The Lindbergh Kidnapping
And More Theories
The literature that exists on the Lindbergh case is overwhelming. Part of this is caused by the sheer size of the volumes produced, very few being less than four hundred pages in length. In addition, there are a number of biographies of Charles Lindbergh, all of which devote a good portion of their discussions of his life to the events of 1932 to 1936. Finally, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were authors in their own right, Mrs. Lindbergh's diaries contributing significantly to the years surrounding the Lindbergh case.
There have been several television documentaries on the Lindbergh case. In 1982, Ludovic Kennedy, later an author of two books about the case, wrote and narrated Who killed the Lindbergh baby? for the BBC. In 1989, Edwin Newman narrated Reliving the Lindbergh Case, a PBS program produced by New Jersey Network. The best known of the Lindbergh docudramas, and available on video, is The Lindbergh Case: Is History's Verdict Wrong?, which was produced on NBC in 1976. It featured Anthony Hopkins as Hauptmann. Mrs. Hauptmann made a number of television appearances in the last years of her life, the last being in 1992 on A Current Affair segment, entitled "A Half-Century of Heartache."
A number of novels have been published that are either about the Lindbergh kidnapping case, or use it as a plot device. Two are mentioned in the bibliography. The most famous fictional use of the case is Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I have found references to two plays. The first, Lindbergh and Hauptmann: The Trial of the Century, written by Harry Kazman, is a reenactment of the trial. The second, written by John Logan, is entitled simply Hauptmann, and got as far as Off-Broadway.
For the most part, the biographies do not venture into the controversy about Hauptmann's guilt or innocence, but report rather straight-forwardly the events during the period of the kidnapping, murder, and trial.
There is one work, The Lindbergh Case, by Jim Fisher, that stands alone in its comprehensiveness as the argument for Hauptmann's guilt. The other books on the case are of two types: either they argue that Hauptmann was not the kidnapper or murderer, and that he was railroaded by a zealous justice system, without identifying the "real" murderer, or they are complex accounts that "prove" that some other named individual is the culprit.
The next section summarizes these theories and their variants. Many of these books are either still in print, readily available in second-hand bookstores, or on the shelves of local libraries. The books published in the Thirties are more difficult to obtain, although much of their contents are described in more current works. The bibliographical information for each is given. I have examined about two-thirds of the twenty-five or so major works listed in this section and in the bibliography.
I have assigned, on a scale of one to ten, my judgment as to the credibility of each theory.
Proposition One: Hauptmann was the kidnapper and murderer
1) Waller, George. 1961. Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case. Dial.
Waller's book is one of the first comprehensive works after the 1930s that discusses the case objectively, without raising conspiracy theories. Waller did not have the complete Lindbergh archives of the New Jersey State Police available, but as a straightforward accounting of the case, it is excellent.
Credibility Score: 9
2) Fisher, Jim. 1994. The Lindbergh Case. Rutgers University Press.
This is a well-documented account of the case, using the primary documents that are available for examination in the Lindbergh Case Archives at the New Jersey State Police Headquarters, West Trenton, N.J.
Fisher constructs a case for the guilt of Hauptmann, emphasizing the three crucial areas of circumstantial evidence: the handwriting evidence, the ladder, and the money found in Hauptmann's garage. He disputes the claims of several other authors in a new preface written for the softcover edition of his book —the original hardback appeared in 1987 —and marshals arguments that their conspiracy theories neglect much of the evidence.
If Fisher has any weakness in his presentation, it is in his use of Condon's book as a source of information in describing the events of the turning over of the ransom. "Jafsie" is so intent on characterizing himself as a selfless hero that much of what he wrote cannot be believed. Still, the overblown descriptions of Condon do not detract from the sense that Fisher has been careful in his research and analysis.
Credibility Score: 9
3) Biographies of Lindbergh: Hixson, Milton, Davis, Mosley, Ross (see Bibliography)
Lindbergh's biographers necessarily devote a portion of their books to the kidnapping and the trial. All those that I have surveyed report the events dispassionately, and assume that Hauptmann was guilty.
Proposition Two: The Conspiracy Theories
1) Ahlgren, Greg, and Monier, Stephen R. 1993. Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax. Brandon Publishing Company.
This work claims that Lindbergh killed his own son while "horsing around," and then buried the child in a shallow grave. In order to cover up the accident, he invented the kidnapping. This theory requires a minimum number of five conspirators, perhaps many more.
Credibility Score: 1
2) Jones, Wayne D. 1997. Murder of Justice. Vantage Press.
This interminably long work summarizes the various conspiracy theories of Ahlgren and Monier, Kennedy, Behn, and Scaduto, arguing that Hauptmann was railroaded by a zealous justice system in its mad pursuit to close this sensational case. If one didn't want to read the other four or five books, all of which are at least entertaining, this is an available, somewhat demented, summary.
Credibility Score: 2
3) Kennedy, Ludovic. 1985. The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann.
Kennedy does not name the murderer, but he implicates Isador Fisch. Mostly, he argues that the entire case was a cover-up, with perjured testimony and manufactured evidence. He is particularly sympathetic to Hauptmann, and paints him as a well intentioned, caring husband and father.
Credibility Score: 4
4) Scaduto, Anthony. 1976. Scapegoat: The Lonesome Death of Bruno Richard Hauptmann. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
This is the first of the well-known conspiracy books. Scaduto presents the argument that not only was Hauptmann railroaded, but that the actual kidnapper and murderer was Paul Wendel. Scaduto relied a great deal on Mrs. Hauptmann, who later disavowed him, and one of Ellis Parker's accomplices, Murray Bleefeld, still alive at the time Scaduto was writing his book. His entire premise rests on the believability of Bleefeld, and a nifty massaging of the evidence.
Credibility Score: 2
5) Behn, Noel. 1994. Lindbergh: The Crime. NAL-Dutton.
This is a variation of the Ahlgren and Monier book, only Behn claims that the most likely culprit was Anne Morrow Lindbergh's older sister, Elisabeth. Elisabeth, crazed with jealousy over her loss of the Lone Eagle to her younger sister, killed the baby in a fit of rage. In order to avoid family scandal, Lindbergh covered up the murder. Elisabeth died about a year later. While the writing is quite good, and the accounting of the facts of the crime reasonably complete, Behn has no evidence for his theory, and admits to its speculative character.
A number of comprehensive biographies of Lindbergh have been published (see Bibliography), but the most recent is probably the most reliable, having been based on all of the papers of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It is Lindbergh, by A. Scott Berg (Putnam, 1998). It is a straightforward biographical treatment, very well documented, and without authorial interpretrations. Berg's account of the kidnapping is objective, relates the facts accurately, and does not propose theories. Without white-washing Lindbergh the hero, it presents a much more incisive view of this strange and interesting personality.