The 1932 kidnapping and death of the then almost-two-year-old Charles "Charlie" Lindbergh was the stuff of tragic melodrama. The case of what happened to the Lindbergh baby drew worldwide attention. After all, aviator Charles Lindbergh, Sr. was the most famous man in the world, having been the first person to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic. Everyone loved handsome and daring "Lucky Lindy," and the world rejoiced when he married the lovely Anne Morrow and produced the adorably blond and chubby "Baby Lindy." But on a cold March night in 1932, the child was mysteriously taken from his crib. Within just a few hours, the Hopewell, New Jersey crime scene was hopelessly contaminated, muddying the evidence forever, and further clouding the strange circumstances discovered by case investigators.
Eventually, a German immigrant named Bruno Richard Hauptmann was tried and convicted of Baby Lindy's kidnapping and murder. He was executed for his alleged crimes on April 3, 1936. However, due to the mysterious circumstances of the kidnapping, the many legitimate suspects in the case, and doubts surrounding Hauptmann's guilt, we may never know what really happened to little Charles Jr. We can all keep guessing, though, pulling together the random and eerie fragments of the strange circumstances surrounding the Linbergh baby's disappearance.
Initially, the New Jersey State Police believed the kidnapping had to be an inside job. For example, how would the kidnapper know the exact location of the baby's room? The Lindbergh's home was new; parts of it were still under construction when the kidnapping occurred. The family had not even officially moved in, at that point spending only weekends there.
But the kidnapping happened on a Tuesday evening. Who else but someone on the inside would know that the family remained after the weekend due to the baby's bad cold? According to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the only people who knew the change in plans were her own parents and one of her parents' house maids who often cared for the baby. The only other people who knew the family's whereabouts that evening were little Charlie's nanny and the Lindbergh butler, who were in the house.
Further, State Police immediately noted that the baby's nursery had been wiped clean of fingerprints, even those that should have been present, including those of the baby and his parents. As the case evolved over the next few days, police and other investigators determined that Charles Lindbergh was maintaining control of the investigation and may have ordered the cleaning of the crime scene.
One of the more eerie Lindbergh baby circumstances concerns the fate of Lindbergh household servants. Police suspected that what happened to the Lindbergh baby was an inside job. Until the sole official suspect, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was arrested, authorities rigorously and repeatedly questioned members of the Lindbergh household staff.
Chief among these was Violet Sharp, a woman who was in the employ of Anne Lindbergh's parents as a house maid. Since Anne, Charles, and their baby were not only frequent visitors to the Morrow home, but were also actually living there while their new home was built, Sharp was regularly pressed into the service of caring for the Lindbergh baby. Indeed, Sharp was one of only a very few who knew that the family would remain at the new home prior to the baby's disappearance. And this is why she was at the top of the police suspect list.
Sharp was called in for questioning twice, and neither was a pleasant experience. Aside from the fact that she was initially a candidate for suspicion, the New Jersey State Police were under enormous pressure to solve the crime and return the child. This was Lucky Lindy's baby, and the entire world was watching. The department's reputation was on the line. Under the circumstances, their questioning could be brutal.
Sharp did not help her case by lying to the police about her whereabouts on the night in question. And when the baby's remains were discovered and she was questioned again, she became agitated and very upset. Soon the police called her in yet again for questioning. But she was found dead, having taken cyanide.
The Lindbergh's butler, Oliver Whateley, who was one of the five people present the night of the kidnapping, was also repeatedly questioned by the police. He died, very suddenly, of peritonitis, the following year.
Focus on the homemade ladder used in the kidnapping began the night of the Lindbergh baby's disappearance. Though crudely made, it was quickly evident that its creator possessed carpentry and mechanical skills since the ladder was designed to expand as needed and retract into an easily carried compact piece. First checked for finger prints, then compared with the scuffs on the window sill outside the nursery, the wood used to construct the ladder was an important clue for authorities. A Forest Service expert named Arthur Koehler was summoned to inspect the materials.
Koehler disassembled the ladder and inspected each piece of wood, every chisel mark and nail hole. He concluded that several distinct types of wood had been sourced to build the ladder, including one wood that was designed for use in indoor construction. He traveled to wood factories and processing centers to make comparisons, as well as comparing wood sources at the homes of the Lindberghs, their family, and friends. Koehler's meticulous efforts would prove useful later on in the case.
When Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested due to his possession of numbered bank notes from the ransom, Koehler had a new source to compare with his findings. High in Hauptmann's home attic he discovered a plank of wood that was a perfect match to a plank used to construct the kidnapper's ladder. Not all experts agree that this was evidence of Hauptmann's guilt, claiming that the wood in question was purposefully planted in the attic to implicate Hauptmann.
Though they seem more a torture device than a training tool to the eyes and minds of people today, thumb guards were commonly used in the early twentieth century to discourage young children from sucking their thumbs. Young Charlie Lindbergh was among those children who were put to bed each night with metal guards placed over their thumbs. The guards were attached to strong string or metal chains, which were secured to a crib rail, one on each side. Placed thusly, a child could move about, to a point, but was physically unable to bring either thumb to the mouth.
Most accounts about the evening of March 1, 1932 make no mention of Charlie's thumb guards. But it was not insignificant when, nearly one month later, his nanny, Betty Gow, discovered a thumb guard exactly like Charlie's, crushed in the driveway leading away from the Lindbergh home. The discovery location was somewhat problematic for Lindbergh and the police, as their investigation already concluded that footprints in the grass and mud, along with pieces of the ladder, marked the kidnapper's path - on foot - in precisely the opposite direction from the location of the thumb guard. Questions concerning the contradictory evidence were never addressed and remains one of the more strange aspects of the Lindbergh baby disappearance.