Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lindbergh Kidnapping

Theories & Theories

NBC Radio announces the kidnapping of baby Lindberg
NBC Radio announces the kidnapping
of baby Lindbergh

The kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby remains the "Crime of the Century." What has changed since Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.'s accused murderer was executed in 1936, is in the certainty that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was guilty. By the end of his trial and his guilty verdict, only his wife, his defense attorney, the governor of the State of New Jersey, and a few others doubted that he killed the Eaglet.

What brought about this change? The circumstantial evidence remains —for all to see —plentiful, convincing, and unaltered. Why did doubts arise?

There are a number of reasons. First, the dedication to Hauptmann's innocence was sustained by the long life and remarkable persistence of Anna Hauptmann, who died in 1994, at the age of ninety-five. For sixty years, she maintained her husband's guiltlessness, even in the face of publicity-seekers and opportunistic writers who hoped to profit from her ingenuousness.

Second, there is no question that principals who were important to the prosecution —Conlon, Wilentz, and Schwarzkopf, for example —somehow metamorphosed into unattractive personalities to certain journalists and writers. While not perfect human beings by any means, they seemed to change into persecutors or self-promoters, or worse.

Third, it was the Lone Eagle himself, and, to a lesser extent, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her aristocratic family, that changed opinion.

The sensitive, publicity-shy —almost to the point of paranoia —Lindbergh, after sitting in the Flemington courtroom every day of the six-week trial, took his wife and new infant son to England, fleeing from intense public scrutiny, seeking a place of safety for their child, Jon, not yet four years old. While at first this seemed like an exile not of their own doing, the Lindberghs became "foreign," part of European society.

By 1938, Lindbergh had become a well-known admirer of the German Luftwaffe, was awarded a medal by Hermann Goering, and considered to be a dupe of the Nazi propaganda effort to exaggerate the strength of German air power. Lindbergh wrote a publicized letter to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy (himself, a noted appeaser) suggesting that the rest of Europe had no defense against the mighty and admirable Germans.

Later, after the war had begun, Lindbergh became an important voice for "America First," the isolationist movement that persisted until the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, Lindbergh slowly redeemed himself, but for younger generations he was no longer the hero of solo flight, but a middle-aged conservative tainted with fascism.

Therefore, from shortly after the trial to the present day, the positions of Lindbergh and Hauptmann became reversed. Hauptmann became the oppressed innocent, and the boy hero, the aviator, became the unpatriotic, coldly aloof, oppressor. In other words, the possibility that Hauptmann was innocent became more widely believed. Simultaneously, the idea that Lindbergh was somehow to blame for Hauptmann's fate, either through direct involvement (e.g., the cover-up theories), or indirectly through his arrogance, became the basis for a great many books that exonerated Hauptmann and —in varying degrees —vilified Lindbergh.

 

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