Lindbergh Kidnapping

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Lindbergh Kidnapping

The Kidnapping of Charles A. and Anne M. Lindbergh's twenty-month-old son horrified the United States, and even the world. In 1927, at age twenty-five, Lindbergh achieved international fame with the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by air, and in the bleak years of the late 1920s, the young aviator became a symbol of courage and success. The disappearance of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., on March 1, 1932, and the discovery of his corpse ten weeks later, led to a riotous trial, significant changes in federal law, and a tightening of courtroom rules regarding cameras.

Lindbergh's historic flight from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis brought him both adulation and wealth. By the end of 1930, he was estimated to be worth over $1.5 million. His was an enviable life, with more than enough justifications for the nickname Lucky Lindy: world fame; the Congressional Medal of Honor; foreign nations sponsoring his long-distance flights; positions with several airlines; a publishing career; and, in 1929, marriage to the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the writer Anne Spencer Morrow. The couple made their home in New Jersey, where their first child, Charles, Jr., was born in 1930.

In the context of 1930s crime, the kidnapping of Charles, Jr., was not unique. But because he was the Lindberghs' son, his disappearance provoked weeks of well-publicized agonizing. Lindbergh led the search effort and even negotiated with Organized Crime figures. All hopes ended when the child's body was found near the family estate.

Nearly two years passed before Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a carpenter, was arrested as the prime suspect in the murder. Hauptmann's trial, held between 1934 and 1935, was a sensation. Nearly seven hundred reporters and photographers flocked to the New Jersey town that was the site of the trial. Inside the courtroom, where flashbulbs popped and a concealed newsreel camera whirred, order was seldom possible. Equally beset were the Lindberghs themselves, and Charles Lindbergh, despite his fame, developed a hatred for the media. After Hauptmann was convicted and, in 1936, executed, the couple left the United States to live in England.

The American Bar Association (ABA) viewed the trial as a media circus and called for reform. In 1937 the ABA included a prohibition on courtroom photography in its Canons of Professional and Judicial Ethics. All but two states adopted the ban, and the U.S. Congress amended the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to ban cameras and broadcasting from federal courts. The ban on photography in courtrooms prompted by the trial would last nearly four decades.

Another important result of the kidnapping was the passage of the 1932 Federal Kidnapping Act (U.S.C.A. §§ 1201–1202 [1988 & Supp. 1992]), popularly called the Lindbergh Law. This statute made it a federal offense to kidnap someone with the intent to seek a ransom or reward. The law has since been modified several times not only to increase penalties but to make the investigative work of federal agents easier.

Further readings

Bradley, Craig M. 1984. "Racketeering and the Federalization of Crime." American Criminal Law Review (fall).

Gardner, Lloyd C. 2004. The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press.

Kennedy, Ludovic. 1996. Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann. New York: Penguin Books

Limbaugh, Steven. 2000. "The Case of New Jersey v. Bruno Richard Haptmann." UMKC Law Review 68 (summer): 585–99.

Silverman, Barbara Sheryl. 1983. "The Search for a Solution to Child Snatching." Hofstra Law Review (spring).

Cross-references

Cameras in Court.