March 1

This Day in History

Crime

Mar 1, 1932:

The Lindbergh baby is kidnapped

Charles Lindbergh Jr., the twenty-month-old son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, is kidnapped from the family's new mansion in Hopewell, New Jersey. Lindbergh, who had become famous around the world five years earlier when he flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, and his wife Anne discovered a ransom note in their child's empty room. The kidnapper had used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and had left muddy footprints in the room.

The ransom note demanded $50,000 in barely literate English. The crime captured the attention of the entire nation. The Lindbergh family was inundated by offers of assistance and false clues. Even Al Capone offered his help from prison. For three days, investigators had found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter showed up, this time demanding $70,000.

Dr. Condon, a retired teacher and coach from the Bronx who had volunteered, acted as the go-between. After Condon and Lindbergh delivered the ransom money on April 2, the kidnappers indicated that little baby Charles was on a boat called Nelly off the coast of Massachusetts. However, after an exhaustive search of every port, there was no sign of either the boat or the child.

Soon after, a renewed search of the area near the Lindbergh mansion turned up the baby's body. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping and was found less than a mile from the home. The heartbroken Lindberghs ended up donating the home to charity and moved away.

The kidnapping looked like it would go unsolved until September 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom turned up. The gas station attendant who had accepted the bill wrote down the license plate number because he was suspicious of the driver. It was tracked back to a German immigrant, Bruno Hauptmann. When his home was searched, detectives found $14,000 of Lindbergh ransom money.

Hauptmann claimed that a friend had given him the money to hold and that he had no connection to the crime. The resulting trial again was a national sensation. Famous writers Damon Runyan and Walter Winchell covered the trial. The prosecution's case was not particularly strong. The main evidence, apart from the money, was testimony from handwriting experts that the ransom note had been written by Hauptmann and his connection with the type of wood that was used to make the ladder.

Still, the evidence and intense public pressure was enough to convict Hauptmann. In April 1936 he was executed in the electric chair. The episode had one other major consequence. Kidnapping was made a federal crime in the aftermath of this high-profile crime. The FBI's jurisdiction over kidnapping remains to this day.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

Related Topics

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date