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Trial of the century: How the Lindbergh baby stole all the headlines

Posted by: | September 27, 2011 | No Comment |

The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby boy became a media sensation, quite possibly leading to the poorest outcome of all.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh earned the Medal of Honor for flying his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis from Long Island, NY to Paris, France, a distance of more than 3,500 miles. He changed the face of aviation and turned it from a minor hobby into the start of an entire industry.

On the evening of March 1, 1932, however, tragedy struck. His 20-month-old son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped from his second-story window in the Lindbergh family home in East Amwell, NJ., changing Lindbergh’s life forever. 

 

Lindbergh Kidnapping Index

Word of the kidnapping spread quickly. The New York Times ran the story on its front page. 

The morning after the kidnapping, President Herbert Hoover was notified of the crime. He promised to do anything in his power to help recover the missing baby. Lindbergh and the three military colonels who volunteered to aid him in his search — Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Henry Skillman Breckinridge and William Joseph Donovan — believed the kidnapper was a native German, in part due to the poorly written ransom note. 

Lindbergh used his sway and contacts to get in touch with the mob, whom he felt could help find his missing son. The problem, however, was that the two men he was put in contact with, Salvatory “Salvy” Spitale and Irving Bitz, were not who they claimed to be. They were actually in bed with the NY Daily News, a paper that was hoping to scoop all other papers in the race for leads. 

The Daily News is currently the fifth most widely circulated newspaper in the US. The paper uses the tabloid format, with compact page sized paper, unlike broadsheet papers. It still considers itself a picture newspaper and, at the time, used images and large headers to bring readers in.

A few days after the kidnapping, a second ransom note was delivered to the Lindbergh home. 

 

The Lindbergh Case

The letter was postmarked in Brooklyn, NY and thought to be legitimate. Police wanted to examine the note, but Lindbergh instead gave it to his mob contact who promised to pass it along to the proper channels. What really happened, however, was that the note went straight to the Daily News where it was photographed. It was not long before copies of the ransom letter were being sold on street corners throughout the city. 

It was on the front page of the Bronx Home News on Monday, March 8, 1932, a week after the Lindbergh baby had gone missing, that John F. Condon stepped in, passionately declaring that he would personally do anything in the world he could do to help.

 

No sooner had that offer gone to press, when, the following evening, a letter was delivered to his address asking him to be the middleman to go between the Lindberghs, their money, and their child. 

A meeting was set up, and on April 2, Lindbergh drove him to St. Raymond’s Cemetery and waited in the car as Condon delivered $50,000 in cash to a figure waiting among the graves.

The problem was that it was a hoax. There was no baby, and within a few days, Condon — or Jafsie — admitted that he had been swindled. Immediately suspicions were drawn upon Dr. Condon. He must have kept the money for himself. He had to have been the mastermind behind the whole thing, right?

The Daily News simply called him a deluded old man.

 

The Lindbergh Case

It turned out that little baby Lindbergh would be found. On May 12, 1932, 2 months after he had been kidnapped, a delivery truck driver pulled to the side of the road about 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh’s home and found the badly decomposed body of a toddler. 

With no real leads to go on, all they could do was sit and wait for the money to be spent. And spent it was.

The money trail led investigators to a man by the name of  Bruno Hauptmann. In the $50,000 in ransom that was given to the unknown man, were $10 gold certificates. Gold certificates were being phased out, so they were increasingly rare to find in circulation. One fateful night, Hauptmann stopped for gas and paid with one of these gold certificates. The gas station attendant wrote down his license plate number and gave it to police, suspecting it to be counterfeit. Police found him, and put him under surveillance. Once Hauptmann realized he was being watched, he made a run for it and was eventually caught and taken to jail to await what was to be called “the trial of the century” by the media.
It was front page news all over the world, even in a time before computers, because Lindbergh wasn’t just a domestic hero. He was loved and admired all throughout Europe as well.

 

Time Magazine notes the media frenzy set off by the Lindbergh baby case. Not only was everyone desperate for the latest information about the baby snatching, but they also feared that the crime, if left unsolved, would set off an epidemic of kidnappings. 

Lindbergh Kidnapping – Archive Collection – TIME 

The last person known to have seen 20-month-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was his nurse, a dark-haired, light footed little Scotch girl of 26 named Betty Gow. From Snatchers on Sourland Mt. Mar. 14, 1932 Two weeks of March had run out.

The following link is also from Time Magazine in 1935 with some interesting facts about the case based around the number 13. 

CRIME: Thirteen – TIME 

Last week newshawks and amateur numerologists had fun with these numbers: 1) At 9:13 p.m. on March 1, 1932, Charles A. Lindbergh, unaware that his small son was being kidnapped, heard what might have been a ladder falling outside his Hopewell, N. J. home. 2) On March 13, 1932 Dr. John F.

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