Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow were world famous aviators; Charles in particular for making the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic. Together they were the first to fly from Africa to South America, and explored and charted many other air routes as well.
In March 1932 they had one child, Charles Junior. Anne put him to bed on March 1 at about 8pm, and looked in on him at 9pm, when she found him sleeping quietly.
The family's nanny checked the child at 10pm and found he was not in his bed. At first the two women suspected the baby's father was playing a joke, but it was not so. All three returned to the baby's bedroom and found a note on the nursery window sill. They called police, then searched the house and grounds, and found a homemade wooden ladder on the ground below the window of the baby's bedroom. They did not touch the note, however, until police arrived and processed the room and the note for fingerprints. When they did, it read:
Dear Sir! Have $50,000 ready $25,000 in $20 bills $15,000 in $10 bills and $10,000 in $5 bills. After 2-4 days we will inform you where to deliver the money. We warn you for making anything public or for notifying the Police. The child is in good care. Indication for all letters are singnature amL [and?] 3 holes.
There were two red and blue circles below the message with one hole punched through the red one, and two punched outside the circles.
Word of the kidnapping spread very quickly, and the press went into a frenzy. Useless offers of help poured in from all over the country. The state of New Jersey offered a $25,000 reward for the safe return of the child, and the Lindberghs offered an additional $50,000: combined, the equivalent of more than $1 million of today's dollars.
A new ransom note was delivered to the house a few days later, bearing the signature perforations and circles. Unfortunately Lindbergh gave the note to a man known to have mob connections, thinking the underworld might be able to do more than the police. Rosner promptly gave the letter to the press, and within days you could buy a printed copy of the note on the street for $5.
Things got strange. A 72-year-old schoolteacher from the Bronx named John Condon was one of the many who announced his willingness to help in any way, but unlike others he received a letter from the kidnappers nominating him as their intermediary. Lindbergh accepted the letter as genuine, apparently unaware that the value of the perforations and circles for identifying the actual kidnappers was now zero.
The kidnappers arranged to meet with Condon, and at the meeting a man named "John" told him the baby ws unharmed but they were not ready to return him yet. A few days later Condon received a baby's sleeping suit in the mail, confirmed by Lindbergh as belonging to his son.
As instructed, Condon took out an ad in the paper saying "Money is ready. No cops. No secret service. I come alone, like last time." A series of convoluted instructions were transmitted to Condon, at the end of which he handed over $50,000 in cash and a further $20,000 in gold certificates. He got in return a note claiming that the child was on a boat called The Nelly in Martha's Vineyard, but when Lindberg rushed there and searched the piers there was no boat of that name. He had been duped.
On May 12, 1932, a truck driver stopped to pee by the road near the Lindbergh home and discovered the body of a toddler. It was badly decomposed: the skull was fractured and the left leg and both hands were missing. They could not even determine the sex. However Lindbergh was able to identify the body as his son based on the overlapping toes of the baby's right foot, and the shirt he was wearing. The child had probably been killed by a blow to the head.
By July, police had begun to suspect that someone from the household was involved. One of the servants, when questioned, was nervous and suspicious and after repeated questioning she committed suicide by taking cyanide contained in silver polishing compound.
The case now depended on the money, for of course all the bills were recorded and the list of serial numbers widely circulated. In April 1933 someone brought in nearly $3,000 worth of them to be exchanged. The bank was busy so the certificates were not identified until the man had left, but he was traced to a German family named Gerhardt. When Condon was asked to listen to the men from the family, he declared that Gerhardt's son-in-law, the gardener, had a voice similar to the man he had met. When the police tried to question this individual, he killed himself.
Police continued to concentrate on the money, circulating the serial numbers to gas stations and businesses in the area of New York in which previous bills had turned up. Finally, in September 1934, a gas station attendant pencilled a licence plate number on a $10 bill that matched the numbers listed and turned it in. The car was traced to Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record back home. Police found more than $15,000 of the ransom money stashed around his place. When questioned, Hauptmann insisted that the money had belonged to a friend who had returned to Germany and died there. The evidence against him, however, was considerable, and he was found guilty and electrocuted on April 3, 1936, still proclaiming his innocence.