harles Lindbergh was an American Icon and Aviator. His wife Anne Spencer Morrow Lindbergh was an aviator in her own right, and together, they seemed to have the perfect American life. On March 1, 1932, their 20-month-old son was kidnapped for ransom. The Lindbergh’s paid the ransom, but the kidnappers did not return their son. He was later found deceased only miles from the room he was taken.
Bruno Hauptmann was arrested after the ransom banknotes were traced to him; he was convicted and executed. He never professed his guilt nor revealed any accomplices. The Lindberghs fell out of public favor after they exiled to Europe and expressed praise for Hitler and the Nazis. With all of these explosive details about the case and the Lindberghs themselves, you may be surprised to learn that this is just the tip of the iceberg of surprising and creepy twists in the case.
The Crime Inspired the Classic Mystery: Murder on the Orient Express
Okay, I did know this, but I did not realize one aspect of the book was inspired by Christie’s deduction rather than actual events. Murder on the Orient Express is such an enduring classic. It embodies her career, incorporating her love of traveling on the Orient Express to visit her Husband’s archaeology dig site. On one such trip, her train was stranded for several days. She also pulled on current events to craft the story.
In the book, the family’s name is Armstrong, and Christe changed the baby’s gender to female. But the parents were aviators, and the child was killed and not returned for ransom. The most striking similarity for Christie fans is that the book’s unsympathetic victim (and Armstrong’s kidnapping mastermind), Lanfranco Cassetti (also known as Samuel Ratchet), was born in Italy and a foreigner. According to Robert Zorn, a Lindbergh expert, Christie always believed the kidnapper was a foreigner. She was proven correct when German immigrant Richard Hauptmann was suspected in September 1934 after she finished her novel.
The Call Was Coming from Inside the House
The facts of the case initially convinced the police that it was an inside job. The Lindbergh’s had recently changed their travel plans and decided to stay on at Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s parents’ home. The natural conclusion was that someone such as a servant with intimate knowledge of the Lindbergh’s schedule tipped off or was working with the kidnappers as an accomplice.
According to a news article from June 12, 1932, “Lindberg Case: Servant Commits Suicide” in the Sundays Times Perth, WA. Violet Sharp was a servant in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s parents’ house and was repeatably questioned, gave changing stories, and had inside knowledge of the Lindbergh travel plans and movements. It’s also worth noting that Murder on the Orient Express had a similar character but was instead Daisy’s nursery maid. She committed suicide after the child’s murder.
Lindbergh Distorted View on Science and Genetics Could Have Led to His Son’s Death
Kippling, Hitler, Lindbergh. There is something all three of these men believed in, Social Darwinism. Eugenics is the widely disproved practice of Social Darwinism. Unfortunately, the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest mutated and perverted by Social Darwinist to support colonialism, slavery, and ultimately Nazism. To recap the basic principles of evolution, we discuss adaptations of a selected species over many generations to take hold. These adaptations are the fit. Many took fit to mean superior as in western and European superiority. There was also a lack of basic understanding that skin color was a straightforward adaptation based on climate fitness and in no way indicates a separate species.
Proponents of Eugenics argued European and the healthy were superior. The Lindbergh baby’s health is the key to the validity of this theory. According to Steve Manas’ article, “Was the Lindbergh Kidnapping an Inside Job? Rutgers historian offers theory 80 years after ‘crime of century”:
“Although the child’s health and physical condition at the time of his abduction were downplayed — even hidden from a curious public and law enforcement by Lindbergh and the boy’s doctor — he appears to have been afflicted with a rickets-like condition that affected the development of strong bones. He required mega doses of Vitamin D and daily exposure to a sunlamp kept cribside. He also had hammertoes on his left foot, a too-large cranium and unfused skull bones.”
Proponents that the kidnapping was an inside job also point to Charles himself as the mastermind. The shame of having a child with a vitamin deficiency and the implication of weak family stock led him to get rid of the baby. Of course, this is quite extreme, but the ’30s were a callous time in terms of the consequences of believing in junk science.
Lindbergh Had Pretended that the Baby was Missing Before
I just can’t with this one. Not sure if it is credible or what the purpose of this prank was, but according to Lindbergh staff, Charles Lindbergh had pretended that baby Charlie had gone missing before.
According to Ranker, “When baby Charlie was discovered missing from his crib late on the windy evening of March 1, 1932, the baby’s nanny, Betty Gow, was the first to approach Lindbergh and ask if he had taken the baby. According to her handwritten statement, Gow claimed she suspected Lindbergh of yet another one of his practical jokes since she knew he had taken the baby and hidden him before.”
He had hidden the baby in a closet only two months prior and told the household the baby was kidnapped before he let everyone in on the big joke. It helps bolster the claims that Charles Lindbergh was somehow involved. Maybe he was playing a weird prank and accidentally dropped Charlie. The whole thing is disturbing.
Kidnapping was a Nationwide Epidemic in the 1930s
Unfortunately, there are observable patterns in crime. The ’70s and ’80s had serial murderers, the late ’90s to the early 21st century had school shootings, and the depression era had kidnapping for ransom. With the end of prohibition and dire economic times, organized criminals needed to generate income that bootlegging once filled.
David Stout explains in his book The Kidnap Years: The Astonishing True History of the Forgotten Kidnapping Epidemic That Shook Depression-Era America
As the false glitz of the 1920’s yielded to the crushing poverty of the 1930’s, kidnappings became so frequent in the United States that newspapers could scarcely keep up with them, as evidenced by a front-page article in the New York Times on Tuesday, July 25, 1933. The article reported the arrest of several Chicago gangsters for the kidnapping of a St. Paul, Minnesota, beer mogul who had been freed after a ransom payment. The article noted that lawmen expected to link the gang to another Midwest kidnapping. And it alluded to an attempted kidnapping on Long Island.
The country was firmly entrenched in a national pandemic of kidnapping at the time of the Lindbergh kidnapping. As the 1932 article, Kidnapping Wave Sweeps The Nation, pointed out at the time, “Authorities pointed out yesterday that there had been a big wave of kidnapping during the past two years when more than 2,000 persons were abducted for ransom in the country.”
We know that strangers abducted only about 300 children under the age of 21 in 2017, and the majority were not abducted for ransom. These numbers are a bit harder to come by in recent times. The amount of kidnapping for ransom decreases exponentially with increased prevention and apprehension methods increase by law enforcement.
The Lindbergh kidnapping endures in the public consciousness in part for the reasons above. It was the prototype of a classic murder mystery novel full of twists, turns and, red herrings. Eugenics’ dangerous consequences are horrifically displayed. The case exemplified a national outbreak of kidnapping for ransom that is hard to imagine in today’s society. In this way, the case is an embodiment of a bygone era that is difficult and terrifying to imagine.
Controller and Total Compensation Administrator and a full-time history enthusiast. In her free time, she likes to research, write and puzzle.