The Aviator and “The Trial of the Century”
On the evening of March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh and his wife discovered that their 20-month-old son Charles Jr. had been snatched from his nursery in the family home in Hopewell, New Jersey. In the baby’s place was a note demanding $50,000 for his safe return. A distraught Lindbergh eventually paid off the kidnappers, who told him the baby was in a boat off the coast of Massachusetts, yet when police rushed to the scene, the child was nowhere to be found. Just six weeks later, the mangled body of the Lindbergh baby was discovered in the woods less than a mile from the family home. Police determined that Charles Jr. had likely been murdered on the same night that he was taken.
The trail in the case went cold until 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom money was traced to a German-born carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann, who was found to have nearly $14,000 from the Lindbergh payment hidden in his home. While Hauptmann denied any involvement in the kidnapping and claimed the cash belonged to a deceased friend, he was later found guilty in a high-profile court case. In April 1936, he was executed in the electric chair.
China’s Civil War Boils Over
In the mid-1930s, China was in the midst of one of the greatest crises in its history. The country was embroiled in a civil war between nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s government and Chinese Communist forces, but it was also under outside threat from Imperial Japan, which had invaded Manchuria. Many believed that the Japanese presented the more pressing danger, yet to the dismay of some of his generals, Chiang had continued to give precedence to his battle against Communism.
The situation finally reached a breaking point in late 1936. In what became known as the Xi’an Incident, Chinese generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang and held him in solitary confinement for nearly two weeks. In exchange for his freedom, he was forced to pledge that he would seal a temporary alliance with the Communists to help fight off the Japanese. While Chiang went on to have his kidnappers arrested, he kept his word and helped forge a ceasefire with the Communists that endured throughout World War II. Civil war erupted again in 1946, however, and Chiang and his nationalists were later defeated and forced to flee to Taiwan.
The Newspaper Magnate’s Granddaughter Who Made Her Own Headlines
One of the most bizarre kidnapping cases in modern history began in February 1974, when 19-year-old Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, was forced out of her Berkeley apartment and tossed in the trunk of a car by a band of armed assailants. A few days later, a radical revolutionary group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) claimed for responsibility for the crime and announced that it was holding Hearst as a political prisoner. As a ransom, its members demanded that Hearst’s father donate millions of dollars in food to needy families in California. The family complied, but the case soon took an unforeseen twist after a tape recording was released in which Patty Hearst declared allegiance to the SLA and adopted the new name “Tania.” The heiress went on to brandish an assault rifle during an SLA bank robbery just days later.
The case dragged on for over a year and a half until September 1975, when the FBI captured Hearst and several SLA members in San Francisco. While Hearst claimed that she had been coerced and brainwashed into becoming an SLA revolutionary, she was still put on trial for bank robbery. Found guilty in 1976, she served 22 months behind bars before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.