THE KIDNAPPING OF THE LINDBERG BABY
The following article first appeared in CN's previous
incarnation, "Conspiracy for the Day", on January 14, 1994. Note
that Carol Wallace's e-mail address (below) may or may not still
Today's "Conspiracy for the Day" (CfD) was written especially for
the readers of CfD by Carol Wallace. The subject today deals
with the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby back in the 1930s.
Carol Wallace is an expert on the subject, having written her
master's thesis on the Lindbergh kidnapping as well as being
widely read in the history of that era. Wallace wrote her
doctoral dissertation on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal of 1921. She
teaches Mass Media Law, with a special interest in notorious
trials and publicity. Regarding the kidnapping of the Lindbergh
baby, she says, "I love this topic, and am glad to discuss it
anywhere." She can be reached at Wallacec1@jaguar.uofs.edu
The Kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby
by Carol Wallace
Copyright (c) 1994 by Carol Wallace
All Rights Reserved
EXCLUSIVE to "Conspiracy for the Day"
"...comparisons between Lindbergh and Hauptmann --that the two
men were very similar in an unbelievable number of ways,
physically, through life and family history, etc. ...it was as
though Hauptmann was the dark side of Lindbergh. But, if the
latest theories have any validity at all, it seems as though
Lindbergh was the real dark side."
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
On March 1, 1932, Ollie Whateley, butler at the Charles Lindbergh
home in Hopewell, New Jersey, called the local police to report
that the Lindbergh's infant son had been stolen. Within hours,
local and state police, plus press and ordinary sensation seekers
were all over the grounds. While local police saw a crude
ladder, built in sections, lying near the window from which it
appeared the baby had been taken, and two grooves where the
ladder had rested, most other footprints and possible clues were
obliterated in the rush to investigate the rain-soaked grounds.
Lindbergh, hailed as the great American hero after his historic
New York to Paris flight in 1927, took charge of the
investigation himself. He refused to allow other members of the
household to be questioned. According to him, the child was
discovered missing when his nursemaid, Betty Gow, went in to
check on him and found the crib empty. She reported this first
to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the child's mother, then they went to
Colonel Lindbergh's room.
"Do you have the baby?" asked Anne. Lindbergh denied having the
child, and accompanied his wife to the nursery.
The crib was empty. Lindbergh turned to his wife. "Anne," he
said. "They have stolen our baby."
Instructing his wife and Betty Gow to remain where they were,
Lindbergh shouted to the butler to phone the police, grabbed a
rifle, and raced outdoors. When the butler came to report, he
found Lindbergh sitting in his car. Lindbergh asked the butler
to drive into town and buy a flashlight, so that he could
investigate. But before Whateley could do so, the police
Lindbergh led them straight to the window under the child's room,
pointed out the discarded ladder, and led them to the prints
which the ladder had left, and a footprint. According to police
reports, he was very calm and collected.
He then led the police upstairs to the nursery, where he pointed
to an envelope resting against the window. He told police that
he had ordered that it not be touched until a fingerprint expert
could be summoned.
The envelope was opened in the presence of the police.
Anonymous, it bore an elaborate coded symbol as a signature, and
claimed that the writer and associates were holding the child for
ransom and would communicate the particulars later. The letter
appeared to have been written by someone foreign, probably
The fingerprint expert found no prints on the envelope or letter.
Nor did he find any on the window, or the child's crib. He
didn't even find Lindbergh's prints, or those of the nursemaid or
Anne Lindbergh, who had searched the room before police arrival
(incidentally, failing to notice the ransom note .)
Over the next several months, Lindbergh continued to spearhead a
most unusual investigation. He rejected the FBI's offer of
assistance, but called in Morris Rosner, a member of the
underworld. Claiming that he was convinced that the kidnapping
was the work of organized crime leaders, he asked Rosner to
circulate the ransom note and see if he could get any information
from his underworld connections.
Soon after, Lindbergh received a call from Dr. John F. Condon of
the Bronx. Condon had placed an ad in the Bronx Home News
offering to add his $1000 life savings to the ransom money if the
child would be safely returned. Condon told Lindbergh that he
had received a note from the kidnappers, appointing him the go-
between for the ransom negotiations. Lindbergh accepted this,
and it was Condon, operating under the code name of Jafsie, who
went to the cemetery where the transfer of money was supposed to
take place. Condon, on his second visit, turned a wooden box
containing $50,000 in gold certificates to a man whom he called
John, he claimed, was of medium build, with a pointy face, high
cheekbones, slanted, dark, almost "oriental eyes", and a cough.
His accent sounded either German or Slavic, although Jafsie
claimed that he attempted some German, but "John" did not appear
Although the money was delivered as instructed, the child was not
returned. Instead, Jafsie was given a letter which gave
directions to the childs supposed location on "boad Nellie" (the
allegedly Germanic spelling of "boat.") A determined sweep of the
area where boad Nellie was supposed to be found nothing.
The search for the child ended on May, 12, 1932, when a truck
driver, stopping to relieve himself in the woods about two miles
from the Lindbergh home, found the decomposed body of an infant
partially buried in a pile of leaves. The child's sexual organs
had been eaten away, but there was evidence of a skull fracture,
as though the child had been dropped from a ladder. Although the
Lindbergh family physician could not make a positive
identification, Lindbergh, after a 90 second inspection where he
counted the corpse's teeth, identified the body as that of his
son. The kidnapping had now officially become a murder.
The search for the criminal continued for two years. Then a
German-born carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann , with high
cheekbones and a pointy face, but fair and blue-eyed, was caught
passing one of the bills from the ransom money. Hauptmann was
arrested and charged with the kidnapping.
In what has since been termed the Trial of the Century, Hauptmann
was convicted, and sentenced to the electric chair, where he died
proclaiming his complete innocence.
The fact that $18,000 of the ransom money was found in
Hauptmann's garage acted strongly against him. Hauptmann claimed
that he found the money in a package left with him by his
business partner, Isador Fisch, before Fisch left on a trip to
Germany. Fisch died there, of tuberculosis. While cleaning a
leaking closet, Hauptmann rediscovered the box, and discovered
that it was full of waterlogged bills. He claimed that he took
these to his garage and began to dry them, hiding each bundle as
it dried. Fisch, he said, owed him $7,000, so he felt entitled
to keep and use that portion of the money in the box. Police and
reporters labeled this "the Fisch story."
Many legal experts and researchers believed Hauptmann, but could
not save him from the electric chair. There were too many holes
in the case, too many unanswered questions. But in the 60 years
since then, four major theories have emerged about what really
happened in Hopewell New Jersey that day in 1931.
The first is that Hauptmann was guilty. A variation of that was
that he was guilty, but had not acted alone.
The last two theories are more startling. In 1993, two books
came out claiming that there never had been a kidnapping; that
Lindbergh and his family were actually covering up a killing.
The premise that the kidnap was a coverup appears to answer many
of the questions that the arrest and execution of Hauptmann
raised. Much of the evidence against Hauptmann was
unsatisfactory; much of it was plainly manufactured. And much of
Lindbergh's conduct during the trial is, in hindsight, very
peculiar. A quick review of the basic questions answered and
left open, will demonstrate this.
Hauptmann was convicted basically on 7 points of evidence.
1. He had $15,000 of the ransom money, and explained it away
with the "Fisch story." Since Fisch was conveniently dead, there
didn't appear to be any way to confirm this.
However: $30,000 of the ransom money remains undiscovered to
this day. And almost $3,000 in gold certificates were turned
into the bank when the county went off the gold standard by one
JJ Faulkner. Faulkner was the known pseudonym of a convicted
master forger, Jacob Novitsky (a man with a pointed face, dark
complexion and dark, almost oriental eyes) who bragged to his
cellmates of his involvement in the extortion of the ransom.
Just before Hauptmann's execution, Faulkner wrote to New Jersey's
Governor Hoffman claiming that they had arrested the wrong man.
2. Police found, at the site of the crime, a 3/4" chisel. When
they examined the toolbox of Hauptmann, a carpenter, they claimed
that he had no 3/4" chisel, but that this would be standard
equipment for any competent worker. Forty years later, crime
reporter Anthony Scaduto checked the archives of the New York
police, and found not only the chisel found at the scene of the
crime, but two more, wrapped in a brown bag labeled "Found in
3. Two witnesses came forward to say that they had seen
Hauptmann in the Hopewell area the day of the crime. A foreman
from the Majestic Corp., for which Hauptmann claimed he was
employed on that day, brought forth a time card purporting to
show that he had not been at work. If Hauptmann was working, he
would not have had time to get to Hopewell within the correct
time framework to commit the crime.
a. One of the witnesses who placed Hauptmann at the scene was
legally blind. In the prosecutor's office, he identified a vase
of flowers as a woman's hat. Yet he claimed to be able to
recognize the face of a man going by in a car. The second was a
known pathological liar who denied categorically that he had seen
anything unusual until the offer of a reward was announced.
b. Police had these witnesses pick Hauptmann from a line-up.
The line-up consisted of the blond, slight Hauptmann, a burly and
very Irish detective, and a policeman still in uniform.
Hauptmann was the only one who even resembled the description of
"cemetery John" given by Jafsie.
c. On the time card which allegedly showed that Hauptmann had
not worked that day, all other workers who were absent were
marked with a line of zeros. Hauptmann's line was marked with
blots, suggesting that something beneath had been blotted out.
4. Dr. John F. Condon identified Hauptmann in court as the man
with whom he negotiated the ransom.
Until his appearance in the courtroom, Condon refused to identify
him; at one point, on record, he said that it was definitely not
5. In court, the prosecution produced a board from Hauptmann's
closet which had scribbled on it Jafsie's phone number.
Hauptmann couldn't recall writing it there, but conceded that
since it was in his closet, maybe he did, because he had been
interested in following the case.
A reporter for the New York Daily News later bragged to fellow
reporters that he had written the number there himself, on a day
when there was no fresh news in the case and his editors were on
his back for front page material.
For those who doubt this, consider two things. Hauptmann had no
phone. If he was using a pay phone to contact Jafsie, he
probably would use something more portable than a closet board to
record the number on. Also, to see the number, one had to remove
both shelves in the closet and stand in the back using a
flashlight. Hardly convenient for quick and unobtrusive
6. Police claimed to have found a missing board in Hauptmann's
attic which matched the wood in the kidnap ladder. This
"missing" board was discovered after several previous searches.
And when the board in question was matched against the piece it
was allegedly cut away from, it proved to be thicker than the
board still in the attic floor. This caused New Jersey's
governor, Harold Hoffman, to make an open accusation that the
evidence had been falsified.
7. The piece of evidence that apparently carried most weight
with the jury was Lindbergh's identification of Hauptmann's voice
as the same one he heard in the cemetery . This was a voice that
Lindbergh heard, only once, two years earlier, from a distance of
several hundred feet, shouting only 5-6 syllables -- either "hey,
Doc! Over hear" or "hey Doctor, over here." Most experts
expressed great doubt about the validity of this identification,
but the jury was impressed.
Another point in Hauptmann's favor was the ladder itself. It was
very crude, causing most people who knew woodworking to believe
that no carpenter had ever made it.
Consider, too. William Randolph Hearst, who instructed his
reporters to cover the trial in a manner that would light a flame
of indignation in people everywhere, then paid for Hauptmann's
defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly. Reilly was suffering from
syphilis which caused his institutionalization several months
later, he routinely had several martinis at lunch during trial,
and spent less than 40 minutes in consultation with his client.
He was paid up front, regardless of the outcome of the trial.
There is clear evidence that more than one person was involved in
the collection of the ransom. In the files of the Bronx police
dept., Anthony Scaduto found an FBI document giving Lindbergh's
description of a dark, swarthy man with a rolling gait who acted
as lookout for cemetery John.
This was never brought out at trial. Kidnap notes always
referred to plural collectors, which may or may not have been a
rhetorical device to mislead investigators. However, when
Lindbergh called Morris Rosner in to help the investigation,
Rosner showed copies of the original note to many members of the
underworld. Contemporary handwriting experts appear to concur
that the first ransom note was written by a different person than
those that followed. (There were people willing to testify to
that effect during Hauptmann's trial, but they were not permitted
to testify, since that would have ruined the "lone killer"
Jafsie relates that, during one phone conversation with the
Scandinavian (both Condon and the cabdriver who delivered the
ransom-collector's note to Condon originally stated that the man
was Scandinavian, not German) he heard another voice in the
background shouting "Statto cito" [shut up, in Italian.]
Given the peculiar construction of the kidnap ladder, it would
have been impossible for a single person to descend the ladder
with the child. First, it would not hold more than 160 pounds
without breaking, according to police tests. The child would add
an extra 30 pounds. Second, the rungs were so awkwardly spaced
that it would take all but an extremely tall person two hands to
If Hauptmann (or Fisch) acted alone, where is the rest of the
ransom money? And how did Jacob Novitsky, alias JJ Faulkner, get
at least $3000 of that money?
The latest theories claim that there was no kidnapping at all;
that the kidnap story was devised as a way to cover-up the guilt
of a member of the Lindbergh family. In this theory, the ransom
collection was separate from the death of the child; it was an
attempt by underworld figures to cash in on the Lindbergh's when
they were in a vulnerable position.
Many researchers have questioned Lindbergh's behavior throughout
the investigation. Burdened by their belief in the original
premise -- that there was a kidnapper at large who must be
treated carefully so that he wouldn't harm the child-- they
explained this behavior as both fear of criminal reprisal and an
attempt to protect his wife. Scaduto seemed to question this
protective instinct, despite his apparent acceptance of a
kidnapping theory. Lindbergh was not the tender protecting type.
He was given to cruel practical jokes, and was essentially a
rather cold person. The cover-up theory, however, explains
Lindbergh's behavior, and a few other questions unanswered by the
arrest and conviction of Hauptmann.
1. Why would a kidnapper choose to steal the child during hours
when household members were still awake and obviously moving
around the house?
2. How did the kidnapper get down the ladder carrying a 30 pound
child? At the time of their original investigation, police
insisted that the criminals must have exited through the house,
and initially suspected a member of the household.
3. Why were there NO fingerprints at all in the child's room?
Anne Lindbergh and Betty Gow both admited to searching the room
when they first discovered that the child was missing, but when
police arrived on the scene, their fingerprints were missing,
4. Why did the two women not see the ransom note during their
search of the room, so that Lindbergh was able to spot it when he
reentered? And why was it left on the windowsill, when the
criminal was already burdened with the child, instead of in the
crib, which would have been the logical place to put it? And, on
discovering that his child was missing, how could any loving
father have ordered that the note be left untouched, and leave it
so for two full hours until a fingerprint expert arrived to open
and read the note?
5. Why did the family dog, Whagoosh, prone to barking at the
slightest disturbance, not bark on the night of the crime? And
why, when the entire staff and Anne Lindbergh testified that the
dog always barked at disturbances and at strangers approaching
the house, did Lindbergh deny this?
6. Why did Lindbergh refuse the offer of help from the FBI, and
consistently refuse to allow police to carry out routine
investigative procedures, then call in members of the underworld
to help the investigation?
7. Why, after Lindbergh observed Hauptmann shouting "Hey,
Doctor" did he wait 10 days before deciding that Hauptmann's was
the voice he had heard in the cemetery?
8. Why did Lindbergh refuse to allow police to question his wife
or household staff following his report that the child had been
9. How, if he had no flashlight, did Lindbergh manage to lead
the police straight to the marks left by the ladder in the ground
beneath the nursery window?
10. How would an outside criminal know that the Lindberghs were
at the Hopewell house that Tuesday, when they had never before
stayed longer than Saturday through Monday?
11. How did the alleged kidnappers know exactly which window
were the child's, and of those, which one was warped so that it
wouldn't latch? This fact could not be determined by routine
These questions made many people suspicious, even at the time of
the investigation. If Lindbergh had not been the superhero of
his times, they would not have been brushed aside so easily;
today it is almost certain that he or a family member would have
led the list of suspects. But, in 1931, Lindbergh symbolized all
that Americans most claimed to value, so any thought of possible
conspiracy was dismissed as unthinkable.
However, there are two theories that appear to answer the above
The first, presented in Noel Behn's "Lindbergh: The Crime", is
that the child was murdered by Anne's sister, Elizabeth Morrow.
Charles Lindbergh originally courted Elizabeth, and the press
reported rumors of an engagement. However, Elizabeth flew to the
aid of an ailing brother, and when Lindbergh paid a return visit
to the Morrow home, only Anne was there. They began to court,
and married. Elizabeth had a mild heart attack following this
news, and there is some evidence of a nervous breakdown.
After the birth of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., several disturbing
incidents led his parents to give strict orders that the child
was never to be left alone with Elizabeth. Household servants
all filed affidavits that Elizabeth Morrow killed the family dog,
and once threw young Charlie out along with the household
According to Behn's theory, the staff DID leave Elizabeth alone
with Charlie. And, to avoid further disgrace, further hounding
of the family by the press, the family spent two days dreaming up
a way to cover up the crime. The kidnap story was the result;
the fact that Morris Rossner's display of the kidnap note sparked
an extortion scheme played right into the plans, since it
appeared to confirm that there really was a kidnap gang out
Elizabeth Morrow was institutionalized soon after the crime.
Gossip about her possible involvement persisted, at least in low
key whispers at least through the 50s. However, to accept this
theory, one must also accept that not only Lindbergh but the
entire Morrow family, and the staffs of both households were
involved in the cover-up, and that they all lied on the witness
stand, knowingly sending an innocent man to his death.
The second theory, on its face, is even more incredible:
Lindbergh himself killed the child in the course of a practical
joke. Lindbergh was known for cruel practical jokes. He often
filled bunkmates beds with lizards and other reptiles; on one
occasion he put a snake in the bed of a man who was terrified of
them. Asked if the snake had been venomous, Lindbergh replied
"Yes, but not fatally." He also filled a friend's canteen with
kerosene and watched him drink it; the man was hospitalized for
severe internal burns. And, only two weeks prior to the reported
kidnapping, Lindbergh hid the child in a closet then ran to his
wife's room, claiming the child had been stolen. He let the joke
go on for 20 terrifying minutes before confessing.
In "Crime of the Century", Ahlgren and Monier theorize that
Lindbergh tried that joke one too many times. In their scenario,
Lindbergh called home to say he would be late, but actually
arrived at the usual time. He climbed his makeshift ladder to
his son's room, planning to spirit the child out and arrive at
the front door with him in hand, claiming something like "Look
who I met in New York." Unfortunately, the ladder broke,
Lindbergh slipped, and the child's head was smashed against the
side of the house. Lindbergh then hid the body, went home,
failed to check on his young son even though the child had been
sick, and spent some time in his study alone before Betty Gow
reported the child's disappearance. Ahlgren and Monier speculate
that Lindbergh wrote the original ransom note during this time.
Most experts agree that the wording of the note was typical of an
English speaking person trying to sound Germanic, rather than of
a real German.
To accept this theory, as amazing as it may be, is somewhat
easier than to believe the charge against Elizabeth Morrow. The
great American hero was above suspicion. Police would never
think to check his alibi, to see why he arrived home an hour
later than usual that night. Nor did they hesitate to follow his
orders throughout the investigation, although they, not
Lindbergh, were the trained investigators.
An analysis of Lindbergh's character makes this sort of practical
joke a strong possibility; that he could cover it up so
successfully can be attributed both to the awe in which he was
held, and the successful diversion of the ransom note. Much of
Lindbergh's more peculiar behavior can be attributed to
understandable moments of panic.
In the late 1930s, when Lindbergh openly associated with Nazis,
and made many public statements about the desirability of a
Master Race here in America, there were some fitful rumors that
Lindbergh had killed his own child because it was genetically
defective -- retarded. As war and memory faded, these whispers
died down. Baby boomers, if they knew much about the case at
all, tended to hear it from the perspective of Lindbergh, the
vulnerable hero; his later politics forgotten.
There is no proof that Lindbergh in fact killed his own child;
however, the theory answers questions left open by Hauptmann's
arrest and execution. And in this theory, only one person had to
keep a dreadful secret and perjure himself. If true, however,
Lindbergh is guilty not only of the death of his son, but of the
cold and deliberate murder of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.