Charles Lindbergh (1902 –1974) is the archetype American hero – a hero’s hero if you will – who has been idolized for his historic trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Few people realize that he was a cold blooded killer who got away with murder.
If Lindbergh’s fame needed any boosting, it got it on March 1, 1931 when the world heard the news that his infant son, Charles Jr, was missing from his Hopewell, NJ home, in the hands of a kidnapper. The news was electrifying and eventually led to the “Trial of the Century” a couple of years later.
In the meantime, Lindbergh ordered that the note found on the window sill from where the child was allegedly absconded be left unopened until finger print experts could examine the envelope and letter.
The letter turned out to be a ransom note demanding 50,000 USD. Refusing the aid of law enforcement officials, including the FBI, Lindbergh mounted a highly unorthodox investigation by turning to organized crime to help find his missing son. Morris Rosner was an underworld figure whose services Lindbergh employed in the search of young Charles.
Soon thereafter, a Dr John Condon, who would later use the pseudonym Jafsie in his contact with the alleged kidnappers, acted as the liaison between Lindbergh and the kidnappers. He brought the money to a man whom he described, in Carol Wallace’s words, as ‘medium build, with a pointy face, high cheekbones, slanted, dark, almost "oriental eyes", and a cough.’ This individual was known as “Cemetary John” after the place where the money handover took place.
Wallace is in fact our tour guide to this tale as she published nearly 20 years ago in Conspiracy of the Day an article based upon her master’s thesis about the Lindbergh kidnapping. She later earned a doctorate on the Fatty Arbuckle affair, and was an authority on the 1930s era.
The money was delivered, but instead of receiving the child, Jafsie received a bogus note describing where the baby could be found. On May 12, 1932 the remains of Charles Jr were found indicating death by a skull fracture.
The search for the killer continued until a German born carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found passing some of the ransom money. He was arrested and charged with the crimes of kidnapping and murder, based largely on the evidence of the money and his faint resemblance to Jafsie’s Cemetary John.
On top of the circumstantial evidence, the fates were against Hauptmann. Two witnesses came forward to identify him as being in the vicinity at the time of the crime. One witness was legally blind but claimed to see him many feet away driving by in a car, but later, according to Wallace, identified a vase as a woman’s hat, as you do when you are legally blind. The other witness Wallace identified as a known pathological liar whose testimony about Hauptmann changed when he was offered reward money.
A reporter for the New York Daily News planted evidence in Hauptmann’s home linking him to the crime by writing Jafsie’s number on a hard to get to board in his closet. That Hauptmann didn’t have a phone was of no consequence to the court or law enforcement.
Lindbergh’s testimony was perhaps the most lethal because he claimed to be able to identify, after hearing only a few syllables 2 years prior, Hauptmann as Cemetary John. Hauptmann’s cause was not helped by William Randolph Hearst who hired a boozing syphilitic attorney to defend him; a defender who spent only 40 minutes in consultation with his client. But justice was not the purpose – only its appearances.
Perhaps the most critical piece of evidence in the case was the very crude ladder which would not have been so poorly constructed by a skilled carpenter such as Hauptmann. On the other hand, a man whose métier was not carpentry, perhaps a man more prone to flying than constructing, would have produced such a crude device.
Wallace explores some theories about the real killer which she dismisses because they in general require too much suspension of disbelief, if not failing outright the laugh test, such as the guilt of Hauptmann who was railroaded through a corrupt and criminal court system.
She points out how Lindbergh, a generally cold person anyway, played frequent cruel jokes on people, such as putting a venomous snake in the bed of a man deathly afraid of them, and putting kerosene in the canteen of a friend who had to be hospitalized after gulping it down in Lindbergh’s presence.
A few days before the disappearance of the son, Lindbergh hid the baby from his hysterical wife for 20 minutes before bringing her the baby. Wallace conjectures with solid reasoning, that Lindbergh was in the process of playing another joke on his wife by removing the baby from his room down the rickety ladder when the baby accidentally fell to his death. Thus Lindbergh was covering up at a minimum manslaughter.
But rumors persisted that the crime was uglier – that the Nazi Lindbergh, who advocated for a Master Race, murdered his son because he was retarded, genetically defective. We believe the rumors. Why else would he refuse police and FBI help in finding his son? Was it because he feared being found out? Besides, why waste valuable time on someone who is dead? And why turn to organized crime for help? Lindbergh’s collaboration with the notorious Wild Bill Donovan of the future OSS and CIA in the matter is additional cause for suspicion.
America may continue to remember Lindbergh as an aviation hero and philanthropist, but we remember him as a murderer and Nazi.
The Kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby by Carol Wallace Copyright (c) 1994 by Carol Wallace
Copyright 2013 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.