Lindbergh Baby Ransom– A Lost Treasure . . . and a Clue

Righteousness is not going to solve the “Lindbergh Phenomenon,” but greed and curiosity just might do so.

The largest portion of the ransom money has never been recovered and it was nowhere to be found on the property of the one and only man tagged with the crime, Bruno Hauptmann. He only had a cut of it, under $15,000 dollars in the gold certificate $10 dollar bills. There was still around $35,000 outstanding. Hauptmann had spent some of his share. Those bills are what led the police to him. A few bills got passed in other locations than New York where Hauptmann lived, but they didn’t amount to $35,000 dollars worth. Hauptmann was still living cheap. He hadn’t spent $35,000 in large sums for anything.  According to one online calculator, $35,000 today is equal to S517,011.99 in 1932– an absolute fortune! Someone spending this type of money in the depression is going to be noticed, especially since he is passing the rare gold certificate bills.

Bruno Hauptmann was tried and executed on the basis he was acting alone. Therefore single-o guilty of all that happened. Yet the bulk of the ransom money was not in his possession and has never been retrieved. Where is it?

Lindbergh-Hauptmann-trial
Bruno Hauptmann at his sensational trial.

We’ve all heard tales of Civil War gold found in the basement of an old antebellum. Perhaps behind loosened bricks in an old, spooky Victorian house? It’s a plot device in many books, movies and TV shows. Often it’s the stash from an old bank robbery or some ill gotten gains. Sometimes it’s even pirate doubloons!

But in the case of the Lindbergh baby ransom it is for real. The rare gold certificate type of bills used in the payoff were ordered withdrawn from circulation in 1933, making those type of bills worth quite a bit more than their face value. Those type used in the Lindbergh ransom are thought today to be worth around $50 bucks a pop (for $10 dollar bills);  the $20 dollar bill up to $100. But the actual bills used in the Lindbergh ransom? Who knows!

The Kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby also has all the plot devices of thriller fiction, but they really happened, and so does its legend. The legend simply hasn’t been acted out. An American lost treasure is somewhere. Its discovery may not only play out like another dramatic “National Treasure” hunt, but it also may solve the Lindbergh kidnapping.

Lindbergh-houses

The crime of the century. Police swarm around the Lindbergh house that morning.

The very fact that the bulk of the loot was never found should have loudly shouted that Hauptmann had not acted alone, and indeed many today consider it unlikely that Bruno Hauptmann was the only kidnapper involved in the sinister plot. The kidnapper/s had too much knowledge of the Lindbergh house routine and even knew the actual location of the nursery window. A ladder was custom made, no doubt by Hauptmann, a carpenter. But he had to know the height of the window in general. This is something that could be guesstimated by watching the house, but how to know which is the nursery room window?

Charles Lindbergh’s in-laws, the Morrows, had a maid upon whom the suspicion fell. Her name was Violet Sharp. Rather than undergo her 4th questioning at the hands of suspicious police, she swallowed silver polish and took what is euphemistically called the easy way out. But she didn’t have a cut of the money, and none of it turned up for a while in circulation.

Lindbergh-house1932
Police around the ladder the next morning.

After he had been captured,  Hauptmann also swore he was innocent. He had blamed a man named Isador Fisch for having left the money behind with other belongings. Fisch had sailed off back to Germany and there died of tuberculosis. Convenient. All too convenient in the yes of the district attorney. Fish couldn’t talk, but his family did. He died a pauper and only left America with about $600 dollars. Hardly a ransom.

None of this, however, justifies blaming Hauptmann alone.  The lack of finding the other $35,000 is truly astounding. Someone else had that money.

Altogether there are those who think that Hauptmann was telling the truth. Otherwise he would have turned someone else in to save his life. They think him completely innocent. He merely discovered that Fisch had left $10,000 clams, so he started spending it. If so, why did Fisch leave it behind? Well, it could be when he saw the gold certificates and saw their serial numbers printed in the newspapers after the payoff had occurred that he thought it too hot. He kept the bills in a tin box, gave them to Hauptmann in the guise of a box of important papers, and left for Germany.

Lindbergh-Fisch
Isador Fisch

Hauptmann blaming the conveniently dead Fisch didn’t sit well with the jury obviously. He needed someone else. Yet Hauptmann wouldn’t try and blame anybody else. He wouldn’t even plea bargain and confess to being only accessory to the crime. It would, of course, require he name the others. Fear of death from reprisal couldn’t be the motive for his silence. He knew they were going to burn him for this crime. Why didn’t he confess to being an accessory, to being the carpenter who had only built the ladder and helped? This plea would seem so much more believable considering he only had a fraction of the ransom. Yet he didn’t name a mastermind or anybody. He went to the chair maintaining total innocence.

For those who believe him innocent, they insist it is because he didn’t have knowledge of the kidnapping, period. In that case, could Hauptmann have been so stupid as to have started spending money that he must have been suspicious about?

Centering the argument on Hauptmann’s total guilt or total innocence, however, doesn’t really answer the question at hand. If Fisch was actually a guilty party, he had only been worthy of a fraction of the loot. The rest of the filthy lucre had to be divided between others or it all went to the mastermind.

However one divides this, whether Hauptmann got the $15,000 in ransom as his cut, or whether Fisch did and was too smart to spend it, there must be others involved who got the bulk of the bills and didn’t pass too many of them, not enough to be traced anyway. Were they all too smart when they saw these were gold certificates and that the serial numbers had been recorded?

Lindbergh-house-aerial

The kidnapping was so sensational that planes circled overhead and took film the next day.

The woods were not so close in those days that someone could hide and watch the house hours-on-end in hopes of discovering the nursery. Yet the kidnapper walked right up to the right window. The kidnapper had anticipated the sensation. He had devised a complex signature so that his authentic ransom notes would get recognized and not confused with a potential host of fakes from pranksters.

Yet if Hauptmann masterminded this he was so stupid he was spending the rare bills in September 1934 still, over a year after they were all to have been turned in (May 1933) and removed from circulation. This is what got him traced. He spent a $20 at a gas station in New York and the attendant took down his license plate number.

Lindbergh-trial

The trial of the century in Flemington, New Jersey.

Somewhere the bulk of this bloody money still exists. It awaits discovery just like some treasure in an old Disney film we watched as kids. And like in those films, it may also solve the “Lindbergh Phenomenon.”

Who all was involved? Was Hauptmann totally innocent or just one minor cog in the wheel who assisted the mastermind? Was it Fisch or was he the minor cog? It seems unlikely any of the kidnappers, assuming there was more than Hauptmann, expected or intended the baby to die. A 20 month old baby could never identify them. But baby Lindbergh may have fallen out of the kidnapper’s arms as he crawled down the shaky ladder. He had died of a severe head contusion. They buried him in the woods near the Lindbergh house. This was now murder, but the kidnappers went through with the ransom blackmail. When they finally got their payoff in the dark night of St. Raymond’s cemetery they discovered rare notes. This was now traceable blood money. Fisch may have wanted nothing to do with it. The others didn’t know what to do. We only know that Hauptmann started spending the money over 2 years later.

“Cemetery John” was the kidnappers’ bag man in the mists of St. Raymond’s. John Condon, the go-between, said he had a German accent. Bruno Hauptmann was a German immigrant, but then so was Fisch. Equally both might have known yet another member of the German-American community. Both Fisch and Hauptmann had criminal records back in Germany. It would not be surprising they knew other Germans of their ilk. Even if one of them was the bag man, it doesn’t mean there weren’t others.

Lindbergh-condon
The garrulous John Condon emerged as a suspicious figure. Lindbergh was allowed too much authority, and agreed to use Condon as a go-between. The grandstander didn’t even require the kidnappers produce the baby at the payoff.

There is a lot that doesn’t seem too clever in the Lindbergh kidnapping.  The ladder was left behind. The baby must have died right away. The ransom note was written by someone who took some clever precautions but at the same time clearly revealed German was his first language. He even spelled “anything” phonetically with a German accent– “anyding”– though he must have seen it written down in English by this time and knew how it was spelled. “The child is in gut care” is a little obvious.

Whatever mistakes the kidnappers made, one or more were too smart to be traced or even to spend much of the money. Unless, of course, one believes Hauptmann acted alone. Either way a bulk of the blood money awaits discovery, probably in very dramatic staging.  In some old home, under the floorboards, in the attic, between beams in the laundry chute, in the rafters of an old garage, in the brick basement wall. Somewhere there is a fortune that was worth well over half a million in 1932 and no one can find it. They only burned one man on a fraction of the evidence and payoff.  That seemed enough for the heated emotions of the time for killing the most famous baby in America.  But today we need more answers, and maybe greed, the motive that started all this, will finally solve it.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

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