Innocence of Bruno Hauptmann Essay

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It was called the “Trial of the Century,” after which Bruno Hauptmann was executed in the electric chair in April, 1936, having been convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son (Cornwell 1). Lindbergh’s fame as one of Americans aviation heroes made Hauptmann’s a high profile case, one that might have also been tried in haste. Subsequent analyses of the Hauptmann trial indicate that the prosecution’s case rested on circumstantial evidence alone, and Hauptmann’s widow continued to publically proclaim her husband’s innocence until her own death (Blackman 1). Hauptmann himself was offered the opportunity to save his own life in exchange for a confession, but he refused (Cornwell 1). Was he framed? Was he sticking up for a friend? Given the abundance of evidence that does link Hauptmann to the kidnapping, the most likely scenario is that Hauptmann was involved in the crime but did not murder baby Charles Lindbergh.

The crime occurred in Hopewell, New Jersey in March of 1932. Baby Lindbergh was missing from his room, and a window was open. A ransom note was left in the room. It was written in “broken” English, and the writer demanded $50,000 (Cornwell 1). The Lindberghs could afford to pay, and they did, hiring an intermediary named John Condon to transfer the money to the kidnappers. The money was handed over in marked gold certificates. Yet the baby was never returned and on May 12, 1932, a truck driver “who had stopped to relieve himself stumbled across the infant's decomposing body in a roadside wood near the Hopewell residence,” (Cornwell 1). The infant son of the most famous men in America had been kidnapped and murdered.

For two years, the case remained unsolved. Not a clue emerged. The police and the general public blamed gangs (Cromwell 1). Naturally, it would seem that a crime of these proportions must have been committed by an organized syndicate or at least someone with experience. Then, the first breakthrough arrived in August 1934, and Richard “Bruno” Hauptmann’s fate was sealed. “One of the marked gold-certificate bills used to pay the ransom was traced to Hauptmann, a German carpenter who lived in the Bronx with his wife Anna and 11-month-old son Manfred,” (Cornwell 1). Hauptmann had been using the marked bills—against all reason—to pay for groceries, gas, and movie tickets (Linder 1). If Hauptmann were guilty, he most likely would not have been using the ransom money to pay for small ticket items like daily provisions, where the bills could have been traced to him easily.

It seems strange for a person smart enough to commit a crime of epic proportions to be dumb enough to use marked gold certificates, which would lead back to him. Yet the police immediately jumped to the conclusion that Hauptmann was guilty.
The German immigrant stood no chance to have a fair trial. He was convicted in the courtroom of public opinion long before the jury laid down its verdict. Indeed, there was a lot of pressure to prosecute. There were several reasons the police aggressively prosecuted rather than waiting for more evidence to surface. For one, the case had been cold for almost years, “causing them huge embarrassment,” as well as $1.2 million—a fortune at the time (Cornwell). Second, Lindbergh was a public hero. He had drawn the attention of the whole world after the first-ever solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. In fact, “the crime horrified the entire world, drawing parliamentary statements from the prime ministers of Britain, France, Japan and China,” (Cornwell 1). With the whole world watching in expectation, the police jumped on the opportunity to prosecute someone—anyone—for the murder of Lindbergh’s baby boy.

Understandably, the prosecution’s case seemed tight enough. There were several bits of evidence that did seem to lead to Hauptmann, besides the gold certificates. Once the investigation was underway, the police did find an abundance of evidence that linked Hauptmann circumstantially to the kidnapping. One was that the police found more of the ransom money--$15,000 in total—in Hauptmann’s garage. Also found in Hauptmann’s garage was the exact same wood, down to the nails, that was used to make the ladder leading to baby Lindbergh’s room. No eyewitness placed Hauptmann at the scene, but some did say they saw him in the area of Hopewell, which means nothing from a legal standpoint.Doing a background check on Hauptmann, the prosecution soon learned that Hauptmann had been convicted of a crime involving a ladder back in Germany (Linder 1). Hauptmann in fact had a fairly long criminal record in Germany, including serving four years in prison for armed robbery—he had held up two women “pushing baby carriages down a city street,” (“Bruno Richard Hauptmann Biography” 1). Hauptmann also escaped from prison and entered the United States using fake identification (“Bruno Richard Hauptmann Biography” 1). While his past criminal activities has no direct bearing on the Lindbergh case, the police figured that their suspect fit the profile of someone who would be capable of committing a gruesome crime.

Further evidence surfaced in the trial that seemed to more connect Hauptmann to the kidnapping. One was that Hauptmann’s handwriting matched that on the ransom notes, and Hauptmann also made similar spelling mistakes (Linder 1). Another was that John Condon’s phone number was found in Hauptmann’s home. That meant Hauptmann….....

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Works Cited

Blackman, Sam. “60 Years Later, Doubt Clings to Lindbergh Baby Kidnaping Case : Crime: The trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann gripped America in the '30s. His widow still insists that he was framed.” Los Angeles Times. 09 Feb 1992.

“Bruno Hauptmann Executed.”

“Bruno Richard Hauptmann Biography.” Charles Lindbergh: An American Aviator.

Cornwell, Rupert. “The Lindbergh mystery: Could America’s most famous crime be solved at last?” The Independent.

Latson, Jennifer. “How the 'Crime of the Century' Kidnapper Was Caught.” Time. 19 Sept 2014.

Linder, Douglas O. “The Case Against Bruno Hauptmann: Key Prosecution Evidence.” Famous Trials.

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