindbergh.” This discovery by Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh along with their nurse, Betty Gow that their eight month-old son, Charles Jr. had been kidnapped was the beginning of a long and terrible ordeal, most of it in the public eye.
Colonels Lindbergh, Schwarzkopf, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann
Colonel Charles Augustus Lindbergh had been a national hero since he made the first ever solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May of 1927 in his plane, “the Spirit of St. Louis”. Young, handsome, and enormously photogenic, Lindbergh captured the imagination of the public around the world. With near-saturation coverage of his life in newspapers, newsreels, and the emerging medium of radio, he became in author Berg’s description, the first modern media celebrity. A ransom note found in the room that night, written in barely literate English demanded a ransom of $50,000.00. A search of the area lead by New Jersey State Police Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (father of the Persian Gulf War General) turned up footprints, and the damaged ladder used by the kidnappers to reach the baby’s second floor window. With media coverage following every turn of events, offers of help poured in from all over the country, including one from the jailed Al Capone. But not until April 2 did the assailants provide instructions on payment of the ransom. The payment was made, but the directions to find the baby in a boat off the Massachusetts coast turned up nothing. In early May, the baby’s largely decomposed body was found not far from the Lindbergh home. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping by a blow to the head. It looked for some time as if the case would go unsolved. But in September of 1934, the appearance of a marked bill from the ransom payment led to the arrest of a German immigrant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann (pictured below).
“The Trial of the Century” Commences
The trial took place in January of 1935, with the world plugged in to the court- house in Flemington, New Jersey to listen in on what was dubbed “the Trial of the Century.” The discovery of most of the remaining bills in Hauptmann’s garage, as well as the wood apparently used to construct the ladder were the primary evidence against him. But many have concluded that his German origin coupled with his thick German accent, as well as enormous public sympathy for the Lindberghs left him convicted in the public eye before the trial even began. He was found guilty, and given the death penalty. He maintained his innocence until his execution in the electric chair
in April of 1935. The trial and Hauptmann’s conviction have remained a matter of controversy down to the present day. Hauptmann’s widow Anna tried for the rest of her life to clear her late husband’s name. Author Berg has said that he approached the subject believing that Mrs. Hauptmann was possibly right about her late husband’s innocence, and hoping to prove it. But further examination of the evidence led him to the conclusion that whatever the irregularities of the trial, Hauptmann was indeed guilty. He had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, and had accepted the ransom money. But the death of the child had been an accident that occurred when Hauptmann dropped the baby as he climbed down his home-made ladder from the baby’s room the night of the crime, and the unstable ladder broke.
“Lindbergh” by A. Scott Berg, Putnam & Sons, New York, 1998.
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