Trial of the Century

On May 12, 1932, the body of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son was discovered two miles from the New Jersey home from which he had been abducted two months earlier.  After an investigation lasting almost two years, police arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter living in the Bronx. Hauptman’s six-week trial, which became known as the “trial of the century,” was covered by over 300 reporters and became the first trial to be broadcast live.

Evidence against Hauptmann included bank notes from an unsuccessful ransom drop, testimony from handwriting experts relating to multiple ransom notes, and testimony that broken ladder pieces found under the Lindbergh baby’s bedroom window matched wood that had been found in Hauptmann’s attic. The prosecutor’s trial strategy included incitement of ethnic hatred against the German defendant.  Hauptmann vehemently proclaimed his innocence, but was convicted and sentenced to death. His appeal was rejected by the appellate court and the New Jersey Board of Pardons refused to commute his sentence. Hauptmann was electrocuted on April 3, 1936.  In the ensuing years, many scholars and writers have argued, some convincingly, that Hauptman was indeed innocent.  The case resulted in enactment of the first federal kidnapping statute, which made the interstate transportation of a kidnapping victim a federal felony.

For more information on the Hauptmann trial, see Crimes of the Century, Gilbert Geis & Leigh B. Bienen, Northeastern University Press, 1998.  [KF220 G45 1998]; The Trial of Richard ‘Bruno’ Hauptmann: An Account, Douglas Linder; The Airman and the Carpenter, Ludovic Kennedy, Viking, 1985. [HV6603.L5 K45 1985].