Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping: Was The Famous Pilot Responsible For His Missing Son?
Charles Lindbergh was five years past his record-breaking transatlantic flight when his 20-month-old son was kidnapped from their Hopewell, New Jersey, home on March 1, 1932.
World-famous pilot Charles Lindbergh made headlines twice — once for completing the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 and again when his toddler son was kidnapped and murdered in 1932.
The kidnapping launched decades of speculation and conspiracy theories about who exactly was responsible for the child’s disappearance and death.
Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, met seven months after his famous flight, and the pair married in 1929. Their first son, Charles Lindbergh Jr., was born in 1930. The Lindberghs were building a home outside Hopewell, New Jersey, and often spent time at the home as they waited for its completion.
March 1, 1932, had been a typical day for the Lindberghs. That evening, Anne and the nanny took the toddler upstairs to his room where they fed him dinner and put him to bed.
Charles came home from work around 8 p.m. and had a late dinner with his wife. The two sat by the fire on the chilly winter night. After a few minutes, Charles claimed he heard a thud like something had fallen, but Anne never heard a thing. The Lindberghs’ dog, who reportedly barked at everything, never even startled.
Charles retired to his study around 9:30 to finish some of the day’s tasks while his toddler son slept in the room right above him.
At 10 p.m., the nanny opened the door to check on the boy and found his crib and his room empty.
Police arrived on scene to see footprints and two rectangular indentations in the mud on the ground below Charles Jr.’s window. The tracks led away from the home, and police then found a crude, homemade ladder in the woods. The legs of the ladder were a perfect match to the rectangular indentations in the mud.
Upstairs in the child’s room, there was a ransom note left laying on the window sill. The kidnappers were demanding $50,000. In today’s money, that would be almost a million dollars.
The Lindberghs would go on to exchange 12 letters with the kidnappers in the coming month. Lindbergh managed to establish a secret communication channel to negotiate with the kidnappers without the direct involvement of the police. John Condon, a school principal in nearby New York City volunteered to be the go-between for the pilot and the yet-unnamed person who reportedly had the Lindbergh baby.
On April 2, one month into the ordeal, Condon was finally scheduled to make the ransom drop and get Lindbergh Jr. back. At 8 p.m., a taxi driver knocked on the door to Condon’s Bronx home with a note telling him to drive to a nearby greenhouse. At the greenhouse, there was another note with further instructions.
Finally, Condon met the apparent kidnapper on a street corner and exchanged the box of money for a note telling him where to find the child.
That final note was just a ruse. The money was gone, and the toddler was still missing. Tragically, he was found dead in the woods on May 15, 1932, less than four miles from his home. An autopsy showed that he had suffered massive skull fractures, leading some historians to believe he may have been dropped when he was taken from his room.
The case grew cold until a big break on Sept. 17, 1934, when a $10 bill used to purchase gas was matched to the cash from the ransom drop. Lindbergh, who was keeping police at arm’s length, did allow the authorities to catalog the serial numbers of the bills in the ransom. They also used gold notes, which were quickly falling out of use so that the money would be easier to spot if used later.
Police tracked down the man who was using the money, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, and they went on to find more of the ransom money in the man’s home. Eventually, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and then retried after the New Jersey governor intervened.
Not everyone believes Hauptmann was a lone wolf kidnapper. Some historians believe there’s compelling evidence that Lindbergh himself wanted to get rid of his own son. Find out why on Mysteries at the Museum, available now on discovery+.