The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax
ROBERT R. BRYAN
Directory Books Search Home Transcript Sources
by Judge W Dennis Duggan, JFC
reprinted from The Albany County Bar Association Newsletter 01/04
San Francisco attorney Robert R. Bryan, who represented Anna Hauptmann from 1981 until her death in 1994, is former chair of the National Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty.
1934 Extradition Hearing in Bronx
1934 Extradition Appeal Document
The Lindbergh case is lasting proof of death penalty's danger
by Robert Bryan
SAN FRANCISCO (Apr 3, 1996 ) -- Sixty years ago, at 8:44 p.m. on April 3, 1936, 2,000 volts of electricity shot through Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who had been found guilty in a New Jersey court of the kidnap and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh's 20-month-old boy.
Hauptmann's body snapped violently. Clenched fists pounded the arms of the chair. His mouth opened in a silent scream.
Twice the current was turned up, slamming him back against the chair. Wisps of smoke rose from his head and a leg. At 8:47 p.m., doctors pronounced him dead.
There had been an offer to spare the carpenter's life if he admitted some involvement in the Crime of the Century. The proposal was spurned. He said he would not live with a lie.
The German immigrant maintained his innocence to the end, adding: "Should, however, my death serve for the purpose of abolishing capital punishment ... I feel my death has not been in vain."
On this, the 60th anniversary, the case continues to raise disturbing questions regarding society's appetite for the death penalty. The legal system is composed of people, and people err. The inevitable result is that innocent people die at the hands of the state.
Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped on the night of March 1, 1932, by someone who climbed a ladder into the home of his famous parents near Hopewell, N.J.
Just five years earlier, the baby's father had become a living legend -- the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. He married Anne Morrow, whose father had been ambassador to Mexico, a U.S. senator and a partner of the J.P. Morgan firm on Wall Street.
The kidnapper met twice with an eccentric representative of the Lindberghs. A ransom of $50,000 was paid. Later, a badly decomposed body was found in a shallow grave five miles from the Lindbergh estate. Everyone assumed that it was the kidnapped child, and the remains were hastily cremated.
For more than two years, the authorities hunted for the kidnapper. Public pressure demanded the case be solved. With the arrest of Hauptmann as he drove from his home in 1934, officials at long last had someone to prosecute. In their eyes, he had to be the kidnapper -- because he possessed some of the marked ransom currency. New Jersey State Police, New York police and the FBI proclaimed they had caught the kidnapper.
Hauptmann said he was innocent. A box of papers had been left with him, he explained, for safekeeping by a friend who had died while visiting relatives in Germany. Only a short time before his arrest, he said, Hauptmann discovered money in the box. He unwittingly used a ransom bill to buy gas.
An end-justifies-the-means attitude controlled police actions. Witnesses were told Hauptmann was the culprit, and then they were ushered in to view him. A circumstantial case was woven. All evidence pointing to innocence was concealed. Even the kidnapper's fingerprints, which could have cleared Hauptmann, were suppressed.
The Lindbergh family's go-between, who met the kidnapper during ransom negotiations, told police they had the wrong man. But by the time of the trial he had succumbed to enormous pressure, and from the witness stand he dramatically identified Hauptmann.
Trial began Jan. 2, 1935, in Flemington, N.J. For six weeks, the attention of the world was focused on the fate of Hauptmann. H.L. Mencken called it the greatest story since the Resurrection. Media coverage exceeded any news event in history, including the armistice that ended World War I in 1918.
The public's right to know evolved into an unquenchable thirst for entertainment. Courtroom observers included Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell, Jack Benny, Ginger Rogers and Jack Dempsey.
Charles Lindbergh sat close to the jury, staring at the accused.
Strong anti-German feelings prevailed in an atmosphere of mass hysteria. The jury ran a gantlet through spectators to get in the courthouse. The sheriff signed autographs. Souvenirs were sold. The roar of the crowd could be heard inside the courtroom, where cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped.
Fair trial rights were thrown to the wind. On the radio, lawyers analyzed the day's proceedings. The lead defense attorney prepared stationery that featured a red kidnap ladder in the margin with the words, "The Lindbergh-Hauptmann Trial -- chief defense counsel." The attorney general of New Jersey took over from the local district attorney.
The guilty verdict and death sentence brought little relief. People would not be satisfied until the hated defendant was dead. They were outside the prison in Trenton, N.J., cheering when Hauptmann was executed and yelling the next day as a hearse took his corpse away.
Anna Hauptmann, the widow whom I represented for more than a decade until her death in 1994 at age 95, never gave up the dream of seeing her husband cleared.
Exposing the truth will not bring him back, but it will help erase a blot on the American judicial system and, I hope, save others from a similar fate. If we can learn from the travesty of the Hauptmann case, then it will give purpose to an otherwise senseless death.
California has the nation's most populous death row, and more than 3,000 people await execution throughout the United States. The increase in death sentences has brought us full circle to those days in a small New Jersey courtroom where the quest for justice was obscured 60 years ago by a lust for vengeance.
Attorney Battles History's Verdict
From The San Francisco Chronicle , March 29, 1992:
by Leslie Guttman
As nearly always, Robert R. Bryan, San Francisco's veteran Death Row attorney, is trying to prove a man's innocence in a race against time. The twist is that Bryan's man, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was sent to the electric chair 56 years ago for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.
The race against time? Anna Hauptmann is 93, and Bryan has vowed to clear her husband's name while she is still alive.
The Alabama-born lawyer with the fringe of red hair and the smooth Southern accent has spent 11 years and more than $ 100,000 of his own money in an effort to ''retry the Trial of the Century.'' He maintains that throughout the original 1935 trial, witnesses were bribed and coerced and that evidence was concealed as well as fabricated to support the state's case. Proving the innocence of Bruno Richard Hauptmann has become close to an obsession for the 49-year-old attorney, who is constantly shuttling to New Jersey and New York on the red eye to work on the case.
At first glance, Bryan is an unassuming man of medium height and weight, trim red mustache, blue eyes, fair complexion. But when he begins to speak about the Lindbergh case -- or any of his cases -- he is transformed into an impassioned, eloquent speaker shooting sparks. He says he disdains fellow lawyers who let ''money be their yardstick.'' For him, ''justice'' is as much a character trait as a legal concept.
He speaks of Hauptmann in the same blazing tones he uses to describe black clients he defended as a young lawyer in the '60s in Birmingham. Those clients and Hauptmann had the same demon in common, blond, blue-eyed carpenter was German.
''To know a person was innocent and that he was executed. It went against the grain of my whole sense of what . . . is right,'' he says, leaning forward on the burgundy leather couch opposite his desk. ''. . . government can make mistakes.''
Despite numerous failed legal attempts by Bryan and the absence of any indication that the New Jersey government will issue a proclamation of Hauptmann's innocence, Bryan presses on from his small office, tucked away in a leafy alley off Union Street. He is one man jousting with history. Judging by his own past, one would best be cautious in betting on history.
Inside his office, pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy hang on the walls. A likeness of Clarence Darrow gazes out from a bronze plaque on the side of overflowing bookshelves. The room is dimly lit by Tiffany lamps; Bryan's wide desk is heaped with documents; a skeleton in a T-shirt grins from the corner.
From behind his low mahogany desk, Bryan, suit rumpled, tie loosened, ear surgically attached to phone, charts and plots his cases. Nearly every one of his clients is facing the death penalty. He is, in his own words, an attorney for the damned.
''I think this case teaches us a lot about our legal system . . . that it's only as strong as the people within it,'' he goes on in his lilting, lulling voice, honed by years in the courtroom -- a voice that rarely brooks interruption. ''The legal system in place today is not that different from the system that put Richard Hauptmann in the electric chair.'' His voice rises, cracks; he stabs the air for emphasis. ''There's a way to right, or a way to wrong. We're NOT going to stop until we are successful.''
You wouldn't expect much less from a man who included in his wedding vows an oath to abolish capital punishment.
Bryan filed a petition about two weeks ago with the New Jersey State Parole Board, asking that Hauptmann be pardoned posthumously.
This is only his latest tack. Bryan's attempts in the past decade to sue the state of New Jersey to reopen the case have not been successful. Last year, he petitioned New Jersey Governor James Florio for a formal recognition of Hauptmann's innocence. The petition was referred to the state attorney general's office, which Bryan says is akin to ''letting the fox in the hen house,'' since that was the office that originally prosecuted the case.
Bryan's quest began in the early '70s when he took on the case of Kenneth Kerwin, a Maine man who believed he might be the Lindbergh child. The infant found dead nine weeks after the 1932 kidnaping was identified as Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., but over the years, there have been some doubts.
In the course of his investigation, Bryan gained access, through the Freedom of Information Act, to 34,000 pages of previously suppressed FBI material relating to the Lindbergh case.
As he read page after page of the files, he became more and more shocked. The information clearly established Hauptmann's innocence. According to Bryan, for instance, a handwriting expert changed his findings to support the state's case, and a taxi driver was coerced into identifying Hauptmann in a police lineup.
''My God, this was a very sad experience . . . it was chilling,'' he says. ''I was seeing evidence in the FBI files far more powerful than anything I had ever seen, even in murder acquittals.''
After plowing through the FBI files in the late '70s and early '80s, Bryan began discussing his findings with news reporters covering the Kerwin case. He couldn't keep it all quiet, he says.
Hauptmann, a carpenter with a record of petty crime in Germany, maintained his innocence to the end, even though a confession would have spared him from the electric chair. About $ 14,000 of the $ 50,000 ransom money was found in Hauptmann's possession. Hauptmann said that the money had been left there by a friend and business associate who returned to Germany and died.
In 1981, Bryan visited Anna Hauptmann for the first time at her duplex in suburban Philadelphia. It turned out to be ''one of the most memorable events of my life,'' he says. He discovered that she had no knowledge of the FBI material. The fragile retired bakery worker was leading an isolated life -- in part to escape the publicity that had hounded her for more than 50 years. Bryan had come solely to ask her questions about Kerwin's case. He left with a question of her own ringing in his ears:
Why did they do that to my Richard?
H. L. Mencken called the Lindbergh case ''the biggest story since the Resurrection,'' and it has not receded from the national memory despite the years. There have been law review articles and plays, as well as a BBC documentary that grew out of Bryan's findings and evolved into the 1985 book ''The Airman and Carpenter'' by Ludovic Kennedy.
One of Bryan's first moves after taking on Anna Hauptmann's case in 1981 was suing the state of New Jersey for access to 180,000 pages of police files. He went on to find what he calls ''a smorgasbord of fraud'' in other files that belonged to deceased New Jersey governor Harold Hoffman.
Bryan listed some of his claims in a recent article in the New York University Review of Law and Social Change. They include:
Authorities hid the existence of a witness, Frieda Von Valta, who would have testified that she rode the subway home with Hauptmann from Manhattan to the Bronx the night the Lindbergh baby was kidnaped in New Jersey. The woman said Hauptmann stopped to give her directions. ''This would have verified not only that Richard Hauptmann was in New York on the night of the kidnaping but also that he had worked that day in New York,'' says Bryan.
Dr. John F. Condon, the go-between in the ransom negotiations, who met with the kidnaper twice, told police on various occasions before the trial that Hauptmann was not their man. At the trial, however, he identified Hauptmann as the kidnaper. His previous statements were not revealed to the jury.
Charles Lindbergh testified that the voice he heard more than two years earlier on the night that the ransom was paid was Hauptmann's voice. Concealed from the court and jury, however, was the fact that months earlier, after hearing Hauptmann's voice in the police station, Lindbergh had told authorities that identification would be impossible.
The jury was not told that fingerprints on the ransom notes did not match Hauptmann's.
''My husband was never, never near that Lindbergh home. He was as innocent as you and I,'' said Anna Hauptmann in a telephone interview. She maintains she was with her husband the night the baby was kidnaped, that he picked her up at her bakery job and they went home and spent the evening together at their Bronx flat. ''All I ask from life, nothing else, is that Richard's name is cleared.''
Robert Egles, executive director of the New Jersey State Parole Board, confirms that the office has received the petition for a posthumous pardon but says that the process is ''entirely confidential.'' He did say, however, that ''the exercise of clemency is entirely up to the governor. In some states, pardons are reviewed and considered in a public-type forum. That's not the case here.''
The petition filed with the governor last year was reviewed by the attorney general's office, according to spokesperson Christopher Florentz. There was ''no new evidence raised in those papers that would indicate that the conviction . . . of Mr. Hauptmann was anything other than ap- propriate and correct,'' Florentz said. ''Additional review is being done at this time. Clearly, anything that is brought to our attention that involves any major criminal action is a serious matter, so we would certainly give it every opportunity for review.'' Florentz said he expects the additional review to be completed within the next few weeks.
Bryan says that the case is such a political hot potato that no New Jersey official will touch it. He points out that the state attorney general and chief prosecutor on the case was David Wilentz, father of Robert Wilentz, current chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. (And the New Jersey police chief at the time of the case was Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the gulf war's superstar general.)
Bryan adds that the New Jersey government is stonewalling, hoping that Anna Hauptmann will die and the whole business will go away.
To all those charges, ''Absolutely no comment, whatsoever,'' says Egles of the State Parole Board.
''No comment,'' says Jo Astrid Glading, a spokesperson for the governor's office.
Said Florentz, ''We feel empathy with Mrs. Hauptmann and the circumstances that she's been though over the years, but the facts of the conviction still stand . . . any charges that the state is waiting for Mrs. Hauptmann to die are both irresponsible and untrue.'' As for the political overtones, ''There are none,'' Florentz said.
Anna Hauptmann has asked to meet with Florio numerous times but has been denied a visit. Glading said the governor ''did not see a reason to hold the meeting.''
''He's afraid of the truth,'' says Anna Hauptmann. ''He knows what the truth is: that they killed this innocent man, a good man. . . . New Jersey will go down in shame for what they have done.''
Bryan became hell-bent on being a lawyer at 18 after reading ''Final Verdict,'' a biography of famed turn-of-the-century California trial lawyer Earl Rogers by his daughter, journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns. The day after Bryan took the Alabama bar exam, he packed his car and headed north to Toronto to work as an executive with an aircraft company -- at last, he says, escaping the South and the racism he despised so much.
But a year later, he was back home. The civil rights movement had stirred him up, Martin Luther King was his hero, and ''I wanted to get on a charger . . . with my lancet in hand and fight the demon of racism and bigotry,'' he says.
It was the beginning of a long career of defending the underdog. He won scores of cases, mesmerizing his small-town juries with maneuvers like bringing in a big-city psychiatrist specializing in hypnotism to testify in the defense of a black client accused of stabbing a white woman. By 1981, ''the F. Lee Bailey of the South,'' as he had come to be called, felt he'd accomplished his mission defending minorities and moved his by- now national practice to ''a bigger home base'' in San Francisco. He and his wife and young daughter live in Pacific Heights.
He says that he has a good idea of who the kidnaper is but is tight-lipped about revealing anything more. When pressed, he says, mysteriously, that he believes the kidnaper is no longer alive.
Although Bryan calls the last 11 years a ''mountain of effort,'' he's far from putting down the grappling hooks. He continues to shuttle back and forth between San Francisco and New Jersey, and to sit behind the wide, low desk late into the night thinking up ways to help the case, such as sending every member of the New Jersey legislature a copy of ''The Airman and the Carpenter.''
Bryan is also adept at whipping up a media frenzy by staging dramatic press conferences, such as one held last October at the historic Union Hotel in Flemington, N.J., across the street from the site of the courthouse where Hauptmann was convicted. Yet he is fanatically protective of Anna Hauptmann, guarding her phone number like a state secret. He doesn't mind going on ''Geraldo,'' he says, but he doesn't want to subject Anna Hauptmann to such exposure.
At Anna Hauptmann's request, Bryan has filed the most recent petition for clemency on her behalf, but in Bryan's own name. That way, he says, ''if she dies, this effort will not.''
Bryan never met the man whose name he is so desperately trying to clear, but he echoes what Hauptmann said before his death:
They think when I die, the case will die. They think it will be like a book I close. But the book, it will never close.
From The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax Forum
Anna Hauptmann Quote
posted Feb 21 2002
From "Proclaimed His Innocence" by Robert Bryan:
Mrs. Anna Hauptmann, the 94 year-old widow of Richard Hauptmann, said to me this afternoon:
"My Richard was not involved in what happened to that poor little Lindbergh child in New Jersey. Richard and I were together that night in New York. We did not know about the kidnapping until the next day. People must not forget that my Richard was innocent. They know in New Jersey that he was innocent.
I just re-read again Richard's last letter to me written just before he died. He begged for the truth. And they did such terrible things to him in that prison. I know he is with God. All these 57 years has not been living. I pray to God. The most important thing is that God knows the truth. I beg Gov. Jim Florio to do the right thing, and clear Richard's name. I want to die knowing that the truth was finally recognized."
Please visit :
Ronelle Delmont's Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax You Tube Channel
© Copyright Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax 1998 - 2020