Richard Hauptmann

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Richard Hauptmann
Bruno Richard Hauptmann

(1899-11-26)November 26, 1899
DiedApril 3, 1936(1936-04-03) (aged 36)
Cause of deathExecution by electrocution
Known forBeing convicted for the murder-kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr.
Criminal statusExecuted
Anna Hauptmann
(m. 1925)
Criminal penaltyDeath by electric chair

Bruno Richard Hauptmann (November 26, 1899 – April 3, 1936) was a German-born carpenter who was convicted of the abduction and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh kidnapping became known as "The Crime of the Century".[1] Both Hauptmann and his wife, Anna Hauptmann, proclaimed his innocence to his death, when he was executed in 1936 by electric chair at the Trenton State Prison.[2] Anna later sued the State of New Jersey, various former police officers, the Hearst newspapers that had published pre-trial articles insisting on Hauptmann's guilt, and former prosecutor David T. Wilentz.


Bruno Richard Hauptmann was born in Kamenz, a town near Dresden in the Kingdom of Saxony, which was a state of the German Empire. He was the youngest of five children. Neither he nor his family or friends used the name Bruno, although prosecutors in the Lindbergh kidnapping trial insisted on referring to him by that name. At the age of eleven, he joined the Boy Scouts (Pfadfinderbund).[3] Hauptmann attended public school during the day while attending trade school (Gewerbeschule) at night, studying carpentry for the first year, then switching to machine building (Maschinenschlosser) for the next two years.[4]

Hauptmann's father died in 1917. During that same year, Hauptmann learned that his brother, Herman, had been killed fighting in France in World War I. Not long after that, he was informed that another brother, Max, had also been killed while fighting in Russia. Shortly thereafter, Hauptmann was conscripted into the German Army and assigned to an artillery battery.

Upon receiving his orders, he was sent to Bautzen but was transferred to the 103rd Infantry Replacement Regiment upon his arrival. In 1918, Hauptmann was assigned to the 12th Machine Gun Company at Königsbrück.[3] Hauptmann later claimed he was deployed to western France with the 177th Regiment of Machine Gunners in either August or September 1918, then fought in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel;[5] that he was gassed in September or October 1918; and that he was struck in the helmet by shrapnel from shelling, knocking him out so that he was left for dead. When he came to, he crawled back to safety and was back on duty that evening.[6]

After the war, Hauptmann and a friend robbed two women wheeling baby carriages they were using to transport food on the road between Wiesa and Nebelschütz. The friend wielded Hauptmann's army pistol during the commission of this crime.[7] Hauptmann's other charges include burgling a mayor's house with the use of a ladder. Released after three years in prison, he was arrested three months later on suspicion of additional burglaries.[8]

Hauptmann illegally entered the United States by stowing away on an ocean liner. Landing in New York City in November 1923, the 24-year-old Hauptmann was protected by a member of the established German community and worked as a carpenter. He married a German waitress, Anna Schoeffler (1898–1994), in 1925 and became a father eight years later.[8][9]

Lindbergh kidnapping[edit]

Crime and investigation[edit]

On the evening of March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped from Highfields, New Jersey; a homemade ladder was found under the window of the child's room. The $50,000 demanded in a ransom note had been delivered by John F. Condon, but the infant's body was found on May 12 in woods 4 miles (6.4 km) from the family's home. The death was ascribed to a blow to the head, which some have theorized occurred accidentally during the abduction.[10][11]

On September 15, 1934, a bank teller realized that the serial number on a $10 gold certificate deposited by a gas station was on the list of Lindbergh ransom bills.[12][13] On the bill's margin, the attendant, who found the certificate suspicious, had written the license plate number of the customer's car, which turned out to be Hauptmann's. Hauptmann was placed under surveillance by the New York City Police Department, New Jersey State Police, and the FBI.

On September 19, Hauptmann realized he was being watched and attempted to escape, speeding and running through red lights. He was captured after finding himself blocked by a truck on Park Avenue just north of Tremont Avenue in the Bronx.[14]


His trial was dubbed the "Trial of the Century",[15] while Hauptmann was named "The Most Hated Man in the World".

Evidence against Hauptmann included: $14,600 of the ransom money found in his garage; testimony alleging handwriting and spelling similarities to that found on the ransom notes;[14][16] testimony that lumber used in constructing the ladder probably originated in Hauptmann's house;[17] Condon's address and telephone number found written on the inside of one of Hauptmann's closets; and what appeared to be a hand-drawn sketch of a ladder found in one of Hauptmann's notebooks.[18] Experts retained by the defense were never called to testify.[19]

During the trial, Hauptmann was identified as the man who received the ransom money, the man who had spent some of the ransom gold certificates, and as a man seen near the Lindbergh home on the day of the kidnapping. He had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment and had quit his job two days later.[citation needed]

Hauptmann's attorney, Edward J. Reilly, argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial, as no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder, the ransom notes, or anywhere in the nursery.[20]

Hauptmann was convicted, however, and immediately sentenced to death. His appeals failed, though his execution stayed twice while New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman reviewed the case.


On April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed in the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison.[21] Reporters present said he made no statement.[22][23] His spiritual advisor said that Hauptmann told him, before being taken from his cell, "Ich bin absolut unschuldig an den Verbrechen, die man mir zur Last legt" ("I am absolutely innocent of the crimes I am accused of").[24]

Hauptmann's widow Anna had his body cremated. Two Lutheran pastors conducted a private memorial service in German. A crowd of some 2,000 gathered outside.

Guilt questioned[edit]

In the latter part of the 20th century, the case against Hauptmann came under serious scrutiny. For instance, one item of evidence at his trial was a scrawled phone number on a board in his closet, which was the number of the man who delivered the ransom, John F. Condon. A juror at the trial said this was the one item that convinced him the most; according to some accounts, a reporter later admitted he had written the number himself.[25] However, Hauptmann stated in court that he had written it but could not remember why.[26]

Additionally, neither Lindbergh nor the go-between who delivered the ransom initially identified Hauptmann as the recipient.[27] Condon, after seeing Hauptmann in a lineup at New York Police Department Greenwich Street Station, told FBI Special Agent Turrou that Hauptmann was not "John", the man whom Condon claimed he had passed the ransom money to in St. Raymond's Cemetery. He further stated that Hauptmann looked different (for instance that he had different eyes, was heavier, and had different hair), and that "John" was actually dead because he had been murdered by his confederates.[28]

While waiting in a car nearby, Lindbergh heard the voice of "John" calling to Condon during the ransom drop-off, but never saw him. Although he testified before the Bronx grand jury that he heard only the words "Hey, Doc!", and that it would be very difficult to say he could recognize a man by his voice, he identified Hauptmann as having the same voice during his trial in Flemington.[29] The police beat Hauptmann while in custody at the Greenwich Street Station.[30]

Other coverage has said that certain witnesses were intimidated, and some claim that the police planted or doctored evidence, such as the ladder; or that the police doctored Hauptmann's time cards and ignored fellow workers who stated that Hauptmann was working the day of the kidnapping.[31] These and other findings prompted J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI, to question the manner in which the investigation and the trial were conducted. Hauptmann's widow campaigned until the end of her life to have her husband's conviction reversed.

Erastus Mead Hudson was a fingerprint expert who knew about the then-rare silver nitrate process of collecting fingerprints from wood and other surfaces on which the previous powder method would not work. He found that Hauptmann's fingerprints were not on the wood, even in places that the man who made the ladder must have touched. Upon reporting this to a police officer and stating that they must look further, the officer said, "Good God, don't tell us that, Doctor!" The ladder was then washed of all fingerprints, and Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, refused to disclose to the public that Hauptmann's prints were not on the ladder.[16]

Several books have been written proclaiming Hauptmann's innocence. These books variously criticize the police for allowing the crime scenes to become contaminated, Lindbergh and his associates for interfering with the investigation, Hauptmann's trial lawyers for ineffectively representing him, and the reliability of the witnesses and physical evidence presented at the trial. Scottish journalist Ludovic Kennedy in particular questioned much of the evidence, such as the origin of the ladder and the testimony of many of the witnesses.

In her book about another high-profile trial of the 1930s, the Winnie Ruth Judd case, investigative reporter Jana Bommersbach argued that Hauptmann could not have received a fair trial because the press created an atmosphere of prejudice against him. Bommersbach noted that in those days, newspapers acted as both "judge and jury", and covered crime in a way that would be considered sensationalistic today.[32]

In 1974, Anthony Scaduto wrote Scapegoat, which took the position that Hauptmann was framed and that the police both withheld and fabricated evidence. This led to further investigation, and in 1985, Ludovic Kennedy published The Airman and the Carpenter, in which he argued that Hauptmann had not kidnapped and murdered Lindbergh Jr. The book was made into a 1996 television film Crime of the Century, starring Stephen Rea and Isabella Rossellini.

Some authors suggest Lindbergh was involved in the kidnapping and/or death of his baby, including retired judge Lise Pearlman in her 2020 book The Lindbergh Kidnapping Suspect No. 1: The Man Who Got Away. She points out that instead of being investigated as a possible suspect (due to his fame), Lindbergh helped lead the investigation despite being home at the time of the abduction.[33]

Not all modern authors agree with these theories. Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania,[34] has written two books on the subject, The Lindbergh Case (1987)[14] and The Ghosts of Hopewell (1999)[35] to address, at least in part, what he calls a "revision movement".[36] In these texts, he explains in detail the evidence against Hauptmann. He provides an interpretation discussing both the pros and cons of that evidence. He concluded:

Today, the Lindbergh phenomenon is a giant hoax perpetrated by people who are taking advantage of an uninformed and cynical public. Notwithstanding all of the books, TV programs, and legal suits, Hauptmann is as guilty today as he was in 1932 when he kidnapped and killed the son of Mr and Mrs Charles Lindbergh."[37]

For more than 50 years, Hauptmann's widow fought with the New Jersey courts without success to get the case re-opened. In 1982, the now 82-year-old Anna Hauptmann sued the State of New Jersey, various former police officers, the Hearst newspapers that had published pre-trial articles insisting on Hauptmann's guilt, and former prosecutor David T. Wilentz (then 86) for over $100 million in wrongful-death damages. She claimed that the newly discovered documents proved misconduct by the prosecution and the manufacture of evidence by government agents, all of whom were biased against Hauptmann because he happened to be of German ethnicity. In 1983, the United States Supreme Court refused her request that the federal judge considering the case should be disqualified because of judicial bias, and in 1984, the judge dismissed her claims.[citation needed]

In 1985, more than 23,000 pages of Hauptmann-case police documents were found in the garage of the late Governor Hoffman. These documents, along with 34,000 pages of FBI files, which, although discovered in 1981, had not been disclosed to the public, represented a windfall of previously undisclosed information.[38] As a direct result of this new evidence, Anna Hauptmann again amended her civil complaint on July 14, 1986, to clear her late husband's name by continuing to assert that he was "framed from beginning to end" by the police looking for a suspect.[38] She suggested that the rail of the ladder taken from the attic, where they used to live in 1935, was planted by the police, and that the ransom money was left behind by Isidor Fisch, who was possibly the real kidnapper. Fisch applied for a passport on May 12, 1932, the same day that the Lindbergh baby was found dead. On December 9, 1933, he sailed for Germany, taking with him $600 worth of Reichsmarks.[39] In 1990, New Jersey's governor, James Florio, declined her appeal for a meeting to clear Hauptmann's name. Anna Hauptmann died on October 10, 1994.

Lindbergh, for his part, believed that Hauptmann must have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of his son.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chua-Eoan, Howard. "Top 25 Crimes of the Century – The Lindbergh Kidnapping". Time. Archived from the original on January 19, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
  2. ^ Linder, Douglas (2005). "The Trial of Richard 'Bruno' Hauptmann: An Account". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Archived from the original on July 9, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Hauptmann, Richard The Story of My Life, Autobiography: Unedited & Uncorrected (Translated). New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives, May 4, 1935.
  4. ^ Huddleson, Dr James H. Report to Mr James M. Fawcett: Examination of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; p.1, October 3, 1934. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  5. ^ Hauptmann, Bruno Richard. Statement. December 6, 1934. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  6. ^ Huddleson, Dr James H. Report to Mr James M. Fawcett: Examination of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; pp. 2–3, October 3, 1934. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  7. ^ Record Number 1 A 95/19 against Fritz Petzold and accomplice, County Court at Bautzen, June 17, 1919,
  8. ^ a b Richard ("Bruno") Hauptmann Biography, Famous American Trials, Richard Hauptmann (Lindbergh Kidnapping) Trial by Douglas Linder, 2000 Famous Trials – UMKC School of Law – Prof. Douglas Linder – Biography of ("Bruno") Richard Hauptmann Archived June 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ The concise encyclopedia of crime and criminals. Hawthorn Books, 1961, p. 134
  10. ^ "Federal Sleuth Believes Bruno Wasn't Alone". The Washington Post. January 28, 1935
  11. ^ The North American Review, Vol. 237, No. 1, January 1934, p. 55
  12. ^ Horn, William F. Cpl. New Jersey State Police Report. Investigation concerning a recovered $10.00 U.S. gold certificate which is part of the Lindbergh Ransom Money; this report also concerns the arrest of one Richard Bruno Hauptmann, charged with Extortion in connection with the $50, Thousand Lindbergh Ransom Money. September 25, 1934. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  13. ^ Note: Gold certificates were rapidly being withdrawn from circulation and were becoming rare
  14. ^ a b c Fisher, Jim (1994). The Lindbergh Case. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-2147-3. Archived from the original on February 18, 2017. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  15. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Death sentence by court to convict Hauptmann for kidnap and murder of son of avia...HD Stock Footage". YouTube.
  16. ^ a b Gardner, Lloyd C. (June 2004). The Case That Never Dies. Rutgers University Press. p. 336. ISBN 978-0-8135-3385-8. Archived from the original on February 18, 2017. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  17. ^ Report of Examination of Ladder for the New Jersey State Police: Summary of Observations and Conclusions; U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin. March 4, 1933.
  18. ^ "The State of New Jersey vs. Bruno Richard Hauptmann," Hunterdon County Court of Oyer and Termeer; vol. 5, p. 2606, 1935. New Jersey State Law Library.
  19. ^ Farr, Julia. Letter from Julia Farr to Lloyd Fisher; New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives, April 11, 1935.
  20. ^ "The State of New Jersey vs. Bruno Richard Hauptmann," Hunterdon County Court of Oyer and Termeer; vol. 11 pp. 4687–88, 1935. New Jersey State Law Library.
  21. ^ Bleam, I. C. Prison Clerk, New Jersey State Prison. Death House Menu, "Last meal served to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, #17400, April 3, 1936". 1600 File. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  22. ^ Runyon, Damon "Bruno Dies in Chair". The New York American. April 4, 1936
  23. ^ Folliard, Edward "Witness to an Execution". The Washington Post. July 17, 1972.
  24. ^ Hoffman, Harold Giles. The Crime – The Case – The Challenge (What Was Wrong with the Lindbergh Case?), Original Manuscript: Unedited & Uncorrected, circa 1937. New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center Archives.
  25. ^ The crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, p. 164. (Gregory Ahlgren, Stephen Monier)
  26. ^ The State of New Jersey vs. Bruno Richard Hauptmann. Hunterdon County Court of Oyer and Termner. Vol. 5. New Jersey State Law Library. 1935. p. 2606.
  27. ^ An Account of the Trial of Bruno Hauptmann Archived July 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Turrou, Leon G. Special Agent FBI (62-3057) Memorandum For File: Unknown Subjects – Kidnaping and Murder of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr.; September 21, 1934. National Archives at College Park Maryland.
  29. ^ "People vs. Hauptmann," The Bronx Grand Jury; Charles Lindbergh Testimony, p. 5, September 26, 1934. The New York City Municipal Archive.
  30. ^ Tamm, E. A. Assistant Director FBI Memorandum For The Director; September 24, 1934. National Archives at College Park Maryland.
  31. ^ "Extradition". Archived from the original on October 6, 2007. Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  32. ^ Bommersbach, Jana (1992). The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1590580646.
  33. ^ Fagan, Kevin (January 2, 2024). "Retired Oakland judge has shocking theory about infamous Lindbergh kidnapping. And it's catching on". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  34. ^ Fisher, Jim. "Biography". Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  35. ^ Fisher, Jim (December 15, 1999). The Ghosts of Hopewell: Setting the Record Straight in the Lindbergh Case. Southern Illinois Univ Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8093-2285-5.
  36. ^ Fisher, Jim. "The Lindbergh Case: A Look Back to the Future – Page 3 of 3". Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011. For the Lindbergh case, the revisionist movement began in 1976 with the publication of a book by a tabloid reporter named Anthony Scaduto. In Scapegoat, Scaduto asserts that the Lindbergh baby was not murdered and that Hauptmann was the victim of a mass conspiracy of prosecution perjury and fabricated physical evidence.
  37. ^ Fisher, Jim. "The Lindbergh Case: How Can Such a Guilty Kidnapper be so Innocent? – Page 3 of 3". Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  38. ^ a b Hauptmann v. Bornmann et al. USDC (NJ) Civil Action No. 86-2426
  39. ^ "Biography of Isidor Fisch - UMKC School of Law". Archived from the original on March 2, 2022. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  40. ^ Kennedy, L., The Airman and the Carpenter (1985)

Further reading[edit]

  • "Sleeping Dogs: A true story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping," Split Oak Press, Ithaca, New York, ISBN 978-0-9823513-9-0, Copyright 2012 by Michael Foldes, 236 pages.
  • "The Sixteenth Rail," Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado, ISBN 978-1-55591-716-6, copyright by Adam Schrager, 2013, 314 pages.
  • "Hauptmann's Ladder: A Step-by-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping," Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio, ISBN 978-1-6063519-3-2, Copyright 2014 by Richard T. Cahill Jr., 448 pages.
  • "The Dark Corners – Of the Lindbergh Kidnapping Volume 1," Infinity Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4958-1042-8, Copyright 2016 by Michael Melsky, 353 pages.

External links[edit]