The night after his baby son was kidnapped in 1932, Charles Lindbergh set up a police command center in his heated garage. Sometimes Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf even slept there, coordinating operations through the night. Schwarzkopf spent four years trying to solve The Crime of the Century, piloting an investigation that a governor of New Jersey would later call "the most bungled in police history."
Surely, history will be kinder to the colonel's son: Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces in the Persian Gulf.
Profiles of Gen. Schwarzkopf often mention that his father had been the New Jersey State Police superintendent who headed the investigation that led to the trial and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann. It is written about as though it was a past glory.
Some don't see it that way.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Schwarzkopf was a major part of the frame-up of Richard Hauptmann," says Anthony Scaduto, author of "Scapegoat," a book published in 1976 that alleges that the police and the prosecution suppressed and manufactured evidence for the trial. Scaduto described Schwarzkopf, a West Point graduate, as a "frame-artist" and "Lindbergh's sycophant."
Scaduto's book was just the beginning. Over the past 15 years, the son of Col. Schwarzkopf must have suffered as a generation of revisionists has toiled overtime trying to clear Hauptmann's name. A TV movie in the late '70s featured Anthony Hopkins as a very sympathetic, sad-eyed Hauptmann. In 1981, volumes of previously classified material on the case from the FBI and the New Jersey State Police were released under the Freedom of Information Act -- baring police tactics that included bribery of witnesses, obstruction of an FBI investigation, subornation of perjury. And in 1985, Ludovic Kennedy's "The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann" was published by Viking.
All the reports had a common theme: Police, convinced of Hauptmann's guilt and under extraordinary pressure from the newspapers, from the Lindberghs and from the public to solve the case, cut too many corners.
"In Schwarzkopf's behalf, I will say that he truly believed Hauptmann was guilty," says author Kennedy, reached yesterday in England. "Never doubted it. And they were trying to do anything to get him convicted."
"The biggest story since the Resurrection" is how H.L. Mencken described the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. It had so many strange and gruesome components. The blond, firstborn son of the Lone Eagle. The handmade ladder. The misspelled ransom notes. The cash transactions in cemeteries. The unorthodox police investigation -- spiritualists were consulted, gangland members were asked for their help.
When the body of 20-month-old Charles Jr. was found six weeks after the kidnapping, the Lindbergh's butler died suddenly -- let's say oddly -- of peritonitis. Just hours before police planned to questioned her, a maid in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's mother's house killed herself by swallowing poison. Beyond the police-patrolled gates of the Lindbergh house, mobs of reporters gathered. The small, isolated community of Hopewell, N.J., became a gold-rush town full of reporters and photographers, police and telegraph operators. The media complained that Schwarzkopf's police officers were treating them badly, while the country sent its praise to him by telegram.
The telegrams at least were sent to the right man. The investigation -- by most accounts -- was 100 percent Schwarzkopf's plan. And by the time of Hauptmann's arrest two years later, it was clear to many that he'd done something less than a stellar job. When pieces of the kidnapper's ladder were examined, the New Jersey police announced that no fingerprints could be found. Then a criminologist in New York offered his expertise and found 500 prints in all. None of them Hauptmann's.
Other mistakes were made. When the baby was found -- buried 4 1/2 miles from the house -- the body was badly decomposed. Lindbergh, after identifying the child as his, ordered the remains to be cremated immediately, and Schwarzkopf complied. No autopsy was performed. None of Manhattan's forensic experts was consulted.
"It was an incredibly extensive investigation," says Robert Bryan, the San Francisco attorney still representing Anna Hauptmann, the 93-year-old widow. "But after reading all the material, it was like the Keystone Kops. People would call in after having a dream -- or gazing in a crystal ball -- and the state police would follow it up."
In 1934, Schwarzkopf was able to make a triumphant call to Southern California, where the Lindberghs were staying. A petty criminal and carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann had been traced to the kidnapping by marked bills he had stashed away -- part of the ransom money. He said the bills had been given to him by a friend who owed him money. Hauptmann, a German immigrant who spoke poor English -- not unlike Col. Schwarzkopf's own father -- appeared to be part of a gang of kidnappers. He admitted nothing. He had no alibi but his wife's testimony.
After a six-week trial, he was sentenced to death.
Now, with the help of the previously classified files and records, more is known about the trial:
The New Jersey State Police offered one witness $150 and a percentage of the reward money to testify that he had seen Hauptmann in the vicinity of the Lindbergh house before the kidnapping.
The handwriting expert who testified that Hauptmann had written the ransom notes had previously insisted that Hauptmann hadn't, according to suppressed FBI files. The jury was never told this. (Nor could the jury have known that the handwriting expert, 30 years later, would identify Clifford Irving's clumsy forgeries as being the writings of Howard Hughes.)
There were no fingerprints lifted from the first ransom note, the jury was told. And in a letter to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Col. Schwarzkopf repeated this. But Hoover had other sources on the case, and he learned what we know now: that a clear set of prints was lifted. According to lab reports, the prints did not belong to Hauptmann.
The jury was told that a rung of the kidnapper's ladder -- "Rail No. 16" -- was fashioned out of a floorboard from Hauptmann's attic; what it was not told was that several police investigations of the attic had not found a missing floorboard -- and that it wasn't found until after Hauptmann moved out. It was found by the new tenant -- a lieutenant in Schwarzkopf's department.
Even at the time of the trial, when anti-Hauptmann sentiment ran high, some doubted the fairness of the investigation. In 1936, New Jersey Gov. Harold Hoffman memoed Schwarzkopf: "Had ordinary sound police methods been used following the commission of the crime, many doubts entertained today might have been eliminated."
Hoffman, in fact, tried several times to get Schwarzkopf dismissed, even going so far as to offer job security to five police officers if they would confess that the colonel had framed Hauptmann. Charles and Anne Lindbergh, though, continued to express confidence in Schwarzkopf and were convinced beyond doubt that Hauptmann had murdered their baby.
After the trial ended, Schwarzkopf was not reappointed superintendent of the police by the governor, but his career, and his life, were on an upswing. He had a 1-year-old son named after him. He became president of the New Jersey bus line, and later a moderator of a radio program: "Gangbusters."
In 1942, he was sent by Gen. George C. Marshall to command a military mission in Iran, to organize and train that country's national police force. He served for five years, received a Distinguished Service Medal, and then served in Italy and Germany, rising to the rank of major general.
In the '50s, he was police adviser to Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, the leader of a pro-Nazi faction in Iranian politics. Working with blessings from the CIA and -- according to Time magazine -- bags of cash, Schwarzkopf helped organize the 1953 coup against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. The coup placed Zahedi in power just long enough until Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi stepped in.
Schwarzkopf died in 1958.
To this day, at the state police headquarters in West Trenton, there's an exhibit dedicated in part to Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. "The New Jersey police won't hear a thing against him," says Kennedy. "The execution of Hauptmann was the greatest thing in New Jersey history."
Behind glass, you can see Hauptmann's toolbox. A chisel. The Lindbergh baby's sleeping garment. There's also the dark oak chair in which Hauptmann was electrocuted. (A big sign nearby: "PLEASE DO NOT SIT IN CHAIR.") And there's the ladder, including Rail No. 16, the most suspicious piece of evidence introduced in the most bungled investigation of the most famous crime of the century.