The Lindbergh Baby | Who Kidnapped and Killed Charles Lindbergh III
With the staff, Anne searched the house while Lindbergh drove up and down the road, flashing his headlights on the woods. They found nothing.
Upon his return, however, Lindbergh went alone into the nursery. There he found a sealed envelope in plain view on a radiator beneath a window. He ordered that no one touch it until the police arrived in order to preserve fingerprints.
The precaution was unnecessary. Inside the envelope was a ransom demand for $50,000. There were no fingerprints on the envelope or the letter. In fact, there were no prints in the nursery, not even of the Lindbergh family or staff, as if every surface in the room had been washed clean.
Minimal precautions were taken to preserve evidence outside the house, where the police found two holes in the soft ground below the nursery window with the warped shutters – the only window in the entire house that didn’t latch from the inside. In the brush they found an odd homemade ladder. Any other clues that may have existed were obliterated by the horde of police and press who trampled the grounds.
For two months the investigation went nowhere. Then on May 12, 1932, the lifeless child was found in the woods less than three miles from Lindbergh’s estate. Lindbergh identified the body, then ordered its cremation without delay. Any evidence that might have identified the killer literally went up in smoke.
As the boxes in Monier’s home office overflowed with documents, he and Ahlgren strongly suspected that the killing was an inside job. How, they asked one another during their skull sessions, would an outsider know Anne was there on that particular Tuesday evening when they were almost never there except on the weekends? The house sat back a half mile from the road. How would an outsider know which window to go to? Why didn’t the dog bark? And why do it at 9:15 at night, when everyone was still moving around the house?
Their questions piled up like the paperwork. Why, they wondered, did Lindbergh keep the FBI out? When the body was found, why did he order the cremation before a full autopsy?
None of it made sense. “What we had,” says Ahlgren, “was the number-one suspect obscuring factors. What we didn’t have is a why and a how. The first thing that came to mind was abuse or neglect.” They remembered the cruel jokes and hoaxes, including the incident two months before the kidnapping when Lindbergh hid the baby in the closet. From that, they theorized that this began as a practical joke with tragic consequences. “In law enforcement,” says Monier, “we have a truism: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
In their scenario, Lindbergh arrived home from New York at his usual time and parked his car at the edge of the long driveway. Then he climbed the ladder to the nursery, maybe planning to walk in the front door with his son in his arms. Lindbergh would know which window was unlatched and that no one would be in the nursery after eight. He might also be able to approach the house without alerting the dog.
On the way down, they speculated, he accidentally dropped the boy to his death, which would account for an extensive skull fracture. He would still have had time to hide the body in the woods and pull up the drive at 8:25, honking so that everyone noted when he came home. Given Lindbergh’s public profile, no one was likely to suspect him at the outset. Once he took control of the investigation, Lindbergh decided what questions were asked and of whom. In the original outline, Monier and Ahlgren had almost nothing about Bruno Richard Hauptmann. To them he was a minor character. “People forget that others were also arrested for extortion,” says Ahlgren. ” We looked at Hauptmann as no different from the others.” Once they began to write, they realized that approach wouldn’t work. The reason was simple: To make a case against Lindbergh, they also had to exonerate Hauptmann. After all, he had the money. “So much for outlines,” says Ahlgren.