The kidnapping of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., the son of world-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was one of the most sensational and highly publicized crimes of the 20th century. The two-year-old was taken from his family home in East Amwell, New Jersey on March 1, 1932. Over two months later, on May 12, 1932, his body was found in Hopewell Township, just a few miles away from the Lindbergh home, dead from a massive skull fracture.
After a two-year investigation, police arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann and charged him with the crime. Hauptmann was tried and found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Still proclaiming his innocence, he was executed on the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison on April 3, 1936.
Because of this crime, Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act, commonly known as the "Lindbergh Law". It made transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime.
At 8:00 PM on March 1932 1st on a cold rainy night, Betty Gow, the Lindbergh family nurse, put 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr., to bed in his crib. Returning two hours later to check on him, she found the crib empty. She checked to see if the baby was with his mother (who had just emerged from a bath), then came down to tell Mr. Lindbergh, who was in the library directly beneath the baby's room. Alarmed, Charles Lindbergh went immediately upstairs to search for his son, who was indeed gone. In the course of his search he found an envelope on the window sill above the radiator.
Lindbergh called police, then took his gun and checked around the house in search of intruders. Twenty minutes later the police arrived with the media in tow, as well as the Lindbergh family lawyer. As the night progressed, police discovered a suspicious tire print in the mud near the house. Widening their search, they discovered three pieces of a crudely-constructed ladder in a nearby bush.
After midnight, a fingerprint expert arrived at the home and examined the note left on the window sill as well as the ladder. Despite the 400 partial fingerprints and some footprints he found on the ladder, nothing was of any investigative value. Nor could he find a single usable fingerprint in the baby's room. The presence of smudges did indicate, however, that the nursery had not been wiped clean.
Solid evidence outside the house was equally hard to come by. Police inspected the ransom note found by Lindbergh. The handwritten letter, riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, read as follows:
Have 50.000$ redy 25 000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ 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 (Symbol to right) and three hohls.
There were two overlapping circles below the message, with holes punched through the red circle and outside the overlapping circles on either side.
The morning after the kidnapping, President Herbert Hoover was informed. Though the case did not present any obvious grounds for federal action (kidnapping was then considered a local crime), Hoover announced that he would "move Heaven and Earth" to recover the missing child. The Bureau of Investigation (later to become the FBI) was authorized to investigate. Officials in New Jersey offered a $25,000 reward for the safe return of "Little Lindy". The Lindberghs put up $50,000.
A few days after the kidnapping, a new ransom letter, postmarked in Brooklyn and determined by authorities to be genuine, came via the mail to the Lindberghs.
A second and then a third ransom letter, also postmarked in Brooklyn, followed shortly. The third letter warned that since the police were now involved, the ransom had been raised to $70,000.
A prominent man named John F. Condon – known as Jafsie (derived phonetically from his initials, "JFC") – came forward to insert himself into unfolding events. In a letter to the Bronx Home News, he offered $1,000 to the kidnappers if they would turn the baby over to a Catholic priest. The kidnappers wrote back, agreeing to accept Condon as their intermediary with the Lindbergh family.
Condon, acting in accordance with the kidnapper's instructions, placed a classified ad in the New York American: "Money is Ready. Jafsie". He then awaited further instructions.
Eventually a late-night meeting between "Jafsie" and a supposed member of the kidnapping group took place at Woodlawn Cemetery. Condon told investigators the man sounded foreign, but because he stayed in the shadows during the encounter he could give no physical description. The man claimed his name was John, and said he was a Scandinavian sailor and part of a gang of three men and two women. The Lindbergh child was being held on a boat, and was supposedly unharmed, but the gang was not yet ready to return him without a ransom payment. When Condon expressed skepticism over whether "John" actually had the baby, John promised to give him proof. He then asked Condon a chilling question: "... would I burn [be put to death], if the package [baby] were dead?"
On March 16, 1932, a package was mailed to John Condon. It contained a toddler's sleeping suit, and another ransom note. Condon showed the clothes to Lindbergh, who identified them as his son's. Condon took out a new ad in the Home News: "Money is ready. No cops. No secret service. I come alone, like last time."
On April 1, 19, 1932, Condon opened a new letter from the kidnappers. They were prepared to take payment.
The ransom was packaged in a custom-made wooden box, in hopes that it could be identified later. The ransom money consisted of gold certificates that were soon to be withdrawn from circulation. Anyone passing large amounts of them would draw attention to themselves and help authorities identify the kidnappers. Although the bills were not marked, their serial numbers were recorded by the Bureau of Internal Revenue Intelligence. On April 2, Condon was handed a note by an anonymous cab driver. At another late-night meeting with "John", Condon told him that they had been able to raise only $50,000. "John" took the money and gave Condon a note, which said the baby was in the care of two women who, supposedly, were innocent bystanders.
On May 12, 1932, delivery driver William Allen pulled his truck to the side of the road in Hopewell Township -- roughly 4.5 miles south of the Lindbergh home. Walking to a grove of trees to relieve himself, he discovered the body of a toddler. Allen notified police.