Bruno Hauptmann: Wikis


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Bruno Hauptmann
Born November 26, 1899(1899-11-26)
Kamenz, Saxony, Germany
Died April 3, 1936 (aged 36)
Trenton, New Jersey, United States
Conviction(s) Kidnapping
Penalty Death
Status Deceased
Occupation Carpenter
Spouse Anna Schoeffler
Children Manfried Richard Hauptmann

Bruno Richard Hauptmann (November 26, 1899 – April 3, 1936) was a German carpenter sentenced to death and executed for the abduction and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of famous pilots Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh kidnapping gained international infamy, and has become known as "The Crime of the Century."


Lindbergh kidnapping

The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. occurred on the evening of March 1, 1932. A man was believed to have climbed up a ladder that was placed to the bedroom window of the child's room and quietly snatched the child by wrapping him in a blanket and exited the same way. A note demanding a ransom of $50,000 was left on the radiator that formed a windowsill for the child's room. The ransom was delivered, but the infant was not returned. A corpse identified as the boy's was found two months later on May 12, 1932, in the woods four miles from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was listed as a blow to the head. It has never been proven if the infant's head injury was accidental or deliberate; some have theorized that the fatal injury occurred accidentally during the abduction.

More than two years later, on September 18, 1934, a $10 gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered; it had a license plate number written on it. Gold certificates were rapidly being withdrawn from circulation; to see one was unusual and, in this case, anything attracted attention. The New York license plate belonged to a dark blue Dodge sedan owned by Hauptmann. Hauptmann was arrested the next day and charged with the murder.

The trial attracted wide media attention and was dubbed the “trial of the century.” Hauptmann was also named "The Most Hated Man In The World." The trial was held in Flemington, New Jersey and ran from January 2 to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry S. Breckinridge was Lindbergh's lawyer throughout the case and acted as intermediary in the ransom negotiations, assisted by Robert H. Thayer. (On discovering his child missing, Lindbergh phoned Breckinridge before calling the police.)

Evidence produced against Hauptmann included $14,590 of the ransom money that was found in his garage and testimony alleging handwriting and spelling similarities to that found on the ransom notes. Eight different handwriting experts were called to the witness stand where they pointed out similarities between the words and letters in the ransom notes and in Hauptmann's writing specimens (which included documents written before he was arrested, such as automobile registration applications). Also presented was a hand-made ladder used in the kidnapping along with forensic testimony by Arthur Koehler, chief wood technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory, who matched one of the rails of the ladder (Rail 16) with a board that was missing from Hauptmann's attic floor. Other evidence included: Dr. Condon's address and telephone number which was found written on the inside of one of Hauptmann's closets, and a hand drawn sketch of a ladder found in Hauptmann's home. Despite not having an obvious source of employment, he had enough money to purchase a $400 radio and to send his wife on a trip to Germany to see if he would be arrested if he returned.

Hauptmann was positively identified as the man to whom the ransom money was delivered. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates, that he had been seen in the area of the estate in East Amwell, New Jersey near Hopewell on the day of the kidnapping, and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment and quit his job two days later. Hauptmann denied his guilt, insisting the box found to contain gold certificates had been left in his garage by a friend, named Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Germany in December 1933, and died there in March 1934. Taking the witness stand, Hauptmann claimed that he found a shoebox left behind by Fisch one day which Hauptmann stored on the top shelf of a kitchen broom closet, and one day discovered the money which, upon counting it, contained $40,000, and since Fisch owed him around $7,500 in business funds, Hauptmann claimed the money for himself. A ledger was found in Hauptmann's home of all his financial transactions, yet no record of the alleged $7,500 was listed.

Hauptmann's defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, called Hauptmann's wife, Anna Hauptmann, to the witness stand to corroborate the Fisch story. But upon cross-examination by chief prosecutor David T. Wilentz, she was forced to admit that while she hung her apron every day on a hook higher than the top shelf, she could not remember seeing any shoebox as described there. Later, rebuttal witnesses testified that Fisch could not have been at the scene of the crime, and he in fact had no money for medical treatments when he died in Germany of tuberculosis. Fisch's landlady testified that he could barely afford his $3.50-a-week room. Various witnesses called by Reilly to put Fisch near the Lindbergh house on the night of the kidnapping were discredited in cross-examination with incidents from their pasts which included having criminal records or mental instability.

When the trial ended, Reilly in his closing summation argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial for no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder or on the ransom notes or anywhere in the nursery. But Hauptmann was convicted anyway and immediately sentenced to death.

New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman secretly visited Hauptmann in his death row cell on the evening of October 16, 1935 with Anna Bading, a stenographer and fluent speaker of German. Hoffman urged members of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state's highest court, to visit Hauptmann.

Despite Governor Hoffman's evident doubt as to Hauptmann's guilt, Hoffman was unable to convince the Court of Errors to re-examine the case, and on April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed in Old Smokey, the electric chair at New Jersey State Prison. Hauptmann had requested a last meal consisting of celery, olives, chicken, french fries, buttered peas, cherries and cake. Reporters present at the execution reported that he went to the electric chair without saying any last words, but other reports later said that he was vehemently protesting his innocence.

After the execution, Hauptmann's widow, Anna, applied for and received special permission that was required to take her husband's body out of state, so that it could be cremated at the U.S. Crematory, also called the Fresh Pond Crematory, in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, New York. The memorial service there was religious (two Lutheran pastors conducted the service in German), and private (under New Jersey law public services were not permitted for felons, and Hauptmann's wife had agreed to this as a condition of receiving her husband's body) and was attended by only six people (the legal limit under New Jersey rules) but a crowd of over 2,000 gathered outside anyway. Hauptmann's widow had planned to return to Germany with the ashes.

Hauptmann's guilt questioned

In the later part of the 20th century, the case against Hauptmann came under serious scrutiny. For instance, one item of evidence at his trial was a scrawled phone number on a board in his closet, which was the number of the man who delivered the ransom, Dr. Joseph F. Condon. A juror at the trial said this was the one item of evidence that convinced him the most, but a reporter supposedly later admitted he had written the number himself.[citation needed] During Hauptmann's police questioning, he did admit to having written Condon's address and phone number himself. It is also alleged that the eyewitnesses who placed Hauptmann at the Lindbergh estate near the time of the crime were untrustworthy (including one legally blind man who had claimed to have seen Hauptmann near the Lindbergh home), and that neither Lindbergh nor the go-between who delivered the ransom initially identified Hauptmann as the recipient.[1] However, Condon upon seeing Hauptmann in a lineup did not commit himself one way or the other, saying that he preferred to wait until trial to make a statement. Lindbergh heard the voice of "John" calling to Condon during the ransom dropoff, but never saw him. He did identify Hauptmann's voice as being the same voice. It has been alleged that the police beat Hauptmann and intimidated other witnesses, and some claim that the police planted or doctored evidence such as the ladder. There are also allegations that the police doctored Hauptmann's time cards and ignored fellow workers who stated that Hauptmann was working the day of the kidnapping.[2] These and other findings prompted J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI to question the manner in which the investigation and trial were conducted. Hauptmann's widow campaigned to have her husband's conviction reversed until the end of her life.

The television show Forensic Files on Court TV asked modern forensic scientists to reexamine two key pieces of evidence against Hauptmann. Kelvin Keraga concluded that the ladder used in the kidnapping was made from wood that had previously been part of Hauptmann's attic.[3] Three forensic document examiners, Grant Sperry, Gideon Epstein, and Peter E. Baier, Ph.D., worked independently of each other. Sperry concluded the questioned writings were "highly probable" as being written by Hauptmann.[4] Epstein concluded "there was overwhelming evidence that the notes were written by one person and that one person was Richard Bruno Hauptmann."[5] Baier wrote while Hauptmann "probably" wrote the notes, but that "Looking at all these findings no definite and unambiguous conclusion can be drawn."[6]

For more than 50 years, Hauptmann's widow, Anna, fought with the New Jersey courts to have the case re-opened without success. In 1982, the 82-year-old Anna Hauptmann sued the State of New Jersey, various former police officers, the Hearst newspapers who published pre-trial articles insisting on Hauptmann's guilt, and the former prosecutor David T. Wilentz (then 86 years old), for over $100 million in wrongful-death damages. She claimed that the newly found documents proved misconduct by the prosecution and manufacture of evidence by government agents, all of whom were biased against Hauptmann because he happened to be of German ethnicity. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court refused her request that the federal judge considering the case be disqualified because of judicial bias, and in 1984 the judge dismissed her claims.

In 1985, over 23,000 pages of Hauptmann-case police documents were found in the garage of the late Governor Hoffman, along with 30,000 pages of FBI files not used in the trial.[citation needed] Anna Hauptmann again appealed to the Supreme Court to clear her late husband's name and claimed that he was "framed from beginning to end"[citation needed] by the police looking for a suspect. Among her allegations was that the rail of ladder taken from the attic where they used to live in 1935 was planted by the police, and that the ransom money was left behind by Isidor Fisch who was possibly the real kidnapper. In 1990, New Jersey's governor, Jim Florio, declined Mrs. Hauptmann's appeal for a meeting to clear Hauptmann's name. Anna Hauptmann died October 10, 1994.

In 1974 American journalist Anthony Scaduto wrote Scapegoat which held the position that Hauptmann was framed, and that the police both withheld evidence and fabricated it as well. This led to further investigation, and in 1985, the British journalist, Ludovic Kennedy, published "The Airman And The Carpenter" in which he argued that Bruno Hauptmann did not kidnap and murder Charles Lindbergh's baby, a crime for which he was executed in 1936. The book was made into a 1996 film "Crime Of The Century", starring Stephen Rea and Isabella Rossellini.

Fictional portrayals

Anthony Hopkins played Hauptmann in The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case (1976), and Stephen Rea also played him in a sympathetic light in a 1996 HBO movie entitled Crime of the Century. In 2002, The Opera Theatre of St. Louis produced Loss of Eden, an opera about Hauptmann and the kidnapping. The Armstrong kidnapping case in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by the tragedy as well. Writer Jen Bryant wrote a book in 2004 about the case called The Trial.


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