Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Search Of... The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping

On this date in 1936, German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann was electrocuted for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's infant son in March 1932.  An episode of the 1970s TV show In Search Of..., which first aired in November 1980, suggested that Hauptmann was actually innocent and that he had been framed by a police force desperate to find a scapegoat for the sensational crime.  

I really liked In Search of... as a kid in the 1970's, and so have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. Embedded below is a 10 minute segment from this episode, wherein a journalist named Anthony Scaduto presents evidence he claims to have uncovered casting overwhelming doubt on Hauptmann's guilt.  I remember watching this episode as a kid and being totally convinced by him.  But I should have known better. 

When Scaduto is first shown in this episode he is strolling down the streets of New York City casually smoking a pipe. In 1980? On the street?  Who did that, even then? He is introduced by the narrator, Leonard Nimoy, as "a writer and former reporter."  But what's never explained is that he is actually a rock journalist most famous for his 1972 biography of Bob Dylan titled Dylan,  and that he had also written books on The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Frank Sinatra, among others. The show also never makes clear that in between these rock biographies Scaduto had written a book titled Scapegoat, published in 1974, which set out his conspiracy theories about the Lindbergh kidnapping and Hauptmann's innocence.

I'll give you one example of Scaduto's "investigative journalism." He asserts in this episode that the body of the baby, which was tragically found in the woods about a mile from the Lindbergh home about two months after the kidnapping, was not, in fact, the Lindbergh baby.  Therefore, since his body was never really found, Scaduto asserts with the confidence of a committed iconoclast, a murder may never have even been committed at all. I learned today, however, that the infant's body was in fact able to be conclusively identified using the forensic techniques of the day, despite being badly decomposed. And that at Hauptmann's murder trial, neither side disputed the identity of the body (not even Hauptmann's defense team) when offered the explicit opportunity to do so.  I also learned this morning that it's now generally accepted Hauptmann was, in fact, guilty after all.

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