LINDBERGH by Noel Behn


The Crime
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 Behn (Seven Silent Men, 1984, etc.) reopens a celebrated criminal case--the kidnap/murder of Charles A. Lindbergh's infant son--and renders plausible if conjectural verdicts startlingly at odds with those on the official record. So far as history is concerned, an illegal German alien named Bruno Richard Hauptmann snatched the revered aviator's firstborn from the family's New Jersey estate on the night of March 1, 1932, and, though he killed the child almost immediately, collected a $50,000 ransom. When arrested in N.Y.C. over two years later, Hauptmann was found to possess much of the ransom; tried and convicted on homicide charges, he was executed on April 3, 1936. But here--drawing on hitherto unknown evidence unearthed by the Garden State's Republican governor (a political foe of Hauptmann's prosecutor) during the appeal process, as well as on government archives and other sources--Behn tells a different story. Toward the close of his inquiry (which provides vividly detailed perspectives on the times as well as the places in which the tragedy unfolded), the author makes a credible case against an individual who had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill the baby three days earlier than the murder was previously believed to have occurred. Prior to this shocker, he identifies the rogue who most likely wrote a series of ransom notes, and makes a fine job of sorting out the roles played by the sordid drama's large supporting cast--including John F. Condon, J. Edgar Hoover, Gaston Means, H. Norman Schwarzkopf (father of the Desert Storm general), et al. Throughout, Behn speculates that Lindbergh himself may have masterminded a sophisticated coverup that threw police off the track of the real murderer. At a minimum, the author argues, Hauptmann (whose trial he deems a travesty) was guilty of nothing worse than extortion. While his well-founded suspicions are not beyond all doubt, Behn's conclusions are reasonable and responsible in the circumstances--and are bound to attract considerable attention. True-crime fare, then, of a compellingly high order.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87113-544-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993


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