Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lindbergh Kidnapping

"Crime of the Century"

The Lindbergh case, the "Crime of the Century," is not so much about the kidnapped and murdered child as it is about America's hero, Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly the Atlantic alone, in a small, fragile, one-engine airplane, a feat so venerated that the plane occupies a prominent position in the Air and Space Museum. It is the story of a shy national icon caught in a wave of publicity then unknown in American journalism, now expanded beyond print to include the influential voice of radio. The case remains a memorable crime because it involved not only Lindbergh, the hero, but the accused, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant, convicted and executed, whose guilt to this day, in the minds of many, remains an unanswered question. Like many crimes sustained in our history, the victim becomes less important than the participants. Its immortality is not only in the unresolved question about the accused killer, but in the checkered careers of the victim's father and mother. The father, the "Lone Eagle," spends the rest of his forty years as an appeaser, an isolationist, and an environmentalist.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The mother, a writer and poet, lives on as a shy, private romantic. Legally the case is closed and, although it gave birth to "The Lindbergh Law," which first defined the crime of kidnapping to be a federal offense, it persists in its fascination by its almost mythic nature: A crime against a hero, unresolved, controversial, and in many ways inexplicable.

Charles A. Lindbergh
Charles A. Lindbergh

"Lindbergh is a surprise. There is much more in his face than appears in photographs. He has a fine intellectual forehead, a shy engaging smile, wind-blown hair, a way of tossing his head unhappily, a transparent complexion, thin nervous capable fingers, a loose-jointed shy manner. He looks young with a touch of arrested development. His wife is tiny, shy, timid, retreating, rather interested in books, a tragedy at the corner of her mouth."

This description of Charles A. Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is from the diary of Harold Nicolson, January 5, 1933. Nicolson made his observation while employed by Anne's mother to write a biography of her father, the financier and diplomat, Dwight Morrow, who had died the year before.

At the age of twenty-five, in 1927, Lindbergh was the first man to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. He was acclaimed a national hero and given the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He then embarked on a career of aviation consultant. In 1929, he met the daughters of Dwight Morrow, then Ambassador to Mexico. While he seems to have shyly courted both Elisabeth and Anne Morrow, he married the latter. In 1930 their first child, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., was born.

Lindbergh was unprepared for the attention that accompanied his fame. He and his wife were constantly hounded by the press, and the more reclusive and uncooperative they became, the more intense became the scrutiny of them. Despite his father-in-law's advice to accept the intrusions into his private life, Lindbergh was determined to escape from the tabloid-type journalism —known at the time as "yellow journalism" —as well as the broad coverage that respectable newspapers of the day expended on his and Anne's every movement.

Overhead view of the Lindberg Estate
Overhead view of the Lindberg Estate

To escape, he built a house on a 390-acre tract in a remote area of New Jersey, near the small town of Hopewell. He and Anne and their child lived at the Morrow estate in Englewood, New Jersey, staying weekends at their recently completed house in Hopewell. Normally, they would return to Englewood on Monday mornings, but, on the last weekend of February, they decided to stay over for another day or two, because the baby had a cold.

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