Have you ever heard of the legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh? If so, then you’re probably familiar with the infamous “Lindbergh baby” kidnapping. Coined as the “crime of the century,” 20-month-old infant Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. disappeared without a trace in 1932. The gruesome discovery of the poor youngster’s body panicked Americans and even spurred the invention of the Federal Kidnapping Act. Find out why the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping was truly an American tragedy.

Gone baby gone

It was March 1, 1932, and innocent little Charles Jr. was hanging out in his crib in East Amwell, New Jersey. The baby’s nurse Betty Gow had just tucked him into bed at 7:30 PM. Two hours later, Charles Jr.’s father reportedly heard some strange noises coming from upstairs. By 10:00 PM, Nurse Gow had checked on the child’s crib and found that he had gone missing. After making sure the baby wasn’t with his mom in the bathtub, she informed Charles Lindbergh of her bone-chilling finding.

Immediately, Mr. Lindbergh searched the premises and located a ransom note from the kidnapper on the window ledge of the baby’s room. He grabbed a gun and his trusty butler Olly Whateley to accost the intruder. When they reached the outside of the house, they came across a disheveled infant’s blanket and a clever makeshift ladder leading to the lad’s bedroom. At that point, Lindbergh’s butler made a frantic 9-1-1 call to the Hopewell Police Department while Lindbergh called his lawyer Henry Breckenridge and the New Jersey Police. 20 minutes later, the cops were already on their way to crack the case.

As police officers swarmed the prominent aviator’s home, they searched high and low for any evidence of the little boy. Unfortunately, they were unable to find any usable fingerprints from the kidnapper’s ransom note and ladder. In fact, the only prints that they could locate belonged to the missing infant. Filled with misspellings and typos, the ransom letter read: “Dear Sir! Have 50.000$ redy 25 000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony.” The horribly written note continued, “We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police The child is in gut care.” Spell check, anyone?

Innocence lost

Since Charles Lindbergh was already in the limelight for his aerial accomplishments, the news of his baby boy’s disappearance caused a media spectacle. Although the high-profile case attracted hundreds of people to swarm Lindbergh’s lawn in support, it also served to demolish the crucial evidence that was located at the crime scene. The kidnapping spurred a large number of false sightings and misinformation as well. Although many police officers supplied their “expertise,” only one was really qualified to investigate the missing baby’s disappearance.

While the police theorized that the Lindbergh kidnapping was a strategic move on the part of crime bosses, they talked to several mobsters for any potential leads. Even Al Capone offered to share information on the case in exchange for a reduced sentence, which was hastily rejected. Realizing that mobsters weren’t the most reliable sources of intel, the police moved onto other theories. As the cops sought more tips on the case, they offered a $25,000 reward for information. The Lindbergh’s also doubled the cops’ reward, adding $50,000 of their own money to the pot.

At this point, President Herbert Hoover was informed of the famous baby’s disappearance. Although the kidnapping case was typically something that wouldn’t have reached the White House, Hoover took special measures to assign the Bureau of Investigation (currently known as the FBI) to collaborate with the New Jersey Police.

Remembering Lindbergh Jr.

The Lindbergh’s received a major tip on March 6, 1932. Another ransom note from the kidnappers arrived at their residence, demanding $70,000 instead of $50,000.  A third ransom note was mailed soon afterward. Oddly enough, this letter requested that Bronx schoolteacher John Condon be used as a messenger to communicate between the Lindberghs and the kidnappers. Condon had inadvertently become the kidnapper’s contact when he posted his own $1,000 reward for the Lindbergh baby.

Condon met up with the kidnappers at the Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx, New York. According to Condon, “John” the kidnapper was part of a Scandinavian sailor gang that held the baby aboard their boat. By March 16, 1932, “John” had even sent Condon the baby’s pajamas as proof of his hostage. Following their instructions, Condon placed a cryptic ad in Home News, saying “Money is ready. No cops. No secret service. I come alone, like last time.” Two weeks later, the kidnappers told Condon that they were ready to receive the ransom. On April 2, 1932, $50,000 of the ransom money was delivered to the kidnappers in exchange for Lindbergh Jr.’s safety.

Sadly, the kidnappers did not hold up their end of the bargain. By May 12, 1932, the child’s lifeless body was spotted on the side of the road by a truck driver, less than five miles from the Lindbergh family home. The baby had allegedly died from a severe blow to the head and was left to decompose in a shallow grave. Eventually, marked ransom bills led police to arrest, try, and later execute German con artist Richard Hauptmann for the crime. However, conspiracy theorists continue to ponder this “whodunnit” story to this day.