Lindbergh Kidnapping

views updated May 17 2018

Lindbergh Kidnapping

The kidnapping of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. on the evening of March 1, 1932, shocked the world and became one of the best known and most notorious crimes in modern history. The child's father, Charles A. Lindbergh, was probably the most famous man in the world at the timea hero for completing the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 22, 1927. Lionized wherever he went and married to the charming, talented and wealthy Anne Morrow in 1929, their tragedy became a measure of the precarious social and economic times in which they lived, and emblematic of the powerful role that childhood played in the modern American imagination.

The baby, who was pictured in papers around the world after he disappeared, was twenty months old at the time of his abduction. During the six weeks which followed, the state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), private detectives, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world tried to find the child, for whom a ransom demand of $50,000 was paid on April 2, 1932. But the child was never recovered alive. On May 13, his partial remains were discovered not far from the house in New Jersey from which he had been taken. The hunt for the child then gave way to a massive hunt for his abductor.

The story of the arrest, trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child has become one of the most well-known crimes in American history, not least because of the controversy that still surrounds the final disposition of the case in 1936. The event has often been featured on radio and television programs, and the outcome of the case against Hauptmann continues to generate revisionist interpretations. But the kidnapping and its resolution were important only because the crime itself was so horrifying and considered a direct attack on the substance of American institutions and culture. The audacious disappearance of the "nation's child" as the baby was called at the time, became a terrible blow to the country's sense of security in precarious depression times, and a reminder of the threats to law and order in the early 1930s. It was used in the press to remind parents about the importance of their children and to confirm their commitment to family safety and well-being. The crime had major consequences in law and became the basis for the passage of the first federal kidnapping statute ("the Lindbergh Law") which made kidnapping a capital offense. It was also instrumental in the reorganization and reinvigoration of the FBI. For much of the rest of the twentieth century, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby would help to define the horrors of child loss for modern parents as it became a touchstone of a media increasingly sensitive to parents' anxieties about their children.


Berg, A. Scott. 1998. Lindbergh. New York: Putnam.

Fass, Paula S. 1997. Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Milton, Joyce. 1993. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. New York: Harper Collins.

Paula S. Fass

Lindbergh Kidnapping

views updated May 09 2018


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).


Cameras in Court.

About this article

Lindbergh Kidnapping

All Sources -
Updated Aug 08 2016 About content Print Topic