The Lindbergh Baby
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The Lindbergh Baby

Son of Aviator Charles Lindbergh


Updated July 2024
Posted October 2023

FBI The Lindbergh Baby
The Lindbergh Baby

On March 1, 1932, the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from his room on the second floor of the Lindbergh's house near Hopewell, NJ. The NJ State Police were in charge of the investigation, but on March 2, J. Edgar Hoover offered them the full assistance and cooperation of the Bureau. A broken ladder, muddy footprints, and a ransom note for $50,000 were all found. Eleven more ransom notes, with new instructions and demands for increasing amounts of money, were delivered by various means over the next month. On May 12, the child's body was found, partially buried a little over four miles from home. After some of the gold certificates from the ransom payouts surfaced in August 1934, a bank manager called the New York City Bureau Office. Agents traced it to a gas station, where Bruno Richard Hauptmann had paid for five gallons of gasoline using a $10 gold certificate. Hauptmann was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for the murder, and the FBI Lab provided a critical role in the trial.

Congress later passed the "Lindbergh Law" which authorized the FBI to investigate kidnappings where the victim had been taken across state lines. Today, the FBI can investigate any disappearance or kidnapping of a child of a "tender age."

The Lindbergh Kidnapping

WIKIPEDIA Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.
On March 1, 1932, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. (born June 22, 1930), the 20-month-old son of aviators Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was abducted from his crib in the upper floor of the Lindberghs' home, Highfields, in East Amwell, New Jersey, United States. On May 12, the child's corpse was discovered by a truck driver by the side of a nearby road.[

In September 1934, a German immigrant carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested for the crime. After a trial that lasted from January 2 to February 13, 1935, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Despite his conviction, he continued to profess his innocence, but all appeals failed and he was executed in the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison on April 3, 1936.

Hauptmann's guilt or lack thereof continues to be debated in the modern day. Newspaper writer H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping and trial "the biggest story since the Resurrection". Legal scholars have referred to the trial as one of the "trials of the century". The crime spurred the U.S. Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act (commonly referred to as the "Little Lindbergh Law") which made transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime.

The Kidnapping
At approximately 9 p.m. on March 1, 1932, the Lindberghs' nurse, Betty Gow, found that 20-month-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was not with his mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who had just come out of the bath. Gow then alerted Charles Lindbergh who immediately went to the child's room, where he found a ransom note, containing poor handwriting and grammar, in an envelope on the windowsill. Taking a gun, Lindbergh went around the house and grounds with the family butler, Olly Whateley; they found impressions in the ground under the window of the baby's room, pieces of a wooden ladder, and a baby's blanket. Whateley telephoned the Hopewell police department while Lindbergh contacted his attorney and friend, Henry Breckinridge, and the New Jersey state police.

An extensive search of the home and its surrounding area was conducted by police from nearby Hopewell Borough in coordination with the New Jersey State Police.

After midnight, a fingerprint expert examined the ransom note and ladder; no usable fingerprints or footprints were found, leading experts to conclude that the kidnapper(s) wore gloves and had some type of cloth on the soles of their shoes. No adult fingerprints were found in the baby's room, including in areas witnesses admitted to touching, such as the window, but the baby's fingerprints were found.

Lindberg BabyThe Ransom Payment
The ransom was packaged in a wooden box that was custom-made in the hope that it could later be identified. The ransom money included a number of gold certificates; since gold certificates were about to be withdrawn from circulation, it was hoped greater attention would be drawn to anyone spending them. The bills were not marked but their serial numbers were recorded. Some sources credit this idea to Frank J. Wilson, others to Elmer Lincoln Irey.

On April 2, Condon was given a note by an intermediary, an unknown cab driver. Condon met "John" and told him that they had been able to raise only $50,000. The man accepted the money and gave Condon a note saying that the child was in the care of two innocent women.

Discovery of the body
On May 12, delivery truck driver Orville Wilson and his assistant William Allen pulled to the side of a road about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) south of the Lindbergh home near the hamlet of Mount Rose in neighboring Hopewell Township. When Allen went into a grove of trees to urinate, he discovered the body of a toddler. The skull was badly fractured and the body decomposed, with evidence of scavenging by animals; there were indications of an attempt at a hasty burial. Gow identified the baby as the missing infant from the overlapping toes of the right foot and a shirt that she had made. It appeared the child had been killed by a blow to the head. Lindbergh insisted on cremation.

In June 1932, officials began to suspect that the crime had been perpetrated by someone the Lindberghs knew. Suspicion fell upon Violet Sharpe, a British household servant at the Morrow home who had given contradictory information regarding her whereabouts on the night of the kidnapping. It was reported that she appeared nervous and suspicious when questioned. She died by suicide on June 20, 1932, by ingesting a silver polish that contained cyanide just before being questioned for the fourth time. Her alibi was later confirmed, and police were criticized for heavy-handedness.

Condon was also questioned by police and his home searched, but nothing incriminating was found. Charles Lindbergh stood by Condon during this time.

Tracking the ransom money
The investigators who were working on the case were soon at a standstill. There were no developments and little evidence of any sort, so police turned their attention to tracking the ransom payments. A pamphlet was prepared with the serial numbers on the ransom bills, and 250,000 copies were distributed to businesses, mainly in New York City. A few of the ransom bills appeared in scattered locations, some as far away as Chicago and Minneapolis, but those spending the bills were never found.

1928 series $10 gold certificate By a presidential order, all gold certificates were to be exchanged for other bills by May 1, 1933. A few days before the deadline, a man brought $2,980 to a Manhattan bank for exchange; it was later realized the bills were from the ransom. He had given his name as J. J. Faulkner of 537 West 149th Street. No one named Faulkner lived at that address, and a Jane Faulkner who had lived there 20 years earlier denied involvement.

Arrest of Hauptmann
During a thirty-month period, a number of the ransom bills were spent throughout New York City. Detectives realized that many of the bills were being spent along the route of the Lexington Avenue subway, which connected the Bronx with the east side of Manhattan, including the German-Austrian neighborhood of Yorkville.

On September 18, 1934, a Manhattan bank teller noticed a gold certificate from the ransom; a New York license plate number (4U-13-41-N.Y) penciled in the bill's margin allowed it to be traced to a nearby gas station. The station manager had written down the license number because his customer was acting "suspicious" and was "possibly a counterfeiter". The license plate belonged to a sedan owned by Richard Hauptmann of 1279 East 222nd Street in the Bronx, an immigrant with a criminal record in Germany. When Hauptmann was arrested, he was carrying a single 20-dollar gold certificate and over $14,000 of the ransom money was found in his garage.

Hauptmann was arrested, interrogated, and beaten at least once throughout the following day and night.

Hauptmann turned down a large offer from a Hearst newspaper for a confession and refused a last-minute offer to commute his sentence from the death penalty to life without parole in exchange for a confession. He was electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

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