The Trial of the Century
Charles Lindbergh Jr., twenty months old, was kidnapped on the evening of March 1, 1932. The police arrived and searched the grounds. A carpenter's chisel was found near ladder impressions under the nursery window, and less than a hundred feet away a wooden extension ladder lay on the ground in three sections, one of which was broken.
Inside the nursery was an envelope containing a note that said:
Have 50000$ redy with 25 000 $ in 20 $ bills 1.5000 $ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5 $ bills. After 2-4 days we will inform you were to deliver the Mony.
We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police the child is in gut care.
Indication for all letters are singnature and 3 holes."
At the bottom right-hand corner of the sheet of paper was a drawing of two interlocking blue circles, each an inch in diameter. The penny-size area where the circles intersected had been colored red, and three small holes had been punched into the design, at the left, right, and center, about an inch apart.
On March 5, a second ransom letter scolded Lindbergh for involving the police, and upped the ransom demand to $70,000. The same symbol of interlocking circles was at the bottom.
In all, fourteen such notes would be received over the course of the investigation. They were signed with the same symbol and often contained the same misspellings and grammatical errors. The handwriting also looked the same, and the same type of paper was used. One note agreed on a go-between, John F. Condon, and another gave instructions for the type of box that must be made for delivery of the money.
Condon went to a cemetery to meet the man, but he did not take any money. He insisted on a token of proof, and soon the baby's sleeping suit arrived to the Lindbergh home. Attached was a note:
Dear Sir: Ouer man faill to collect the mony. There are no more confidential conference after we meeting from March 12. Those arrangemts to hazardous for us. We will note allow ouer man to confer in a way like befor. circumstance will note allow us to make transfer like you wish It is impossibly for us. wy shuld we move the baby and face danger. to take another person to the place is entirely out of question. It seems you are afraid if we are the rigth party and if the baby is allright. Well you have ouer singnature. It is always the same as the first one specialy them 3 holes.
On the reverse side was:
Now we will send you the sleeping suit from the baby besides it means 3$ extra expenses because we have to pay another one, please tel Mrs. Lindbergh note to worry the baby is well. we only have to give him more food as the diet says.
You are willing to pay the 70000 note 50000 $ without seeing the baby first or note. let us know about that in the New York-American. We can't do it other ways because we don't like to give up ouer safty plase or to move the baby. If you are willing to accept this deal, put these in paper.
I accept mony is redy.
Ouer program is:
After 8 houers we have the mony received we will notify you where to find the baby. If there is any trapp, you will be responsible what will follow.
With the help of the IRS, two packages of bills were made, both containing gold certificates currency that was still based on the gold standard. The prescribed box contained $50,000, and a second package contained the additional $20,000. The bills were not marked but the serial numbers had been secretly recorded, and the smaller package contained large bills that would be easy to spot. They were also issued in gold certificates because an agent of the IRS suggested that the country would soon be going off the gold standard, and all such bills would be called in. Thus, these bills would be "plants."
On March 31, Condon received instructions about the exchange. Yet when he handed over the money, all he got was another note:
"The boy is on the Boad Nelly. It is a small boad 28 feet long. Two persons are on the boad. The are innosent. you will find the Boad between Horseneck Beach and gay Head near Elizabeth Island."
Lindbergh searched for this elusive boat, while the Treasury Department distributed the serial numbers of the ransom money to area banks. The baby was not found and Lindbergh finally returned home.
On May 12, 1932, at 3:15, a truck driver, William Allen, stopped on Princeton-Hopewell Road about one-half mile outside Mount Rose. He walked into the woods about seventy feet and saw the skull of what looked like a child, with one leg sticking up out of the ground. The cause of death was a massive fracture of the skull. Lindbergh identified the child from the clothing as his son, and had the remains cremated.
All of the ransom and instruction notes were sent to several analysts, who all concluded that they had been written by the same person. The misspellings were consistent, as were the odd inversion of some letters like g and h, and there were references in some to earlier notes or events. The holes in the symbol had been punched by the same instrument. The letters had been written on the same kind of paper with the same ink. The nationality, inferred from the phraseology, was probably German. One expert, Albert S. Osborn, the author of Questioned Documents, composed a paragraph for police to use to get suspects to write out certain words that could be compared with the notes, using words like 'our,' 'place,' and 'money.' The paragraph had to be dictated, not copied.
Finally, on September 15, 1934, a gas station manager turned in the license plate for a man who had used a gold certificate to pay for gas. The car belonged to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, and a search of his home turned up more of the ransom money.
Hauptmann maintained that a man named Isador Fisch had given him the money before departing for Germany, where he had died. No one believed him and he was arrested. He was asked to provide samples of his handwriting, as well as to copy the ransom notes as closely as possible. He was made to write over and over, for hours, until he fell asleep at the table from exhaustion.
He wrote his statement seven times, believing that writing would get him out of the mess. Nine sheets of dictated writing were taken to Albert Osborn's son, Albert D. Osborn, although police claimed that it was obvious that in the early stages Hauptmann had tried to disguise his writing. He had been required to write with three different pens, with some samples written upright and some slanted in others words, he was asked to write in many different ways. The end result was that there were more discrepancies between some of his writing samples than between his samples and the ransom notes.
Osborn spent fifteen minutes going over the statements, unconvinced that this was the writer of the ransom notes, but he kept some samples for further analysis. The police then forced Hauptmann to write more statements and told him to spell certain words in the way they dictated. "I was told to write it exactly as it was dictated to me," he said, "and this included writing words spelled as I was told to spell them." (In Hauptmann's other writings, such as letters, he does not misspell these words.)
He was also told to copy the composite statements. He was also told to copy photostats of the ransom notes, although this is improper protocol. One officer later noted that he had to work hard to replicate them. At no time was he offered the services of a lawyer.
Osborn called during the middle of all of this and said there were too many dissimilarities between the writer and the ransom notes. Offered more specimens, he said it would not change his opinion. The next day, while the father and son team studied the notes, along with specimens from Hauptmann's house, the police unearthed a large cache of ransom money hidden in Hauptmann's garage. This information was conveyed to the Osborns, which meant that if they did not match the notes, and the police actually did have the kidnapper in custody, they would look incompetent. They had spent two hours unable to find much but a few similarities, and they had found many divergences. Yet less than an hour after they learned about the money, they identified Hauptmann as the author of the ransom notes.
According to some of the analysis, Hauptmann had a peculiar way of writing 'x' and 't.' He also wrote "not" as "note," using an open 'o' and an uncrossed 't,' and wrote 'the' in a strangely illegible manner. The most telling evidence is a diagnosis of Hauptmann suffering from agraphia the peculiar "tic" of adding unnecessary 'e's onto various words, evident in the notes and at times in his own letters.
However, one handwriting expert who saw exemplars from Fisch said that Fisch wrote the ransom notes. There was also a statement by a witness to the effect that Fisch was seen near the Lindbergh home a short time before the kidnapping, which corroborated Hauptmann's "Fisch" story.
The Hauptmann trial took place in the county seat, Flemington, New Jersey at the Hunterdon County Courthouse. During the trial, Albert Osborn and his son gave damaging testimony. (Many years later one of them demonstrated his "expertise" by erroneously identifying the forgeries of Clifford Irving as the handwriting of Howard Hughes.)
Notably, an expert who was convinced that Hauptmann did not write the ransom notes was not allowed to testify. Hilda Z. Braunlich was a European handwriting expert, and she believed that the ransom notes had been overwritten with changes that amounted to forgery. She told this to the defense attorney and claims he ordered her to leave the state. Also, the police had cleared Hauptmann's home of his writings, so the defense was unable to offer specimens to show that his personal writings did not match the ransom notes.
The state's handwriting experts, along with other evidence, convinced the jury that Hauptmann was guilty of kidnap and murder, and he was sentenced and executed.
Besides examining handwriting or a typewriter, the analysis of questioned documents has branched off into other areas, and one of the most promising appears to be attributional analysis.