American aviator Charles Lindbergh had already made headline news in May 1927, when he made the first nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic from New York City to Paris. This remarkable achievement was reported on by the press all around the world, with Lindbergh completing what has been regarded as one of the most consequential flights in the history of aviation. At just 25 years old, Lindbergh had changed the course of aviation and paved the way for a new mode of transportation around the world.
5 years later, Lindbergh would appear in the papers again. This time, it was not an achievement journalists wrote about, but instead the evil abduction of his baby from their family home by an unknown criminal. His son, just 20 months old, had been kidnapped and murdered, with the media referring to the event as the “Crime of the Century.”
In this blog post, we analyse genuine newspaper articles written about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, letting us see how this cruel and heartbreaking chain of events was reported on by journalists at the time. From details of the events leading up to the kidnapping, to the discovery of the baby, the press left no stone unturned when updating the public on this wicked crime. You can even explore genuine 1932 newspapers for yourself when searching our newspaper archive.
St. Paul Pioneer Press front page, Friday, May 13, 1932
- What was the Lindbergh Kidnapping?
- The Night of the Kidnapping
- “Mother’s Appeal”
- The Search
- The Ransom
- “Lindbergh Baby Found Dead”
- The Discovery of the Baby
- Bruno Richard Hauptmann Arrested
Colonel Lindbergh achieved fame after he completed a solo, nonstop, transatlantic flight from New York City to Paris in May 1927. As well as receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flight, Lindbergh was also given the highest military decoration in the United States by President Calvin Coolidge. At just 25 years old, Lindbergh had written himself into the aviation history books, also becoming the first ever TIME “Man of the Year” in 1928 and his remarkable efforts revolutionized the aviation industry.
It would not be long before Lindbergh’s life would once again change forever, and not positively. On March 1, 1932, the Lindbergh family were relaxing at their family home, having just put their poorly baby boy, Charles Jr., to bed for the night. Shortly after, the baby would be cruelly snatched from his cot by kidnappers. The criminals left absolutely no trace, vanishing into the night and leading a huge manhunt to begin to find the baby and bring him to safety.
After being told his baby would be returned safely to him should ransom money be paid, Lindbergh gave into every request in the hope of seeing his son again. The criminals took the money and did not keep their side of the bargain, and the hunt continued. Eventually, in May 1932, the baby’s body was found. Charles Jr. had suffered extreme injuries, which were believed would have caused instant death. It would not be until 1934 that Bruno Richard Hauptmann would be convicted for the kidnapping and murder of the baby boy, and he was executed in the electric chair for his horrific crimes.
Lindbergh baby kidnapping newspaper articles provided readers with all the details on the case when there had been developments, and the case dominated the front pages of many national and international publications. The world had their eyes on this terrible abduction, with journalists empathizing with the distress and hurt felt by the Lindbergh couple.
On May 13, 1932, after the baby had been discovered lifeless, the Minnesota-based newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote about the events that lead up to Charles Jr.’s kidnapping. The family were in their home, and Charles Jr. quietly sleeping in his cot, when the abduction took place. The newspaper states:
“A brisk wind whistled outside the Sourland mountain estate of the famous flier as Mrs. Lindbergh, assisted by Miss Gow, put her 20-months-old son to bed at 7:30 P. M. that Tuesday night in March.”
“Getting ready for bed, Mrs. Lindbergh found she had left her toothpaste in the baby’s bathroom and went in and got it, without turning on the light.”
“At 10:30 P. M. Miss Gow ran into her mistress’ room and asked if Colonel Lindbergh had taken the baby. When the mother was unable to answer, the nursemaid, followed by Mrs. Lindbergh, ran down to ask the father himself.”
“When Miss Gow told him his only child was missing a grim expression came over his face. Running to a closet, he seized his rifle and disappeared into the darkness outside the house.”
“After a brief search of the estate, Colonel Lindbergh called police – a call that set into motion the greatest manhunt the nation had even witnessed, a hunt that was followed closely for weeks by kings and presidents, and millions of citizens around the world.”
Photos of Charles Jr., Colonel Lindbergh and Mrs. Lindbergh, as well as their family home, in St. Paul Pioneer Press, Friday, May 13, 1932
The Daily Mirror also wrote that a “three section ladder lay outside” and “A warped wooden shutter to the baby’s room was unlocked, and the police suggested that the baby had been carried through it.” This indicated that the kidnapper had likely climbed in through the window and taking the baby quietly down and out of the house, sneaking away while making minimal noise. As the Daily Herald described on Friday, May 13, 1932, just after the baby’s body had been found:
“It was one of the most perfect kidnappings known. Not a trace of the perpetrators of the crime could be discovered; not a clue was found in the house.”
in the Daily Mirror immediately informs readers of the discovery of the baby, more than 2 months after he was taken from his cot. The article states:
“Colonel Lindbergh’s twenty-months-old so, Charles Augustus, who last night was found dead by neighbours near Lindbergh’s house at Hopewell, New Jersey, where he was kidnapped from his nursery on March 1.”
“The announcement was made by Governor Harry Moore, of New Jersey. Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh learned the news at their home. Mrs. Lindbergh is prostrate with grief. The formal announcement that the body had been identified by clothes and other things was issued.”
At the time of the kidnapping, Mrs. Lindbergh was pregnant with the couple’s second child and was, according to the Daily Mirror, “stricken to the heart by her tragic loss.” Charles Jr. had not been well at the time of his abduction, and Mrs. Lindbergh heartbreakingly pleaded to the kidnappers to follow a strict diet in order to maintain the baby’s health. She wrote:
“Here is a heartbroken appeal direct from the mother of the child you stole.”
“The baby has been ill and his recovery may depend on the treatment he gets from you.”
“You must be especially careful about his diet.”
Headline in the Boston Evening Transcript, Friday, May 13, 1932
As soon as they heard about the cruel kidnapping, the police immediately began their search, first examining the grounds of the Lindbergh’s home and the local area. However, the search went far beyond their hometown, with President Herbert Hoover releasing the following statement about the crime, later printed in the Boston Evening Transcript:
“I have directed the law enforcement agencies and the several secret services of the Federal Government to make the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby a live and never-to-be-forgotten case, never to be relaxed until these criminals are implacably brought to justice. The Federal Government does not have police authority in such crimes but its agencies will be unceasingly alert to assist the New Jersey police in every possible way until this end has been accomplished.”
Subheadlines about the Lindbergh kidnapping case in the Boston Evening Transcript, Friday, May 13, 1932
The Daily Herald also informed its readers that the kidnapping had become a case followed by the rest of the country:
“The whole of the United States was staggered when the news was flashed round the country, and the whole of the world felt for the mother, who is now expecting another child.”
“Fleets of motorcars and aeroplanes scoured the countryside. Every possible clue, however vague, was followed up by the police and by scores of private investigators.”
There had been an interesting development in the case, with the Daily Mirror reporting that:
“A friend of Colonel Lindbergh declared that a ransom note was found pinned to the window-sill, demanding £10,000 (at par) for the baby’s return.”
Naturally, Colonel Lindbergh was going to do whatever it would take to get his son returned to him safely, so he followed the instructions laid out by the unknown abductor. The Boston Evening Transcript also reported on this turn of events on May 12:
“The $10,000 was to have been the first payment of a total of $50,000 and Colonel Lindbergh was instructed to place the money between the leaves of a magazine and mail it to White River Junction. No evidence was furnished for identification.”
The police also had another lead, also written in the Boston Evening Transcript:
“A bottle found floating in the Merrimack River contained a note addressed to Colonel Lindbergh saying that the writer had found the Lindbergh baby and was being held prisoner with him at Tyngsboro. Though little credence was placed in the note, an investigation was started immediately.”
The police were determined to follow any potential lead, no matter how small it was. The Daily Herald appropriately conveys the suspense during the time Lindbergh and the police followed the ransom note:
“While the mother and father of the baby were employing famous gangsters to work with the police in tracking down the child, the kidnappers were preparing the cruellest of their acts.”
“The money had been paid. A secret rendezvous had been arranged.”
“He reached the rendezvous. He waited, hidden, for the sign that the criminals were bringing his child back. Minutes ticked on. Hours…”
“Then, while the whole world waited breathlessly for news, while the cables of continents were flashing out inquiries, came the bombshell.”
“The famous Colonel Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, had been double-crossed.”
“He had paid the £10,000 ransom, he had kept the rendezvous without making any attempt to capture the kidnappers yet he had been swindled. His hopes had gone…”
The kidnappers had not kept their side of the bargain, taking money from Lindbergh and failing to return the child safely. This was the last hope the Lindbergh’s had to see their baby alive again. As the Daily Herald continues:
“Throughout the whole of the drama there has been the ray of hope that the child would be found. Rumours, almost unbelievable rumours, were followed up as carefully as if they had been concrete clues.”
Photos of the Lindbergh family in the Daily Herald – Colonel Lindbergh (left), the baby Charles Jr. (middle) and Mrs. Lindbergh (right)
On May 13, 1932, the Daily Mirror dedicated the entirety of its front page to the Lindbergh case, informing readers in the United Kingdom that the baby had been murdered. This Lindbergh kidnapping newspaper feature printed the headline “Lindbergh Baby Found Dead,” and dedicated the entire front page to the case.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press printed the following headline on the same day:
St. Paul Pioneer Press headline, Friday, May 13, 1932
The report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press revealed the following information about the discovery of the baby’s body:
“The child had been murdered.”
“Blows on the head, inflicted probably on the same March night he was kidnaped from the home of his famous father, caused the infant’s death.”
“The body, lying face down in a depression and partly covered by leaves and windblown debris, was discovered…”
“The baby had been struck once on the top of the head on the left side and once on the right below the ear, either blow so violently delivered that it would have caused instant death.”
The news that the baby’s body had been discovered had made headline news even across the Atlantic, showing that even the international public were watching the case closely and were shocked by the devastating events that occurred.
The Daily Mirror reports on the discovery of the baby, providing readers with details on how his body was found. The report states that only the skeleton of the child was found, and was first sighted by two men who were passing by:
“They suddenly came across the skeleton almost concealed under a pile of leaves and earth.”
“A hole about the size of a shilling was in the skull just above the forehead. An attempt had apparently been made to bury the body.”
“Tremendous feeling was aroused throughout the country and a widespread search was at once instituted.”
The newspaper also writes that the baby could not be identified immediately due to decomposition, suggesting the baby had been left lifeless for a long time before he was found:
“So badly was the body decomposed it had to be identified by pieces of clothing, bone structures and teeth, and it was impossible to give the police the slightest clue as to exactly what kind of instrument had brought death.”
The journalist informs readers that the reason behind the killing of the baby was unknown, and there are a couple of theories being considered by police:
“Whether the child had been killed with calculating purpose by criminals who found it advantageous to them to get rid of the infant or whether he had been struck and thrown from a fast moving automobile by panic-stricken abductors was a matter of conjecture.”
After discovering the baby had been murdered, the police head, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, announced “he already had a gang under suspicion” and Governor A. Harry Moore claimed that “every attempt should be made now to find the murderers of the Lindbergh baby.”
A second statement was released by Schwarzkopf:
“As long as there was a possibility of the baby being alive, the police have been acting with a certain amount of suppressed activity in order not to interfere with any negotiations that might result in the safe return of the baby.”
“Now that the body of the baby has been found every possible effort will be used and all men necessary will immediately exercise every possible effort to accomplish the arrest of the kidnapers and murderers. We have had under suspicion a group of persons suspected of being the kidnapers and immediate steps will be taken and are being taken to accomplish their arrest.”
Daily Mirror headline on page 3, Friday, May 13, 1932
It would not be until 1934 that police would arrest the criminal, after finding substantial evidence to convince a man named Richard Hauptmann, an immigrant with a criminal record in Germany.
Many of the ransom bills obtained from the kidnapping had been spent throughout New York City, with many being spent along the Lexington Avenue subway route, linking the east side of Manhattan with the Bronx, and included Yorkville, a German-Austrian neighborhood. On September 18, a gold certificate from the ransom was seen by a bank teller in Manhattan, with a license number written in the margin of the bill. This enabled the bill to be tracked to a local gas station, where police discovered that the manager had recorded the license plate due to the customer behaving suspiciously.
Police found ransom money in his garage, and Hauptmann was arrested, interrogated and beaten. After searching his house, they came across significant evidence that strongly linked Hauptmann to the kidnapping. In a notebook, they saw a drawing of a ladder that looked almost identical to the ladder found at the Lindbergh house on the night of the abduction. A section of wood was also hiding in the attic and later examined by an expert, who declared it was an exact match to the wood used in the ladder at the crime scene.
On September 24, 1934, Hauptmann was indicted for extorting the $50,000 ransom from Colonel Lindbergh and, two weeks later, for the murder of Charles Jr. He was charged with capital murder and his trial was considered the “Trial of the Century.” Edward J. Reilly was hired by the New York Daily Mirror to serve as Hauptmann’s attorney, in exchange for rights to publish his story in their newspaper.
A large offer was made by a Hearst newspaper to Hauptmann in exchange for a confession, but Hauptmann refused. He also refused an offer to confess in exchange for life without parole instead of the death penalty. Hauptmann was then electrocuted on April 3, 1936, bringing this treacherous case to a final close.