In the past few decades, the public has realized that admired celebrities are not always the heroes we create in our imaginations. In “Suspect No. 1,” Lise Pearlman presents an explosive theory that fingers famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh as the primary organizer and perpetrator of his 20-month-old son’s kidnapping and death in 1932.
Pearlman’s in-depth research sets this book apart from similar ones that have preceded it, and her supporting evidence includes affidavits by forensics experts and reports secured through the Freedom of Information Act. I came away chilled by the author’s plausible and well-supported theory and impressed by her thoroughness. I can assure you, even if you are not a true crime enthusiast, this is an important book, because it illustrates that powerful people we want to love can do terrible things and get away with it.
For those who grew up in the Depression, the kidnapping and death of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. was known as “the crime of the century.” He had disappeared from his cradle on the evening of March 1, 1932 from an upstairs bedroom in the Lindbergh’s secluded home near Princeton, New Jersey. His body was found three months later in the woods close to the Lindbergh home, and in May of 1935 Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an undocumented German immigrant, was executed for the crime.
But over the years, legitimate doubts about Hauptmann’s guilt persisted, and writers have uncovered previously unknown information about dark aspects of Lindbergh’s personality. His suspicious activities and inexplicable behavior prompted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to write a private memo suggesting Lindbergh was hiding something. Officials at Scotland Yard had also advised focusing more closely on Lindbergh.
The first responders on the scene consisted of officers from the local Hopewell police, who immediately suspected an inside job. Lindbergh quickly ordered them off the case and brought in the New Jersey State Troopers, known for their incompetence. Lindbergh rejected offers from renowned detectives, as he moved the headquarters into his own home and took tight control over all aspects of it. Lindbergh grew furious when anyone followed a lead without his permission and was heard to threaten that they would be shot for doing so.
When his son’s body was found in May 1932, Lindbergh insisted on immediate cremation, without a proper autopsy. When Hauptmann was arrested and tried, Lindbergh himself worked with the prosecution to decide what evidence to admit and what evidence to exclude, such as the fact that fingerprints on the ladder were not Hauptmann’s, and that the police had later been instructed to wipe the ladder clean. He was even permitted to sit at the prosecutor’s table, just feet from Hauptmann and the jury, with a shoulder-holstered gun. The governor of New Jersey attempted to reopen the case before Hauptmann’s execution, but more powerful forces prevailed. The author presents evidence that the trial was a sham, and an innocent man was framed, convicted, and executed.
Most shocking were the motives the author attributed to Lindbergh, not just from conjecture, but from astonishingly well-documented research. Lindbergh’s own mother-in-law even suspected him and made cryptic comments to police implying a motive. But who listens to the mother-in-law? One of the blurbs in the book by a former Assistant Attorney General of the U.S., Criminal Division, praised the book and said that this will be one of the definitive books on the Lindbergh saga.