New Jersey state police today opened the files on the 1932 kidnaping-murder of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., giving the public a look at more than 90,000 documents and pieces of evidence that have been sealed for nearly 45 years.
The file was ordered opened by Gov. Brendan T. Byrne early last month, after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed on behalf of the widow of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed in 1936 after being convicted of the crime.
An attorney representing 83-year-old Anna Hauptmann of Yeadan, Pa., says the evidence contains information that could vindicate her late husband. But the attorney, Robert Bryan of San Francisco, would not say exactly what information he will be looking for.
"I'd be foolish to go into a ball game and tell the other side what plays we are going to run," said Bryan, who also represents Kenneth Kerwin of Biddeford, Maine, one of two men claiming to be Lindbergh's son. Bryan has filed a civil suit on behalf of Mrs. Hauptmann, seeking $100 million in damages from current and past state officials.
The evidence from the 1932 case was displayed today in two caged areas in the state police headquarters in West Trenton. It included a photograph of the decomposed body of a child that Lindbergh had identified as his slain son.
Also on display was a wooden ladder identified in court as having been built of floorboards from Hauptmann's attic; blond curls saved by the Lindbergh family that match hair found on the small corpse, and marked gold notes paid as ransom and spent by Hauptmann in a Bronx gas station.
Bryan, who sought the release of the evidence in two lawsuits filed earlier this year in New Jersey Superior Court and in federal district court in Newark, succeeded today in getting the state to revise its guidelines for reviewing the evidence in what was once dubbed "the crime of the century."
Those guidelines initially had held that only one researcher from each interested party could view the file at one time--a procedure that Bryan said could drag his research out for years. Bryan appealed to U.S. District Court Judge Frederick B. Lacey in Newark, claiming "my client is 83 years old and if we have only one representative in there this could take us years."
Lacey concurred, and gave the state police two days to set up a system that would allow three of Bryan's researchers access to the file.
Researchers and members of the press also are seeking access to the files, and will be permitted to examine the evidence on the basis of already filed requests.
The state has maintained that the files will uphold the conviction of Hauptmann, a Bronx carpenter who was 34 when he was executed at Trenton State Prison.
State police officials claim that modern forensic techniques performed during the routine cataloging of the evidence over the past two years "prove beyond a doubt" that the remains of the child found in a shallow grave in Hopewell, N.J., were those of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr.
The body was found five miles from the East Amwell home of the late aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the author-poet, in May, 1932, two months after the boy was taken from a second-floor nursery. Hauptmann was executed for the crime four years later after a trial in Flemington, N.J., that has been described as a "media circus."
Bryan, who has been researching the case for 10 years, charges that the state deliberately withheld information that would have cleared Hauptmann in the trial.
"We have enough evidence to go to trial now," said Bryan, referring to FBI documents he obtained and examined in 1977. "We need these files to bolster and solidify our investigation."
"New Jersey officials say this was the crime of the century. They say this was the trial of the century," Bryan said. "It was the tragedy of the century."