Certainly the oddest – and most recent – piece of evidence in the Lindbergh kidnapping is the “table block confession.” Last week attorney Richard Cahill, author of the new book Hauptmann’s Ladder: A Step-by-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping, spoke with us about the case in general. He’s returning this week to tell us about the unusual confession.
The writing in the table top confession was discovered in 1948 by a man renovating a table he had purchased eight years earlier. In 2003, Mark Falzini, an archivist at the New Jersey State Police Museum found it in a box, compared it to the signature in the ransom notes, and made a startling discovery.
Richard Cahill analyzes the confession in his book and concludes it was both a hoax and an important clue. To understand how one piece of evidence can be both, you need to know about the kidnapper’s signature on the ransom notes.
Richard Cahill on the Table Block Confession
Ann Marie: Tell why the kidnapper’s signature was so unusual.
Richard Cahill: The holes in the ransom note were actually part of the “singnature” itself. The signature was an odd symbol consisting of two interlocking blue circles about the size of a half dollar coin. In the oval formed by the blue circles was a red circle about the size of a nickel. Three holes were punched in the symbol with one in the middle of the red circle and the other two just outside the outer circles equidistant from the center hole. Lastly, there were wavy vertical lines inside the outer circles but just outside the inner red circle.
Was the writing actually on the table top or on a block reinforcing the corner of the table?
The writing was not on the outer table. The writing was on a piece of wood used to reinforce the joint.
What did the confession say?
In Hamberg da bin ich gewesen in Samet und in Seide gekleidet. Meinen Namen den darf ich nicht nennen Denn Ich war einer der Kidnapper des Lindberg babys und nicht Bruno Richard
Hauptmann. Der Rest des Lösesgeldes liegt in Summit New Jersey begraben.
In English, “In Hamburg, I wore velvet and silk. I cannot tell you my name because I was one of the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby. The rest of the ransom money lies buried in Summit, New Jersey.
NSDAP are the initials of the German Nazi party.
The block of wood had holes in it where it had been attached to the table. In 2003, Mark Felzini discovered the holes in the block aligned perfectly with the holes in the ransom note.
Why did you conclude the table block confession was fake?
Four reasons. (1) There is no evidence to show this table even existed in 1932. (2) The message does not appear to be written by a native German speaker. The message suggests the writer thought in English. (3) The timing of the message is odd. If this was intended to be a confession, why hide in a place it might never be found. (4) The signature of the Nazi party is ridiculous. In 1932, the Nazi’s were still trying to gain power in Germany. They would never have used their resources to kidnap Lindbergh’s child. Such a tactic would have been completely foolish and illogical.
Note from Ann Marie: The beginning of the confession is a parody on a German sailor’s chanty:
In Hamburg, da bin ich gewesen,
In Samt und in Seide gehüllt,
Meinen Namen den darf ich nicht nennen,
Denn ich bin ja ein Mädchen fürs Geld.
In my opinion, it shows that while the table top confession was likely not a genuine article, the holes in the ransom notes match the industry standard for these type of tables. The kidnapper used something very similar as a template for the ransom notes.A carpenter would certainly have access to and knowledge of something like this.
Thank you, Richard!
If you enjoyed this interview, take a look at Richard’s book, Hauptmann’s Ladder, on Amazon.
One of the most fascinating cases of the 20th century is the Lindbergh kidnapping. Eighty years later, experts still can’t agree if Bruno Richard Hauptmann was guilty of the kidnapping and death of Lindbergh’s son. And that confusion stems from the highly unusual nature of the evidence. The most damning was expert opinion about the ladder the kidnapper used to access the baby’s window: one piece of wood came from the flooring in Hauptmann’s attic.
Richard Cahill, a trial lawyer, recently published a landmark book about the Lindbergh case with Kent State University Press and kindly offered me an interview. In the course of his research, he went from believing in Hauptmann’s innocence to becoming convinced of his involvement. Hauptmann’s Ladder offers new evidence and a sharp legal analysis of the case.
Ann Marie: You took twenty years to research this book. That’s a significant portion of your life. Tell us why Lindbergh case fascinates you so much.
Richard Cahill: Researching the Lindbergh case was a hobby of mine for many years. Perplexed by books that reached totally different conclusions on the same evidence, I decided to find out for myself.
Where did you do your research?
There were numerous places I went to as part of my research. I went to the New Jersey State Police Museum and Archives on several occasions (usually for days at a time). I also went to the New York City Municipal Archives, the original Courthouse where the trial took place, the original Lindbergh home, the homes of John Condon and Hauptmann, and various sites of relevance to the case. I also went to several libraries. However, the lion’s share of my time was spent in my own home reviewing all of the documents and exhibits I have collected over the years and reading my collection of pretty much every book ever written on the subject.
Your book contains critical pieces of evidence that aren’t in other Lindbergh books. Tell us about some of them.
My book is the first to discuss the “table top confession” as well as the lease document found in Hauptmann’s possessions. Though mentioned in other articles or blogs about the case, no other book has ever referenced them.
Also, my conclusions about Captain Richard Oliver likely being the man seen at the cemetery by Charles Lindbergh is an absolute first. That has never been argued in any publication.
My book also is the first to reference in any detail the so-called Hauptmann look-a-like that the defense considered calling at the trial.
These are a few examples.
A man unrelated to the Lindbergh kidnapping found the “table top confession” in 1948 while repairing a table purchased eight years earlier. It is a German text written on a block of wood that was used to reinforce the table’s joint. The anonymous author claims he was the kidnapper, not Hauptmann. The block had five holes. Police declared it a fake but archived the block. In 2003, an archivist with the New Jersey State Police Museum and Archives discovered the five holes in the block aligned perfectly with the holes in the ransom notes that the kidnapper used as a signature. Richard Cahill will appear on my blog once more to discuss this unusual piece of evidence.
What was your biggest surprise in your research?
My biggest surprise? Honestly, my biggest surprise was just how much evidence has been collected. The archives contain more documents and evidence than one man could read in a year.
How did your experience as a trial lawyer help you investigate and analyze the evidence?
I think my experience as a lawyer played a substantial role in my investigation and writing. For example, my knowledge of fingerprinting allowed me to conclude that the age old notion that the nursery was wiped clean was simply not true. That had been almost accepted dogma of the case prior to my research.
Also, it allowed me insight into the trial tactics of both Wilentz and Reilly. I think this allowed me to go beyond the trial transcript and give the readers a better play by play account.
Thanks, Richard, for sharing with us.
Guilty or innocent? Based on what you know about the case, what is your opinion of Bruno Richard Hauptmann?
Check out Richard Cahill’s book, Hauptmann’s Ladder, on Amazon.
Literature on point:
Richard T. Cahill, Hauptmann’s Ladder: A Step-by-Step Analysis of the Lindbergh Kidnapping (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2014).Read More
Interview with Author and Cadaver Dog Handler Cat Warren
CAT WARREN is a professor and former journalist with a somewhat unorthodox hobby: she works with cadaver dogs—dogs who search for missing and presumed-dead people. What started as a way to harness the energies of her unruly, smart, German shepherd puppy, Solo, soon became a passion for them both (though Solo thinks it’s simply a great game, with the reward of a toy at the end). They searched for the missing throughout North Carolina for eight years. Cat is the author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World. You can visit her website at What the Dog Knows.
Ann Marie: Most cadaver dog handlers work on a volunteer basis. Why is that?
Cat Warren: It’s mostly about budgets. The fact is, cadaver dogs aren’t needed every day in the same way a patrol dog is needed every day. One of the founders of the field, Andy Rebmann, started the first cadaver dog program in the late 1970s with the Connecticut State Police. That program has survived up through the present. Other programs spun off from Andy’s founder effect—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine. And a couple of large cities, New York and Chicago, have cadaver dogs and handlers. There are a few larger departments in the United States that still have cadaver dog and handler teams, and some small ones scattered across the country, especially sheriff departments, partly because their work can tend to be more rural. But increasingly, law enforcement depends on volunteers for this function. A good volunteer dog-and-handler team can produce some excellent results.
Let’s get the big question out of the way first. I can imagine that the biggest objection most people would have to cadaver searching is the shock and horror of finding a dead body. What would you tell them?
I have a harder time watching a show like Bones or any Hollywood version of death and decay than I do looking at a dead body out in nature. I think we media-saturated Westerners are now hardwired to replay all the worst possible film and television scenarios in our heads. But decomposition, even human decomposition, is usually a quieter phenomenon. The human violence or tragedy that brought the victim to that spot is past, and I have trained myself not to focus on that, especially when we are searching. It’s important that the dog have a good time; that’s how they do their best work: in happy mode. Any dread the handler feels, as trainers note, goes right down the leash. It’s the handler’s job to let the dog do his best work. Besides, for me and — I expect, for the majority of searchers — finding the person who is missing and dead represents success. Absolutely, it’s sad that someone has died, but it’s not a surprise. We usually know going out to search that the outcome probably won’t be finding someone alive. Finding the victim is the beginning of a resolution for those who knew the person, and for law enforcement. I do understand it when people think I must do this work as a dutiful public service. No. It’s a challenging puzzle, it pushes dogs and handlers to their mental and physical and scent limits. Plus, I get outside, often in the woods, and I get to watch dogs use their noses — one of the most pleasurable sights on earth.
What are the qualities that make a good cadaver dog?
The same qualities that make any good scent detection dog make a good cadaver dog. Good cadaver dogs love to hunt. They have what trainers and handlers call “drive,” which is a complicated and often misunderstood term. To oversimplify, a dog with drive has a lot of engine underneath its hood, even if it doesn’t have that engine revved in every situation. Often, with scent detection dogs, trainers look for dogs who are toy- or ball-obsessed because that obsession can be transferred over to the hunt for the particular scent the dog is being trained to find.
A good cadaver dog needs to have a good nose, an ability to focus, the desire to work long and hard for a reward, and be in good physical, and mental condition. Good cadaver dogs need to be both deeply bonded to their handlers, but also be independent and able to make decisions on their own. It’s a strange combination when you think about it — but you want dogs that are experts, in a way. You want to work with a dog that says, “let’s go this way, not that way.” And finally, a good cadaver dog is trained on a spectrum of human decomposition scent: from teeth and old bone up to material that is much fresher.
And a good handler?
Ah, I wish I were capable of doing all the things that make a good handler. Then I would be a better one. It takes an enormous amount of talent, time, dedication, imagination — and patience! When I watch good handlers work, here is what I see: They have great timing, so that they are rewarding their dogs at the exact moment necessary. Too soon or too late on the reward, and the dog doesn’t understand what it just did correctly. Good handlers are able to push their dogs by challenging them to learn more and do better, but not so much that their dogs lose their sense of security. In other words, it’s a delicate balance to create independence and expertise in dogs without throwing too much at them. But good handlers are always setting up increasingly difficult puzzles in training. Good handlers get out of the way of their well-trained dogs and let them work without interference. They set the dog up for success on searches. That means paying a great deal of attention to terrain and weather conditions, and what else is out in the environment. When I see good handlers work with their dogs, the process looks effortless and easy. Of course, it’s not.
How do you train a dog for cadaver searches?
That’s such an interesting question — and a complicated one. You train them both to be environmentally “hard” that is, to ignore and work past distractions, such as weird surfaces, rubble, fallen trees, the scent of other animals, traffic (cars and people). You also train them to recognize the whole spectrum of human decomposition. Bombs, drugs, and landmines are chemically simple in comparison to human decomposition. Yet, we do know that solidly trained dogs can tell the difference between deceased human, a dead deer, or aged goat cheese. But it’s not straightforward. Forensic anthropologist and research chemist Arpad Vass and his colleagues have identified nearly 480 different volatile compounds coming off of decomposing bodies. It’s just a start. He thinks it will be closer to 1,000 organic compounds, though not all of them volatiles, by the time they are finished creating a DOA database — which stands for Decomposition Odor Analysis, not Dead on Arrival.
Where do you obtain the scent for training?
It depends on what state or country you live in, and what the regulations are for that state or country. It’s really important to know the laws, exactly, before you obtain scent. For some countries, you can only use what we call “pseudoscent,” which is a company’s effort to get as chemically close to the scent of human decomposition as possible. Having diverse materials to train on is ideal, and “decomp,” as it’s called, comes in all varieties, from bone and teeth, to recent blood, to dirt that is harvested from beneath a body that has spent a good amount of time in the woods before being found. Dogs also need to be exposed to what they might find out on a search — a whole body. It can be confusing and even intimidating to some dogs, who are not trained on a daily basis with that much scent. We are fortunate in North Carolina to have a forensic anthropology research facility that helps train cadaver dogs on a small research plot where donated bodies decompose. That facility helps train forensic anthropologists — and cadaver dogs and handlers.
Even if a dog owner isn’t sure about training a dog for cadaver searches, what are some other scent games an owner can play with a dog?
There are so many things that one can do these days with dogs and their noses, from work to sport to just playing in the yard and house. Besides cadaver dog work, there’s conservation dog work — helping count and find either invasive or endangered species. There’s search and rescue for finding live victims. But many dog owners are finding their dogs love to do canine nose work. It’s a relatively recent sport, just like agility, only using many dogs’ inherent love of sniffing to get them engaged and confident. And I love to do simple games when it’s hard to get the dogs outside. Hiding a particular toy in the house and asking the dogs to go find that toy (and not the others) is great mental stimulation for the dogs. They work together, and get enormously competitive and interested in being the first one to find the hidden toy.
Whom should a dog owner contact if he or she wants to find out more about the possibility of cadaver search training?
It depends on where they live — the first step is to contact their area search and rescue groups, to see what they are doing. In the United States, we have several national groups that are a good place to start: the American Rescue Dog Association, the National Search Dog Alliance, or The North American Police Work Dog Association, which allows non-law enforcement handlers to be associate members, with some restrictions.
I also highly recommend a book entitled Cadaver Dog Handbook: Forensic Training and Tactics for the Recover of Human Remains, by Andrew Rebmann, Edward David, and Marcella H. Sorg. More than any other book, it gives you everything you need to know about the discipline.
Thank you, Cat! Please give Solo a hug from me and tell him I said “bravo!”
What scent games does your dog enjoy? And if you have any questions for Cat Warren, you may post them in the comment section.
Interested in Cat’s book, What the Dog Knows? It hit the #7 spot for bestselling paperback nonfiction. Check it out on Amazon!
More than any other event, it was John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry that lit the fuse of North-South tension and ignited the Civil War. Brown planned the raid for two years in advance, so it was no mistake that the first thing he did when he crossed into Virginia was to send a detachment to steal a sword and kidnap its owner. It wasn’t just any old sword. It was – purportedly – the sword of the Prussian monarch Frederick the Great.
Legend of the Sword
The story of why Frederick the Great’s sword fascinated John Brown is a story of the symbolism in the raid. And that symbolism helped establish Brown’s reputation as a martyr.
Brown’s preparations for the raid included sending an advance man, John Edwin Cook, as a spy. Cook moved to Harpers Ferry over a year in advance. He blended in well and even married a local girl. One interesting tidbit Cook passed on to Brown had to do with a sword once belonging to Frederick the Great and two pistols once belonging to General Lafayette. Col. Lewis W. Washington, the great-grandnephew of George Washington, had inherited them and lived only four miles from Harpers Ferry. Frederick the Great had reputedly sent the sword to Washington in 1780 with a note: “From the oldest General in the world to the Greatest.”
John Brown Steals Frederick the Great’s Sword
Brown’s raiders kidnapped Washington in the middle of the night and delivered him by carriage, along with the sword and pistols, to the U.S. armory in Harpers Ferry, now under John Brown’s command. Brown kept Washington hostage in the armory’s fire engine house and wore Frederick’s sword during the following standoff. Robert E. Lee, appointed to command the U.S. troops from Fr. Monroe present in Harpers Ferry, successfully recaptured the armory.
Brown was injured and captured. Carrying Frederick’s sword might have helped save his life. When a U.S. Army lieutenant tried to strike Brown with a saber, something under Brown’s shirt deflected the blow. That something is thought to be the buckle for the belt carrying the sword. Brown, according to one source, surrendered Frederick’s sword and Lafayette’s pistols to a black man, Osborn Perry Anderson, a freeborn Pennsylvanian who had joined Brown on the raid. They were eventually returned to Washington.
Had Brown been killed immediately, he may not have become a national martyr. His stoicism in face of the death penalty is one of the things that changed him, in the eyes of the North, from an abolitionist who had gone too far to a national saint.
Why the sword? And why the pistols?
The Sword in Symbolism
John Brown planned the raid on Harpers Ferry not only on a tactical level, but also a symbolic one. Symbolism was already reflected in his selection of the date for his raid: July 4, 1859. Only because he couldn’t amass enough men and materials by Independence Day did Brown postpone the raid to October 16.
Historians today doubt whether Frederick really gave Washington a sword. It’s impossible to determine the origins of the sword because it was severely damaged in a fire in 1911. But the point is moot, because the people of the era believed it really was Frederick the Great’s sword and the role it played was symbolic. Brown had planned from the beginning to place those national heirlooms in the hands of a black man as a symbol of racial justice.
Literature on point:
Michael Korda: Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee (Harper, 2014)
Peggy A. Russo & Paul Finkelman, eds. Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press 2005)
United States Department of the Interior; National Park Service. National Registers of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form for Beall-Air (Jefferson County, West Virginia) 1973.Read More