10 Historically Pivotal Murders


Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.

Charles Lindbergh Jr. as a wee babe of two weeks old © Bettmann/Corbis
Charles Lindbergh Jr. as a wee babe of two weeks old © Bettmann/Corbis

Early in the evening on March 1, 1932, 22-month old Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, was put to bed in his second-story nursery with a mild cold. A few hours later, his nurse went up to check on him and found an empty crib. The child had vanished. On the window sill was an envelope with a strangely worded ransom note demanding $50,000:

After 2-4 days we will inform you were to deliver the Mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Polise the child is in gute care.

Lindbergh's fame quickly turned the kidnapping into one of the most famous crimes of the century, but the accompanying media circus and police incompetence hampered efforts. Reporters and police accidentally destroyed footprints, and cranks flooded the investigation with false sightings. Aside from the note, the only clue was a handmade ladder abandoned nearby.

More ransom notes followed, but in May a truck driver found the toddler's body a few miles from the house. He had been killed months earlier by a blow to the head, probably on the night he was taken.

Two years later police arrested a German carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann. The carpenter fit the profile perfectly; he had the know-how to build a crude ladder, marks on the ladder matched tools owned by Hauptmann, and experts traced wood from the ladder to Hauptmann's attic. He was found guilty and executed in 1936, maintaining his innocence until the end.

Lindbergh's kidnapping is one of the most famous crimes of the 20th century, and the ensuing panic over child protection led to a tightening of U.S. kidnapping laws both at the state and federal levels. The Federal Kidnapping Act, or the "Little Lindbergh Law" not only gave federal authorities jurisdiction in kidnapping cases, but also authorized the death sentence for kidnappers if their victims were injured.