Bruno Hauptmann PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 March 2009 09:50

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

Born: November 26, 1899 Kamenz, Saxony, Germany

Died: April 3, 1936 Trenton, New Jersey, United States

Age: 36

Cause of death:  Old Smokey, the electric chair at New Jersey State Prison.

Notable because: Found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby in the 'crime of the century. However  it is most likely that prevailing anti-German prejudice fueled by the unprecedented media frenzy surrounding the case lynched (or in this case fried) an innocent man.

Bruno  Hauptmann  was a German carpenter sentenced to death and executed for the abduction and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of famous pilots Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh kidnapping gained international infamy, and has become known as "The Crime of the Century."

Born in Kamenz, Hauptmann was a soldier in the German army in World War I, seeing combat as a machine gunner in 1918. He was wounded in action and exposed to poison gas during a gas-attack.

Discharged before the war ended, he was unable to find work as a carpenter and he, with another veteran, burglarized three homes and robbed two women at gunpoint. He was caught and sentenced to five years, of which he served four in the prison in Bautzen. Not long after he was released, he was charged with another crime, but escaped from prison by walking out through an unguarded door.

He tried to illegally enter the U.S. by stowing away on a ship, but was discovered and returned to Germany twice. On his third attempt in November 1923, he used a disguise and a stolen identification card and managed to enter. In 1925 he married Anna Schoeffler, a fellow German immigrant. The couple lived in a house in the Bronx and had one son. Hauptmann worked as a carpenter.

The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. occurred on the evening of March 1, 1932. A man was believed to have climbed up a ladder that was placed to the bedroom window of the child's room and quietly snatched the child by wrapping him in a blanket and exited the same way. A note demanding a ransom of $50,000 was later delivered to the Lindbergh house. The ransom was delivered, but the infant was not returned. A corpse identified as the boy's was found on May 12, 1932 in the woods four miles from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was listed as a very severe blow to the head. It has never been proven if the infant's head injury was accidental or deliberate; some have theorized that the fatal injury occurred accidentally during the abduction.

More than two years later, on September 18, 1934, a $10 gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered; it had a license plate number written on it. Gold certificates were rapidly being withdrawn from circulation; to see one was unusual and, in this case, anything attracted attention. The New York license plate belonged to a dark blue Dodge sedan owned by Hauptmann. Hauptmann was arrested the next day and charged with the murder.

The trial attracted wide media attention and was dubbed the “trial of the century.” Hauptmann was also named "The Most Hated Man In The World." The trial was held in Flemington, New Jersey and ran from January 2 to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry S. Breckinridge was Lindbergh's lawyer throughout the case and acted as intermediary in the ransom negotiations, assisted by Robert H. Thayer. (On discovering his child missing, Lindbergh phoned Breckinridge before calling the police.)

Evidence produced against Hauptmann included $14,590 of the ransom money that was found in his garage, a hand-made ladder supposedly used in the kidnapping (which matched wood and carpentry equipment found in his home), and testimony alleging handwriting and spelling similarities to that found on the ransom notes. Eight different handwriting experts were called to the witness stand where they pointed out similarities between the words and letters in the ransom notes and in Hauptmann's writing specimens.

Hauptmann was positively identified as the man to whom the ransom money was delivered. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates, that he had been seen in the area of the estate in East Amwell, New Jersey near Hopewell on the day of the kidnapping, and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment. Hauptmann denied his guilt, insisting the box found to contain gold certificates had been left in his garage by a friend, named Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Germany in December 1933, and died there in March 1934. Taking the witness stand, Hauptmann claimed that he found a shoebox left behind by Fisch one day which Hauptmann stored on the top shelf of a kitchen broom closet, and one day discovered the money which, upon counting it, contained $40,000, and since Fisch owed him around $7,500 in business funds, Hauptmann claimed the money for himself.

Hauptmann's defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, called Hauptmann's wife, Anna Hauptmann, to the witness stand to corroborate the Fisch story. But upon cross-examination by chief prosecutor David T. Wilentz, she was forced to admit that while she hung her apron every day on a hook higher than the top shelf, she could not remember seeing any shoebox as described there. Later, rebuttal witnesses testified that Fisch could not have been at the scene of the crime, and he in fact had no money for medical treatments when he died in Germany of tuberculosis. Various witnesses called by Reilly to put Fisch near the Lindbergh house on the night of the kidnapping were discredited in cross-examination with incidents from their pasts which included having criminal records or mental instability.

When the trial ended, Reilly in his closing summation argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial for no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder or on the ransom notes or anywhere in the nursery. But Hauptmann was convicted anyway and immediately sentenced to death.

New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman secretly visited Hauptmann in his death row cell on the evening of October 16, 1935 with Anna Bading, a stenographer and fluent speaker of German. Hoffman urged the other members of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state's highest court, to visit Hauptmann.

Despite Governor Hoffman's evident doubt as to Hauptmann's guilt, Hoffman was unable to convince the other members of the Court of Errors to re-examine the case, and on April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed in Old Smokey, the electric chair at New Jersey State Prison. Hauptmann had requested a last meal consisting of celery, olives, chicken, french fries, buttered peas, cherries and cake. Reporters present at the execution reported that he went to the electric chair without saying any last words, but other reports later said that he was vehemently protesting his innocence.

After the execution, Hauptmann's widow, Anna, applied for and received special permission that was required to take her husband's body out of state, so that it could be cremated at the U.S. Crematory, also called the Fresh Pond Crematory, in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, New York. The memorial service there was religious (two Lutheran pastors conducted the service in German), and private (under New Jersey law public services were not permitted for felons, and Hauptmann's wife had agreed to this as a condition of receiving her husband's body) and was attended by only six people (the legal limit under New Jersey rules) but a crowd of over 2,000 gathered outside anyway. Hauptmann's widow had planned to return to Germany with the ashes.

In the latter part of the 20th Century, the case against Hauptmann came under serious scrutiny. For instance, one item of evidence at his trial was a scrawled phone number on a board in his closet, which was the number of the man who delivered the ransom, Dr. Joseph F. Condon. A juror at the trial said this was the one item of evidence that convinced her the most, but a reporter later admitted he had written the number himself. It is also alleged that the eyewitnesses who placed Hauptmann at the Lindbergh estate near the time of the crime were untrustworthy (including one legally blind man who had claimed to have seen Hauptmann entering the Lindbergh home), and that neither Lindbergh nor the go-between who delivered the ransom initially identified Hauptmann as the recipient. It has been alleged that the police beat Hauptmann and intimidated other witnesses, and some claim that the police planted or doctored evidence such as the ladder. There is also proof that the police doctored Hauptmann's time cards and ignored fellow workers who stated that Hauptmann was working the day of the kidnapping. These and other findings prompted J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI to question the manner in which the investigation and trial were conducted. Hauptmann's widow campaigned to have her husband's conviction reversed until the end of her life. television show Forensic Files on Court TV asked modern forensic scientists to reexamine two key pieces of evidence against Hauptmann. Kelvin Keraga concluded that the ladder used in the kidnapping was made from wood that had previously been part of Hauptmann's attic. Three forensic document examiners, Grant Sperry, Gideon Epstein, and Peter E. Baier, Ph.D., worked independently of each other. Sperry concluded the questioned writings were "highly probable" as being written by Hauptmann. (, page 2). Epstein concluded Hauptmann had written the Ransom Notes (, page 3). It is also interesting to note that Epstein had also concluded that Patsy Ramsey had written the JonBenet Ramsey Ransom Note (, p126:23-24 & p127:1). Baier wrote while Hauptmann "probably" wrote the Notes, " Looking at all these findings no definite and unambiguous conclusion can be drawn" (, page 7)

For more than 50 years, Hauptmann's widow, Anna, fought with the New Jersey courts to have the case re-opened without success. In 1982, the 82-year-old Anna Hauptmann sued the State of New Jersey, various former police officers, the Hearst newspapers who published pre-trial articles insisting on Hauptmann's guilt, and the former prosecutor David T. Wilentz (then 86-years-old), for over $100 million in wrongful-death damages. She claimed that the newly found documents proved misconduct by the prosecution and manufacture of evidence by government agents, all of whom were biased against Hauptmann because he happened to be of German ethnicity. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court refused her request that the federal judge considering the case be disqualified because of judicial bias, and in 1984 the judge dismissed her claims.

In 1985, over 23,000 pages of Hauptmann-case police documents were found in the garage of the late Governor Hoffman, along with 30,000 pages of FBI files not used in the trial which may have placed reasonable doubt to Hauptmann's guilt. Anna Hauptmann again appealed to the Supreme Court to clear her late husband's name and that he was "framed from beginning to end" by the police looking for a suspect. Among her allegations was that the rail of ladder taken from the attic where they used to live in 1935 was planted by the police, and that the ransom money was left behind by Isidor Fisch who was possibly the real kidnapper. In 1990, New Jersey's governor, Jim Florio, declined Mrs. Hauptmann's appeal for a meeting to clear Hauptmann's name.

Anthony Hopkins played Hauptmann in The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case (1976), and Stephen Rea also played him in a sympathetic light in a 1996 HBO movie entitled Crime of the Century. In 2002, The Opera Theatre of St. Louis produced Loss of Eden, an opera about Hauptmann and the kidnapping. The Armstrong kidnapping case in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by the tragedy as well. Writer Jen Bryant wrote a book in 2004 about the case called The Trial.


Born in 1899 in Germany, Bruno Richard Hauptmann had served as a teenaged machine gunner in the German infantry on the western front.  He lost two brothers in the war.  In post-war Germany, unemployment was rife; food was scarce.  With only eight years of general education and two years of trade school  where he learned carpentry and machinery ' Hauptmann was unable to secure gainful employment.  In March of 1919, he turned to crime.

With the help of a friend, Fritz Petzold, Hauptmann burglarized three homes.  In a more daring daylight robbery, the two accosted two women at gunpoint and stole their food coupons 'the women were pushing baby carriages down a city street.  In short order, Hauptmann was tried and convicted.  Although he was sentenced to five years and one week in prison, he was paroled after four years.  Soon after being released, he was arrested again and charged with stealing some strips of leather belting.  While awaiting trial, Hauptmann escaped from prison.  He left his neatly folded prison clothes on the front stairs with a note which read: 'Best wishes to the police.'

Hauptmann subsequently made two failed attempts to come to the United States.  Both times, he was returned to Germany.  On his third attempt, in November of 1923, he successfully entered the United States using a disguise and a stolen landing card.  The following spring, he met Anna Schoeffler  a German immigrant who lived in Queens.  In October of 1925, they were married.

Life in the United States was good to the Hauptmanns.  Anna worked in a bakery and Hauptmann was a carpenter. They lived in a comfortable home in the Bronx.

In September of 1935, a $10 gold certificate from the Lindbergh ransom money with a license plate number written on it was discovered at a local bank.  The license plate belonged to Bruno Richard Hauptmann.  Soon thereafter Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the Lindbergh kidnapping.  During a search of Hauptmanns house and garage, nearly $15,000 of the Lindbergh ransom money and a plank containing the address and phone number of Dr. John Condon was found.

The states case against Hauptmann was compelling.  Hauptmann was positively identified by Dr. John Condon as the man with whom Dr. Condon had met and delivered the ransom money.  Prosecution experts testified that the ladder used in the kidnapping had been made from wood found in Hauptmanns attic and that Hauptmanns handwriting matched that found on the ransom notes.  Eyewitnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates and that he had been seen in the area of the Hopewell estate on the day of the kidnapping.  Based on this evidence, Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to death.

Throughout the proceedings, Hauptmann maintained his innocence, claiming that the money found in his garage had belonged to a deceased friend, Isidore Fisch.  He further maintained that he had not turned the gold certificates in because he was an illegal alien and he feared being deported.  Hauptman was executed on April 3, 1936.


Last Updated on Monday, 07 December 2009 18:56

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