The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax
APTHE STORY OF NEWS BY OLIVER GRAMLING
Illustrated by HENRY C. BARROW
FARRAR AND RINEHART, INC.
NEW YORK TORONTO
IN THE Newark Bureau it was the quietest night in months. Against one wall a battery of four Morkrums droned along. The last top items of news had been cleared on the New Jersey wires much earlier. The best story in the report seemed to be the by-lined account of Morris J. Harris on the fierce fighting at Shanghai in the undeclared SinoJapanese War. The state budget offered nothing better than a fire at Pennsgrove.
At the filing editor's desk, Gregory Hewlett sifted through a thin pile of secondary material edited for relay on the double circuit which served the state's morning papers. At the state news desk, the night editor, W. A. Kinney, relaxed in his chair. His desk was clear, all the night report stories were up, and the few early report items had been written. Dull nights like this were few and far between.
The Morse wire clicked off a message. Hewlett read it and pushed it across the news desk.
"The nightly Lindbergh rumor," he announced.
Kinney glanced at the message. It was from the Atlantic City Press.
"Hear Lindbergh in accident near Hopewell," it read. "Anything?"
The night editor did not bother to comment. Ever since Colonel Lindbergh had taken up residence in the state, the bureau had been plagued with requests to check reports that this or that had happened to the famous flier. After two years of that, another query did not cause a great stir. Lindbergh's unlisted telephone number was in the card index --as a matter of fact, it was only within the past week that the number of his new estate at Hopewell had been substituted for a temporary Princeton one--but the office order was that the colonel must not be bothered in checking such reports. The telephone number was for extraordinary emergencies only, and there never had been occasion to use it.
The time was almost 10:40. The Morse operator, George Williamson, copied down another message and passed it to the filing editor.
"Here's another one," Hewlett called over to Kinney, now on his way to the telephone booth which shut out the drumming noise of the
Morkrums. " Paterson wants to know if there's anything to Lindbergh being in a crash somewhere."
The night editor went into the telephone booth and picked up the receiver.
"Market 2-5400," he told the operator.
That was Newark Police Headquarters. If anything important was happening in the state, they invariably knew it there quickly.
Headquarters listened patiently.
"No. Nothing tonight. Switch you to the teletype room, but if they had anything we'd know before this. Hold on."
The teletype room, where police communications were received, had no information.
"The only State Police stuff we've had in the last hour has been routine--stolen cars and a few alarm cancellations. They'd have had anything like that before this. Yes, a couple more phonies, I guess . . . Wait, there's something starting to come in on the State Police printer now."
Then the detective's voice exploded in Kinney's ear.
"My God! Listen, AP! Here's the State Police alarm. The Lindbergh baby's been kidnaped!"
The editor listened as the detective read the text of the alarm and then bolted out of the booth. Pulling up a typewriter, he yelled at the top of his voice.
He didn't think of a flash. Just get the news out. A straightaway bulletin. Hang it right on the State Police flier.
The typewriter banged out the words:
NEWARK, N. J., MARCH 1 -- (AP) -- THE STATE POLICE TONIGHT BROADCAST THE FOLLOWING TELETYPE ALARM:
" COLONELLINDBERGH'S BABY WAS KIDNAPED FROM LINDBERGH HOME IN HOPEWELL, N. J., SOME TIME BETWEEN 7:30 AND 10:00 P.M. THIS DATE. BABY IS 19 MONTHS OLD AND A BOY. IS DRESSED IN SLEEPING SUIT. REQUEST THAT ALL CARS BE INVESTIGATED BY POLICE PATROLS."
Hewlett ripped the paper out of the machine as soon as the last typebar hit, and Kinney darted back into the telephone booth, fumbling hurriedly through the card index for Lindbergh's private number. In a moment Hewlett joined him, and sat down at the other telephone.
I'll get after Breckinridge and Hopewell police," he said.
When Kinney finally got through to the Lindbergh home, he heard a voice filled with both hope and anxiety. He recognized it immediately. He had covered Lindbergh on numerous assignments before.
" ColonelLindbergh, this is The Associated Press in Newark. We hesitate to bother you at such a moment, but we've just received the State Police alarm that your son has been kidnaped."
The colonel interrupted.
"I have no statement to make at this time," he said.
He didn't say it the unworried way the editor had heard him say it often before at the airport. There was time for only a few other quick questions before the conversation ended, but by then the Newark editor was convinced the kidnaping report was true.
Hewlett called Colonel Lindbergh's attorney, Henry Breckinridge, and got positive confirmation of the story. Then the Hopewell police were reached. An officer had been sent up to the remote white house in the gloomy Sourlands, but until they heard from him there was no further information.
Hammering away at typewriters, the two men pieced out the story as fast as they could.
As the story began to roll, Newark raised the other New Jersey bureau, in the State House at Trenton, so that staff men there could be started for Hopewell, which was much nearer that city than Newark.
In Trenton Sam Blackman hustled over to State Police headquarters. The lieutenant on duty told him that Colonel Lindbergh personally had called in the report of the kidnaping, but that was all they knew. Troopers already were at the estate in the Sourlands. Blackman started for Hopewell with Frank Jamieson, the correspondent in charge at Trenton. Jim Lawrence was assigned to the police headquarters and W. F. Carter manned the State House Bureau so that the men could relay their news through Trenton in case Newark's telephones were busy.
To know that Jamieson and Blackman were racing toward Hopewell gave a lift to the men in Newark, but it might be an hour before the first word was received from them.
Hewlett remembered a young woman who happened to be a friend of Anne Lindbergh's sister. Maybe she had heard something. The call woke her. Hewlett started to tell her.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "and Anne is expecting another baby!"
Things like that kept happening.
Another try at the Lindbergh telephone number produced a quickly interrupted few words with the state trooper who answered, but the brief seconds developed that an unspecified ransom had been asked, and a note found.
Newark then called the estate of Mrs. Lindbergh's mother at Englewood and told Mrs. Morrow that The AP felt it might be helpful in the search for the stolen baby if she would supply a description of the child for immediate nation-wide distribution. She agreed and expressed her thanks for the suggestion.
The Lindbergh house in the Sourland mountains was a difficult place to find that dark, blustery March night, but Jamieson and Blackman had the experience of two previous trips over the winding, bumpy road. They had written stories of the flier's isolated estate before he took up residence.
Whateley, the butler, answered the door. He recognized Blackman but the smile of other visits was gone.
"What about the baby being kidnaped?" Blackman asked.
"All we know," the servant said sadly, "is that the baby isn't here. Colonel Lindbergh is out on the grounds, but you can come in and wait."
Jamieson went off in search of the police. Blackman started back toward Hopewell looking for a telephone. By the entrance to the Lindbergh estate, about a half mile from the house, he found the home of a baker. None too happy at being roused from bed at midnight, the man grumblingly permitted the use of his party-line telephone. Blackman talked to Newark--Whateley's few words proved to be the first positive statement obtained from a member of the Lindbergh household--and then started back up the dark muddy lane.
From the blackness of the estate's entrance four figures emerged.
"Are you troopers?" Blackman hailed.
A tall, hatless man answered him.
"I'm Colonel Lindbergh."
"I'm Blackman of The AP."
The aviator shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Blackman, but I can't say anything now."
Accompanied by two of the troopers, Lindbergh strode on up the lane toward the house. Blinking flashlights marked the progress of the
three men. Then the reporter became aware that one trooper had remained near the gatehouse.
"Let's see your police card," the officer asked.
His electric torch flickered briefly as he examined the credential. Then he flashed it for a moment on Blackman's face.
"O.K., AP, I'll tell you the story, but you don't know where you got it."
While Blackman scribbled notes, the trooper told what had happened, filling in numerous gaps in the story which Newark had so quickly assembled by telephone.
He told how Betty Gow, the nurse, had found the child's crib empty at ten o'clock. He told of the discovery of the $50,000 ransom note and its cryptic signature, of the mud tracks on the nursery floor, of the footmarks in the soft earth below the window, and of the three piece wooden ladder and the chisel which had been abandoned near the house.
Blackman sprinted back to the baker's house. He told his story over the telephone to Newark where the two men, working in relays, rushed a New Lead onto the wires with Blackman's by-line. It was not until two hours later that the State Police held a press conference at which some of the details of the kidnaping were disclosed.
Overnight, Hopewell, a quiet country town, became the news center of the world. The shocking story aroused universal anxiety and horror, not only in the United States but in foreign countries. To cover developments at the scene, the co-operative assembled a special staff. New Jersey contributed Jamieson, Blackman, Lawrence, and Kinney. New York sent Robert Cavagnaro, Morris Watson, Lorena Hickok, and Katherine Beebe, as well as cameramen Joe Caneva, Tom Sande, and Walter Durkin.
In reality, those at Hopewell represented only a small portion of the news force which had a part in the story. No one knew in what part of the country, or even in what part of the world, the next "break" might occur. Every staff man considered himself assigned to run down any lead which might have a bearing on the case. Hundreds of date lines supplemented the stories from Hopewell. There were dispatches on the reaction of foreign capitals, on official activity in Washington, on
police operations in a score of cities, and on the epidemic of crank "clues" which began almost immediately.
At Hopewell it soon became apparent that the story would be extremely difficult to cover accurately and promptly. State Police surrounded their activities with secrecy. Silence shrouded every development detectives thought important. The police issued official communiqués from time to time, but the information was carefully selected and usually dealt with exploded clues or secondary detective work.
For every line of news written there were hours of wearisome, unproductive digging. Men were kept on duty at the gatehouse of the estate, watching the mysterious goings and comings of uncommunicative officers. Endless time was spent on hopeful amateur detective work in the vicinity. And there were the frequent wild rides over back roads at breakneck speed to run down "hot tips" which never survived investigation.
But there was real news somewhere behind the barriers which police had raised, and the job was to get that news for the report. The New Jersey members of the staff had numerous contacts because of their service in the state and these were quietly canvassed in the hope that some reliable channel of information could be found.
Correspondent Jamieson in particular had built up a long list of confidential news sources during many years of reporting governmental and political activities. Enlisting the co-operation of an official not connected with the state government, he ultimately was able to improvise a roundabout but effective and trustworthy way of learning what was happening behind the scenes.
He reported the receipt of additional ransom notes, the entrance of Dr. John F. ("Jafsie") Condon as an intermediary in negotiations with the kidnaper and Colonel Lindbergh's personal activities in the hunt for his stolen son. His sources of information varied, and the news might come at any hour of the day or night. To protect the identity of his sources, Jamieson was forced to take every precaution. He used out-of-the-way telephones, arranged for hurried meetings in hotel rooms, and engineered "casual" encounters in places where conversations could not be overheard.
In spite of the most intensive man hunt in police history, days passed without recovery of the baby or the apprehension of the kidnaper. There was a flurry of activity when the $50,000 ransom was paid
at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx the night of April 2, 1932, and when Colonel Lindbergh searched in vain off the Massachusetts coast by air for the boat on which the baby was said to be held. The failure to recover the child turned Lindbergh to John Hughes Curtis, the Virginia boat builder who claimed to have been in contact with a band of kidnapers. Confidential information from police sources had led the staff at Trenton to doubt the veracity of his stories, but events in the kidnaping had been so unpredictable that anything might happen. The boat builder's movements were watched as closely as possible.
Another month passed with its series of perfunctory police communiqués and occasional alarms. The story had become almost routine when the air suddenly became tense again with a new epidemic of reports that an important "break" might soon occur. Colonel Lindbergh, with Curtis, was on a yacht off the New Jersey coast, combing the sea for the vessel on which the Virginian said the baby would be found.
At the State House in Trenton, May 12 droned along uneventfully until late in the afternoon. Then without warning Lieutenant Walter Coughlin, the press liaison officer of the investigation, announced that Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, superintendent of the State Police, wanted all newspapermen covering the story to be at the Lindbergh estate in an hour. No reason was given for the abrupt summons but everyone felt it meant an announcement of exceptional importance.
It was after five o'clock and Jamieson decided on a course of action.
"Sam," he instructed Blackman, "you go on down to Hopewell. I'm going to try to get Governor Moore. If anything big is doing, Moore will know about it. I'll get down to Hopewell then as quickly as I can."
Blackman remembered that the nearest telephone to the Lindbergh estate was in the house of the baker he had routed out of bed the night the baby was stolen. The man worked in Trenton, so Blackman called him at the bakeshop and arranged to hire his telephone at Hopewell for as long as necessary. That done, he started over the familiar road to Sourland Mountains. At the baker's house he stopped and telephoned New York, explaining the desirability of keeping an open line in readiness for whatever Schwarzkopf's press conference might produce. New York put a member of the local staff on the wire to chat with the baker's wife and read her news items so that the line would be kept busy until needed. With the nearest line of communication assured, Blackman continued up the lane to the Lindbergh estate. The State
Police headquarters had been set up in the garage and correspondents were already gathering there.
Back in Trenton, Jamieson had no immediate success in his efforts to reach Moore. The governor was motoring to his home in Jersey City, some fifty miles away. The governor's own office seemed to guarantee the greatest privacy, so Jamieson sat down there and started telephoning. He tried to get the governor in Jersey City but without success. Instructing the operator to keep trying until she reached the governor, he called several private sources that might conceivably have an inkling of what was behind the summoning of reporters to the Lindbergh estate. No one knew.
The minutes ticked by in the quiet office. Jamieson sat and waited. The governor was his only hope. If Moore did not reach Jersey City soon, Jamieson would never be able to get to Hopewell for Schwarzkopf's conference. The telephone rang.
"On your call to Jersey City," the operator said, "we are ready."
"Hello, governor," Jamieson began in his cheery way, "this is Frank Jamieson."
"Yes, Frank, what's on your mind?"
"Governor, has there been any big development in the Lindbergh case? Colonel Schwarzkopf has called all the boys to the Lindbergh estate for a press conference within the next hour and it makes us think he has something important to say."
"I haven't heard of anything, Frank," Moore answered. "Up until the time I left the State House there was no indication anything exceptional had happened or would happen."
Jamieson knew the governor had followed the case with intense interest. He suggested:
"Couldn't you get in touch with Colonel Schwarzkopf and find out?"
"I'll do that immediately," Moore said.
"And, governor," Jamieson asked, "will you call me right back if it's anything? I'm phoning from your office."
"I'll call you right back," Moore promised.
As soon as Moore hung up, Jamieson picked up a second telephone and put in a call for New York.
Hastily sketching the situation, he said:
"I don't know what's coming, but it might be big. We'll keep this line open, so when the governor calls back on the other phone, I can shoot you the stuff without delay."
More minutes of waiting. Then the other telephone jangled. It was 6:10 P.M.
"Hello, Frank? This is Governor Moore. It's horrible news. The Lindbergh baby has been found dead--"
"Hold it, governor, hold it!"
Snatching up the other telephone, he fired the words over the open line to New York.
F-L-A-S-H LINDBERGH BABY FOUND DEAD.
Back on the governor's telephone, he heard Moore, obviously affected, relate all he had learned of the finding of the body that afternoon in a thicket just off the Hopewell-Princeton highway, only five miles from the Lindbergh home. The correspondent halted him occasionally in order to relay the details to New York over the other line.
Once the conversation had ended and the last facts were repeated to New York, Jamieson tumbled into a taxi for a mad ride to get to Hopewell in time for the press conference.
In the garage on the Lindbergh estate the temporary press headquarters buzzed with speculation on the nature of the information Schwarzkopf had to reveal, and a half a mile away near the estate entrance the baker's wife sat listening to news items still being read to her over the telephone line Blackman had opened to New York.
Jamieson arrived just in time to get into the garage before the doors were closed. He greeted acquaintances with a disarming smile as if nothing had happened.
After the garage doors had been locked, Colonel Schwarzkopf explained that he had ordered the action because he wanted no newspapermen to leave the building until he had concluded his announcement. Then at 6:45 P.M. he began a lengthy statement. The State Police superintendent read slowly, pausing to make sure reporters had time to copy the words verbatim.
And all the while from New York to California, the presses of member papers were already rolling, and the flood of extras was hitting the streets.
When the garage doors were flung open, there was a pell-mell scramble for the nearest telephone. But the nearest telephone was at the baker's house, and Blackman had tied it up an hour earlier. Not
only that, it was on a party line and as long as it was busy other telephones in the vicinity could not be used. Jamieson and Blackman alternated, dictating Schwarzkopf's official statement.
A few rivals later reproached Governor Moore for giving Jamieson the news. Moore reminded them that the AP correspondent was the only one to get in touch with him in quest of the information, and that there had been nothing to prevent others from making a similar effort. "He caught the train," the governor said. "The others stood waiting on the platform and let it go by."
Jamieson's work throughout the eleven-week search for the stolen child won him the Pulitzer prize for the outstanding example of domestic reporting in 1932.
After the finding of the murdered child, John Hughes Curtis was indicted for obstructing justice by his tale of negotiations with an imaginary gang of kidnapers. Lawrence and Kinney reported his trial and conviction at Flemington the last week in June, and the first full chapter of the bewildering Lindbergh kidnaping mystery reach its conclusion. The crime was the first of a series of spectacular kidnapings which scourged the country through the early thirties. But no one forgot Hopewell. There was always the chance that sometime, somewhere the Lindbergh case might break open again with the capture of the kidnaper.
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