Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Lindbergh Baby Trial Opened

The justice system, in its own way, is responsible for a great portion of my cynicism; often, in their zeal to catch anyone for some crime or other, court officials toss aside rational thought and concrete evidence in favour of whatever poor schmuck they happen to have in custody. I've seen (or, more often, read about) it happening again and again, and each time it does it reduces my faith in so-called justice. On the plus side, though, it does keep me on my best behaviour...

PhotobucketOn this day in 1935 one such trial opened in Flemington, New Jersey; it involved the most sensational news story of its time, the March 1932 kidnap of the son of one of America's heroes - aviator Charles Lindbergh - and his wife, the author Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The baby's corpse was discovered in May of that same year; his infant's death was the impetus behind the Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal offense.

Collared for the crime after more than two-and-a-half years of investigation was one Bruno Hauptmann, a German World War I veteran and would-be carpenter; unable to find work in Germany, Hauptmann embraced a life of crime (including break-and enter and armed robbery) which eventually saw him incarcerated at Bautzen. It took three attempts, but Hauptmann eventually landed in the United States in November 1923, under an assumed identity, following which he married Anna Schoeffler; together they had a son.

Hauptmann was arrested in September 1934, and held on $100,000 bail; Lindbergh, who attended every day of the trial in person, was represented in court by Col. Henry S. Breckinridge, who had also acted as the intermediary in the ransom negotiations. Hauptmann was represented by Edward J. Reilly (called the 'Bull of Brooklyn'), the prosecution by David Wilentz (then the Attorney-General of New Jersey) in front of Judge Thomas Trenchard.

The usual string of witnesses were brought forth, including the Lindberghs themselves, various of their servants, state troopers (including Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the American general), and several eye-witnesses. The most damning of the evidence was largely circumstantial, and some of it was later revealed to have been planted.

Following 11 hours and 24 minutes of deliberation in February 1935, a jury found Hauptmann guilty despite major gaps in the evidence, including no credible witnesses able to put him near the Lindbergh's estate at Hopewell at any time. He was executed by an electric chair called Old Smokey at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton in April 1936, still proclaiming his innocence; a more likely candidate for guilt, the shadowy figure of Isidor Fisch, had already returned to Germany, where he died in March 1934.
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michael sean morris said...


I guess the insight I gleaned from this exercise is that I really need to own my shit.

Cynicism is merely a reaction - and a negative one at that; so how is it that I came to be preternaturally predisposed to cynicism?

Maybe I'll have another insight...

Anonymous said...

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