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The Lindbergh Case – A Short Case Study


The abduction

Kidnapping was fairly common during the Great Depression with more than 2,500 such cases occurring in the three years since the stock market crash of 1929.

On 1 March 1932 Colonel Charles and Anne Lindbergh were at their new luxury home near Hopewell, New Jersey, USA.  Charles was famous for his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927.  Also in the house was Charles Augustus Lindbergh (Charles Jr) who was 20 months old and who had a cold; he was in his crib in the second floor nursery (FBI 2013).

As Charles read in his study at about 9pm he heard a loud crack as if a box had fallen, but thought no more of it suspecting the cause to be a strong wind which was then blowing (FBI 2013).

Around 10pm Charles Jr’s nurse, Betty Gow, went to check on the child and found his crib empty, neither Lindbergh nor his wife had the child:  Charles Jr had been abducted.

Inside job?

Investigators were faced with initially determining whether the kidnapping was an ‘inside job’ given the act of taking Charles Jr occurred before the family retired for the night and therefore their presence represented a great risk of detection to an abductor.  Further, the family dog had been removed that evening to another part of the house; and the Lindbergh’s has only at the last minute changed their plans to go to New York.

Telling against the abduction being an inside job was the presence of a chisel which had been used to force open a window shutter.  This indicated the offender was not a member of the household because the nursery window’s shutter could not be locked and therefore the chisel was not needed to open it.

It was fairly simple for the family’s movements to be seen from nearby woods making it plain to an observer at that vantage point that no-one except Charles Jr was in the nursery when the abduction occurred.  The placement of the nursery was also common knowledge as the house had been featured, together with its floor plans, in magazines with a wide circulation.

Offence scene

Police found a carpenter’s chisel near a number of foot impressions leading to a ladder that had been used to climb to the nursery window.  Less than 30 metres away a wooden extension ladder was found on the ground in three pieces, one of its sections had split along its grain where it joined another section (FBI 2013).  An outsole shoe impression was found in wet ground below the nursery window.  Traces of mud were also observed on the floor of the nursery.  Further away, near a small dirt road, tyre tracks were found but the width of these was not measured nor was a cast made.

Ransom demanded

An envelope, announcing that the “princeling” had been kidnapped and demanding $50,000 was found on the nursery windowsill (FBI 2013).

The ransom note read,

“Dear Sir!

Have 50000$ redy with 25 000 $ in 20 $ bills 1.5000 $ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5 $ bills.  After 2-4 days we will in-form you were to deliver the Mony.

We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police the child is in gut care.

Indication for all letters are singnature and 3 holes.”

At the bottom right-hand corner of the note was a drawing of two interlocking penny sized blue circles; the area where they intersected had been coloured red and three small holes, one at the left, one in the centre and one on the right, had been punched:  This was to become the ‘signature’ of the abductor.

A second ransom letter was received on 5 or 6 March 1932, bearing a 4 March postmark from Brooklyn, New York; it bore the same signature, scolded the Lindbergh’s for involving the police, and increased the ransom to $70,000 (FBI 2013).

A third ransom note was received by Lindbergh’s lawyer on 8 March 1932 (FBI 2013).  A total of 14 ranson notes would be all bearing the same ‘signature’ and often contained the same handwriting, misspellings, and grammatical errors.

The services of Dr John F Condon to act as a go-between was published in the Bronx Home News and the following day the fourth ransom note was received by him agreeing to that proposition.  Lindbergh approved of the appointment even though Condon had apparently initiated his involvement with the matter (FBI 2013).

About 10 March Condon received $70,000 (made up of $50,000 in gold certificates and $20,000 in cash) as the ransom payment and commenced negotiations for its payment through newspaper columns with him using the codename ‘Jafsie’ (FBI 2013).

Two days later Condon received an anonymous telephone call and subsequently the fifth ransom note stating that a further note could be found at a specified location; the fifth note had been delivered by a taxi driver, Joseph Perrone, who had received it from an unidentified male person who he later identified as Hauptmann (FBI 2013).

In response to the sixth note Condon met who he thought was the abductor’s representative, an unidentified person calling himself ‘John’ but who, it seems was Hauptmann.  Before delivering the ransom money Condon demanded a token of proof regarding Charles Jr, and on 16 March he received a further note together with the child’s sleeping suit (FBI 2013).  The note read,

Dear Sir:  Ouer man faill to collect mony.  There are no more confidential conference after we meeting from March 12.  Those arrangemts to hazardous for us.  We will note allow ouer man to confer in a way like befor. circumstance will note allow us to make transfer like you wish  It is impossibly for us.  wy shuld we move the baby and face danger, to take another person to the place is entirely out of question.  It seems you are afraid if we are the rigth party and if the baby is allright.  Well you have ouer signature.  It is always the same as the first one specialy them 3 holes.

The letter continued on its reverse,

Now we will send you the sleeping suit from the baby besides it means 3$ extra expenses because we have to pay another one, please tel Mrs. Lindbergh note to worry the baby is well.  we only have to give him more food as the diet says.

You are willing to pay the 70000 note 50000 $ without seeing the baby first or note. let us know about that in the New York-American.  We can’t do it other ways because we don’t like to give up ouer safty plase or to move the baby.  If you are willing to accept this deal, put these in paper.

I accept mony is redy.

Ouer program is:

After 8 houers we have the mony received we will notify you where to find the baby.  If there is any trapp, you will be responsible what

will follow.

On 29 March the ninth note was received by Condon, it threatened to increase the ransom to $100,000 and on 1 April the tenth note instructed Condon to have the money ready for the following evening.  A day later the eleventh note was delivered to Condon by a taxi driver.  The twelfth was placed under a stone in the Bronx (FBI 2013).

Ransom paid

On 31 March 1932 Ramsland 2009, 178) or 2 April (FBI 2013) (the latter date appears accurate) Condon met with ‘John’ in an attempt to reduce the ransom to $50,000.  The $50,000, as required by the kidnapper had been placed into a box; a second package contained the $20,000 in large denomination notes; the notes were not marked but their serial numbers had been secretly recorded (Ramsland 2009, 178).  According to one unverified source Lindbergh had refused records of the numbers being made (Anon 2013).

In exchange for the thirteenth note and a receipt Condon handed over the ransom.  The latest note stated that Charles Jr was being held on the boat ‘Nellie’ at Horse Neck Beach, near Elizabeth Island, although another source says the boat was near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (Ramsland 2009; FBI 2013); they are about 127 kilometres apart.

Lindbergh attempted to locate the ‘Nellie’ but it was not found.

Gold certificates

Gold certificates had been used for the main part of the ransom payment at the suggestion of the Inland Revenue Service.  It was thought imminent that the Federal Government was to make a recall on them and therefore, if returned, they would yield a rich source of information to investigators.  However, the Executive Order requiring the surrender was not signed by the USA President until 5 April 1933 and allowed until 1 May 1933 for their return.  Nonetheless a significant proportion of the certificates remained outstanding when the Executive Order was signed (FBI 2013).

The USA Treasury Department distributed information concerning serial numbers within the areas thus far associated with the offence.

Forensic information


A fingerprint examination of Charles Jr’s toys was undertaken to obtain his prints for elimination purposes; these located were photographed with a special fingerprint camera.

An examination of the ladder revealed over 500 prints many of which were full latents and of which eight were useful.  Only one of the prints was matched to a person – a police officer.

Outsole shoe impression

In relation to the outsole shoe impression found below the nursery window; apart from one officer comparing it with his own size-nine shoe and finding it to be larger, it was neither measured nor was a cast made of it.

Deceased located

At 3.15pm on 12 May 1932 truck driver’s assistant William Allen found a small white skull and a leg protruding from the ground about 20 metres off the Princeton-Hopewell Road about 800 metres outside Mount Rose; a little over seven kilometres from the Lindberghs’ home.  The head had been crushed and there was a hole in the skull, some of the body was missing.

A coroner’s examination revealed the baby had been deceased for about two months and that death was caused by a blow to the head (Ramsland 2009; FBI 2013).  The body were later identified as being that of Charles Jr based on the size and style of the accompanying garments.

Once Charles Jr had been found and that information became public, communication from the abductor ceased (Ramsland 2009).

Document examination

Several document examiners concluded that the ransom notes had been written by the same person and that the misspellings and grammatical mistakes were consistent, as were the inversions of the letters like g and h.  Further, references in the letters to earlier notes and events supported consistency of the author.  It was hypothesised that the writer’s nationality was probably German based on the phraseology in the letters.

Document examiner, Albert S Osborn composed a paragraph for police to use when questioning suspects; he advised to have the suspects write out words that could be compared with the ransom notes (for example our, place, and money).  Osborn directed that the paragraph had to be dictated to the suspect and not copied by the person as to do the latter would make comparison pointless.

The notes’ signature and paper

As to the holes in the notes’ signatures, examiners concluded that they had been made by the same punch.  The notes had been written on the same type of paper and with the same ink.

Toxicological analysis of money

As they came to light, the ransom money were examined in a toxicology laboratory in New York and particles of glycerine and emery were found; this indicating that a handler of the notes used an emery wheel to grind tools.  Many of the notes also had lipstick or mascara on them and traces of blond, red, and brunette hair.  They also smelt musty as if they had been stored.  No fingerprints were found on them.

Suspect identified

On 15 September 1934 a service station attendant in New York City had taken a gold certificate in payment for five gallons of petrol and had recorded the registration number of the vehicle which had been refuelled.  The vehicle was registered to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, 35 years of age, from the Bronx (FBI 2013).

Hauptmann closely matched the physical descriptions of ‘John’ provided by Condon (who later positively identified him), the service station attendant, and Joseph Perrone (who had received the fifth ransom note; he was taken into custody on 19 September 1934.  (FBI 2013).

Hauptmann had been in the USA for 11 years, was born in Saxony, Germany, and was a carpenter (FBI 2013).  Inquiries revealed that Hauptmann had resigned from his employment on 1 March 1932, the day of the abduction (FBI 2013), although another source gives his resignation date as  the day the ransom was paid (Ramsland 2009).

Hauptmann questioned

Hauptmann was searched and a $20 gold certificate linked to the ransom was found in his wallet.

Isador Fisch

Hauptmann claimed that another man, Isador Fisch, had given him the money before leaving the USA for Germany where he had died soon after arrival.  Hauptmann had used the money because Fisch owed it to him.  One witness put Fisch near the Lindbergh’s home shortly before the kidnapping.

Hauptmann’s home searched

Investigators searched Hauptmann’s garage on 20 September 2013 and found $13,000 in gold certificates that formed part of the paid ransom; they had been secreted (FBI 2013).

Hauptmann’s handwriting

Hauptmann was arrested and during questioning was requested to provide a sample of his handwriting and, contrary to the instruction of Osborn, was asked to copy the ransom notes as closely as possible; he was made to write for hours until he fell asleep at the writing table.  In all Hauptmann wrote his statement seven times and completed nine sheets of dictated writing using three different pens with some samples written upright and some slanted.  Hauptmann’s handwritten material was taken to Osborn’s son, Albert D Osborn who like his father was also a handwriting expert.  The end result was that there were more discrepancies between some of Hauptmann’s writing samples than between his samples and the ransom notes.  Osborn was initially unconvinced that Hauptmann had written the ransom notes.

Later police instructed Hauptmann to write more statements and inappropriately dictated to him the spelling of certain words.  When compared with other samples of his writing, words that were misspelt in the dictated writings were correctly spelt in his undirected writing.  He was also told to copy copies of the ransom notes.

Following the search of Hauptmann’s home information that the money had been found was passed to the Osborns who the same day identified Hauptmann as the author of the ransom notes from his peculiar way of writing the letters X and T and that he wrote not as note using an open o and an uncrossed t, he also wrote the in an illegible manner:  Most tellingly though was that there was evidence of agraphia which results in the addition of unnecessary es onto words and which was evident in both his own writing and the ransom notes.  [As to whether the unnecessary additions were due to the condition of agraphia or not is questionable, given that that condition results from a pathologic loss of the ability to write caused by damage to the language area of the brain such as might be occasioned by a stroke (Krishnan et al 2009; Heilman et al 2008).]

In relation to the opinion of the Osborns; Hilda Z Braunlich, a European handwriting expert believed that the ransom notes had been overwritten with changes that amounted to forgery.  She did not give evidence later claiming that Reilly ordered her to leave the State.  Further, police had cleared all Hauptmann’s writing from his home thus denying the defence the opportunity to produce any specimens that might indicate differences between his unsolicited writing, his solicited writing, and the ransom notes.

The complications with the handwriting comparisons did not stop with the incorrect practice of investigators, another handwriting expert concluded from exemplars of Fisch’s handwriting that he had written the ransom notes.

Condon’s telephone number

The telephone number of Condon was found scrawled on a door frame inside a closet at Hauptmann’s home (FBI 2013).

Polygraph test

Hauptmann asked to be permitted to undergo Keeler’s polygraph test but his legal counsel saw little value in that given that the federal appeals court had already ruled evidence of such tests as being inadmissible.

The trial

Hauptmann’s trial commenced on 2 or 3 January 1935 in New Jersey after he had spent a total of 38 minutes with his leading counsel, Edward J Reilly, (who had publicly stated that he considered Hauptmann to be guilty); assisting counsel C Lloyd Fisher was inexperienced in criminal matters.  Hauptmann’s defence had been funded by the New York Journal in exchange for rights to the story.  Reilly apparently consumed alcohol with his lunch throughout the trial and was, by many accounts, notably lacking in his performance in the afternoons (Ramsland 2009, FBI 2013).

The ladder

Prosecutor, David T Wilentz the Attorney General for New Jersey, led evidence that the upright of the ladder found at the Lindbergh’s home fitted into a hole caused when a plank of wood had been removed, in the attic at Hauptmann’s home.

Arthur Koehler of the US Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, gave opinion evidence that a semi-skilled carpenter had constructed the ladder from four types of wood; pine for the uprights, Douglas fir for an odd piece in the left upright, birch for the dowels, and Ponderosa pine for the rungs.  The odd piece appeared to be from floor boarding and had four apparently recent nail holes.

Koehler claimed the machine used to plane the wood had a revolving set of eight knives making up its cutting edge, one of those had a nick that left a distinctive mark.  Koelher identified nearly 1,600 timber mills in the USA and requested samples of pine from them which had been planed with similar machinery.  On microscopic examination Koelher identified one mill whose plane left similar marks in the wood; that mill had shipped timber to a retailer in the Bronx where it will be remembered that Hauptmann lived.

In response to this the defence raised the issues that the ladder had gone through many hands since it as discovered and that the beam’s placement in the ladder was questionable because the police officer who conducted that part of the inquiry could have removed it from Hauptmann’s attic especially given that other police officers had not noticed the missing beam.

A witness for the defence showed that by using Hauptmann’s plane at different angles different marks were made thus showing that not only his plane could have caused the marks on the ladder.  Further, two witnesses said that they could not match the rail to Hauptmann’s attic through the wood’s grains because those of many North Carolina Pines’ looked alike.  Another produced two pieces of board which visually looked alike, however, one had been in a building for 47 years and the other for five; this person also testified that the knots in the wood of Hauptmann’s ladder were different to those of the attic.

As to the nail holes that were said to perfectly fit with the attic beams and seemed to have been freshly made, debris was found in them and they did not appear to have had nails in them for a number of years; the other attic boards had nails.  Further, they were no marks on the wood to indicate they had been prised from Hauptmann’s attic.  To add to these inconsistencies, the plank when placed into the gap in the attic was thicker than those still in place.

Outsole shoe impression

Recalling the outsole shoe impression found at the scene, Hauptmann’s shoes were size nine and nine and a half, the same size as the foot of the police officer who at the scene said the offender’s shoe was larger than his.

Hauptmann’s evidence

Hauptmann gave evidence in his defence, it was noted that his voice was different to that heard by Condon, however, he was unable to explain Fisch, the handwriting similarities, or his whereabouts on the evening of the abduction; he said he had worked until 5pm on the day as a carpenter, but records contradicted that evidence.

Conviction recorded

Near midnight on 13 February 1935 Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to be executed, after an appeal he was electrocuted on 3 April 1936 (Ramsland 2009, 175-186; FBI 2013).

References and readings

Anon (2013) The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax: The Ransom Money, at http://www.lindberghkidnappinghoax.com/money.html.  Accessed 13 January 2013.


FBI (2013) Famous Cases & Criminals:  The Lindbergh Kidnapping, Federal Bureau of Investigation, at http://www.fbi.gov.  Accessed 14 May 2013.


Heilman, KM; Coenen, A; and Kluger, B (2008)


Progressive asymmetric apraxic agraphia, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, March, 21(1):14-7

Krishnan, G; Rao, S.N; and Rajashekar, B.  (2009)


Apraxic agraphia: An insight into the writing disturbances of posterior aphasias, Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, Apr-Jun; 12(2): 120–123.

Ramsland, K. (2009) Bating the Devil’s Game:  A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation, Berkley Books, New York

© Hadyn R Green 2013


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