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Revisiting the Most Famous Criminal Investigation in New Jersey

I just finished reading Hauptmann's Ladder: A Step-by-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping by Richard T Cahill Jr. The book gives a detailed and comprehensive account of the Lindenberg kidnapping that occurred in the early 1930s. The story is one of multiple twists and turns, made fascinating by the fact that this is a true-crime book and is based on historical facts.

In short, according to FBI reports, the eldest son of the famous aviator, Charles Lindernberg, was kidnapped and murdered in March 1932. Lindenberg was a national icon and had set a distance record when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his single-engine monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis. The attention the kidnapping got from both national and international media made it one of the most famous criminal cases in history and the cause of one of the biggest criminal investigations ever in the US, especially on the East Coast.

An Investigative Hurricane

What the press called “the biggest story since the resurrection” and “the crime of the century” eventually drove the Lindenberg family into exile in Europe. It was another five years before they returned to the US but in the meantime, a two-year long investigation arrested and executed Richard Hauptmann. Many were enlisted in the investigative effort. Here’s a rough list of the people associated with this case and it makes for an interesting read, see for yourself:

  • New Jersey State Police (who found no useable fingerprints)

  • Norman Schwarzkopf Sr. (among the military colonels offering aid)

  • US President Herbert Hoover (who said he would “move heaven and earth” to locate the baby)

  • Al Capone (among the mob leaders who offered to help in exchange for favors)

  • John Condon (retired school teacher who mediated with the kidnappers)

  • FBI (known then as the Bureau of Investigation)

  • United States Coast Guard

  • US Customs Service

  • US Immigration Service

  • Washington, DC, Police

Finally, the body of the child was discovered and Hauptmann, who protested until his last moments that he was innocent, was executed. The book stays with the official viewpoint that Hauptmann was guilty but highlights that his fingerprints were never found on the key piece of evidence, a ladder found at the scene of the crime.

What remained with me was an overwhelming sense of how important the early stages of an investigation can be and just how much an investigation is dependent on its existing standards, methods and technology available. Of course, this is one in a million cases. In the US, the most common cases that require investigation are related to Family Law. It is very important that the investigators be as sensitive and alert when it comes to dealing with family issues, as they need to be when a child is missing.



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