I went through a period in my 20s (my 20s, not the 20s; I’m not that old) where I got interested in the Lindberghs. I’m not sure now how it began but, over a short period of time, I read all of the diaries written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, another book by her called Gift from the Sea, the original book about Charles’ flight to Paris called WE, The Spirit of St. Louis (a broader story about the same flight), The Wartime Journals of C.A.L., Lindbergh Alone by Brendan Gill, and The Last Hero, Charles A. Lindbergh by Walter S. Ross.
Since then, I’ve read many other books about Lindbergh and at least one other by him. Anne became a navigator and accompanied him on many flights, including one in a pontoon plane called Sirius (after the star) which I saw on display at the Smithsonian in Washington back in the 70s. Together, they were an interesting, adventurous pair, travelling around the globe, mapping routes, and breaking new ground in aviation.
The one book that touched me the most of everything I read was Anne’s diary, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. Just as they were settling down, building a home, raising a family, terror struck: their first child, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., was stolen from his bedroom. Because of Charles’ fame, many levels of police were involved and when evidence was found that the baby was taken across state lines, the F.B.I. got involved which was a precedent and became law. Also, because of their high profile, the media was also very involved.
There was a series of ransom notes received and ransom money paid, but no return of the child. There were many leads offered which went nowhere. Eventually, the truth revealed that the baby had almost certainly been dead before the kidnapper got down the ladder from his second story window. There was a mark on the wall of the house and the ladder used was lying on the ground with a broken rung. The baby’s body was finally found 2 1/2 months later, half buried under leaves and badly decomposed, still in his blanket, less than 5 miles from their home. It was a tragedy that unfolded in the world press and was soon called the “crime of the century”.
Of several other books I read, there is only one that I own: The Airman & the Carpenter by Ludovic Kennedy. I remember I read one that compiled all the evidence presented by the FBI at the trial of the man eventually arrested for the kidnapping, Bruno Richard Hauptmann. Police had found marked bills from the ransom in his home and garage; handwriting analysis concluded he had written the ransom notes. But the ladder was the main thing. Woodgrains from the ladder were matched to woodgrains from wood in Hauptmann’s garage. There were many photos showing how the wood matched up, that it came from the same mill, and was cut by the same saw.
The trial was a media circus. (A photographer even broke into the city morgue through a window to try to take a photo of the baby’s corpse.) Lindbergh was a man torn apart: he wanted to see someone punished, but he wanted it to be the right person. He sat through the entire trial, start to finish, evaluating the evidence, and trying to determine the truth. Hauptmann was electrocuted on April 3, 1936, in the state of New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, the Lindberghs relocated to England in an attempt to remove themselves from the public eye and establish safety for themselves and their future family.
Why do I bring this up now? Richard T. Cahill, Jr., after 20 years of research, is presenting his findings in a book called, Hauptmann’s Ladder: A Step-By-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping. According to the publisher, Kent State University Press, Cahill,
“presents conclusions based upon facts and documentary evidence . . . painstakingly presenting a chronological reconstruction of the crime and its aftermath . . . debunks false claims and explodes outrageous theories, while presenting evidence never before revealed. [He] restores and preserves the truth of the crime of the century.”
There have been many books written over the years; many of them have contained some quite outlandish theories about the case and most have not documented their so-called evidence. Some have insisted Hauptmann was framed by one or more of the police investigators. Most of their theories have been rejected by readers and law enforcement agencies alike. This one sounds like it might be different. I guess I’m not quite done reading about the Lindberghs.