Media darlings Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh faced tragedy on March 1, 1932, when their 20-month-old son, Charles A. Jr., was taken from his crib in the couple’s secluded new home, Highfields, in East Amwell Township, just outside Hopewell. After 10 anguishing weeks, the body of the baby was found half buried in a ditch a few miles away. The Lindberghs retreated to the home of Anne’s parents in Englewood.
The Lindbergh Law, passed by Congress on June 17, 1932, made kidnapping across state lines a federal felony. Several states made kidnapping a capital offense. H. Norman Schwarzkopf (1895-1958), father of U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. (1934-2012) of Operation Desert Shield/Storm fame, was the 37-year-old superintendent of the New Jersey State Police who worked with the FBI and the NYPD on the investigation.
The kidnapping threw the Lindberghs into a world of gangsters and go-betweens, secret meetings with a mysterious man in a cemetery, and communications printed in a daily newspaper. From behind bars, Al Capone offered $10,000 for information leading to the child’s recovery. Lindbergh himself drove the car that delivered the ransom money. Later he would testify to recognizing the voice of the accused kidnapper as the voice he had heard that night.
While the clues in the kidnapping seemed to offer little to go on, careful analysis of the ladder used to access the child’s bedroom and the trail of marked bills used in the ransom ultimately led to German-born Bronx carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a man with a history of petty crime who had once used a ladder to climb into a window in search of jewelry and cash.
Some two years and four months after the kidnapping, Hauptmann was arrested. Within hours of Hauptmann’s arrest, police found ransom bills between the joists of his garage. They also found field glasses, maps of New Jersey, a drawing of a homemade ladder, lumber, and nails matching the ladder, an empty bottle marked “ether,” and a loaded pistol. The lumber used in the ladder was found to fit with pieces missing from the floor joists in his attic.
Even so, the defense tried to implicate members of the Lindbergh staff, and when their maid committed suicide by swallowing household cleaner and their butler died suddenly of a perforated duodenal ulcer, the newspapers were rife with rumor and speculation. The trial received more column inches of print coverage than any other crime of the era.
“The Trial of the Century” took place at the Hunterdon County Court House in Flemington, New Jersey. Hauptmann was convicted and later executed by electric chair in Trenton in 1936.