The Lindbergh Baby | Who Kidnapped and Killed Charles Lindbergh III
In the summer of 1990, Gregory Ahlgren had no idea that the next three years of his life were about to be changed by a paperback book.
The 41-year-old defense attorney was sorting through boxes as he and his wife had just moved from their home in Goffstown, New Hampshire, to another in nearby Manchester. In one of the boxes Ahlgren found a 30-year old anthology about famous crimes. It included a story about one of the most notorious cases of the century, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. The trial had pitted Charles A. Lindbergh, an American icon, against Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a poor German carpenter who was arrested after he passed some of the Lindbergh ransom money. Although Hauptmann was executed for the crime, he maintained his innocence until the day he died. He had some prominent supporters, including the governor of New Jersey, Harold Hoffman. Time had done little to quiet the controversy.
Though faced with a mountain of work, Ahlgren read the article, which raised strong doubts about Hauptmann’s guilt. The kidnapping had taken place on March 1, 1932, in a rural New Jersey town with a two-man police force. The state police force was headed by Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, a political appointee whose police experience amounted to having once worked as a department store detective and whose son would later become a hero in his own right.
Given the police limitations and Lindbergh’s stature as one of the most famous men in the world, few objected when the aviator took virtual control of the investigation — not even when he threatened to shoot any police officer who disobeyed his orders or when he used his political muscle to discourage the FBI’s involvement in the case.
That bothered Ahlgren. “What I saw in the article,” he says, “was a pattern of a person trying to obscure a crime.”
On a whim, Ahlgren mailed a copy of the story to Stephen Monier, the Goffstown chief of police and a former president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. He attached a note asking Monier what he thought.
Ahlgren can’t explain why he mailed Monier the article. In many respects they are polar opposites. Ahlgren, an unabashed liberal who defends the sorts of people Monier would like to lock up, was once a Democratic state representative. The 40-year-old police chief keeps an autographed photo of George Bush next to his desk.
The pair met in a Goffstown courtroom in the late 1970s. Ahlgren had recently opened a criminal-law practice in Manchester. Monier was not only a Goffstown police officer, but also the town prosecutor.
“Greg was representing some person we’d arrested for a series of thefts,” remembers Monier. “He was very unassuming, almost a hayseed. Then he started to argue.”
The outcome? “He won,” says Monier. ”I’d like to think we’ve evened the score since then.”
A few years later Monier turned to Ahlgren when his father, a prominent politician, needed an attorney. In 1982 Robert Monier gave up his position as president of the state senate to run for governor. In the middle of the Republican primary, he was accused of conspiring to funnel bank funds into political campaigns by a bank official who had himself been arrested for embezzlement.
Ultimately the accusations proved to be false. But the damage was done. Once the front-runner, Monier lost the primary to John Sununu, who became governor. At his son’s urging, Monier hired Ahlgren to file a civil suit against the bank official for damages. Monier’s father committed suicide before the trial. Still, Ahlgren went ahead and won a $100,000 judgment for the estate. Says Monier: ” It was one of the best-tried cases I’ve ever seen.”
Despite their professional ties, Monier and Ahlgren never became social friends. Still, during courthouse breaks and the occasional lunch, they discovered that both were avid readers with eclectic tastes.