Today in History: Lindbergh Baby Is Found Dead (1932)

Today in History: Lindbergh Baby Is Found Dead (1932)

Matthew Weber - May 12, 2017

Perhaps one of the most enduring crime stories of the 20th century is the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the 20-month-old child of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.

On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh jr. was kidnapped from his family’s New Jersey home. The investigation and search for the young Lindbergh child that followed lasted for nearly two months. On May 12, 1932, the boy’s body was found dumped off the side of the highway just a couple of miles from his home. Investigators later discovered that he had been killed the same night he had been stolen from his crib.

Today in History: Lindbergh Baby Is Found Dead (1932)
Charles Lindbergh, Jr. New York Times

The kidnapper left two notes over the period of a month, once when the baby was taken, and again a month later. The first asked for $50,000, the next asked for $70,000. The person didn’t tell the Lindbergh family where to take the money until another note was delivered on April 2, 1932. The family paid the ransom.

The kidnappers indicated that the baby was on a ship off the coast of Massachusetts named Nelly, but a search found no such ship and no sign of baby Charles.

The immediate response to the kidnapping brought it thousands of volunteers. Charles Lindbergh was very popular at the time, as he had completed a flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. He was considered a national hero by many, so when his son was reported kidnapped, the nation went into a frenzy, and people from all over came to help search.

Around May 11, 1932, a renewed search took place around the Lindbergh mansion but came up empty. It was a day later when a trucker pulled to the side of a road a couple of miles from the mansion and discovered the body of baby Charles.

Today in History: Lindbergh Baby Is Found Dead (1932)
Newspaper headline the day after Charles Lindbergh Jr. was found. NY Daily News

By tracking the ransom money, the police were eventually able to arrest the murderer of the boy in September 1934. His name was Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an immigrant from Germany with a criminal record. After his arrest, they found nearly $14,000 of the ransom money in his home.

The furor around the trial of Hauptmann was huge. Hauptmann claimed that the money had been left by a friend named Isidor Fisch, who had conveniently died in March 1934. However, the police were able to find a lot of additional evidence in Hauptmann’s home, including a sketch of a ladder that was similar to the one used to abduct baby Charles, along with the name and telephone number of the negotiator that the Lindbergh’s used to facilitate the ransom transfer.

Even today, the trial that followed is sometimes considered “The Trial of the Century.” Only the trial of O.J. Simpson came close to garnering similar attention. Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to death. He died in the electric chair on April 3, 1936.

The amount of attention the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby garnered was huge, and it remains a story that almost everyone in the United States is familiar with, even 80 years later.