Opinion

New book offers definitive account of Lindbergh kidnapping

Photo of Arthur T. Vanderbilt, II
Arthur T. Vanderbilt, II
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      Arthur T. Vanderbilt, II

      Arthur T. Vanderbilt, II is the author of "Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt" and many other nonfiction books. He was inducted into the New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame in 2001.

Through some incredibly persistent sleuthing, consultation with specialists in modern criminal investigative analysis, and a good dose of luck, author Robert Zorn has solved what has been correctly called “the crime of the century”: the Lindbergh kidnapping.

From that raw windy March night in 1932 when a homemade wooden ladder was leaned against the side of the new home in Hopewell, New Jersey of the most famous man in the world — Colonel Charles Lindbergh — and the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh was kidnapped from his nursery on the second floor, this crime and its aftermath has captured the public imagination. Even with the execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in 1936, questions about the crime have continued to swirl around the case. Cemetery John answers all the open questions and at last exposes the two other men who planned and carried out this shocking crime. Upon publication on June 14, this book will be front-page news. In presenting his account of his investigation, Robert Zorn has written what will be considered the definitive book on the Lindbergh kidnapping.

The facts of the kidnapping are familiar — we know exactly what is going to happen — but in the author’s hands, the story unfolds with all the horror of the first time.

Young, handsome, and famous for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh was hounded by the paparazzi. He was the celebrity of his day. To escape the public glare, he and his wife had purchased 425 remote acres in the Sourland Mountains outside of Hopewell, New Jersey and there were building their home, Highfields, where they spent weekends as the work on the house was nearing completion. During the week, they lived with Anne’s widowed mother, Betty Morrow, in her large mansion in Englewood, New Jersey. Because their 20-month-old son Charlie was getting over a head cold, Charles and Anne decided to spend Monday night in the new home and delay their return to Englewood.

On Tuesday, March 1, 1932, Charlie, as usual, was put to bed in his nursery on the second floor of the house at 7:00 p.m. A nurse checked on him at 8:00 p.m. Colonel Lindbergh arrived back home from New York City at 8:25. At 9:15, Lindbergh went into the library, directly below the nursery, to read. At 9:57, the nurse went to check on the baby again. The baby was gone. One of the windows in the nursery was open and on top of the windowsill was the envelope which contained the ransom note.

Clues abounded, every lead was followed, every demand met, but 72 days after the kidnapping the baby’s body was found in the woods within sight of “Highfields.” On September 15, 1934, a man paid for gas in Manhattan with a ten-dollar gold certificate that matched one of the serial numbers of the ransom money. The attendant wrote down the license plate, which the police tracked to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who lived in the Bronx. There, in his second-floor apartment, they found in a notebook a penciled sketch of the ladder recovered outside the Lindbergh’s home, a tool set missing only a three-quarter chisel identical to the one found near the abandoned ladder, thousands of dollars more of the Lindbergh ransom money, and a wooden plank missing from his attic that matched a rail of the ladder.

After a circus-like trial, Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to the electric chair, to the end never admitting any involvement with the crime and never fingering an associate.