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