Charles Lindbergh was a famous aviator – the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean nonstop. His flight aboard the Spirit of St Louis from New York to Paris in 1927 catapulted him into the public eye.
In 1932, Charles was living a life of fame with his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and 20-month-old son, Charles Jr, in New Jersey. But on the evening of 1 March, Charlie was kidnapped. Their nurse, Betty Gow, checked on him during the night and, upon finding the empty cot, alerted the Lindberghs. A ransom note was found in the baby’s room demanding $50,000 for his safe return.
The kidnapping was front-page news, with Charles and Anne receiving many offers of help and sympathy. President Hoover declared he would “move Heaven and Earth” to find the child, and even mobster Al Capone sent an offer of assistance from prison.
An investigation was launched immediately but had little result. It was not until a retired New York schoolteacher, Dr John Condon, offered to act as a go-between that it seemed progress was being made. Condon met with a man called ‘John’ in a cemetery, who claimed to be holding Charlie and delivered the money – which had risen to $75,000. The child was never recovered however.
Two months after the kidnapping, a truck driver stumbled upon the body of a toddler near the Lindberghs’ home. Half buried and with a massive head wound, forensic scientists claimed the child had been dead two months. It was positively identified as Charlie.
It took two years for an arrest to be made. Some of the ransom money was finally tracked to a German immigrant called Bruno Hauptmann who, after a lengthy trial, was found guilty and electrocuted on 3 April 1936.
Journalist HL Mencken described the crime as “the biggest story since the Resurrection”. It was a tragic end for Charles and Anne Lindbergh, and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby went down in infamy.