Thursday, January 08, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 1

Originally published in the November, 2008, Old Radio Times.(

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

NOTE: This topic was presented orally on October 24, 2008 at the Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark, NJ, but this is the first time it has appeared in print.

OTR researcher Derek Tague has often, and correctly, declared that the three most newsworthy events in the 1930s all happened in New Jersey: the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, the Martians landing at Grovers Mills, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping in Hopewell. Since the first two events have been discussed several times at OTR conventions, but never the Lindbergh Kidnapping, I felt compelled to correct that omission.

The kidnapping of Lindbergh’s baby in 1932 has been accurately termed “The Crime of the Century” based upon its impact on the national and international scene. This startling crime, which involved not only the kidnapping but the murder of a small boy, generated more shock among the citizens of North American and Europe than a presidential assassination. And this crime, and subsequent trial, certainly resulted in more news stories, radio summaries, and magazine articles over a five year period than any other criminal event, before or since.

The story actually begins in May 1927 when Charles A. Lindbergh, an obscure mail pilot, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, landing in France. The feat electrified the world and brought him immediate honors, riches, and fame. He was accorded the Congressional Medal of Honor and President Coolidge dispatched a Navy ship to return him and his plane back to the U.S. The National Archives has released, under their audio file entitled “Sounds of History” the audio exchange of Coolidge and Lindbergh as it aired over the major networks in 1927.

Lindbergh’s face was on the cover of every U.S. and European magazine, there was a dance named for him, and he was truly the best-known personality on either side of the Atlantic. In May 1929 he married Anne Morrow, the daughter of a multi-millionaire banker and ambassador to Mexico. In June 1930 their first son was born at the Morrow estate in Englewood, NJ, but they had already purchased 390 acres near Hopewell, NJ, to build their own mansion. It was completed in late 1931 and the Lindberghs alternated between the two residences. They were in their Hopewell residence on March 1, 1932 when a kidnapper placed a ladder under the second story nursery about 9 PM, took the child without a sound, left a ransom note in the bedroom, and escaped to a nearby car without being heard by the family or staff. In addition to abandoning the home-made, collapsible ladder, the kidnapper also left a chisel at the scene.

The baby’s nurse discovered him missing about 10 PM and alerted the Lindberghs who found the ransom note. Local and state police were notified and the most extensive law enforcement investigation began; it would go non-stop for two and a half years until the perpetrator was arrested in September 1934. At that time, kidnapping was not a federal offense so the FBI and Dept. of Treasury had no jurisdiction. However the public outcry forced the White House to direct all federal agencies to render any possible assistance tolocal authorities. The Coast Guard searched the shores for the missing baby and the Commerce Dept. did the same at airports and train stations. Immigration authorities examined every vehicle coming to or from Mexico and Canada, trying to find the baby.


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