“Usually, we like to promote education, home-learning and our courses. However, every now and again there’s a story that’s so good it needs to be shared. What makes this story so much better is the fact it’s so close to home; this is the story of one of our NCC team members and their quest to discover their roots – it really is amazing what you can find…”
Some say that the subject of Genealogy (researching your family tree) is boring. I beg to differ. Let me tell you the story of “The Crime of The Century.”
In the late 1920’s and early 30’s Charles Lindbergh was the most famous man on the planet. Otherwise known as the Lone Eagle, Lindbergh became famous almost overnight when, aged just 25, he became the first person to fly single handed from New York to Paris, in May 1927.
Following his sudden success, his fame spread and newspapers would report his every move. He was the Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber of his day. He could not walk down a street without being besieged by fans, clamouring for his autograph.
Then, suddenly in 1932, his life took a sudden downward turn. On the evening of 1st March, his young 20 month old son, Charles Augustus, was kidnapped from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. After being alerted to the fact that the boy was missing, Lindbergh instructed his butler to phone the police, and also to inform the media.
After the arrival of the police, a ransom note was found on the window sill outside the boy’s nursery. It was crudely written and in very poor English it asked for $50,000. Rather than letting the police take over, Lindbergh himself took charge of the subsequent investigation in what the papers were calling “The Crime Of The Century.” He appointed Mickey Rosner, a Broadway hoodlum rumoured to know mobsters, to assist in the investigation. He even exchanged mail with Al Capone and Willie Moretti, two notorious imprisoned gangsters, in an attempt to prove that the kidnapping had been carried out by organised criminals.
The ransom was paid, using marked bills and redeemable gold bonds but the infant was not returned. Then, two months after the kidnapping, the child’s body was discovered, just four miles from the Lindbergh mansion. The body was identified by Lindbergh himself, despite evidence of the body having been attacked and partially eaten by animals.
No progress was made for two and a half years, but in September 1934, Mr Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter, attempted to convert one of the gold bonds into cash in a New York bank. He was arrested and a further $15,000 of the ransom money was found in his house.
His trial was held in October 1934 and, following evidence from Lindbergh, his relatives and his servants, together with numerous handwriting experts, Hauptmann was found guilty of kidnap and murder and subsequently electrocuted in April 1936 – four years after the crime was committed. Following Hauptmann’s death, reporters and other investigators came up with a number of questions regarding the way the investigation was run and the fairness of the trial. Questions were raised concerning issues from witness tampering to the planting of evidence. Twice during the 1980s, Anna Hauptmann sued the state of New Jersey for the unjust execution of her husband.
Both times the suits were dismissed on grounds unknown. Even now some experts are still convinced that Hauptmann was innocent. Some even speculate that Lindbergh accidentally killed his own son and then faked evidence to make it look like a kidnap.
The transcript of the trial is fascinating, showing various prejudices and celebrity worship, evident in the 1930s.
Why should this intriguing story particularly fascinate me? Well Charles Lindberg’s butler was English. He and his young wife had emigrated from Birmingham to the USA in the early 1920’s and, after a number of jobs, was employed by Lindberg in 1930 (as was his wife). Some genealogical research carried out by me, revealed that the butler, Oliver Whateley, was my great-uncle! The man who had called the police to inform them of the kidnapping and who also gave extensive evidence at the “Trial of the Century” was related to me!
© – Steve Whateley, Programme Manager