The original “Crime of the Century.” News of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh’s son being snatched from his crib in the middle of the night was about as scary as it got in 1932. Despite the family having every resource at their disposal, the body of 20-month-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was found two months later in a field not far from the family’s New Jersey home. Two years later, German-born carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested for the crime, tried, convicted and subsequently executed on April 3, 1996, having insisted all the while that he was innocent.
Multiple books written in the 84 years since the kidnapping contend that Hauptmann—whose status as a working-class immigrant, particularly from Germany in the days leading up to World War II, did him no favors with the American criminal justice system—was innocent. His wife, Anna Hauptmann, spent the rest of her life trying to clear his name, alleging at one point that her husband had been “framed from beginning to end” by police desperate to close the case.
So not only is this crime possibly still unsolved, but the government may have put an innocent man to death. The kidnapping terrified a nation, and newspapers pretty much flayed Hauptmann alive before he was even convicted. Spurred on by anti-German sentiment and major hero worship for Lindbergh, the police, the media and, ultimately, a jury (that for the most part probably thought it was doing the right thing) joined forces to bring Hauptmann down, with even those higher-ups who believed in his innocence not being able to reverse the course of a system not interested in alternative theories.