At quizzo earlier this week, I asked, “Who was convicted and executed for kidnapping and killing the Lindbergh baby?” It was a tough question, and few teams got it right. However, it would have been an Easy Round question 70 years ago. After all, this was the Crime of the Century, as big of a deal then as the Simpson murders were in the 1990s, if not bigger. Charles Lindbergh was a much bigger star in America than OJ Simpson ever was, and the 1932 kidnapping of his child from their home in Hopewell, NJ (less than 45 miles from Philadelphia) was front page news for months. It returned to the front pages a couple of years later when an arrest was made.
Bruno Hauptmann was arrested for the kidnapping and murder (and was the answer to the quizzo question). He vehemently argued for his innocence, and though most of the evidence against him was circumstantial, he was convicted and executed. He was probably guilty, but it certainly didn’t help his case that his lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, was a crazed drunk who did an awful job representing him.
He was florid, hulking, bombastic —he wore a swallow-tail coat and striped trousers —and something of a boozer. The lunch breaks during the trial often presented Reilly with opportunities to consume a number of drinks…While a resident of Flemington during the six-week trial, he had an endless stream of “stenographers,” all of them uniformly gorgeous, who visited his quarters each evening…There is little doubt that he invented and hired witnesses, fabricated statements to the press, and deliberately misled the jury. His incompetence even dismayed Hauptmann, who, during the long trial, had only one fifteen-minute private conference with his principal attorney. He alienated his own client, his co-counsels, the jury, and the spectators by his senseless bullying of prosecution witnesses. He missed a crucial opportunity to raise reasonable doubt when, to the complete mystification of his colleague, Lloyd Fisher, he conceded that the corpse of the child discovered by William Allen was indeed Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr…Two weeks after the verdict, drunkenly raving, he was taken away to a Brooklyn hospital in a straightjacket.
There are a lot of other fascinating facts about the trial. Amelia Earhart sent a letter to the Governor of New Jersey asking him to halt the execution. An eyewitness who placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime was legally blind. The chief of the New Jersey State Police, who was among the first on the scene when the baby was kidnapped, was Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the famous Army General. Here’s another very fascinating look at the crime and the trial. And finally, a heartbreaking video of the young child shortly before he was kidnapped, a reminder that this was a very real, very tragic crime and not just a tabloid sensation.