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. At 7.30pm, their nurse Betty Gow laid the toddler down to sleep in his crib. About two hours later, Charles heard a noise he thought sounded like a crate smashing, but thought nothing of it.

Then at 10pm, the nanny, frantic with worry, reported that the baby had disappeared. In his bedroom, Charles found a handwritten, misspelled note: “Dear Sir! Have 50000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills… We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police. The child is in gut care.”

So began one of the most lurid cases in American criminal history. The kidnapping was front-page news, with Charles and Anne receiving many offers of help and sympathy, but amid massive publicity, crowds swiftly swarmed to the Lindbergh estate, destroying any chance of finding footprints. Amateur detectives, military men and even Chicago mobsters offered their assistance. 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.

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Two months after the kidnapping, a truck driver stumbled upon the body of a toddler near the Lindberghs’ home.

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.

Who killed the Lindbergh baby?

It took two years for an arrest to be made: German-born carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who had a record of robbery and whose garage contained notes from the ransom money. Protesting his innocence, he went to the electric chair. But many observers were convinced that he must have had help.

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. And for the novelist Agatha Christie, the case inspired one of her greatest books, Murder on the Orient Express.


This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine