March 4 - 1932: Cape Cod and the Lindbergh kidnapping

'Crime of the Century' and its Cape Cod connection
The infant son of Charles Lindbergh, kidnapped in 1932.

1932: How Cape Cod was linked to the Lindbergh kidnapping

Cape Cod and the Islands had several ties to the case

By Evan J. Albright

On a cold rainy night in March of 1932, someone kidnapped the infant son of Charles Lindbergh, who only five years before had become famous by flying solo across the Atlantic.

His son, Charles Jr., was 20 months old. He had been asleep in his crib on the second floor of the Lindbergh's getaway home near Hopewell, N.J. when his nurse checked on him at 8 p.m. When she checked again at 10, the crib was empty.

The Lindbergh kidnapping became known as "The Crime of the Century." It is a tale that continues to fascinate, not only for the celebrity attached to it, but for the numerous conspiracy theories that have grown up around it in the 80 years since.

Cape Cod and the Islands had several interesting ties to the case from the beginning. On April 2, 1932, an agent for the Lindberghs met with a man who claimed to be one of the kidnappers in a cemetery in the Bronx. The agent gave the man $50,000 in ransom. The man gave the agent a note that read:

The boy is on the Boad [Boat] Nelly. It is a small boad 28 feet long. Two persons are on the boad. The are innosent. you will find the Boad between Horseneck Beach and Gay Head near Elizabeth Island.

The man disappeared with the money. The Coast Guard searched the area, but found no boat and, more importantly, no baby. But now the entire coastline, including Martha's Vineyard, the Cape and all of Buzzards Bay were tingling with notion that the Lindbergh baby was somewhere nearby.

Then, on April 6, the state police swarmed into Falmouth. John Jones, a resident of Waquoit, reported he saw a man and woman with a baby carriage on a small boat near the Falmouth shore of Waquoit Bay, headed toward Great Neck which in those days was sparsely populated.

Falmouth Police Chief William Mercer found imprints in the beach near where Jones said the boat had been heading. A witness, Bartlett Wright, claimed to have seen a man waiting on the beach, pacing back and forth. Wright heard a boat arrive, then saw the man with a woman and a 10-year-old child. He saw no baby. A few minutes later he heard the roar of an automobile engine as it pulled away.

The man, woman and child were never found. Everyone quit looking for them on May 12 when the decomposed corpse of an infant was found buried in a shallow grave in the New Jersey woods about two miles from the site of the kidnapping.

Although there is still some debate even today, the corpse was believed to be the remains of Charles Jr. The police efforts now became solely one of finding the kidnappers and bringing them to justice.

It was a Cape Cod summer resident who solved the Lindbergh kidnapping. The problem was that police did not know he had solved it until after the kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann, was arrested.

Leigh Matteson, a part-time resident of Bass River, covered the Lindbergh kidnapping for the International News Service. During the investigation, he became close with Ellis Parker, a New Jersey police detective who was working the case. In July 1932, Matteson brought Parker a new theory - the kidnapping had been done by one individual, a man who had been born and raised in rural Germany.

Matteson explained that he had been working with a New York psychiatrist, Dr. Dudley Schoenfeld. From the evidence, including the numerous ransom notes, Dr. Schoenfeld had "constructed" a person who committed the crime. Today, psychological profiles are a common practice in criminal investigations - in 1932, Schoenfeld was breaking new ground.

Lt. Parker was interested, but he was more interested in Matteson's suggestion for finding the killer. "The kidnap ransom notes showed an 'x' written only in a manner of one educated in some rural German school, 20 or 30 years ago," Matteson recalled in 1937. In one note, the x was written like two "e's;" in another, it resembled a "u."

Matteson suggested combing the automobile license applications for the Bronx where the kidnapper was believed to reside. As the name of the New York borough contained an "x," the kidnapper would have had to note that on his application.

Parker was intrigued by the idea. In August he wrote Matteson, asking, "Have you finished checking up on licenses in the Bronx?" But Matteson never looked. He claimed his employers did not want him to waste his time on such a search, and New York police were equally disinterested. The following year he resigned from the news service and moved full-time to Bass River.

On Sept. 19, 1934, two years after Matteson had presented his theory, police arrested Hauptmann, an illegal German immigrant, in the Bronx. On his automobile license, in the word "Bronx," was the distinctive letter "x," just as Matteson had predicted.

On April 3, 1936, Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr.  See the rest of Cape Cod Confidential here.


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