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Bruno Richard Hauptmann
On February 13, 1935, Bruno Richard Hauptmann is convicted of the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr. the young son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. The trial attracted widespread media attention and was dubbed the "Trial of the Century.”
Hauptmann was also named "The Most Hated Man in the World.” The trial was held in Flemington, New Jersey, and ran from January 2 to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry S. Breckinridge was Lindbergh's lawyer throughout the case and had acted as an intermediary in the ransom negotiations, assisted by Robert H. Thayer. On discovering his child was missing, Lindbergh had phoned Breckinridge before calling the state police.
The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. occurred on the evening of March 1, 1932. A man was believed to have climbed up a ladder that was placed under the bedroom window of the child's room and quietly snatched the infant by wrapping him in a blanket. A note demanding a ransom of $50,000 was left on the radiator that formed a windowsill for the room. The ransom was delivered, but the infant was not returned. A corpse identified as the boy's was found on May 12, 1932, in the woods 4 miles from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was listed as a blow to the head. It has never been determined whether the head injury was accidental or deliberate; some have theorized that the fatal injury occurred accidentally during the abduction.
More than two years after the abduction, authorities finally discovered a promising lead in the form of recent ransom notes which appeared to be the work of the very same individual. Soon this information was leaked to the press, which sought verification that the police were closing in on the kidnapper or kidnappers. On September 17, 1934, a $10 gold certificate that was part of the ransom was given to a gas station attendant as payment. Gold certificates were rapidly being withdrawn from circulation; to see one was unusual and, in this case, attracted attention. The attendant wrote down the license plate number of the car and gave it to the police. The New York license plate belonged to a dark blue Dodge sedan owned by Hauptmann. After successfully tracing the plate to Hauptmann, he was placed under surveillance by a team consisting of members of the New York Police Department, New Jersey State Police and FBI. On the morning of September 19, 1934, the team followed Hauptmann as he left his apartment on Needham Avenue and East 222nd Street in the Bronx, but were quickly noticed. As a result, Hauptmann attempted to get away by ignoring red lights and traveling at high speed. As the chase continued, Hauptmann was accidentally boxed in by a municipal sprinkler truck between 178th Street and East Tremont Avenue. Hauptmann was arrested.
At his trial Hauptmann remained steadfast in his innocence, insisting the box found to contain gold certificates had been left in his garage by a friend named Isador Fisch, who had returned to Germany in December 1933 and died there in March 1934. Taking the witness stand, Hauptmann claimed that he had found a shoe box left behind by Fisch, which Hauptmann had stored on the top shelf of a kitchen broom closet, later discovering the money which, upon counting, added up to $15,000. He further claimed that since Fisch owed him around $7,500 in business funds, Hauptmann claimed the money for himself. A ledger was found in Hauptmann's home of all his financial transactions; yet, no record of the alleged $7,500 debt was listed.
Hauptmann's defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, called Hauptmann's wife Anna to the witness stand to corroborate the Fisch story. But upon cross-examination by chief prosecutor David T. Wilentz, she was forced to admit that while she hung her apron every day on a hook higher than the top shelf, she could not remember seeing any shoe box there. Later, rebuttal witnesses testified that Fisch could not have been at the scene of the crime, and that he had no money for medical treatments when he died in Germany of tuberculosis. Fisch's landlady testified that he could barely afford his $3.50-a-week room. Various witnesses called by Reilly to put Fisch near the Lindbergh house on the night of the kidnapping were discredited in cross-examination with incidents from their pasts, which included criminal records or mental instability. In his closing summation, Reilly argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial, as no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder, the ransom notes, or anywhere in the nursery. Hauptmann was convicted and immediately sentenced to death by Judge Trenchard. Hauptmann was executed on April 3, 1936, in the electric chair at the New Jersey State Prison.
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