Credited with the ‘crime of the century’, Bruno Richard Hauptman was executed for kidnap and murder today, in 1936. He was guilty of killing a defenceless 20-month-old baby in a crime that captured the hearts of the US nation.
Ok so the child happened to be the son of two famous pilots, but ultimately Charles Lindeberg Junior was the victim of a ransom demand gone wrong.
German-born Hauptman was not new to crime. Following a stint in the German army fighting World War I, he was unable to return to his former trade – carpentry. So he fell into petty crime as a means of making a living – he’d do over houses or even hold up women at gunpoint. He did time for his crimes then tried to escape his past, by emigrating to America. He stowed away on a ship, but failed to get in: twice.
But third time lucky, depending on how you look at it, Hauptman managed to disguise himself and illegally gained entry, then came a relatively stable part of his life. He met someone, married and had a son, even settling in the Bronx with his young family. But he obviously had a predilection for money as it transpired.
All was quiet for about six years until the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindeberg disappeared. They were both famous pilots in a time when flying was relatively new and extremely exciting – the Posh and Becks of the early-aviation world. As a result, the pilots’ plight caught the public’s sympathy.
The couple dutifully coughed up the money, but that wasn’t enough for Hauptman. The 20-month-old child was found dumped in the woods just four miles from his parents’ home – cause of death: a blow to the little mite’s head.
But Hauptman had actually been paid in gold certificates and as these were being taken out of circulation, one drew attention when it turned up in September 1934, especially as there is a number plate attached. They traced the car back to Hauptman.
Just as he’d committed the ‘crime of the century’, he fittingly now faced the ‘trial of the century’ too. Forget the rising German despot in the shape of Hitler, no it was Hauptman who was dubbed the ‘Most Hated Man in the World’ by the sensation-hungry Americans.
Thing is there was no hard and fast evidence against Hauptman. But it was pretty compelling evidence nonetheless. He was caught with $14,000 in gold certificates stashed in his garage, plus his handwriting was very similar to the ransom notes. But he maintained to the end that the box of money was left in his garage by a friend who’d gone back to Germany and since died.
Despite the governor’s own doubts, all others were convinced they had their man and Hauptman was sentenced to death. According to his chief executioner Robert Elliot, on Crimelibrary.com, Hauptman was stoic in death as in his trial:
“His head, which had been shaved, tilted slightly to one side. His face was yellow; his features were drawn. He glanced neither to the right nor to the left. He walked past the chair, and would have collided with a physician had not a guard stopped him. The guard turned him around, and manoeuvred him to the chair. He gripped its broad arms with his hands, staring straight ahead as he was strapped in. His lips did not move, and he gave no indication that he wished to speak. I placed the head electrode on him, and helped to adjust the mask. At precisely 8:44 o’clock, I was given the signal. The current streaked through the condemned man.”
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