Charles Lindbergh was one of the biggest celebrities of the early 21st century. He was Time magazine’s first Man of the Year in 1928, commemorating his significant achievements as a decorated pilot and pioneering aviator. Lindbergh was the first person to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, a feat that earned him a Medal of Honor.
He also earned admission to the French Legion of Honour, the highest order of merit France awards. Lindbergh’s charmed life of fame and fortune was no accident. He was the son of a wealthy Congressman and a US Army Air Corps Reserve Pilot. Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight earned him international fame and significant fortune–but that fame would turn out to be a double-edged sword.
On March 1, 1932, an unknown criminal snuck into the Lindbergh home and abducted Charles’ son, Charles Lindbergh Jr. The infant Lindbergh was only 20 months old at the time, and the case stirred up international outrage and controversy. A man who claimed to be the kidnapper demanded a sizeable ransom from Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, which the couple paid on April 2.
The kidnapper demanded $50,000 in cash, but the authorities encouraged the family to pay part of the amount in gold bonds that had been removed from circulation, allowing the notes to draw attention if the criminal used them in any transactions. The police also noted down the bills’ serial numbers to help identify the kidnapper.
A well-known Bronx personality, John Condon, served as the intermediary between Lindbergh and the purported kidnappers after publicly offering $1,000 if the criminal handed the child over to a local priest.
A delivery truck driver discovered Charles Lindbergh Jr.’s remains in the wilderness near his New Jersey home on May 12, 1932. The body was badly decomposed and the driver found evidence that someone hastily attempted to bury the boy.
Police later arrested a German immigrant named Richard Hauptman after he paid for gas using a bill from the ransom. Police searched his home and found a considerable portion of the ransom money, and Hauptman was put on trial for kidnapping and murder.
Hauptman maintained his innocence, saying he got the money from a friend, Isidor Fisch. Police didn’t believe Hauptman, however, as they found evidence that he constructed a ladder similar to the one used in Lindbergh Jr.’s kidnapping.
Hauptman was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. He was executed on April 3, 1936, though he maintained his assertions of innocence for the remainder of his life.