THE AIRMAN AND THE CARPENTER: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann by Ludovic Kennedy

THE AIRMAN AND THE CARPENTER: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The flaws in this rehash of the 1932 kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son and the resulting murder conviction of Richard Hauptmann, the immigrant German carpenter in whose garage a chunk of the ransom money turned up, begin with the subtitle: ""framing"" is the deliberately orchestrated conviction of a defendant known by his accusers to be innocent; but British journalist Kennedy (The Trial of Stephen Ward, The Death of the Tirpitz) offers not an iota of proof that a frame, as such, occurred. Unfortunately, such overstatement, not to mention ad hominem attack and petty name-calling (particularly against the dead), characterizes Kennedy's style. We are told at the outset that ""a whole mass of evidence which would have cleared Hauptmann [was] ruthlessly destroyed or suppressed,"" but this allegation is largely unsupported (except for the disappearance of certain of Hauptmann's payroll records); various prosecution witnesses are contemptuously dismissed (""a deeply corrupt source,"" ""thoroughly dishonest and a congenital liar,"" ""two jokers,"" ""the old creep""); and even Lindbergh himself is accused of having given ""false testimony"" in identifying Hauptmann's voice as that of the pick-up man for the kidnap ransom. Offputting though such table-thumping may be, Kennedy's generally workmanlike review of the case (which echoes Anthony Scaduto's 1976 Scapegoat) should convince readers that there was more than enough room for ""reasonable doubt"" on the murder count (the evidence linking Hauptmann to the scene was flimsy, to say the least), or even on a charge of extortion (the state's top handwriting analysts first said Hauptmann didn't write the ransom notes, and reversed themselves only when told of the discovery of the ransom money). But, even giving Hauptmann the benefit of the doubt on the issue of direct involvement in the crime, how did he end up with part of the ransom money? Hauptmann claimed his erstwhile business partner (and, it seems, freelance con man) Isidore Fisch gave him a sealed-up shoebox for safekeeping, and Hauptmann never looked inside until after Fisch's death, when he took some of the money because Fisch was in debt to him. Perhaps. Given the mood of the times (anti-Hauptmann feeling fueled by the press, crowds outside the courtroom chanting ""Kill Hauptmann""), few believed him. Kennedy accepts Hauptmann's story about the money completely--it is pivotal for belief in his complete innocence--though some readers (even those who agree that the murder conviction was unjust) may reserve judgment about Hauptmann's lack of complicity. What Kennedy needs, but lacks, is an I-name-the-murderer bombshell--absent which his shrill finger-pointing adds little to a sad story already well documented. (It is scheduled for PBS re-airing, however, as a BBC-documentary this spring.)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking