Bruno Richard Hauptmann (November 26, 1899 - April 3, 1936) was a German criminal who was convicted and executed for the abduction and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh kidnapping became known as "The Crime of the Century."
Hauptmann was born in Kamenz in the German Empire, the youngest of five children. He had three brothers and a sister. At age 11, he joined the Boy Scouts (Pfadfinderbund). Hauptmann attended public school (Realschule), but quit at the age of 14. He then worked during the day while attending trade school (Gewerbeschule) at night, studying carpentry for the first year, then switching to machine building (Maschinenschlosser) for the next two years.
In 1917, Hauptmann's father died. The same year, Hauptmann learned his brother Herman had been killed fighting in France in World War I. Not long after that, he was informed that his brother Max was now dead too, having fallen in Russia. Shortly thereafter, Hauptmann was conscripted and assigned to the artillery.
Upon receiving his orders, he was sent to Bautzen, but was transferred to the 103rd Infantry Replacement Regiment upon his arrival. In 1918, Hauptmann was assigned to the 12th Machine Gun Company at Königsbrück. Hauptmann would claim that he was deployed to Western France with the 177th Regiment of Machine Gunners in either August or September 1918 then fought in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Hauptmann would also say he was gassed in either September or October 1918. He also claimed that while his position was being shelled, he was hit in the helmet with a piece of metal. According to him, this knocked him out for hours, and he was left for dead. When he came to, he crawled back to safety and was back to the machine guns that evening. After the war, Hauptmann and a friend robbed two women wheeling baby carriages they were using to transport food on the road between Wiesa and Nebelschütz. The friend wielded Hauptmann's army pistol during the commission of this crime. Hauptmann's other charges include burglarizing a mayor's house (using a ladder). Released after three years in prison, he was arrested three months later on suspicion of further burglaries.
Hauptmann illegally entered the U.S. by stowing away on a liner. Landing in New York in September 1923, the 24-year-old Hauptmann was taken in by a member of the established German community and worked as a carpenter. He married a German waitress in 1925 and became a father eight years later.
Hauptmann was slim and of medium height, but broad shouldered. His eyes were described as being small and deep-set.
Lindbergh believed Hauptmann must have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of his son. He remarked that Hauptmann was magnificently built but had eyes like a wild boar.
The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. occurred on the evening of March 1, 1932. A man was believed to have climbed up a ladder that was placed under the bedroom window of the child's room and quietly snatched the infant by wrapping him in a blanket. A note demanding a ransom of $50,000 was left on the radiator that formed a windowsill for the room. The ransom was delivered, but the infant was not returned. A corpse identified as the boy's was found on May 12, 1932, in the woods 4 miles (6.4 km) from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was listed as a blow to the head. It has never been determined whether the head injury was accidental or deliberate; some have theorized that the fatal injury occurred accidentally during the abduction. During the opening to the jury in the trial, New Jersey Attorney General David Wilentz claimed the child died by a fall from the ladder. However during the state's summation, Wilentz would claim the child was killed in the nursery after having been hit in the head with the chisel found at the scene. This material variance in theory as to both the location and cause of death by the state was one of the major points included in Hauptmann's appeal process.
More than two years after the abduction, authorities finally discovered a promising lead in the form of recent ransom notes which appeared to be the work of the very same individual. Soon this information was leaked to the press, which sought verification that the police were closing in on the kidnapper or kidnappers.
Then, on September 17, 1934, a $10 gold certificate that was part of the ransom was given to a gas station attendant as payment. Gold certificates were rapidly being withdrawn from circulation; to see one was unusual and, in this case, attracted attention. The attendant wrote down the license plate number of the car and gave it to the police. The New York license plate belonged to a dark blue Dodge sedan owned by Hauptmann. After successfully tracing the plate to Hauptmann, he was placed under surveillance by a team consisting of members of the New York Police Department, New Jersey State Police, and the FBI.
On the morning of September 19, 1934, the team followed Hauptmann as he left his apartment on Needham Avenue and East 222nd Street in the Bronx, but were quickly noticed. As a result, Hauptmann attempted to get away by ignoring red lights and traveling at high speed. As the chase continued, Hauptmann was accidentally boxed in by a municipal sprinkler truck between 178th Street and East Tremont Avenue. Hauptmann was placed in handcuffs.
The trial attracted widespread media attention and was dubbed the "Trial of the Century." Hauptmann was also named "The Most Hated Man in the World." The trial was held in Flemington, New Jersey, and ran from January 2 to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry S. Breckinridge was Lindbergh's lawyer throughout the case and had acted as an intermediary in the ransom negotiations, assisted by Robert H. Thayer. On discovering his child was missing, Lindbergh had phoned Breckinridge before calling the state police.
Evidence produced against Hauptmann included $14,590 of the ransom money that was found in his garage and testimony alleging handwriting and spelling similarities to that found on the ransom notes. Eight different handwriting experts (Albert S. Osborn, Elbridge W. Stein, John F. Tyrrell, Herbert J. Walter, Harry M. Cassidy, Wilmer T. Souder, Albert D. Osborn, and Clark Sellers) were called by the prosecution to the witness stand, where they pointed out similarities between words and letters in the ransom notes and in Hauptmann's writing specimens (which included documents written before he was arrested, such as automobile registration applications). One expert (John M. Trendley) was called by the defense to rebut this evidence, while two others (Samuel C. Malone and Arthur P. Meyers) declined to testify; the latter two demanded $500 for their services before even looking at the notes and were promptly dismissed when defense lawyer Fisher declined. Others who claimed expertise (Goodspeed, Braunlich, Foster, Farr, and Thielen) were also retained by the defense. They were told they would testify but, much to their dismay, were never called to the stand by lead attorney Reilly.
Also presented was the handmade ladder used in the kidnapping, along with forensic testimony by Arthur Koehler, chief wood technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory. Koehler had, earlier in the investigation and prior to Hauptmann's arrest, written a report that the ladder's "Rail 16" had probably originated from the interior of a building, possibly an attic, due to the fact there was no rust in the nail holes or discoloration around the heads. Koehler asserted this was evidence it had not been exposed to the weather. Koehler would testify at the trial that Rail 16 matched a part of a board (S-226) from Hauptmann's attic floor which had a missing piece.
Other evidence included Dr. Condon's address and telephone number, which were found written on the inside of one of Hauptmann's closets (Condon had delivered the ransom). Additionally, a hand-drawn sketch which Wilentz suggested was that of a ladder was found in one of Hauptmann's notebooks (S-261). Hauptmann said this picture, along with various other sketches contained therein, had been the work of a child who had drawn in it.
Despite not having an obvious source of employment, he had enough money to purchase a $400 radio (nearly $7,000 today) and to send his wife on a trip to Germany (the purpose of the trip being to see whether Hauptmann would be arrested for having committed earlier crimes there).
Hauptmann was positively identified as the man to whom the ransom money was delivered. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates, that he had been seen in the area of the estate in East Amwell, New Jersey near Hopewell on the day of the kidnapping, and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment and quit his job two days later.
Hauptmann denied being guilty, insisting the box found to contain gold certificates had been left in his garage by a friend named Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Germany in December 1933 and died there in March 1934. Taking the witness stand, Hauptmann claimed that he had found a shoe box left behind by Fisch, which Hauptmann had stored on the top shelf of a kitchen broom closet, later discovering the money which, upon counting, added up to $15,000. He further claimed that since Fisch owed him around $7,500 in business funds, Hauptmann claimed the money for himself. A ledger was found in Hauptmann's home of all his financial transactions; yet, no record of the alleged $7,500 debt was listed.
Hauptmann's defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, called Hauptmann's wife Anna to the witness stand to corroborate the Fisch story. But upon cross-examination by chief prosecutor David T. Wilentz, she was forced to admit that while she hung her apron every day on a hook higher than the top shelf, she could not remember seeing any shoe box there. Later, rebuttal witnesses testified that Fisch could not have been at the scene of the crime, and that he had no money for medical treatments when he died in Germany of tuberculosis. Fisch's landlady testified that he could barely afford his $3.50-a-week room. Various witnesses called by Reilly to put Fisch near the Lindbergh house on the night of the kidnapping were discredited in cross-examination with incidents from their pasts, which included criminal records or mental instability.
In his closing summation, Reilly argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial, as no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder, the ransom notes, or anywhere in the nursery.
Hauptmann was convicted and immediately sentenced to death by Judge Trenchard who set the date for the week of March 18, 1935.
The Hauptmann Defense appealed to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals which, as a result, delayed the execution. An appeal was argued on June 20, 1935. Supplemental briefs were filed on July 15, and the appeal was denied on October 9, 1935.
New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman secretly visited Hauptmann in his death row cell on the evening of October 16, 1935, with Anna Bading, a stenographer and fluent speaker of German. Hoffman urged members of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state's highest court, to visit Hauptmann.
In late January 1936, while clearly stating he held no position on the guilt or innocence of Hauptmann, Governor Hoffman cited evidence the crime was not a "one person" job. He then directed Col. Schwarzkopf to continue a thorough and impartial investigation into the kidnapping in an effort to bring all parties involved to justice.
As time was quickly running out for Hauptmann, it became known among the press that on March 27, Governor Hoffman was considering a second reprieve of his death sentence, but was actively seeking advice concerning the legality of his right as governor to do so.
On March 30, 1936, Hauptmann's second and final application asking for clemency from the New Jersey Board of Pardons was denied. The Governor would later announce this decision would be the final legal action in the case, and that he would not grant another reprieve. However, a postponement in the execution would occur once again when the Mercer County Grand Jury, investigating the confession and arrest of Paul Wendel, requested Warden Mark Kimberling for a delay. This final stay would come to an end when the Mercer County Prosecutor informed Kimberling the Grand Jury had adjourned after voting to discontinue its investigation concerning Wendel without any complaint charging him with murder.
On April 3, 1936 at 8:47 p.m., Hauptmann was executed in "Old Sparky", the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison. Hauptmann's last meal consisted of coffee, milk, celery, olives, salmon salad, corn fritters, sliced cheese, fruit salad, and cake. Reporters present at the execution reported that he went to the electric chair without saying a word. He had addressed his last words to his spiritual advisor, Rev. James Matthiesen, minutes prior to being taken from his cell to the death chamber. He reportedly said, "Ich bin absolut unschuldig an den Verbrechen, die man mir zur Last legt", which Matthiesen told Gov. Hoffman meant "I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened."
After the execution, Hauptmann's widow applied for and received the special permission that was required to take her husband's body out of state so that it could be cremated at the U.S. crematory (also called the Fresh Pond Crematory) in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, New York. The memorial service there was religious (two Lutheran pastors conducted the service in German) and private (under New Jersey law, public services were not permitted for felons, and Anna Hauptmann had agreed to this as a condition of receiving her husband's body) and was attended by only six people (the legal limit under New Jersey rules), but a crowd of over 2,000 gathered outside. Hauptmann's widow had planned to return to Germany with the ashes.
In the later part of the 20th century, the case against Hauptmann came under serious scrutiny. For instance, one item of evidence at his trial was a scrawled phone number on a board in his closet, which was the number of the man who delivered the ransom, Dr. John F. Condon. A juror at the trial said this was the one item that convinced him the most, but a reporter later admitted he had written the number himself. It is also alleged that the eyewitnesses who placed Hauptmann at the Lindbergh estate near the time of the crime were untrustworthy (including one legally blind man who had claimed to have seen Hauptmann near the Lindbergh home), and that neither Lindbergh nor the go-between who delivered the ransom initially identified Hauptmann as the recipient.
In fact, Condon, after seeing Hauptmann in a lineup at New York Police Department Greenwich Street Station told FBI Special Agent Turrou that Hauptmann was not "John," the man to whom Condon claimed he passed the ransom money to in St. Raymond's Cemetery. He further stated that Hauptmann looked different (such as he had different eyes, was heavier, had different hair) and that "John" was actually dead because he had been murdered by his confederates.
From a distance, while waiting in a car, Lindbergh heard the voice of "John" calling to Condon during the ransom dropoff but never saw him. Although he testified before the Bronx grand jury that he heard only the words "hey doc" and that it would be very difficult to say he could pick a man by his voice, he identified Hauptmann's as having the same voice during his trial in Flemington. The police beat Hauptmann while in custody at the Greenwich Street Station.
It has also been alleged that certain witnesses were intimidated, and some claim that the police planted or doctored evidence such as the ladder. There are also allegations that the police doctored Hauptmann's time cards and ignored fellow workers who stated that Hauptmann was working the day of the kidnapping. These and other findings prompted J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI to question the manner in which the investigation and the trial were conducted. Hauptmann's widow campaigned until the end of her life to have her husband's conviction reversed.
Erastus Mead Hudson was a fingerprint expert who knew the then-rare silver nitrate process of collecting fingerprints from wood and other surfaces, on which the previous powder method had been used would not work. He found that Hauptmann's fingerprints were not on the wood, even in places that the man who made the ladder must have touched. Upon reporting this to a police officer and stating that they must look further, the officer said, "Good God, don't tell us that, Doctor!" The ladder was then washed of all fingerprints, and Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., the superintendent of the New Jersey Police, refused to make it public that Hauptmann's prints were not on the ladder.
Several books have been written proclaiming Hauptmann's innocence. These books variously criticize the police for allowing the crime scenes to become contaminated, Lindbergh and his associates for interfering with the investigation, Hauptmann's trial lawyers for ineffectively representing him, and the reliability of the witnesses and physical evidence presented at the trial. British journalist Ludovic Kennedy in particular questioned much of the evidence, such as the origin of the ladder and the testimony of many of the witnesses. Another book on the case, A Talent to Deceive by British investigative writer William Norris, not only declares Hauptmann's innocence, but also accuses Lindbergh of a cover-up of the killer's true identity. The book incriminates Dwight Morrow, Jr., Lindbergh's brother-in-law.
The television show "Forensic Files" on Court TV asked modern forensic scientists to reexamine two key pieces of evidence against Hauptmann. Kelvin Keraga concluded that the ladder used in the kidnapping was made from wood that had previously been part of Hauptmann's attic. Three forensic document examiners, Grant Sperry, Gideon Epstein, and Peter E. Baier, PhD, worked independently of each other. Sperry concluded that it was "highly probable" that the kidnapper's notes were written by Hauptmann. Epstein concluded that "there was overwhelming evidence that the notes were written by one person and that one person was Richard Bruno Hauptmann." Baier wrote that Hauptmann "probably" wrote the notes but said, "Looking at all these findings no definite and unambiguous conclusion can be drawn."
For more than fifty years, Hauptmann's widow fought with the New Jersey courts to have the case re-opened, without success. In 1982, the 82-year-old Anna Hauptmann sued the State of New Jersey, various former police officers, the Hearst newspapers that had published pre-trial articles insisting on Hauptmann's guilt, and former prosecutor David T. Wilentz (then 86) for over $100 million in wrongful-death damages. She claimed that the newly-discovered documents proved misconduct by the prosecution and manufacture of evidence by government agents, all of whom were biased against Hauptmann because he happened to be of German ethnicity. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court refused her request that the federal judge considering the case be disqualified because of judicial bias, and in 1984 the judge dismissed her claims.
In 1985, over 23,000 pages of Hauptmann-case police documents were found in the garage of the late Governor Hoffman. These documents, along with 34,000 pages of FBI files, which, although discovered in 1981, had not been disclosed to the public, represented a windfall of previously undisclosed information. As a direct result of this new evidence, Anna Hauptmann again amended her civil complaint on July 14, 1986, to clear her late husband's name by continuing to assert that he was "framed from beginning to end" by the police looking for a suspect. Among her allegations were suggestions that the rail of the ladder taken from the attic, where they used to live in 1935, was planted by the police and that the ransom money was left behind by Isidor Fisch, who was possibly the real kidnapper. In 1990, New Jersey's governor, James Florio, declined her appeal for a meeting to clear Bruno Hauptmann's name. Anna Hauptmann died on October 10, 1994.
In 1974, Anthony Scaduto wrote Scapegoat, which took the position that Hauptmann was framed and that the police both withheld and fabricated evidence. This led to further investigation, and in 1985, Ludovic Kennedy published The Airman and the Carpenter, in which he argued that Hauptmann had not kidnapped and murdered Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. The book was made into a 1996 television film Crime of the Century, starring Stephen Rea and Isabella Rossellini.
Not all modern authors agree with these theories. Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, has written two books on the subject, The Lindbergh Case (1987) and The Ghosts of Hopewell (1999) to address, at least in part, what he calls a "revision movement." In these texts, he explains in detail the evidence against Hauptmann. He provides an interpretation discussing both the pros and cons of that evidence. His conclusion is summarized as follows: "Today, the Lindbergh phenomena is a giant hoax perpetrated by people who are taking advantage of an uninformed and cynical public. Notwithstanding all of the books, TV programs, and legal suits, Hauptmann is as guilty today as he was in 1932 when he kidnapped and killed the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lindbergh."