Friday, January 09, 2009

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Pt. 2

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

Radio Aspects of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Jack French © 2008

The New Jersey State Police were officially in charge of the investigation which made their agency head, Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf the lead man on the case. His fame in this case would later catapult him into radio’s Gang Busters as the narrator and he was also the father of General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, the hero of the first Gulf War. The first ransom note demanded $ 50,000 for the safe return of the child. It contained a unique symbol as a signature (two interlocking circles with three holes punched through the design) which turned out to be very valuable in separating the real notes from the kidnapper (there would be 13 more) from the hundreds of fake ones that poured into the case, claiming to be from the kidnappers.

The media, particularly the newspapers and radio stations, had their reporters surrounding the Lindbergh and Morrow estates as well as NJ police stations, waiting for news, and sometimes creating news if there was none. Everybody wanted to get into the act, even Al Capone. At that time, Capone was serving time for tax evasion in Chicago but promised if he was released he could find the kidnappers in a few weeks and would return the unharmed baby to his parents. Capone seemed insulted when his offer was declined by authorities.

A week after the kidnapping, a 72 year old retired school principal in the Bronx, Dr. John F. Condon, unknown to Lindbergh, injected himself into the case by sending a letter to a local newspaper, offering to act as intermediary in the ransom payoff. Astonishingly, the kidnapper responded to Condon and sent him a series of ransom notes with instructions for the payoff. (The amount had now risen to $ 70,000.)

Lindbergh and his advisors met with Condon several times and approved him making the ransom payoff. The kidnapper had specified a wooden box of certain dimensions be made and the money placed inside. All bills were to be unmarked and their serial numbers not recorded. Lindbergh, fearful of his son’s life, insisted the police follow the kidnapper’s demands, despite the police protests it would make the solution even more difficult. Not only was Lindbergh overruled by the police (they recorded every serial number) but also at the demand of Treasury investigator Elmer Irey, the majority of the bills were gold certificates. Irey had surmised accurately, that the U.S. would be going off the gold standard shortly and thus gold certificates would be easier to identify, locate and trace. While no one knew it at the time, his plan would eventually result in the arrest of the kidnapper. The actual payoff was made on April 2, 1932 in the Bronx by Condon to the kidnapper, who called himself John. Since only $50,000 would fit in the wooden box, Condon left the other $20,000 in the car when he made the payoff, telling the kidnapper that was all Lindbergh could raise. The lesser amount was accepted and Condon was given instructions to find the baby on a boat near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It was a cruel hoax; neither the boat nor the baby was found after days of searching. The ransom money began appearing in business deposits in the New York City area that very week. One at a time, they trickled in but no one could be located who remembered the customer who had spent the bill in their establishment. None of the merchants had the numbers of the ransom bills so it was up to bank tellers to find them in the incoming cash deposits, a daunting task. Meanwhile Condon and Lindbergh’s aids tried to recontact the kidnapper to obtain better information on where to locate the baby.

On May 12, 1932 a truck driver parked his vehicle on a muddy road near Hopewell and walked into the woods to relieve himself. About 75 feet from the road, he found the body of a child, partially decomposed, under the branch of a tree. He immediately alerted the police who determined it was the body of the Lindbergh baby. It had been found two miles from the Lindbergh estate. The baby had been killed by a blow to the skull and apparently had been dead since the night of the kidnapping.

The case, which was being covered widely by all the news media, increased greatly with the tragedy of the dead victim. A reporter and cameraman actually slipped into the office at night where the body was being examined and took photos of the partially decomposed corpse and then sold copies of the photo for five dollars on the street. (Note: Regrettably, these photos are still being sold today on EBay by a Canadian dealer.)

Law enforcement authorities, no longer fearful of putting the child at risk redoubled their efforts throughout the Eastern U.S., where the ransom bills continued to find their way back to banks, primarily in the New York City boroughs. They even were the recipient of one of the first, effective examples of criminal profiling. While this technique is relatively common nowadays, in the mid 1930s it was virtually unknown. A 39 year old psychiatrist in NYC, Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld, was permitted to examine all the physical evidence, including all 14 ransom notes.


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