The Theft of the Eaglet
The child's body was face downward, covered with leaves and insects. It was little more than a skeleton, the outline of a form in a dark, murky heap of rotting vegetation. The left leg was missing from the knee down, as were the left hand and right arm. Most of its organs were gone, scavenged by the animal life dwelling in the wooded area. It had decomposed so completely that it was not possible at first to determine whether it was a boy or a girl. The cause of death was a massive fracture of the skull. The body had been left to the elements for two to three months. Less than twenty-four hours later, and an hour after it had been identified as Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. by its nurse and father, the remains were cremated. Seventy-three dramatic days of waiting had come to an end.
Now, men and women, as I told you before, there are some cases in which a recommendation of mercy might do, but not this one, not this one. Either this man is the filthiest and vilest snake that ever crawled through the grass, or he is entitled to an acquittal. If you bring in a recommendation of mercy, a wishy- washy decision, yes, it is your province, I will not say a word about it. I will not say another word. But it seems to me that you have the courage. If you are convinced, as all of us are —you must find him guilty of murder in the first degree.
—David T. Wilentz, Attorney General of New Jersey, in his summation to the jury, February 13, 1935.
"Crime of the Century"The Lindbergh case, the "Crime of the Century," is not so much about the kidnapped and murdered child as it is about America's hero, Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly the Atlantic alone, in a small, fragile, one-engine airplane, a feat so venerated that the plane occupies a prominent position in the Air and Space Museum. It is the story of a shy national icon caught in a wave of publicity then unknown in American journalism, now expanded beyond print to include the influential voice of radio. The case remains a memorable crime because it involved not only Lindbergh, the hero, but the accused, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant, convicted and executed, whose guilt to this day, in the minds of many, remains an unanswered question. Like many crimes sustained in our history, the victim becomes less important than the participants. Its immortality is not only in the unresolved question about the accused killer, but in the checkered careers of the victim's father and mother. The father, the "Lone Eagle," spends the rest of his forty years as an appeaser, an isolationist, and an environmentalist.
The mother, a writer and poet, lives on as a shy, private romantic. Legally the case is closed and, although it gave birth to "The Lindbergh Law," which first defined the crime of kidnapping to be a federal offense, it persists in its fascination by its almost mythic nature: A crime against a hero, unresolved, controversial, and in many ways inexplicable.
"Lindbergh is a surprise. There is much more in his face than appears in photographs. He has a fine intellectual forehead, a shy engaging smile, wind-blown hair, a way of tossing his head unhappily, a transparent complexion, thin nervous capable fingers, a loose-jointed shy manner. He looks young with a touch of arrested development. His wife is tiny, shy, timid, retreating, rather interested in books, a tragedy at the corner of her mouth."
This description of Charles A. Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is from the diary of Harold Nicolson, January 5, 1933. Nicolson made his observation while employed by Anne's mother to write a biography of her father, the financier and diplomat, Dwight Morrow, who had died the year before.
At the age of twenty-five, in 1927, Lindbergh was the first man to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. He was acclaimed a national hero and given the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He then embarked on a career of aviation consultant. In 1929, he met the daughters of Dwight Morrow, then Ambassador to Mexico. While he seems to have shyly courted both Elisabeth and Anne Morrow, he married the latter. In 1930 their first child, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., was born.
Lindbergh was unprepared for the attention that accompanied his fame. He and his wife were constantly hounded by the press, and the more reclusive and uncooperative they became, the more intense became the scrutiny of them. Despite his father-in-law's advice to accept the intrusions into his private life, Lindbergh was determined to escape from the tabloid-type journalism —known at the time as "yellow journalism" —as well as the broad coverage that respectable newspapers of the day expended on his and Anne's every movement.
To escape, he built a house on a 390-acre tract in a remote area of New Jersey, near the small town of Hopewell. He and Anne and their child lived at the Morrow estate in Englewood, New Jersey, staying weekends at their recently completed house in Hopewell. Normally, they would return to Englewood on Monday mornings, but, on the last weekend of February, they decided to stay over for another day or two, because the baby had a cold.
On a cold rainy night, March 1, 1932, in the remote rural area near Hopewell, New Jersey, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., twenty months old, was kidnapped. Sometime between 8:00 p.m., when his nurse, Betty Gow, checked on the sleeping baby, and 10:00 p.m., when she once again checked on him before retiring for the night, "The Eaglet" (as the newspapers called him) had been removed from his crib.
The only remembered event that indicated that something had gone amiss was earlier, about 9:00 p.m., while the Lindberghs were sitting in the living room. Col. Lindbergh had heard a noise that sounded as if an orange crate had fallen off a chair in the kitchen.
At 10:25 p.m., Ollie Whately, the Lindbergh caretaker, called the Hopewell Police, and shortly thereafter Col. Lindbergh called the New Jersey State Police. In the cold dark, Lindbergh hunted for signs of the kidnapper, carrying his Springfield rifle. He could see nothing. A number of State Police officers were on the scene, when around midnight their chief, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, arrived to take command.
The impressions of Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf are mixed. He was an army officer in World War I. At the age of twenty-six, he was appointed the first head of the New Jersey State Police, which he designed and ran as a military body. The organization was strong on enforcement, but weak on investigation. His "troops" had military ranks and wore quasi-military uniforms. He was the father of 1991 Desert Storm commander H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.
While he was excluded from much of the planning to connect with the kidnappers, and while much of his advice was over-ruled by Lindbergh and his lawyer, Henry Breckinridge, once the Eaglet's body was discovered in early May, he took charge of the investigation. It was clear that he found it difficult to cooperate with the New York City Police, the FBI, and other investigative units. Lindbergh expressed confidence in him, particularly during the unproductive months that followed the discovery of the child's body, during which time the efforts of the State Police were roundly criticized.
The first of the state police to arrive investigated the outside area. They found footprints in the wet ground below the window, but neglected either to measure them or to make plaster casts of them. There were two deep impressions, presumably made by a ladder. Also, a carpenter's chisel was found near the ladder impressions. Less than a hundred yards away, the ladder, in three sections, was discovered, the bottom section —the widest —was broken. Near a small dirt road, there were tire tracks.
By this time, Lindbergh's lawyer and friend, Henry C. Breckinridge, had arrived. The three colonels (Lindbergh, Breckinridge, and Schwarzkopf) went into the nursery with other officers and Cpl. Frank Kelly, the crime scene and fingerprint man.