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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anthony Casey: Trial of the Century or Trial of the Month?

     On June 3, 2011, I received an email from Michael Smerconish, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host out of Philadelphia (WPHT). I had been on Michael's show talking about the Lindbergh kidnapping case on March 2, 2009, and had seen him many times on television filling in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball."  Michael belonged to a "self-described history club" and wanted me to know that he and the other members had just finished reading my book, "The Lindbergh Case."  In addition, he and six of his club friends had planned a trip to Hopewell, New Jersey where they would tour the old Lindbergh house, the site of the 1932 kidnapping of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. The house, now owned by the state, functions as a home for troubled youth called the Alberet Elias Residential Center. In anticipation of their trip, Michael, in his email, raised questions about the case I have been asked many times before. All of the questions pertained to the doubts some people have that the man tried, convicted and executed for the kidnapping and murder, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was in fact guilty. The unemployed carpenter and illegal German alien from the Bronx, was executed in Trenton, New Jersey on April 3, 1936. The prosecution had linked Hauptmann to the homemade wooden ladder used to take the baby out of the second-story nursery window by identifying a section of the ladder as a piece of floor plank from Hauptmann's attic. According to a battery of forensic document examiners, Hauptmann had written all of the ransom notes, and the police found $14,000 of the $50,000 ransom hidden in his garage. During the two and a half years between the crime and Hauptmann's September 1934 arrest, he had spent, as an unemployed carpenter during the Great Depression, thousands of dollars. (It should be noted that Michaeol Smerconish, while he realizes that not all of the mysteries of the case have been resolved, believes that Hauptmann was guilty.)

QUESTION: Why would a carpenter need to remove an attic board to make the kidnap ladder? You'd think he had plenty of lumber choices.

ANSWER: I believe--and this is speculation--that Hauptmann had assembled the parts of the ladder in his garage months before the kidnapping. Sometime before the right day for the crime arrived, while putting it together, he realized he had used one of the pieces for something else. Instead of going to the store to buy wood, he climbed into his attic, a hard to acess place, where he cut a plank out of his attic floor. (Rail 16 of the ladder matched the wood grain and gap in Hauptmann's attic.)

QUESTION: What would make John F. Condon think that an advertisement in the Bronx Home News would be seen by the kidnapper? (Condon, the Lindbergh family ransom intermediary from the Bronx, would correspond by letter and newspaper ads with the kidnapper, and later met him twice in two Bronx cemeteries. The ransom exchanged hands a month after the kidnapping. Shortly after the kidnapping Condon had placed an ad in the Bronx Home News offering his services as a ransom intermediary in the case.)

ANSWER: I believe Dr. Condon, a local showoff who was quite full of himself, was simply grandstanding with his newspaper ad offering to be the Lindbergh case intermediary. When Hauptmann actually responded by mail to Condon's ad, the old man must have been shocked. (Many of those who believe Hauptmann innocent, point the finger at Condon as either an accomplice or member of another team of kidnappers.)

QUESTION: Did Hauptmann have an accomplice? How could he have taken care of the kidnapped baby himself?

ANSWER: I believe the fact that Hauptmann had not prepared to care for the child is evidence he killed the baby in cold blood for the ransom money. I think he killed the baby in its crib. Otherwise, he risked the baby crying out and alerting the family as he carried it out the nursery window. If he didn't kill the child in the room, he might have applied an ether-soaked rag to the baby's face to knock him out. Once away from the house, Hauptmann may have murdered the baby whose remains were found ten weeks later two miles from the estate. (In my book "The Ghosts of Hopewell," I reveal that FBI agents had found a vial of ether hidden in Hauptmann's garage along with what was left of the ransom money.)

QUESTION: On the night of the kidnapping, how did Hauptmann know that on that particular Tuesday, Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh and the baby had stayed beyond the weekend at their new home near Hopewell? (The Lindberghs had not completely moved into the newly constructed mansion. They spent weekends there while still living with Anne Lindbergh's parents at the Dwight Morrow estate in Englewood, New Jersey.)

ANSWER: When Hauptmann went to the Morrow estate just across the river from New York, he realized the Lindberghs were not there that night. Thinking they had already moved to Hopewell, he drove across the state to what became the site of the crime of the century. The three-piece homemade kidnap ladder, in full extention, perfectly reached the baby's window at the Morrow estate. Only two sections were needed to reach the nursery window at the Hopewell home. Sometimes criminals are just lucky.

QUESTION: Why didn't Hauptmann confess to avoid going to the electric chair?

ANSWER: Hauptmann, with the governor of New Jersey on his side, had good reason to believe he was going to avoid the death sentence. When, at the last minute, his pardon efforts failed, it was too late. Also, his wife Anna did not want him to confess. She did not want to be the wife of a baby killer. And finally, Hauptmann, a textbook sociopath, was not wired for admitting guilt.

QUESTION: Was Charles Lindbergh known as a practical joker who had once hidden the baby in a closet in a kidnapping prank on his wife and nanny? (There a those who believe that Charles Lindbergh killed the baby while playing a practical joke on his wife. The Lindberghs, according to this theory, covered-up Charles' recklesseness by orchastrating a phony kidnapping that led to an innocent man's execution.)

ANSWER: It is true that Charles Lindbergh was a practical joker. But to believe the father killed his son, one would have to wish away all the physical evidence connecting Hauptmann to the crime. There is actually a book based on the practical-joke/phony kidnapping theory, and example of hack, tabloid publishing at its worse.

     On June 17, 2011, Michael Smerconish, following his visit to the old Lindbergh home near Hopewell, wrote an article, published on philly.com, in which he compared the Lindbergh kidnapping case to the then on-going Casey Anthony trial in Orlando. In the piece, called "The Trials of the Century Aren't What They Used to Be," Smerconish wrote that he didn't think the Casey Anthony trial, unlike the Lindbergh case, would be of interest to people 75 years from now. He wrote: "In his book, 'The Lindbergh Case,' author Jim Fisher presents a familiar picture in describing the first day of the trial: 'Outside, several hundred spectators were crowded on the courthouse steps and blocking traffic on Main Street. Countless faces, red from the cold, were mashed against the glass of the big courthouse windows, in the hopes of seeing someone famous.' That experts such as Fisher, a former FBI agent, are still examining the [Lindbergh] case three generations later is proof of its lasting news impact...."

     While the jury verdict in the Casey Anthony case shocked a lot of people, I agree with Smerconish that interest in the case will be short-lived. Indeed, unless Casey Anthony is arrested again or is involved in some kind of scandal, the case will, within a few years, fade away.  

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