The kidnapping of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. on the evening of March 1, 1932, shocked the world and became one of the best known and most notorious crimes in modern history. The child's father, Charles A. Lindbergh, was probably the most famous man in the world at the time–a hero for completing the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 22, 1927. Lionized wherever he went and married to the charming, talented and wealthy Anne Morrow in 1929, their tragedy became a measure of the precarious social and economic times in which they lived, and emblematic of the powerful role that childhood played in the modern American imagination.
The baby, who was pictured in papers around the world after he disappeared, was twenty months old at the time of his ABDUCTION. During the six weeks which followed, the state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), private detectives, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world tried to find the child, for whom a ransom demand of $50,000 was paid on April 2, 1932. But the child was never recovered alive. On May 13, his partial remains were discovered not far from the house in New Jersey from which he had been taken. The hunt for the child then gave way to a massive hunt for his abductor.
The story of the arrest, trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child has become one of the most well-known crimes in American history, not least because of the controversy that still surrounds the final disposition of the case in 1936. The event has often been featured on radio and television programs, and the outcome of the case against Hauptmann continues to generate revisionist interpretations. But the kidnapping and its resolution were important only because the crime itself was so horrifying and considered a direct attack on the substance of American institutions and culture. The audacious disappearance of the "nation's child" as the baby was called at the time, became a terrible blow to the country's sense of security in precarious depression times, and a reminder of the threats to law and order in the early 1930s. It was used in the press to remind parents about the importance of their children and to confirm their commitment to family safety and well-being. The crime had major consequences in law and became the basis for the passage of the first federal kidnapping statute ("the Lindbergh Law") which made kidnapping a capital offense. It was also instrumental in the reorganization and reinvigoration of the FBI. For much of the rest of the twentieth century, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby would help to define the horrors of child loss for modern parents as it became a touchstone of a media increasingly sensitive to parents' anxieties about their children.
Berg, A. Scott. 1998. Lindbergh. New York: Putnam.
Fass, Paula S. 1997. Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Milton, Joyce. 1993. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. New York: Harper Collins.
PAULA S. FASS