LINDBERGH CASE: THE BRONX

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guest post by DON GILLIGAN

On March 1, 1932, 77 years ago (in 2009), at about 9:00 PM, someone placed a homemade ladder against the wall of the Lindbergh home in Hopewell, NJ and set in motion a series of events that would culminate three years later in a trial that journalist H. L. Mencken would call, with characteristic hyperbole, “The greatest story since the resurrection.”

The kidnapper ascended the ladder, entered through an unlocked, second story window, removed twenty month old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. and left behind a ransom note demanding $50,000. The note was “signed” with a symbol consisting of two intersecting circles, a red mark and three punched holes, which would serve as the authentication code of future communications.

Although the kidnapping took place in New Jersey, many of the ensuing events took place in the Bronx. Two of the principals in the case were Bronx residents. Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man who was convicted of the crime, lived at 1279 East 222 street. John F. Condon (Jafsie), who acted as go-between for Lindbergh and delivered the ransom money, lived at 2974 Decatur Avenue (left). Both houses still exist in much the same form they had when Hauptmann and Condon lived in them.

ABOVE, former home of Richard Hauptmann, 1279 E. 222nd Street at Needham Avenue.

Other locations, such as the cemeteries where Condon met with Hauptmann to negotiate and pay the ransom, the bakery on Dyre Avenue, where Hauptmann claimed he was picking up his wife when the kidnapping took place, and the Bronx County Courthouse, where Hauptmann was indicted for extortion, which allowed authorities to hold him until his extradition to New Jersey to face the more serious charge of murder, still exist as well.

Condon became involved in the case when his letter to the Editor of the Bronx Home News was published in that paper. Condon offered to add $1,000 of his own money to the ransom money “…so a loving mother may again have her child.” It was probably a grandstand play, but much to his surprise he received a letter from the kidnapper. It contained an enclosed letter addressed to Lindbergh. That letter had the same authentication symbol as the original ransom note. When Lindbergh saw it, he authorized Condon to act as go-between and paid several visits to Condon’s home during the ransom negotiations.

Condon devised a code name, Jafsie, from his initials: J.F.C., and used it in classified ads placed in several NY newapapers to communicate with the kidnapper. A late night face to face meeting was set up along side Woodlawn Cemetery on this lonely stretch of Jerome Avenue. A man who Condon later identified as Hauptmann, spoke to him from inside the cemetery. Not much was accomplished at the meeting as a cemetery nightwatchman interrupted the meeting.

After further negotiations, Condon delivered the ransom to “Cemetery John” during another nighttime meeting in St. Raymond Cemetery. The ransom was delivered at the corner of Whittemore Avenue and a cemetery service road. In exchange Condon received a note which stated that the baby was “on the boad [sic] Nelly” off the Elizabeth Islands near Cape Cod. The boat was never located. A few months later the baby’s remains were found in the woods less than two miles from the Lindbergh home in Hopewell.

Looking down Whittemore Ave from near corner of Tremont & Whittmore. The service road into the cemetery is located where the concrete wall ends. The two people standing by the chainlink fence are just a few steps away from where the exchange took place. RIGHT: entrance to the cemetery at the corner of Tremont and Whittmore Aves. The ransom was delivered about 100 yds down Whittmore Ave (to the right in the picture).

Hauptmann’s downfall came about when he used a ten dollar bill from the ransom money for a gas purchase in Harlem. The bill was a gold certificate. The gas station attendant, worried that the ten might be counterfeit, wrote Hauptmann’s license plate number on the bill. When the ransom payment was assembled, the Treasury Department, knowing that gold certificates would soon be withdrawn from circulation, had loaded the payment with gold certificates. The serial numbers of every bill in the ransom payment were recorded and distributed to banks nationwide. A sharp eyed bank clerk who processed the gas stations deposit spotted the gold certificate, checked the serial number and called the police who had no problem locating Hauptmann. He was found to have another bill from the ransom money on his person when he was apprehended.

Hauptmann, a carpenter and illegal German immigrant with a criminal past, lived with his wife and infant son in a rented apartment on the second floor of this house on the corner of 222nd Street and Needham Avenue (above). He kept a car in a garage that he built across Needham Avenue from where he lived. While the house still exists, the same may not be said of the garage. It was reduced to splinters during the NYPD/FBI search and recovery mission that turned up over $13,000 of the ransom money.

During his trial Hauptmann claimed that, at the time of the kidnapping, he had gone to pick up his wife at Frederiksen’s Bakery on Dyre Avenue in the Bronx where she worked until nine o’clock on Tuesdays. Unfortunately for Hauptmann, when Frederiksen testified, he said that he could not remember if Hauptmann came to the bakery on that particular night. The bakery still exists. It has passed through numerous owners since that time and is now a Caribbean bakery.

Hauptmann also claimed that the money came from a package that had been given to him for safekeeping by Isidor Fisch, a former business associate, who had gone to visit his family in Germany. He further claimed that, while stored in a closet, a roof leak had caused the package to open revealing the money inside. Hauptmann claimed that since Fisch owed him money, he felt entitled to use some of the money from Fisch’s package. Fisch, at this point, was conveniently dead, having succumbed to TB while in Germany.

The final nail in Hauptmann’s coffin was testimony that one of the side-rails of the homemade ladder was made from a floorboard removed from the attic of the house where Hauptmann lived. Nail holes in the board aligned perfectly with nail holes in the attic floor joists and the wood grain at the end of the board aligned with the piece of board that remained on the floor after the ladder piece had been sawn away.

Because Hauptmann pled not guilty at his trial and steadfastly refused to confess even when the Governor of NJ offered to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment, there are people to this day who maintain that he was innocent. That website maintains that Hauptmann was railroaded, mainly I think because the person or persons who maintain the site have an anti capital punishment agenda. They also devote a page to Richard Sloan, the guy who conducts an annual Lindbergh Tour (for a fee). His tour covers the Lindbergh case in a lot more detail than this summary. You might get the idea from the way they present Sloanís tour that he agrees with their position but I took the tour and can say that Sloan is impartial.

The definitive book on the Lindbergh case was written by a former FBI agent: The Lindbergh Case by Jim Fisher, Rutgers University Press, 1987.

FBI: The Lindbergh Kidnapping

Page completed March 5, 2009; text and photos by Don Gilligan.






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4 Responses to LINDBERGH CASE: THE BRONX

  1. mickyeggs says:

    my dad told me years ago that the bakery was on the corner of Dyre Ave and 233rd Street, it later moved next to the drug store and Artie and Joe’s luncheonette i forget the name of the bakery in the 50′s -60s but the owner’s name was John and his sign include “The crunbiest crumb cake in the bronx” it actually was round with a 5′ diameter and sold for 6 cents the bakery where Hauptman’s wife worked became a Cristede store with later moved to the corner of Dyre and Light Streets. one whole block away. the empty store was converted into the Convent for the nun’s who taught at the newly opened Nativity of Our Blessed Mother grade school which is shown in your photo. we used to picnic at the pond in Woodlawn Cemetery and watch the swans come up for leftovers. on a nice day there could be as many as 50 families who made a day out of visiting their departed loved ones i still park on Jerome Ave by the entrance to Woodlawn when i drive down from my home to catch a game at Yankee Stadium. park there take the EL 3or4 stops and you were at the greatest ballpark in the world before 2010 . i loved growing up in that area with the YELLOW rock on 233rd in Seton Falls Park.

  2. Julia says:

    These are the ruins of a great European-American civilization, no less magnificent than those of Rome or Greece. White people and their civilization has faded away and been replaced by inferior third world population. Dysgenics, devolution, degradation, destruction.

    • Edwin says:

      Where in Dante’s Inferno did you learn this? A Nazi rally or KKK cross burning? With the Internet, ignorance should not exist, but you prove otherwise.

      The reason that the Greeks were so intelligent is because their rugged and largely un-farmable land forced them to venture out of their lands and make contact with other people, fostering critical thinking—something that does not happen with xenophobic and isolated societies. The Romans appropriated from the Greeks. The Muslims preserved the works of the Greeks during the Dark Ages. Looks this up. READ something without it being spoon fed to you. Consider what I am saying the next time you sit at a traffic light (an invention by a man of color).

  3. JB says:

    I’ve read a LOT on this case. It is SO COOL to see what these sites look like now. A few things I wanted to share:

    Jim Fisher is probably one of the worst people to read on the case. He makes up conversations that never happened, is very selective with his facts and it is obvious a lot of his material didn’t come from the original source material. He has a very specific point to prove (Hauptmann acted alone) and doesn’t really give you the information you need to make a fair-minded decision. Lloyd Garder’s book “The Case That Never Dies” is widely assumed to be the best. He has no particular theory to prove and the facts are laid out in a step-by-step manner that makes the whole thing really easy to understand. From there you can base your own decisions.

    A couple of facts which will make you think:

    - There were many fingerprints on the ladder. Dr. Erastus Mead Hudson who knew the relatively rare method (at the time) of silver nitrate fingerprint identification came to lift latent prints off the ladder. Prints were found in places where the maker of the ladder had to have touched. Later, after Hauptmann was arrested, Hudson compared his prints to those found on the ladder. They didn’t match – at all. Once he told Colonel Schwarzkopf of the NJ State Police this fact, it was ordered that all finger prints be washed off the ladder. The prosecution at the trial was not going to give this exonerating evidence to the defense and thus Hudson defected to Hauptmann’s defense team.

    - It was assumed from the beginning that two or more people were involved. Multiple sets of prints leading away from the nursery prove this. Once Hauptmann was arrested this was dropped totally. Similarly, the NYPD didn’t follow up on the ransom notes still being passed for several years after his arrest.

    - Nearly every original investigator agreed that it had to be an inside job. This was the first and only time the Lindberghs were at the estate on a Tuesday, as it was still under construction. The decision was only made earlier that day to stay over night. Further it was nearly impossible for someone to find the house even in broad daylight, let alone in a absolutely terrible storm, as it was that evening. Not exactly the kind of weather a random kidnapper in the Bronx would choose for a three hour drive, trek through an unfinished muddy yard and know exactly where to go, as there was no footprint evidence of searching/wandering.

    - The nursery window sill was close to two feet deep, with a chest just past it (which had a suitcase sitting on top of it). Atop this case, a few toys sat undisturbed. Nearly impossible for someone to pass over in a terrible rainstorm in the pitch black. Additionally, there was a little dining table in the middle of the room, various toys scattered about and a wind screen protecting the baby. Making it through these items in the dark undetected is impossible. It makes absolutely no sense. The whole scene looked like it was staged to look like they came in the window, down to the note on the window will (rather than the crib, where you’d expect it), as a way to be like “Look! We went out this way!” It makes far more sense someone passed the kid out the window.

    - The entire nursery was fingerprint-free. A few prints were found of the child near the base of his crib, where he’d be expected to touch. Otherwise no partial or full prints were found. Even in places where witnesses testified they had touched that very evening (the windows, shutters, etc). Obviously someone took the time to wipe down the whole room. Who might this have been and why?

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