The Suspicious Death of the Lindbergh Baby

Heather Monroe

The 1932 kidnapping turned murder that terrified Hopewell, New Jersey, and changed the nation

In 1932, Charles Lindbergh was the most famous man in America. His wife, Anne Morrow, had 20 months ago given birth to America’s golden child, and by March, she was pregnant again. The baby, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr, was beautiful with a cherubic face and golden locks of curls. His mother called him her, “Fat little lamb.” The Topeka Daily Capital, Topeka, Kansas,31 May 1919, Sat • Page 4

The Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, called Highfields, was nearly finished, and the family spent their weekends there. The Lindberghs led a charmed life, and it is easy to see why Charles Sr. was called “Lucky Lindy.”

The Lindbergh's most significant problem was publicity — they could scarcely go anyplace without being photographed. The Lindbergh home at Highfields was a spacious two-story manor surrounded by dense forest. Highfields provided all of the privacy and perceived security a living hero could need. Sadly, the safe and idyllic life the Lindberghs created would soon be irrecoverably shattered.

Disappearance (right), with her mother (left) and grandmother (center), holding baby Charles Lindbergh Jr, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Disappearance Wanted poster of baby Charlie, Wikimedia, Public Domain

Baby Charles was 20 months old on March 1, 1932, and just recovering from a cold. His nurse, Betty Gow, rubbed medication on his chest before putting him to bed for the evening around 8 PM. Charles, in an uncharacteristic move, blew off an appearance at New York University. Perhaps it was too rainy. Maybe he didn’t feel like it.

Charles phoned home to tell his wife he was coming home. He instructed Anne not to allow anyone in the baby’s room between 8 and 10 PM. Sick or not, Charles didn’t want his son to become spoiled. He arrived back at approximately 8:25 PM.
Healdsburg Tribune, Number 103, 5 March 1932 — BABY LINDBERGH WITH HIS NURSE

At 10 PM, nurse Betty noticed an open window in the nursery. She went to close it to keep baby Charles from catching a chill, and to her shock, the crib is empty. Betty ran to tell the Lindberghs, who were in the library directly below the nursery.

At first, Betty and Anne thought Charles was pulling a prank. A few weeks prior, he hid the baby in a closet to prank his wife. This time, when Charles stared into the empty crib, he declared, “Anne! They’ve stolen our baby!”

News footage of the Lindbergh tragedy


The Lindbergh’s immediately called the police. Local law enforcement turned the case over to New Jersey State Police led by Herbert Norman Schwartzkopf Sr, who searched the crime scene. On an open window sill, Charles found a ransom note beside a pair of muddy footprints. Outside, investigators found a broken ladder and footprints leading to the woods that surrounded the 400-acre estate.

Inside the small envelope was a hurridly written letter asking for $50,000 in exchange for baby Charles. The first ransom note in the Lindbergh case, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
“Dear Sir!
Have 5000$ redy. 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills. After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony.
We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the police the child is in gut care.
Indication for all letters are singnature and three holes” — Transcribed Ransom Note

Investigators realized the ransom note was odd. The sentence structure and dollar format were not that of a native English speaker. A currency symbol following a dollar amount is common in certain European countries, such as France, the Scandinavian countries, and Germany. The word “gut” or “gute” translates to “good” in German.

The investigation was going nowhere fast. Anne published instructions to the kidnapper concerning the baby’s health and a special diet. Then, on March 6, Charles received a second ransom request. The letter, postmarked March 4, demanded an increased ransom of $70,000.

The second ransom note included the same misspellings and distinct writing voice of the first. The author used the same signature, two overlapping blue circles with a red circle in the center. The author let Anne know they were following the diet she prescribed.

Two days later, a third note arrived — this time, to Charles’ attorney Colonel Henry Breckenridge. In the letter, the author asks for a mediator between themselves and the Lindberghs.

Dr. John Condon, A retired school teacher previously unknown to the Lindbergh family, published an offer to act as an intercessor in “Bronx Home News.” Dr. Condon also offered up an additional $1,000 for the safe return of little Charlie.
San Pedro News Pilot, Volume 5, Number 63, 18 May 1932

The next day, a new letter came to Dr. Condon. The kidnappers said they were agreeable to the arrangement. Charles agreed. The IRS and the FBI worked together to record the serial numbers on $70,000 worth of gold notes and deliver the ransom to Dr. Condon. Once the money was in his hands, Dr. Condon published a personal ad letting the kidnappers know the cash was ready.

On March 12, Dr. Condon had a knock on his door. It was a taxicab driver named Joseph Perrone, hired by a stranger to deliver another letter to the address. The letter instructed Dr.Condon to a vacant frankfurter stand, where he would find yet another note beneath a stone. The writer suggested they make the handoff then.

With money in tow, Dr. Condon located the sixth letter, which read, “Cross the street and follow the fence from the cemetery direction to 233rd Street. I will meet you.”

Dr. Condon went to Woodlawn Cemetery as instructed. Charles refused to allow police to shadow the unknown man or take part in the ransom negotiation at all. He told Dr. Condon to get evidence of the baby’s safety before any money changed hands.

Dr. Condon walked into the dark cemetery and noticed a man waving a handkerchief. The man called himself John and came to be known as “Cemetery John.” He spoke with a distinct German accent and asked, “Did you get the money?” Dr. Condon told him that he couldn’t bring the money until he saw evidence that the baby was alive.

Cemetery John heard rustling leaves and asked Dr. Condon if it was a cop. Dr. Condon replied that he did not and that he was a man of his word. Cemetery John replied, “It’s too dangerous.” and ran.

Dr. Condon followed the stranger to a cluster of trees across the street. He grabbed Cemetery John’s arm and led him to a bench.

For the next hour, Dr. Condon and Cemetery John had a disconcerting conversation. Cemetery John often said it was “too dangerous” and wondered if he would “burn” if the baby died.

Cemetery John agreed to provide evidence that he had the child, and the two parted with a handshake.

The following Wednesday, Dr. Condon received what was said to be the baby’s pajama’s in the mail, accompanied by yet another letter. The note instructed Dr. Condon to post a personal ad in the “New York American” if Charles accepted that as evidence and agreed to pay the ransom. Dr. Condon published an ad accepting the new terms.

On April 2, 1932, a messenger delivered a note to Dr. Condon’s home. The letter advised him to drive to a florist located at 3225 East Tremont Ave in the Bronx. Here, he would find further instructions beneath a rock under a display table.

It was go time. After all the run-around, Dr. Condon would finally make the exchange, or so he thought.

Charles and Dr. Condon took the box of marked bills to Bergen’s Flower Store in Westchester Square. Of course, there was another note with even more instructions sending Dr. Condon and Charles to St. Raymond Cemetery.

Charles waited in the car while Dr. Condon went to meet Cemetery John. In the darkness, Dr. Condon saw no one. But a voice called out, “Hey, Doctor! Over here!” Dr. Condon talked the kidnapper down to the original $50,000 and exchanged that for a note regarding the baby’s location:

“The boy is on the boad Nellie. It is a small boad 28 feet long. Two persons are on the boad. The are innocent. You will find the boad between Horseneck Beach and Gay Head near Elizabeth Island.”

When day broke, Charles Lindbergh flew to Gay Head Island. There was no boat called Nellie. There was no baby. There were no kidnappers to be apprehended.

Dr. Condon described Cemetery John to a sketch artist. He was about 5’9”, weighed about 165lbs., with an athletic build and a fair complexion. Cemetery John, Public Domain FBI Sketch


On May 12, 1932, the search for baby Charles Lindbergh Jr came to a tragic end. Orville Wilson and William Allen were driving bear Mount Rose, New Jersey, when nature called. William stepped out of the vehicle and walked 45 feet from the highway to relieve himself. Instead, he discovered the tiny, decomposing body of baby Charles partially buried and obscured by brush. The whole time, the baby lay dead four and a half miles from his home. Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania,13 May 1932, Fri • Page 1

Dr. Charles H Mitchell examined the body and concluded the baby’s death resulted from head trauma. Little Charles likely died the night of the abduction. Charles and Anne had their baby cremated almost immediately and scattered his ashes over the Atlantic Ocean.

Investigation FBI Investigation of the scene of Lindbergh kidnapping, Public Domain

New Jersey State Police offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer. America responded with thousands of tips that led nowhere. The police continued to question the family and household in case they remembered anything new and waited for the marked bills to circulate.

Investigators insisted the kidnapping was an inside job. No one knew the Lindberghs would be home that night besides family and household employees. A maid, Violet Sharpe, of the Morrow household in Englewood, New Jersey, initially gave conflicting statements to authorities. The police wanted to question her again after learning the baby was dead. But, on June 10, 1932, violet committed suicide.

Investigators turned their attention to the thirteen ransom notes. Several handwriting experts agreed a single individual wrote all of them. They further concurred that the author was likely German.

Dr. Condon believed he would recognize Cemetery John. He viewed countless mugshots, but none proved to be the elusive Cemetery John.

The FBI hired a wood expert named Arthur Koehler to examine the ladder. Arthur disassembled it and identified the types of wood and tools used to create such a ladder.

None of these efforts led to a suspect. Two years passed with no progress. Then, on August 20, 1934, merchants began receiving the Lindbergh ransom gold certificates as payment. Most of them were spent in Yorkville and Harlem. Some merchants were able to describe the person passing the bills. The description matched the one Dr. Condon gave of Cemetery John. Still, the suspect remained nameless.

On September 18, 1934, a banker in New York City called the FBI to report receiving a gold note different from the others. This bill had New York License plate number 4u-13–41-NY written in the margin. A gas station attendant received the bill and thought the customer might be a counterfeiter and jotted down the number.

In no time, investigators traced the license plate to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter who lived at 1279 East 222nd Street, Bronx, New York. Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Fair Use

Detectives watched the Hauptmann house for any movement the night of September 18, 1934. At 9 AM the next morning, a man matching the description of Cemetery John exited the premises and was arrested. At the time of the arrest, Bruno — who went by Richard — had a $20 ransom bill. Police had enough evidence to execute a search. Gas can used to hide the ransom money, FBI Photograph, Wikimedia, Public Domain

Detectives found over $13,000 ransom bills stuffed into a can and hidden in Richard’s garage. Joseph Peronne positively identified him as the stranger who hired him to deliver a letter to Dr. Condon. Dr. Condon was confident, Richard and Cemetery John were the same person.

Richard admitted he spent the money but insisted he had nothing to do with the crimes. Richard claimed that Isador Fisch, who was also a German immigrant, asked him to hold the money for safekeeping while he visited Germany. Isador’s brother, Pinkus, wrote to Richard to tell him that Isador died on March 22, 1934.

Richard provided samples of his handwriting, Schwarzkopf showed them to handwriting analyses expert Albert Osborn. Albert thought there were just as many similarities as there were differences in the writing.

Through the search of the Hauptmann home, police discovered Dr. Condon’s address and phone number written inside of a closet with the serial numbers of two one-dollar bills. On September 26, 1934, Richard was indicted for extortion in New York. On October 8, he was indicted for murder in New Jersey.

Trial Charles Lindbergh takes the stand, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Richard’s trial commenced on January 3, 1935, in Flemington, New Jersey. Thousands of reporters and spectators flooded the community.

The evidence was damning, although almost entirely circumstantial. The handwriting matched enough to say Richard wrote the letters. Dr. Condon’s address and the serial numbers scrawled on the inside of the closet didn’t help Richard’s case. But the nail in his coffin turned out to be what the wood expert labeled “rail number 16.”

The wood from rail 16 was identical to the flooring of Richard’s attic. The intricate pattern of the grain matched line for line.

With all of the evidence piling up, Richard’s wife provided an Alabi’d. Elvert Carlson claimed he served Richard in his bakery. Another man claimed to see Richard walking his dog in the Bronx. These witnesses were all found unreliable, and the defense had paid one.

After the testimonies of 162 witnesses, the lawyers presented closing arguments. Reilly attempted to insert a shadow of a doubt, saying Richard could not have acted alone and that Richard was framed for a crime committed by Violet Sharpe and other domestic employees. The prosecution rested after a five-hour statement recounting all of the evidence and saying, “[Richard is] either the filthiest, vilest snake that ever crawled through the grass, or he is entitled to an acquittal.”

On February 13, 1935, the jury announced that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was guilty. He was sentenced to death by electrocution. In all of his appeals, only Governor Harold Hoffman rejected Richard’s death sentence. He couldn’t convince himself that Richard acted alone.

A reporter asked Richard if he feared the electric chair. He responded, “You can imagine how I feel when I think of my wife and child, but I have no fear for myself because I know that I am innocent. If I have to go to the chair in the end, I will go like a man and like an innocent man.”

Richard was offered a commutation if he named an accomplice. He declined and proclaimed his innocence until the end. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936, by the state of New Jersey.


The Lindbergh Act of 1932 makes it a federal crime to transport a kidnap victim across state lines. It allows Federal agents to pursue kidnappers across state borders, whereas local law enforcement is bound by jurisdiction.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann’s widow maintained his innocence for the rest of her life.

Charles and Anne Lindbergh went on to have more children after moving to England. Charles became involved in Eugenics and sympathized with the Nazi party. He secretly fathered seven more children to ensure the survival of genes he perceived as superior. Americans have since learned to have better heroes.


Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Robert Zorn

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, Susan Hertog

Crime of the Century, Gregory Ahlgren

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I am a freelance writer, mom, and genealogist from California. I adore rock hounding, and living my best RV life.

Los Angeles, CA

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