Richard Hauptmann - Trial and Conviction

Trial and Conviction

The trial attracted widespread media attention and was dubbed the "Trial of the Century". Hauptmann was also named "The Most Hated Man in the World". The trial was held in Flemington, New Jersey, and ran from January 2 to February 13, 1935. Col. Henry S. Breckinridge was Lindbergh's lawyer throughout the case and had acted as an intermediary in the ransom negotiations, assisted by Robert H. Thayer. On discovering his child was missing, Lindbergh had phoned Breckinridge before calling the state police.

Evidence produced against Hauptmann included $14,590 of the ransom money that was found in his garage and testimony alleging handwriting and spelling similarities to that found on the ransom notes. Eight different handwriting experts (Albert S. Osborn, Elbridge W. Stein, John F. Tyrrell, Herbert J. Walter, Harry M. Cassidy, Wilmer T. Souder, Albert D. Osborn, and Clark Sellers) were called by the prosecution to the witness stand, where they pointed out similarities between words and letters in the ransom notes and in Hauptmann's writing specimens (which included documents written before he was arrested, such as automobile registration applications). One expert (John M. Trendley) was called by the defense to rebut this evidence, while two others (Samuel C. Malone and Arthur P. Meyers) declined to testify; the latter two demanded $500 for their services before even looking at the notes and were promptly dismissed when defense lawyer Fisher declined. Others who claimed expertise (Goodspeed, Braunlich, Foster, Farr, and Thielen) were also retained by the defense. They were told they would testify but, much to their dismay, were never called to the stand by lead attorney Reilly.

Also presented was the handmade ladder used in the kidnapping, along with forensic testimony by Arthur Koehler, chief wood technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory. Koehler had, earlier in the investigation and prior to Hauptmann's arrest, written a report that the ladder's "Rail 16" had probably originated from the interior of a building, possibly an attic, due to the fact there was no rust in the nail holes or discoloration around the heads. Koehler asserted this was evidence it had not been exposed to the weather. Koehler would testify at the trial that Rail 16 matched a part of a board (S-226) from Hauptmann's attic floor which had a missing piece.

Other evidence included Dr. Condon's address and telephone number, which were found written on the inside of one of Hauptmann's closets (Condon had delivered the ransom). Additionally, a hand-drawn sketch which Wilentz suggested was that of a ladder was found in one of Hauptmann's notebooks (S-261). Hauptmann said this picture, along with various other sketches contained therein, had been the work of a child who had drawn in it.

Despite not having an obvious source of employment, he had enough money to purchase a $400 radio and to send his wife on a trip to Germany (the purpose of the trip being to see whether Hauptmann would be arrested for having committed earlier crimes there).

Hauptmann was positively identified as the man to whom the ransom money was delivered. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates, that he had been seen in the area of the estate in East Amwell, New Jersey near Hopewell on the day of the kidnapping, and that he had been absent from work on the day of the ransom payment and quit his job two days later.

Hauptmann denied being guilty, insisting the box found to contain gold certificates had been left in his garage by a friend named Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Germany in December 1933 and died there in March 1934. Taking the witness stand, Hauptmann claimed that he had found a shoe box left behind by Fisch, which Hauptmann had stored on the top shelf of a kitchen broom closet, later discovering the money which, upon counting, added up to $15,000. He further claimed that since Fisch owed him around $7,500 in business funds, Hauptmann claimed the money for himself. A ledger was found in Hauptmann's home of all his financial transactions; yet, no record of the alleged $7,500 debt was listed.

Hauptmann's defense lawyer, Edward J. Reilly, called Hauptmann's wife Anna to the witness stand to corroborate the Fisch story. But upon cross-examination by chief prosecutor David T. Wilentz, she was forced to admit that while she hung her apron every day on a hook higher than the top shelf, she could not remember seeing any shoe box there. Later, rebuttal witnesses testified that Fisch could not have been at the scene of the crime, and that he had no money for medical treatments when he died in Germany of tuberculosis. Fisch's landlady testified that he could barely afford his $3.50-a-week room. Various witnesses called by Reilly to put Fisch near the Lindbergh house on the night of the kidnapping were discredited in cross-examination with incidents from their pasts, which included criminal records or mental instability.

In his closing summation, Reilly argued that the evidence against Hauptmann was entirely circumstantial, as no reliable witness had placed Hauptmann at the scene of the crime, nor were his fingerprints found on the ladder, the ransom notes, or anywhere in the nursery.

Hauptmann was convicted and immediately sentenced to death by Judge Trenchard who set the date for the week of March 18, 1935.

The Hauptmann Defense appealed to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals which, as a result, delayed the execution. The appeal was then argued on June 29, 1935.

New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman secretly visited Hauptmann in his death row cell on the evening of October 16, 1935, with Anna Bading, a stenographer and fluent speaker of German. Hoffman urged members of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, then the state's highest court, to visit Hauptmann.

In late January 1936, while clearly stating he held no position on the guilt or innocence of Hauptmann, Governor Hoffman cited evidence the crime was not a "one person" job. He then directed Col. Schwarzkopf to continue a thorough and impartial investigation into the kidnapping in an effort to bring all parties involved to justice.

As time was quickly running out for Hauptmann, it became known among the press that on March 27, Governor Hoffman was considering a second reprieve of his death sentence, but was actively seeking advice concerning the legality of his right as governor to do so.

On March 30, 1936, Hauptmann's second and final application asking for clemency from the New Jersey Board of Pardons was denied. The Governor would later announce this decision would be the final legal action in this Case, and that he would not grant another reprieve. However, a postponement in the execution would occur once again when the Mercer County Grand Jury, investigating the confession and arrest of Paul Wendel, requested Warden Mark Kimberling for a delay. This final stay would come to an end when the Mercer County Prosecutor informed Kimberling the Grand Jury had adjourned after voting to discontinue its investigation concerning Wendel without any complaint charging him with murder.

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