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).