ON THAT fall morning Anna Hauptmann, her infant son in her arms, stood at the window of the second-story Bronx apartment and watched her husband Richard drive off to work in their green 1931 Dodge.
They were deeply in love: "like two children, always playing jokes on each other," she recalls nearly half a century later. He brought home flowers and puppies. And one night, after a burglar had stolen her engagement ring, she woke up and found her husband "had put another one on my finger while I was sleeping. We had such peaceful nights."
But Wednesday, Sept. 19, 1934, was different. Anna Hauptmann had gone for a walk with her downstairs neighbor, Louisa Schussler. They returned to a mid-morning nightmare.
" 'Look, Annie,' she told me. 'There are somebodies up there in your apartment.' I gave her the baby to hold. I went up and my Richard was sitting on the bed and there were policemen throwing things around. One of them said, 'He's gonna burn for this.' "
The couple never spent another night together. Richard Hauptmann never saw his son again; he would not allow the boy to see him behind bars.
Five months later Hauptmann was convicted of kidnaping and murdering the infant Charles A. Lindbergh Jr.
On April 3, 1936, he was electrocuted in Trenton, N.J.
Anna Hauptmann and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were sentenced to live.
Yesterday, at the age of 82, Anna Hauptmann filed a civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey charging the State of New Jersey and others with "wrongfully, corruptly and unjustly" trying and executing her husband.
"You ask me why I am so sharp and so agile," she says, refusing help as she arranges chairs around a kitchen table, "and I tell you that I had to stay like this so I can clear the good name of my husband."
Through the Freedom of Information Act, San Francisco attorney Robert Bryan has already reviewed 34,000 pages of FBI files he claims will help substantiate the lawsuit charge that the New Jersey attorney general, the state of New Jersey and others "did negligently and willfully deprive Richard Hauptmann of the right to have access to exculpatory and other information, the right to a fair trial . . . did maliciously prosecute . . . Richard Hauptmann . . . and deliberately withheld information that very likely would have saved his life."
"That's really ridiculous," says David Wilentz, the attorney general who prosecuted Hauptmann. Now 86, he is still in private practice in Woodbridge, N.J. "If during all these years that have elapsed since the trial there was anything then or now to give some justification to what they say, I would not have been able to enjoy life the way I have."
Two weeks ago, Anna Hauptmann also filed a complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey in Flemington -- the same city where her husband was tried -- asking for the release of "over 90,000 state police documents pertaining to the Lindbergh kidnap investigation." Her request was granted last week by New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, who feels the evidence will show that justice was done.
"In the last weeks," she says, "I have a feeling for the first time that something is coming out right and good."
The Eyes of the Nation
The trail of Richard Hauptmann was, in the words of H.L. Mencken, "the biggest story since the Resurrection." Few crimes, if any, cut deeper into the heart of America than the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby on March 1, 1932. The nation had never had a hero like his father -- Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, who conquered the Atlantic in "The Spirit of St. Louis"; Lucky Lindy, a combination of Horatio Alger and Tom Swift. When Lindbergh's first-born son was stolen away, Americans raptly followed the case through the front pages of newspapers: the broken ladder used to climb up to the baby's nursery; the extortion notes; the $50,000 ransom paid in gold certificates; the discovery of a body identified as the 20-month-old infant.
For Anna Hauptmann it was an odyssey she could barely comprehend. "Every day," she says, "I was sure my Richard would be coming home that night. He was innocent. He told the truth. And if you tell the truth you never have to be afraid."
But in the courtroom, her husband was held up as a symbol of the German menace. "Bruno Hauptmann," prosecutor David Wilentz called him at the trial, as police had since his apprehension, even though Anna Hauptmann still has the birth certificate that indicates his name was simply Richard. "Bruno Hauptmann, the German machine gunner," the prosecutor called him, because of his service in World War I.
When Anna Hauptmann walked into the courtroom, she often heard crowds of thousands chanting "KILL HAUPTMANN! KILL THE GERMAN!" Inside, there were cameras; outside, hawkers sold miniature models of the kidnap ladder. She says she was allowed to speak only to Gene Adams, a Hearst reporter whose exclusive coverage was agreed to when the newspaper chain provided her husband with his lawyer, Ed Reilly. And when she complained that words were being put in her mouth, she says she was told by one of her self-appointed guardians, "The public wants sensation."
And they got it:
CLUES BUILD IRONCLAD CASE AGAINST BRUNO, POLICE CLAIM, screamed The New York Journal, a Hearst paper, which added:
Suspect Cringes at Hint of Meeting With Lindy.
The New York American wrote:
Hauptmann fits the picture in all respects. He is thrifty, close-mouthed, stoical . . . While the Teutonic races are by far the most law-abiding of all citizens, when one of them embarks upon a criminal career, he is apt to be cruel, ruthless, and insensitent to an abnormal degree.
This superheated atmosphere was foreign to the world they had shared -- a scene from Steinbeck, set in the Bronx, which in the '30s might have been any part of small-town America. The Hauptmanns had a small frame house surrounded by woods; a garage crafted carefully from rough-hewn boards; a Dodge touring car, mounted with wooden trunks for extended cross-country travel. This small prosperity was a source of solace for these two German immigrants who had come to America seeking opportunity. Hard work and determination were paying off for them in the New Land, and recently a child had enriched their lives.
"Richard was so excited about having a child," Anna Hauptmann says. "He bought everything for the baby's room -- even vases with carnations."
Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh lived 50 miles and several worlds away. They had met at a party in Mexico City, where her father was U.S. ambassador, and their courtship was a society-page romance worthy of Fitzgerald. She was wealthy; he a symbol of daring and progress, a modern pioneer in the young age of aviation, the first global media sensation. So intense was the world's scrutiny of the Lindberghs that they had build for themselves a retreat in Hopewell, N.J., far removed from the public gaze. The birth of Charles Jr. had been no less a blessing to them than the birth of young Manfred Hauptmann. But the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby was more than just a tragic personal loss: it was as if a nation had been robbed of some share of its manifest destiny.
"Time has not continued since that Tuesday night," Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in a letter dated March 18, 1932. "It is as if we just stepped off into one long night . . . ."
Two and a half years later, on that cool fall day in 1934, a crisp $10 gold note -- part of the ransom money, spent at a Bronx gas station -- brought these two disparate worlds together. The repercussions were intense. Certainly more than the two German immigrants could overcome; certainly more than the Lindberghs could control. The results had the fierce inevitability of some fevered blood-drenched myth, as if America, denied the scion's future of one of its elect, then forced a kind of justice and an endless sorrow on Anna Hauptmann.
Yesterday she reopened the case and unleashed the antique furies.
Remembrance of Things Past
Anna Hauptmann is an attractive woman with strong features: her eyes sharp but showing age from behind metal-frame glasses with tortoise-shell trim; her hands strong but gnarled by arthritis; a trace of red still tints her graying hair. She wears pearl earrings, and a circular gold pin on her black jacket.
She has lived in a small town in the Northeast since 1941. The neighbors, she says, have been very protective and supportive: so protective that she doesn't want to provoke suspicion by inviting a stranger there, or having the exact town named. And so the pastor of her Lutheran Church has allowed the use of the parish kitchen, where she makes coffee and cake every Sunday. "I worked always in bakeries until I was 61. Then I had to have an operation on my leg. I retired with $68 a month," she says.
She walks to the church with a great deal of vigor, and refuses to allow anyone to help her with the heavy shopping bag she is carrying. She bounds up the steps.
She sits on a metal folding chair in the kitchen. When she is offered a more comfortable chair, she says, "Is better for me to sit in a hard chair." And she sits there for almost a full day, spinning her saga, arising only to mimic the courtroom actions of prosecutor Wilentz.
"Why did he do that," she asks. "In my heart I believe he knew that Richard couldn't do that."
"Handwriting experts said he had written the ransom notes and the ransom money was in his garage," says Wilentz. "How could he not be guilty?"
She takes from the bag two crumbling photo albums she says were retained by the police for two years. They reveal a poignant lost world in cracked sepia. One is a record of the 15,000-mile trip she and her husband and a friend Hans Kloeppenburg took across country in 1931. Many of the pictures were made by Richard Hauptmann using a self-timer with the camera placed on a tripod. As the pages in the album progress, mountain snows melt into palm trees. There are scenes in Canada, in the great flatlands, in Yosemite, in Beverly Hills. The car is prominent in many of the shots. In most of the pictures, she is looking at Richard, and he is staring into the lens. "A handsome guy, ja," she says with a smile.
The other album is more personal. Pictures on the beach. Pictures of Richard Hauptmann hunting, of the couple sitting on the sofa in their living room in 1932, after she returned from a three-month voyage to Germany for her mother's 70th birthday. The house is filled with flowers, decorations he had bought for her return.
While she was away, he had gone to a photo gallery on 86th Street in the German Yorktown section of the city and had an 8 x 10 portrait made. He sent it off with a letter that said, "I can't be with you, so at least you can have this photograph." Now it is the only photograph of Richard Hauptmann displayed in her house: a handsome, smiling image, protected in a modest frame by her bedside.
Anna Hauptmann says the studio photographer was so pleased with the picture that he asked his subject if he could place a copy in the window of the shop. Hauptmann agreed.
"I ask you," says Anna Hauptmann, "would a man who had done something wrong let his picture be seen on one of the busiest streets of New York?"
The conversation turns to an accusation made at the trial, that her husband had passed one of the gold notes at a Sheridan Square movie theater on the evening of his birthday.
"We had a party at home that night," she says. And she begins to sing, in key, with strong German overtones, very slowly:
"Happy birthday to you . . . "
She trails off and slams her fist down on the table, muttering "Framed, framed, framed . . . "
The Early Years
She met him at a party, a few weeks after she had arrived in America on the S.S. Mongolia in 1923. She had left her home near Stuttgart at the age of 25 and came to New York where she worked as a maid for a couple who had a German laundress, Lena Aldinger. Anna Schoeffler was an attractive, athletic woman, with red hair and a charming smile.
"Lena invited me to a party," she says in English mixed with a trace of her native tongue. "I went up one night and she has a young man there who is rooming in the same house, a carpenter named Richard. He brought a Victrola. I liked him right away. Nice, considerate -- a nice fella. He walked me back to the subway station. I saw him quite a few times. One Sunday Lena took me to Coney Island. She stops. She says, 'Look who's down there.' It was Richard. I knew she did it. We had a really nice day there.
"We were married Oct. 10, 1925. He was working in the Bronx as a carpenter. I worked in an Italian Bakery owned by Alfred Willis on 183rd Street. We had an apartment at 118 or 119 Park Avenue. Richard would come up and wait in the kitchen for me to finish. Mr. Willis sold the bakery. The new people weren't so nice. One week they don't want to pay me. It was the principle. I worked there and I should get my pay. A policeman told me about an office where you go to complain. I got my money. I saw him later and he told me to go to the courthouse in the Bronx and ask for work at the coffee shop. It was the same courthouse I had to go with Richard years later.
"I got a job in Frederickson's Bakery in the Bronx. We were living in the Bronx then, 222nd Street. What was it -- March 1, 1932? Richard always came every night. He had his dinner there. He would help wash the dishes. A lady came in and ordered coffee and cake. She said, 'I don't live here.' I think she came from Brooklyn. She said, 'I like to buy a house here.'
"We had a 1931 Dodge. One evening Richard took me out to show windows with cars. I knew we had in mind to go to California to see his sister, and we thought about a car. I liked one very much, a green one, but it was $735. A few weeks later on a Tuesday Richard asked me to come outside. He said, 'Look at that car. Oh, go ahead, sit in it.' It was the car I said I liked.
"That night, March 1, it was real nasty -- chill your bones. We drove up to the garage. Richard built it. I said, 'I run over to the house and open the doors already.' We went upstairs and washed and went to bed. As sure as we're sitting here it's the truth.
"The next morning a regular customer -- I think his name was John -- came in. He said, 'Look, did you see that, Annie?' He held the paper up by the cash register. I didn't know what the word kidnap meant. I said, 'Does that mean somebody stole that baby?' I went home with papers. Richard brought home papers. 'Isn't that terrible,' we said. Such a terrible night. I prayed for that baby. I cried for that baby.
"During the trial I had a letter from the lady who came in the bakery that night. It said:
Dear Mrs. Hauptmann,
When I saw the picture of your husband in the paper, I knew it was the same man I saw with you. I want to help you, but I am afraid to come to Flemington.
"I gave that letter to the reporters. They never did anything about it. It is so awful, what they do to us. I tell them stories and they never write them. One day during the trial, a reporter named Pat McGrady rode with me to Flemington. I said, 'Why do they write all these terrible stories about Richard?' He said, 'They the press cannot let the truth come out now because then you could sue every one of them.' So ever since then I avoid the press."
Indeed, one of the defendants in the lawsuits is the Hearst Corp., whom the court papers claim conspired to deny her husband a fair trial. "Oh my God," Hearst attorney Kevin J. McCauley said last night. "Great. Old man Hearst is being dug up after 40 years. We're being blamed for everything. Pretty soon the moon will fall out of the sky and they'll blame us."
Anna Hauptmann says this is the first interview she has granted since the death of her husband, except to talk with writer Anthony Scaduto, the author of "Scapegoat," a 1976 book that raised some empirical questions about the way the trial had been handled.
"Whom could I trust," she asks.
The $100 million lawsuit filed yesterday raises a number of questions about the evidence and testimony in the Hauptmann trial.
At the time, circumstantial evidence against Hauptmann seemed impressive. He did have about $15,000 of the ransom money in his garage. But he claimed it had been given to him by a friend, Isidore Fisch, and that he had begun to spend the money only after Fisch died of TB in Germany. He maintained that Fisch owed him money. Anna Hauptmann claims in the court papers that letters from Fisch's relatives in Germany supported Hauptmann's contention, but the court papers claim the letters were not given to defense attorney Reilly. Anna Hauptmann's attorney, Robert Bryan, says the letters are still in the possession of the New Jersey state police.
According to FBI memos to director J. Edgar Hoover quoted in the complaint, handwriting expert Albert Osborn had told police that Hauptmann "did not write the ransom notes"; in court Osborn testified that Hauptmann had written them.
An FBI memo dated June 23, 1934, labeled as "unreliable" a witness who later claimed Hauptmann had handed him a ransom note. And letters to the FBI, obtained by Bryan, indicate that state police had obtained from the ransom notes fingerprints -- not Hauptmann's -- although in court an expert stated that no prints had been found on the letters.
Another FBI memo described in the suit states that Dr. John F. Condon, the go-between with the extortionists, "picked out any number of pictures, some of which do not look like each other at all, as being the extortionist ." Later in court, Condon positively identified Hauptmann as the man he had dealt with.
Anna Hauptmann's court papers quote a Welfare Department document indicating that a witness who claimed at the trial that he had seen Hauptmann near the Lindbergh residence on the day of the kidnapping was "partly blind." The witness had identified a filing cabinet with flowers on top as "a woman wearing a hat."
Several FBI memos mentioned in the suit contradict trial testimony that the infamous ladder found at the Lindbergh home had been partly fashioned from a board in Hauptmann's attic.
At the bottom of one memo, dated April 1, 1935, which reported that Hauptmann had asked to take a lie detector test to prove his honesty, Hoover scrawled, "Under no circumstances will we have anything to do with the test of Hauptmann."
The list goes on. The complaint quotes Hoover as saying the bureau turned over all of its papers on the Lindbergh case to Wilentz and claims that Wilentz "withheld and concealed from the trial court and jury the FBI material clearly establishing that much of the evidence presented against Richard Hauptmann was false and not credible."
Through all of these machinations, Anna Hauptmann sat silently in the courtroom and watched.
"You sit there every day," she says, "and those witnesses go up there and swear on the Bible and then they lie. Even policemen lying. We were brought up -- you respected a policeman like a teacher.
"And they are treating Richard so bad in jail. He couldn't sleep. The light is on all the time. It must have been terrible. I sat on a bench near him. He could hardly walk. They chain him up, they hit him. He looked just terrible. You have no idea, you have no idea."
The beatings are confirmed in FBI documents cited in the suit, along with bureau reports of this interrogation of Hauptmann:
"You have killed one baby and now you are going to ruin the life of another baby, your own child . . . . Your wife is being held in the Women's Jail with a lot of prostitutes. She is separated from the baby. Your wife is hysterical. She will probably become an imbecile from this thing."
A Leap to the Future
After the execution of her husband, Anna Hauptmann went back to New York City, rented a new appartment and continued working in bakeries. Her neighbors, she says, were always very supportive. "Not one person would make an insulting word."
At one point, a grammar school teacher came to visit her and suggested that she change her family name because the children in her son's class were taunting the boy, calling him the son of the baby killer.
"I would not," she says. "My husband did nothing wrong, and there was no shame attatched to our name."
She has never remarried, and still wears the wedding ring Richard Hauptmann gave her 56 years ago. "How could I take another husband," she says. "No other man could take Richard's place. My married life was the greatest few years. If everyone lived like this, life would be so wonderful. Sometimes when I hear people who are still married complain, I think they take too much for granted. I see my husband throwing our little dog up in the air and smiling. If everybody was like Richard it would be a nice world -- whistling and happy."
She pauses and looks down at the photo album: a picture of their German shepherd Lotte, as a puppy:
"The puppy was sick. I take her to the doctor. The doctor says, 'We should put this dog to sleep. It will only suffer for 72 hours, and then die.' I tell him, 'My husband will never forgive me.' 'You want this dog to suffer,' he says. So he goes in the next room and puts the dog to sleep. When Richard comes home I hide in the closet. I jump out, like I do often, and hug him. He kisses me and asks about Lotte. I tell him about the doctor. He is very upset. We are in bed that night and he gets up and says he can't sleep. He goes out. He comes back in an hour. He opens the door. He says, 'Here, Lotte.' And, to me: 'You see. It was just a bad dream. The dog is back.' He had driven to the place we bought Lotte to get another puppy.
"Sometimes I wish I could bring Richard back like that. . . "
And she lowers her eyes, and holds a tear back.
"I think a lot about Mrs. Lindbergh," she says. "She went through so much, too. She understands. I don't think she would ever lie. I wish that I could hold her hand and look into her eyes and tell her that my Richard didn't kill her baby."
She gets up to leave. The sun is slicing through the trees on this crisp autumn evening, and Anna Hauptmann remembers that she has forgotten the key to her house.
"I have another," she says.
And with that, without a thought, she hops over the fence to fetch the hidden key.