It is the melancholy anniversary of the day in 1932 Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. disappeared from the nursery of the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. His tiny corpse was found in May of the same year, but it was not until two years later and thousands of pages of journalistic speculation that an arrest was made.
One of the lesser-known commenters on the mystery was a man we have met in these pages before: The Wizard of Graphology, Rafael Schermann, who seemed to have an almost magical ability to detect crime from the written letter. He examined the kidnap notes sent to the Lindbergh family and their agents, and gave a very specific description of the perpetrator.
Lindbergh Kidnaper Foreigner, Bootlegger; Round Faced and Dapper,
Says Writing Expert
(Editor’s Note—Rafael Schermann, internationally known European graphologist, has analyzed the handwriting of the kidnaper of the Lindbergh baby, as shown in recently published copies of the kidnap notes. In the following story he draws a picture of the appearance, habits, methods and purposes of the abductor as revealed in characteristics of his penmanship.
By Raphael Schermann, Graphologist, as Told to Edward Hunter
Paris, March 23. The specimens of handwriting which I have before me show that we do not have a professional, experienced kidnaper, but on the contrary a man new to the job, a man who has nothing to lose and who wants to enrich himself by a single coup. If he fails in the execution of his project, he has brought along instruments of death and poison to kill himself rather than fall into the hands of the police.
He is not an American, because none of the characteristics of American handwriting are present. The writer has changed his profession often without being able to stick very long to one job. Among his jobs must have been work as a locksmith and as a baker. In any case, he ended up a bootlegger.
It is certain he did not come to America long before he committed the deed. That is to say, several months rather than several years. Otherwise, with the easy way of adapting himself to his surroundings, which is one of his characteristic, he would have assimilated several typically American characteristics independently of his will.
Learned “Business Methods.”
There is a “good guy” side to him, but bad company brought him into evil ways and finally led him to America, where he hoped to make money quickly. Bootlegging seemed the quickest way. He did not have much trouble finding men of his own kind in this milieu and so he must have met men who were kidnapers. He did a lot of listening and spying in a clever way and thus got onto their “business methods” and tricks of the trade.
He already was used to an easy life. He was good looking, dressed carefully, and even at time eccentrically, and was keen for love affairs. In fact, he looked somewhat feminine, with a roundish face.
He worked out his plan to kidnap the Lindbergh baby thoroughly. Either personally or through a person intimately acquainted with the surroundings, he must have learned very precise details about the habits of the nurse or person taking care of the child, such as, for instance, the exact time the child would remain alone for a short time while the nurse was otherwise engaged.
After obtaining these details he probably looked for some accomplice. As he had made money through bootlegging and had plenty of it, he probably found an accomplice without much difficulty. His plan was to get through the whole job in a few days, as he was certain Col. Lindbergh would pay the ransom immediately after the kidnapping. If he had succeeded in blackmailing Lindbergh into paying the money, this man never again would have abandoned his new profession of kidnapping.
Drunk or Drugged, Claim.
When he got down to the kidnapping itself, and wrote his first note, he was absolutely drunk or under the influence of drugs. The writing in the first note sways and heaves like the writing of a drunken man. It slants to the left, almost backwards.
And now we see the shrewd efficiency of the writer. To lead the police astray he wrote the subsequent letters while sober. In the third note he apparently was a little drunk or drugged. The first four links of his letter show this. He then stopped and finished the letter later when sober. He therefore did not disguise his handwriting and this seems important because he shrewdly reckoned with people who did think his handwriting must be disguised
The writer speaks and writes several languages, among them German, but all poorly. In the first letter, for instance, he wrote “got” instead of “good,” revealing knowledge of German. He repeated this in the fourth letter. I think it would be useful if the authorities would consult their records of arriving immigrants for a period of 12 to 18 months prior to the kidnapping and compare handwritings with that in the Lindbergh notes.
The fact that he is a new man in the kidnaping business finds confirmation in the facts of the case, particularly the fact that he got rid of the child quickly. He must have had too few accomplices to help him take care of the child inconspicuously. It is also possible his accomplices let him down at the last moment and as he did not know what to do with the baby he killed it immediately after the kidnaping.
Evening Tribune [San Diego, CA] 23 March 1934: p. 12
Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested on 19 September, 1934. How closely does he resemble this pen picture sketched by Schermann? He was born in Germany, trained as a carpenter, and was a German soldier in the First World War; he committed various crimes including burglary and robbery before he came to America as a stowaway in 1923. He worked as a carpenter, married, and had a son. He learned English quickly, but it was said that he struggled with English at his trial. You can judge for yourself if he looks dapper and feminine or round-faced. I can find no evidence of love affairs after he was married; his wife, Anna, stood by him and to the end of her life, proclaimed his innocence, even bringing suit against the New Jersey government to exonerate him. She said that on the evening of the Lindbergh baby’s disappearance she was working late at her job at a local bakery and Richard had come to pick her up. Hauptmann did buy himself a good suit with some of the ransom money found in his attic, as well as an expensive radio. Supposedly he did not tell his wife about the money, claiming to investigators that a man named Isidor Fisch, a former business partner who owned him money, had left it there when he left for Germany. Some say Fisch applied for his passport on the day Charles Jr.’s body was found, although he did not leave the country until late in 1933. Fisch died in Germany of tuberculosis 29 March, 1934.
Schermann’s speculation about why the kidnapper got rid of the child so quickly is contradicted by physical evidence that the baby was either killed in his crib or during the escape. Of course, if the little corpse found in the woods was not the Lindbergh baby, that raises a whole set of new questions—which brings us to the bootleggers.
There was talk at the time that the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped by mobsters either to get Al Capone sprung from jail or as retaliation for Col. Lindbergh reporting to the authorities suspected bootleg still sites he spotted during his flights. There was also a rumor spread that the bootleggers planted the corpse of another child where it would be found quickly because the police were searching too many trucks carrying illegal hooch on the roads around the Lindbergh estate, disrupting business. This latter theory is used to explain some of the discrepancies between the living baby and the body found in the woods.
The “Crime of the Century” generated headlines and speculation from the moment the child disappeared and continues even today with at least fifteen men and one woman claiming they were the Lindbergh baby. Theories continue to be generated as to Hauptmann’s innocence, guilt, or accomplices. At the time the police were sure that someone among the twenty-nine servants in the Lindbergh/Morrow households had given useful information to the kidnapper. One of the servants was so distraught over being repeatedly interrogated that she committed suicide even though she had a sound alibi. A key witness, Dr. John F. Condon, originally said that Hauptmann was not “Cemetery John,” who collected the ransom, so at least one other man must have been involved. And yet, eight handwriting experts testified that Hauptmann had written the ransom note; and modern experts, revisiting the case, have said there is a high probability that he did. So where does that leave us with Schermann’s famed accuracy? Were his observations correct–about a different kidnapper–possibly Cemetery John (whose photo appears in this link and whom Robert Zorn says was an alcoholic) or an accomplice?
Of course there are other, more sinister theories, including one that accuses Mrs. Lindbergh’s sister Elisabeth of murdering the baby over jealousy that her sister had married the man she loved. Another suggests that the baby was somehow disabled, perhaps from a 13-hour, high-altitude flight Lindbergh made, accompanied by his wife, who was 7 months pregnant. Horrifyingly, it has been suggested that Lindbergh, well-known for his interest in eugenics, staged the kidnapping to rid himself of a less-than-perfect child. Other authors have theorized that Lindbergh accidentally killed his son in a practical joke gone wrong and had to create a kidnapping cover story. Such conspiracy theories inevitably arise in the wake of such a tragedy, to be collected and compiled by the Fortean.
I end on a further Fortean note with this curious anecdote:
Anne took part in a séance in the nursery with a medium from the New York Society for Psychical Research—who spoke intriguingly of three men and two women being involved, including Italians, Germans, and Scandinavians; but the episode only made her withdraw further from the specifics of the case. She chose to focus instead on the future. Mid-pregnancy, she realized that was the only way she could keep herself healthy for her second child…As March came to an end, she resumed “regular life” as best she could… Anne’s mother did not tell her that one afternoon a black crow had flown into the nursery and perched on the baby’s crib. Lindbergh, A. Scott Berg,1998
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.