The First Celebrity Kidnapping: Baby Charles Lindbergh

Here's the story of the first celebrity kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son, as excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain by Giles Milton, the basis for the podcast, Unknown History.

Giles Milton
3-minute read
Episode #9

At around 10 p.m. on March 1, 1932, nursemaid Betty Gow went to make a final check on twenty-month-old Charles Lindbergh, son of the famous aviator of the same name.

To her surprise, she found that baby Charles was missing from his cot. She went straightaway to seek out his mother, Anne, to see if she had taken him.

Anne didn’t have the baby, so Betty went to see Charles, who was in his study.

He didn’t have the baby either and he was alarmed to hear that Charles junior was missing from his crib. He rushed up to the nursery to check for himself. Betty was right. The baby was missing.

The Clues Left Behind

As Charles looked around the room his eyes alighted on a white envelope that had been left close to the windowsill. Written in poor English it read:

Dear Sir! Have 50.000$ redy 25.000$ in 20$ bills 15.000$ in 10$ bills and 10.000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony.

A thorough search of the kidnapping scene revealed smudged footprints underneath the nursery window. Two sections of ladder had been used to reach the window; these were found near the house.

One of the sections was split, suggesting that the ladder had broken during the descent. There were no bloodstains in or about the nursery, nor were there any fingerprints.

Help From a Friend

On March 6th, five days after the kidnapping, Charles received a second ransom note. This increased the ransom demand to $70,000. It was followed by a third and fourth ransom note, at which point a trusted local ex-headmaster named Dr. John F. Condon offered his services. He suggested trying to make direct contact with the kidnapper by placing a series of adverts in local newspapers. If the kidnapper responded to his adverts, he could act as an intermediary in any ransom negotiations.

It was a long shot but to everyone’s surprise it worked. The kidnapper responded and, from this point on, all his notes were sent directly to Dr. Condon.

One of these contained instructions for him to meet with an unidentified man called ‘John’ at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. Dr. Condon duly went along, met with ‘John’ and discussed payment of the ransom money. In return, the stranger handed Dr. Condon the baby’s sleeping suit, proof enough that he had little Charles.

After an exchange of yet more notes, Dr. Condon once again met with ‘John’. He handed over $50,000 and was told that the kidnapped child could be found on a boat named Nellie near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. An extensive search and rescue mission failed to find any boat of that name.

A Tragic Discovery

On May 12th, almost ten weeks after the kidnapping, the body of a baby was found, partly buried and decomposed, some five miles from the Lindberghs’ home. 

The body was positively identified as Charles Lindbergh and was cremated, at the Lindberghs’ insistence, on the following day. The coroner concluded that the child had been dead for some two months and that the cause of death was a blow to the head.    

Who was the culprit of this grisly crime?

To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook

This post is roughly excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain. You can purchase the book on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieboundBooks-a-Million, and Apple

About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.