CSI: Past and Present

Charles and Anne Lindbergh with President Hoover, August 15, 1930.

Charles and Anne Lindbergh with President Hoover, August 15, 1930.

The main celebrity story of early 1932 was the kidnapping of the twenty-month old son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.  On March 1 sometime after 9 pm when the baby’s nanny put Charles Jr. to bed and 10 pm when the nanny did her usual check, someone abducted the baby.  The state police were called in to investigate the crime scene at the Lindbergh mansion just outside of Hopewell, New Jersey.  A ladder and footprints were found on the ground below the window of the baby’s room.  No blood or fingerprints were on the ledge or ladder and the footprints were too smudged to provide a clear identifying pattern.  Soon the Lindbergh’s began receiving ransom notes demanding payments of various amounts.  After twelve such demands, the kidnapper settled on the amount of $50,000 detailing how it should be paid in smaller denominations of tens and twenties.  The police recorded all of the serial numbers of the bills before allowing the ransom to be delivered on April 2.  But the location of baby Lindbergh proved to be a ruse.  A search of the larger area did not produce results.  On May 12, 1932, the badly decomposed body of the kidnapped baby was found 4 ½ miles from the Lindbergh home just yards away from the highway as a truck driver pulled alongside the road to relieve himself.  The autopsy concluded that the baby had been dead for about two months or roughly the time of the kidnapping and trauma to the head was the cause of death.

31-1932-27

March 1932, scene of the Lindbergh kidnapping: A. Window where baby was taken, B. Where the ladder was found C. Where footprints were found

Charles Lindbergh Jr., a few weeks after his birth.

Charles Lindbergh Jr., a few weeks after his birth.

Law enforcement struggled throughout the next two years with the FBI serving as a clearing house for information.  Copies of the serial numbers of the ransom money were circulated to businesses and banks to be on alert.  Soon the FBI pamphlet was given to insurance companies, gas stations, airports, post offices and any establishment that might be used by the kidnapper.  Eventually some of the ransom money began turning up along with physical descriptions of the individual passing the money.  One alert gas station attendant wrote down the plate number of a driver passing the suspicious money.  This led officials to the home of an unemployed carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann.  Although Hauptmann declared his innocence, it was difficult to explain the trail of evidence that led to his home.  Wood used in the ladder matched wood removed from the floor of his attic and the tool marks on the ladder matched the tools in his garage.  He matched the physical descriptions given by merchants as the man passing the ransom money.  Five different handwriting experts conclusively identified the ransom notes as matching Hauptmann’s handwriting.  Approximately $14,600 of the ransom money was hidden in Hauptmann’s garage.  His car matched the description given by several people as being around the home the day before the kidnapping.  A bottle of ether was also found hidden in the garage but never introduced as evidence at the trial.

Hauptmann continued to declare his innocence throughout his trial.  He was found guilty and executed on April 3, 1936.

On February 6, 2014,  a six-day old baby kidnapped from his Wisconsin parents a day earlier, was discovered outside of a West Branch, Iowa gas station, having survived being in a grey plastic storage container for 29 hours in minus 12 degree temperatures.  The kidnapper was an aunt who was driving on Interstate 80 and happened to stop at the West Branch exit at 4:45 am.  Why she called the home of her half-sister whose child she had kidnapped is unclear.  Her grandmother answered and immediately turned the phone over to a Beloit Police officer who instructed the aunt to contact local law officials to confirm the infant was not in her custody.  This caused the aunt to bundle the baby up and lay him in the plastic storage container, placing it behind a BP gas station with other such containers.  She then got in her car, and drove across the interstate to another gas station where she flagged down a West Branch police officer at 5:21 am.  After discussions between Beloit and West Branch law enforcement, enough baby clothes, car seat and stroller suggested further investigation.  A routine check discovered that the aunt was wanted on an unrelated warrant in Texas.  Although denying any involvement in the kidnapping, only her finger prints were on the baby car seat suggesting no accomplice.  Immediately, police began searching ditches along the interstate as well as exit ramps and buildings around West Branch.  During this search, Chief Mike Horihan asked for the surveillance tapes from the BP gas station owner/manager.  He then checked outside for signs the baby may have been left.  He noticed that there was only one storage container in the back the color grey and its design was different from the others.  The gas station owner could not identify it as one of his and the police removed the top expecting the worse.  What they heard was the crying of baby Kayden.  In spite of being left in the cold for 29 hours, he survived and was happily rejoined with his parents.  With the discovery of the baby, the aunt admitted to the crime.

 

 

 

 

About thomasschwartz15

I am the director at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum.
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