JT Townsend

True Crime Detective

Author: JT Townsend

The Lindbergh Kidnapping: Did Charles Lindbergh Murder His Own Son?

When their firstborn child was kidnapped from their home on March 1st, 1932 and found murdered in the woods two months later, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were the most famous couple in America, and the case would become the most publicized crime of the 20th century.  Eventually suspect Bruno Richard Hauptmann was convicted and executed for killing “Baby Charlie”.  But this delayed justice did nothing to answer the questions that still surround the death of Lindbergh’s child and confound crime writers and armchair detectives 85 years later.

As one of the only writers to tour the Lindbergh house near Hopewell, New Jersey AND photograph this infamous crime scene, my perspective is different from others who have delved into “The Crime of the Century”.  In my mind, today the murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr. is perhaps the greatest mystery in American true crime annals.

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The most famous window in true crime history. 85 years ago today the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped through this window. Or was he?

Beginning before his execution and still lingering today, relentless theories suggesting Hauptmann’s innocence continue to surface.  Because up until his capture almost three years after the crime, none of the  investigators believed that ONE man could have carried out this audacious crime alone.  And even though Hauptmann was convicted, there was never any credible evidence placing him near the Lindbergh property the night the baby was taken.

But until recently, no one ever took a serious look at those who should be the prime suspect when a child is killed…the parents.  Given Charles Lindbergh’s stature as an international hero, investigators in 1932 never even considered the unthinkable… that Lindbergh was a suspect in the death of his son.

They were all looking the wrong way.  For over eight decades now, everyone examining this crime considered it a “kidnapping”… when they should have been looking for a BABY KILLER!  The kind of criminal who would murder a sleeping child in his crib, or kill him soon after the abduction to keep him quiet.  A human monster who could smash a 21-month-old child’s skull?

What if there never was a kidnapper?  What if this most lofty of high profile crimes was merely just another missing child murdered by his parents? Or in this case, his father.

AN AMERICAN HERO?

The circumstantial evidence against Lindbergh in the death of his son is compelling, intricate, frustrating, persistent and mysterious.  Just like the man himself.

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Lindbergh was the first to make the historic flight, but if he had failed another pilot would have done it within a matter of days.

Every biography of Lindbergh treats him like a god, and today he is still revered as a great American hero.  But what did he really do to deserve it?   In May 1927, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 33-1/2 hours, becoming the first pilot to accomplish this feat.  And with this triumph, he emerged from virtual obscurity to instantaneous world fame, transforming an oddball loner into a beloved public figure.

But did this sudden adulation go to his head?   A Lindbergh quote after his historic flight provides some unsettling insight:   “There were times in an airplane when it seemed I had escaped mortality to look down on earth like a God.”

It didn’t seem to matter that if he had failed, other pilots would have made the crossing within days. He was just an average bush pilot who beat the competition across the Atlantic for the $25,000 prize.  Years later, a friend of his wife was quoted as saying “If he hadn’t made that flight, he’d be running a gas station in Minnesota.”

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The most famous couple in America…Bogie and Bacall, Liz and Dick, Brad and Angelina all rolled into one.

Lindbergh was now the nation’s most eligible bachelor.  Before marrying the middle daughter of ambassador Dwight Morrow in 1929, he first courted Anne’s older sister Elizabeth, but dumped her for Anne within several months.  Also during this time, youngest Morrow sister Constance received a letter threatening to abduct and kill her unless $50,000 was paid and placed in a specially made box in a cemetery….an eerie harbinger of the kidnapper’s ransom demand in 1932  The perpetrator of this earlier threat was never identified.

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Some experts feel that Ann Lindbergh’s open cockpit flights with Charles at high altitudes while she was 7 months pregnant had an adverse effect on her first born son’s health.

While seven months pregnant in 1930, Anne flew with Charles for two weeks in an open cockpit at high altitude.  Upon returning she was hospitalized for four days, yet when questioned Lindbergh lied about this to the press.   After he was born, baby Charlie was immediately put on a special diet.  The child had a larger head than normal, and he showed other symptoms indicative of rickets.  Rumors that something was seriously wrong with the the world’s most famous baby would never subside.

As time ripened his legendary status, Lindbergh’s  character flaws were twisted into admirable traits by those who knew him or wrote about him. The cruel behavior he directed at those he disliked or dominated was  excused as mere “practical jokes”.

In truth, Charles Lindbergh was a racist, misogynistic man of the times who never took advice from anyone but himself.  Eventually, his well-known obsession with order, routine, and privacy would consume his daily life.

But where did he draw the line between privacy and secrecy?  Because within the last several years,  DNA evidence has proven that Lindbergh fathered five out-of-wedlock children born by three different mothers in Germany in the 1950’s.

THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY

When looking at the Lindbergh baby murder, it all starts with the prime constraint theory… a circumstance or condition which all facts of the case must be filtered through and clarified by.  With Lindbergh, there is ONE fact that EVERY shred of evidence must answer to.

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Lindbergh picked the site for his new house based on the remote location and the privacy it would afford him.

Only Charles, Anne, their three servants, and some servants at the Morrow mansion in Englewood NJ knew that the family would be staying at the Hopewell house on a Tuesday night…and only after Lindbergh decided they would remain there past Sunday for the FIRST time ever.

Lindbergh’s new home, named Highfields,  was in an isolated area of the Sourland Mountains near Hopewell NJ.    Charles had rented a farmhouse about four miles away from the construction site to oversee the initial phase .  In the winter of 1932, the house construction was almost finished, but the grounds were a muddy mess.

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Lindbergh’s new home was a half mile from the road and surrounded by dense woods and few neighbors.

The family’s habit was to stay there on the weekend but return to the Morrow mansion on Monday.  The last minute decision to stay over at Highfields because of baby Charlie’s cold was unprecedented…a complete break from Lindbergh’s established pattern.

Described by writers as “spacious” and “rambling”, the house is anything but. On my recent tour I was astounded by the narrow hallways, constant closets, and cramped rooms…everything seemed built on a small scale.   I can attest that sound travels well through this 14 room/5 bathroom country house.   Also, the location was extremely isolated in 1932, and still is today.

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The upstairs hallway of Highfields illustrates the narrow, cramped scale that permeates the entire house.

Visiting these gaunt rooms and walking the lonely grounds where this primal, ageless mystery was spawned, today any cold case detective would be indelibly struck by a single jarring thought…that THIS crime was an inside job.

Let’s look at the undisputed facts of the case, and see where they lead…

On the night of his son’s abduction, Charles Lindbergh did something completely out of character.   I am always suspicious when a suspect takes an action the day of a crime that seems unrelated yet was something they had NEVER done before.

He was a scheduled speaker at the New York University alumni dinner, and Lindbergh never missed an opportunity to be adored and applauded.  Yet on this night in question, he blew off this social function without even notifying them.  Instead, he drove the two hours back to Highfields, where he arrived around 8:25PM.

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This picture was taken in Anne Lindbergh’s bathroom, which opened into the nursery and which she visited several times between 8-10 the night her son was stolen. Even with the door closed, she was standing within 15 feet of the window that the kidnappers allegedly entered.

Lindbergh had phoned ahead with strict instructions that no one was to enter the nursery between 8-10PM that night…he didn’t want the child “coddled”.  Both Anne and nursemaid Betty Gow were in and out of their respective bathrooms (next to the nursery) during that period, but neither woman heard anything.

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Nursemaid Betty Gow’s bedroom (door on right) and bathroom (door on left) were right next to the nursery as well, but like Anne Lindbergh she heard nothing suspicious that night.

Baby Charley was missing from his crib when Betty checked him at 10PM.  She and Anne both assumed that Lindbergh had removed the child as a practical joke.  Yet when confronted with the empty crib, Lindbergh exclaimed, “THEY have stolen our baby!”  With his unfounded pronouncement, from that moment on this crime was considered a kidnapping.

A ransom note was eventually found on a nursery windowsill… the kidnapper apparently entered through this window on a broken ladder found nearby.  But how could he have backed out onto this rickety ladder through the window while carrying a 35lb child on a windy, rainy night without disturbing anything by the window?  And also leaving no muddy footprints on the nursery floor?

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When informed his son was not in his crib, Charles Lindbergh raced up these stairs and announced “THEY have stolen our baby!”

Other things didn’t add up.  Why did “THEY” enter the house when all five adult residents were awake and moving about, instead of waiting until after midnight?  How did “THEY” know which room was the baby’s nursery, and how did they know which nursery window had the broken shutter lock?

The “Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping” became an instant media sensation.  Journalist H.L. Mencken set the bar for hyperbole by calling it “the biggest story since the Resurrection”.  Indeed, the mysterious abduction of the premiere American power couple’s first born child would become an international obsession.

With the eyes of the world upon him, Charles Lindbergh immediately took control of the investigation and directed it away from Highfields.   He erroneously assumed the New York mafia had stolen his son, and foolishly gave gangster Mickey Rossner a copy of the ransom note to circulate among the underworld, which led to13 other ransom notes being delivered by mail to Lindbergh

When J. Edgar Hoover sent two FBI agents to consult on the investigation, Lindbergh angrily sent them away.  He had the New Jersey State Police already reporting to him, and he threatened to shoot any officer who didn’t follow his protocol.

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Despite ample cover to stake out the ransom drop, Lindbergh ordered all police officers to stay away from the cemetery when he and Condon met the alleged kidnapper.

In April, Lindbergh and his “liaison” John Condon delivered $50,000 in gold certificates to an unknown man in a Bronx NY cemetery claiming to represent the kidnap gang.  Despite the pleas of New Jersey and New York investigators, Lindbergh forbade any policemen to stake out the cemetery and follow the suspect, whose directions on where to find the child turned out to be bogus.

Other extortion demands would follow, but on May 12th the body of Charles Lindbergh Jr. was discovered 2.5 miles south of the Lindbergh house and about halfway between Highfields and the farmhouse Lindbergh had rented in Mount Rose.  It was clear the baby had been murdered by a blow to the head the night he was taken.  The killer showed familiarity with the area, placing the dead child in a shallow grave about 50 feet from the road in a dense woods while in total darkness.

Even though the coroner said he could not identify the mummified remains, Lindbergh said, “I am perfectly satisfied that is my child.” Then he ordered it cremated, an absolutely astounding decision that not only denied his wife the right to bury her child, but also destroyed the most valuable piece of evidence.

On May 23rd, Morrow family maid Violet Sharpe committed suicide rather than face more questioning about possible involvement in the baby’s death.  And she WAS one of the handful of people who knew the Lindbergh’s would be staying at the house in Hopewell the night of March 1st.

THE PERFECT SCAPEGOAT

The case lay dormant for more than two years, even though the investigation was ongoing.  They were following the money, as the gold certificates were showing up all along the eastern seaboard.  Despite Lindbergh’s objection, the police had allowed bank officials to record the serial numbers from the bills.

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Hauptmann was arrested for passing a single ten dollar bill from the ransom cash, 2-1/2 years after the crime.

On September 17th 1934, a Lindbergh ransom bill was passed at a gas station in the Bronx.  Since it was a gold certificate, which were being recalled by the government, the attendant wrote down the license number on the bill so he wouldn’t get stuck for the $10. It confirmed by the bank’s list, and traced back to one Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was arrested the next day.

New York police would find almost $15,000 of the ransom money in Hauptmann’s garage.   He claimed to be holding it for his business partner Isador Fisch, who had left for Germany, paid for his ticket with Lindbergh ransom money, and died there in 1933.  It was a “fishy” story to be sure, and  newspapers judged Hauptmann guilty with blaring headlines celebrating the capture of the “Lindbergh Kidnapper”.

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When the police found almost 15K of ransom money in Hauptmann’s garage (at right), the illegal immigrant German carpenter was doomed.

Yet the money was found wrapped in newspapers from September 1934 and not from April 1932 when the ransom drop went down.  This supported Hauptmann’s story that he had recently rediscovered the package the now deceased Fisch had left in his care before sailing for Germany.   He was astounded to find it contained the money, and since Fisch had owed him $7000 but was beyond repaying it, Hauptmann hid it in the garage and didn’t tell his wife about it.

But his wife did alibi him for the murder.  Several witnesses could place Hauptmann two hours away from Hopewell on the night in question, picking her up at the Bronx bakery where she worked.    Anna Hauptmann insisted that her husband picked her up every Tuesday night, including March 1st 1932.  And Hauptmann’s work records showed him doing carpentry work in New York City during that day.

Beyond the ransom money, the case against Hauptmann was thin.  Unlike the 1932 Schoenfeld profile of the kidnapper as an anti-social loner dissatisfied with his station in life, Hauptmann was happily married with a young son, and had many friends among the Bronx German community, including Isador Fisch.  But he was a secretive man…an illegal immigrant whose wife didn’t know his first name was Bruno until he was arrested.

At trial the New Jersey prosecutor pulled out all the stops.  Someone had to pay for killing the Lindbergh baby.  Handwriting experts claimed Hauptmann wrote the 14 ransom notes, while agreeing the one in the nursery was different from the others.  Two unsavory and unreliable witnesses placed him near Highfields the day of the crime.  Convoluted “wood evidence” supposedly proved that master carpenter Hauptmann had pulled a single board out of his landlord’s attic to finish the kidnap ladder, rather than just use the wood stored in his garage.  And of course, there was the matter of that ransom money…even though the majority of it was still unaccounted for.

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After the trial, several jurors said Lindbergh’s testimony identifying Hauptmann’s voice was the key factor in the conviction and death sentence.

Spurious identifications by Condon and Lindbergh won the case, though neither man had identified him before the trial as “Cemetery John.”   Lindbergh’s testimony was highly improbable… he identified a voice he heard calling to Condon from over 70 yards away and three years earlier as that of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.  That turned out to be all the jury needed to convict the German carpenter.

Even with the conviction, the logistics of the crime were a mystery.  How could Hauptmann  have accomplished this incredible scheme alone?  Indeed, all communication after the kidnapping stressed that the “gang” was well organized and had been planning the abduction for some time.

After the death sentence was handed down, the Boston Herald pulled no punches.  “Hauptmann’s trial was a raucous tragedy… with few exceptions prosecution witnesses either distorted the truth or committed flat-out perjury… the state police had tampered with physical evidence, and in many cases suppressed vital information.”

Most amazingly, Lindbergh had been allowed to sit at the prosecutor’s table for the whole trial, wearing a shoulder holster under his suit coat. From a legal perspective, having the victim’s father in the courtroom for any reason other than his own testimony is strictly forbidden and grounds for appeal.

Not satisfied that justice had been served, New Jersey Governor Harold Hoffman launched his own investigation and focused on one aspect of the crime…the complicity of others. “I do not believe this crime was committed by any one man, and there is ample evidence that the chief witnesses and the prosecution share my belief.”

Shortly after Hoffman made this statement, Charles Lindbergh secreted his wife and new son on a freighter to England in the dead of night.  Our American hero had left the country.

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Protesting his innocence until the end, Hauptmann nevertheless made no final statement before the switch was thrown.

Hauptmann continued to insist he was innocent.  He declined a newspaper offer of $100,000 for his wife if he confessed.  And when the Governor offered to commute his death sentence for the same confession, he tearfully told Hoffman he had “nothing to confess”.  Some investigators believed he would spill his guts when he was strapped in the electric chair, but Hauptmann remained silent when asked if he had any final words.

THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL CASE AGAINST CHARLES LINDBERGH

The fascination with this crime endures eight decades later.  Even though a man was convicted and executed, the police, prosecution and press were never able to reveal  precisely who the kidnapper was and what preparations and methods he, or they, employed.

All the evidence BEFORE Hauptmann’s capture indicated a well-prepared gang was involved…at least in the NY extortion case.  Yet all the evidence at the crime scene in Hopewell suggested that the removal of the child could have been an inside job.

People can lie… but behavior never lies.  And if demeanor is everything, why would America’s hero act this way after his son went missing?

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Lindbergh’s study was directly below the nursery. Since he spent most of that evening there, why didn’t he hear the ladder against the house or see it through the window on the right?

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The Lindbergh entry foyer was the size of a closet, and could not be seen from any first floor room. This was the most likely exit for anyone carrying the baby off into the night.

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Lindbergh took every possible step to direct the investigation into his son’s kidnapping away from the actual crime scene at Highfields.

 Lindbergh left instructions that his son was to be put to bed at 8PM, and that no one should disturb him or enter the nursery until 10PM.  And baby Charley was kidnapped during that time frame.
 Lindbergh was scheduled to attend the NYU alumni dinner, yet he didn’t show or call to cancel.  Despite his renowned reliability, he blew off a commitment on the night his son was taken..
 He told Anne he heard the sound of wood snapping from outside, yet Anne and the three servants said later they heard nothing that night, and the normally alert family watchdog Wagoosh did not bark.
 When Betty Gow found the empty crib at 10PM, both she and Anne assumed Lindbergh had taken the child as a practical joke, as he had done several weeks before by hiding him in a closet.
 When Lindbergh saw the empty crib he announced. “Anne, they have stolen our baby!”  Even before searching the house for the toddler, Lindbergh planted the seed that his son had been kidnapped.
 Anne and the servants searched the house, starting in the nursery, and none of them saw the ransom note on the window sill.  Yet Lindbergh discovered it after returning to the nursery alone.
 Handwriting experts would later agree that THIS FIRST note was different from the other 13 ransom notes, suggesting it was written under duress and an attempt was made to disguise the writing.
 Lindbergh put himself in charge of the investigation, insisting that the NJ State Police turn over all their information to him.  At one point he threatened to shoot any officer who violated this order.
 When Hoover sent two FBI agents to assist with the investigation, Lindbergh turned them away, refusing help from the one agency whose experience and training gave them the best chance of returning his son.
 Lindbergh shunned the FBI yet invited numerous cranks, tipsters, mediums, and gangsters to help, while blocking every logical police procedure which might have yielded useful information.
 Lindbergh replaced solid investigative procedure with his amateur methods, obscuring the trail, creating false leads away from Hopewell, and taking actions designed to create deceptive clues.
 Lindbergh rejected an NYPD plan to stake out the ransom drop at the cemetery.

Lindbergh tried to explain this behavior away by saying he did not want to jeopardize  the safe return of his son.  Yet the child was never threatened in any of the ransom notes…most likely because the extortionists never possessed the child to begin with.

Many smaller strands are also suspicious . Why did Lindbergh call to say he would be “late”, and then strangely honk his horn when he arrived home at 8:25PM. Why did he forget to bring Charley’s other dog that always slept under the crib?  Why did he call Betty Gow to the nursery to see the note, send her downstairs for a knife, and then refuse to open the note until the State Police arrived? Wouldn’t an anxious father rip the note open?  Why did he suddenly take his family to live in Europe “for their safety” right when Governor Hoffman re-opened the investigation?  Why not just take them right after the kidnapping?

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Baby Charlie on his first birthday, with only nine months left to live. So who killed “The Eaglet”?

And WHY on earth did Lindbergh order his son to be cremated immediately after HE made the identification?  Not only was the child’s body important evidence, but Lindbergh never stopped to consider if Anne might like a Christian burial for her son.

 

SO WHO KILLED THE LINDBERGH BABY?

Bruno Hauptmann may have been “Cemetery John”, but more likely got the second hand “hot money” from Isador Fisch, who was known to traffic in illegal currency.  And in 1933 gold certificates could be bought for 25 cents on the dollar, an excellent margin for a sleazy speculator like Fisch.

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Hauptmann pictured with his son Manfred. There was nothing in this man’s past or his character to suggest he was a baby killer.

But there is no CREDIBLE evidence to place Hauptmann at the Lindbergh estate that night, and his work records and wife’s testimony place him in the Bronx all that day.  There is nothing to suggest that HE could kill a baby.

The truth of this seminal crime resides with the handful of people who knew the Lindbergh family would be staying at Highfields on a Tuesday night…for the first time EVER.

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Morrow maid Violet Sharpe took her own life rather than face more interrogation. She was one of the few people who knew the family would be at Highfields on that Tuesday night.

Morrow servant Violet Sharpe killed herself rather than face more questioning…did she tell the wrong person about the family’s last minute change of plans?  Nursemaid Betty Gow, one of five people at the crime scene, had a shifty boyfriend who was aware of the baby’s location that night.  And Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s older sister Elizabeth was at the Hopewell house over the weekend…did she kill the child in a delayed fit of jealousy over Lindbergh jilting her for the younger sister?  Charles Lindbergh, deathly afraid of scandal, would have covered up any of these scenarios with a fake kidnapping.

Or was baby Charlie murdered for a more sinister reason?  Rumors about the mental and physical health of the child flourished even before the “kidnapping”, and it’s interesting to note that press pictures after the crime were all of Charlie at age one or younger…there were no photos showing the child at 21 months.

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Well known for his often callous practical jokes, including hiding his son from the servants, Lindbergh ceased doing them after the death of his son Charlie.

Lastly, did Lindbergh accidentally kill his child during a prank that went awry?   He had hidden the child in a closet three weeks previously, making the servants search for hours before revealing the “joke”.   And daredevil Lindbergh, a former stunt pilot and wing walker, would have thought nothing about using a rickety ladder to gain entrance to his own home to remove his child.

If the ladder broke on the descent and his son was killed, Lindbergh would never have come clean that he was to blame.  And the location in the woods where the body was found reeks of Charles Lindbergh, who knew that road like the back of his hand and would have no problem hiding his son’s body in the dark.

A Lindbergh quote from the Spirit of St. Louis glimmers for this writer: “The important thing is to start; to lay a plan and then follow it step by step no matter how small or large each one by itself may seem.”   IF he accidentally killed his own son, Charles Lindbergh had the temperament and acumen to quickly formulate a coverup and carry it out to the letter.  Even if it meant sending an innocent man to the electric chair.

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What family secrets did the former American aviation hero take to his grave?

Did Anne eventually have doubts about a husband who later fathered five illegitimate children in Germany?  A husband who was known for playing cruel pranks, the perpetual practical joker who NEVER committed another one after the death of his son.

In her last televised interview in 1992, Anna Hauptmann made a personal appeal to Anne Lindbergh to “reveal the truth about this matter”. “I’m waiting for the truth to come out. When it does, I will die the next day in peace.”

And just hours before his execution, Bruno Richard Hauptmann sustained his innocence and spawned the doubt that still survives today:   “You think when I die it will be like a book I close. But the book, it will never close…”  

JT Townsend

 

For further reading on this fascinating, controversial theory that the Lindbergh kidnapping was an “inside job”, I recommend Crime of the Century by Gregory Ahlgren and Stephen Monier.  They are the only two Lindbergh case authors with law enforcement experience, and their expert analysis points the finger of guilt directly at Charles Lindbergh.

Ted Bundy’s First Victim? The Vanishing of Ann Marie Burr

 

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When did serial killer Ted Bundy began killing women, at age 27…or much earlier?

(This article was previously published in Snitch Magazine and the Clews historic true crime website.)

She was an innocent blond child who got into the wind, snatched from her home in the dead of night and carried off into oblivion.

He was a handsome stranger spinning a web, hiding a wicked serial killer who raped and murdered more than 30 women.

Did Ann Marie Burr and Ted Bundy cross paths in the same Tacoma, Washington neighborhood?

Like the recent Elizabeth Smart saga, the kidnapping of 8-year-old Ann Marie was a national fixation back in 1961. Below the radar of suspicion was 14-year-old paper boy Ted Bundy, the kid from the next block.

Ever since Bundy died in Florida’s electric chair, detectives, writers, and armchair sleuths have debated his involvement in the Burr case. Was the proximity of the future monster to the missing angel an eerie coincidence become urban legend? Or a spicy twist to a cold case?

And does the key lurk in Bundy’s childhood, a gothic tale of secrecy, denial, and possible incest…

LITTLE GIRL LOST

“I had a feeling right then that I’d never see her again,” sighed Beverly Burr, talking about the daughter who vanished over 40 years ago.

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The disappearance of Ann Marie from her Tacoma home would become a national news story.

Her nightmare began on August 30, 1961, after the Burrs bedded down four children in their North Tacoma home. Around midnight Ann Marie brought baby sister Mary to her parent’s bedroom – Mary was crying about the cast on her broken arm. At 5 AM Beverly awoke to attend her youngest child again but found Ann Marie gone.

The normally locked front door and the living room window were both wide open – no blood or signs of a struggle, just a lone sneaker print outside the window.

A thousand National Guardsmen and police officers combed the city. Choppers droned overhead as divers scoured sewers and creeks leading out to the bay. Yet despite the largest search and reward in Tacoma history, the little girl was lost.

Beverly and husband Donald requested and passed their polygraphs. As months unraveled into years, the Burr’s would endure unconfirmed sightings, bogus ransom demands, and an imposter claiming to be Ann Marie.

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The only sign of an intruder was the open living room window (left of front door) and the footprint of someone wearing a sneaker…

But the true outrage was the unknown fate of their firstborn daughter. “We were always looking or always doing something. We never forgot.” says Beverly. They stayed in their tainted home for six years in case Ann showed up, keeping their old phone number after they moved.

Four decades later closure is elusive. “I used to pray for an answer.” Beverly said at a recent memorial service for Ann Marie. “And then I wondered – do I want to know if she had a horrible death?

THE CHARMING KILLER

In February 1989, Ted Bundy’s life was draining away. With Florida ’s electric chair looming the next day, the killer was playing for time by giving up the bones of his ancient victims.

Who was Theodore Robert Bundy? After ten years of scrutiny on death row, he emerged as a chilling enigma, a charming and depraved killer who lured countless women to gruesome deaths.

Born in Philadelphia in 1946 to an unwed mother, Bundy’s father was a shadowy figure. Four years later Louise Cowell took her bastard child to Tacoma , where she married Johnny Bundy.

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Ted Bundy at age 15 in the summer of 1962. Did this smiling teenager abduct and kill Ann Marie Burr the previous year?

Ted’s formative years revealed a shy yet crafty adolescent who attended church but resented his stepfather. He also began nocturnal jaunts of voyeurism and vandalism; a sliding spiral that lasted throughout high school.

In college he fashioned an urbane and polished persona, what Bundy would later call his “mask of sanity”. After graduation he became a rising star in Republican state politics as the protégé of Governor Dan Evans.

In 1974, while Bundy attended law school in Seattle, young women began disappearing from the area. Some were taken from houses while others were plucked from the nearby university. Several co-eds recalled encounters with a handsome man on crutches; the stranger would solicit help carrying his books to his car.

Because the missing women were all “good girls” (not prostitutes or delinquents), local cops worked the cases hard. But with scant evidence and no bodies the trail withered away.

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Ted Bundy the year before Ann Marie went missing. Contrary to rumors, the Bundy’s lived three miles away from the Burr house…NOT on the next block.

When Ted Bundy transferred to a law school in Salt Lake City, co-eds and young women began vanishing from Utah and Colorado.

Bundy’s All–American veneer cracked in 1975 when he was arrested while cruising a suburb at 4 AM . Within weeks a student fingered him as the “undercover cop” who abducted her from a mall – she had barely escaped with her life.

Thrust into the spotlight of a task force investigating missing women from 4 states, detectives poked into every aspect of Bundy’s existence. And as word of his legal problems drifted back to the Seattle area, friends and former co-workers expressed shock and disbelief – Ted had cloaked his dark side, even from his fiancée.

After Bundy was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to prison, skeletal remains of the Washington victims began to turn up at a remote dumpsite. Soon Colorado prosecutors extradited and charged him for the abduction/murder of a woman at a ski lodge. An eyewitness and Bundy’s gas card receipts placed him at the scene.

But before trial Bundy staged a spectacular escape from a county lockup; he was in Chicago by the time jailers realized he was missing. From there he fled south to Tallahassee, where he tried to blend in at Florida State University.

Two weeks later he rampaged through a sorority in the middle of the night, killing two co-eds and bludgeoning three others while they slept. His final victim was 12 year old Kimberly Leach, grabbed from her elementary school in nearby Lake City.

Captured and convicted of the Florida killings in 1979, Bundy went to death row for the Leach murder. He maintained his innocence, and jousted with detectives from the West who came to question him about unsolved cases.

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Bundy confessed to killing 30 women in the week before his execution…but he emphatically denied that Ann Marie Burr was one of his victims…

Florida spun Bundy on the fast track to their electric chair. And ten years later Ted began to spill his guts as death closed in.

THE SINISTER CONNECTION

Author Ann Rule first linked Bundy and Ann Marie Burr in her 1980 best seller “The Stranger Beside Me.” A casual remark during a jailhouse interview had resonated; while speaking “hypothetically” about a serial killer, Ted suggested that “when he’s 15 (describing the moment of murder) it’d be a much more mystical, exciting, intense, overwhelming experience…than when he’s 50.”

Just before his 1989 execution, Bundy met with Robert Keppel, a Seattle detective working the missing girl’s file. Ted had been confessing for days, hoping to postpone the inevitable. Pale, haggard, and stinking of fear, he lowered his guard and said something that glimmered of Ann Marie.

Keppel pounced on it and got abrupt denials – “very un-Bundy like answers” that “showed a consciousness of guilt”. But why would a dead man walking disown one murder after copping out to 30 others?

Final Bundy

In the shadow of the electric chair, Bundy admitted that a serial killer would probably not confess to a murder he committed at a young age against a child victim…

Ted confided to Keppel there were crimes a serial killer would never admit to: murder committed at a young age – against a child victim – and close to his own home. The Burr case fit all three stipulations.

Ann Rule didn’t buy her ex-friend’s denial either: “Even for a serial killer there’s a stigma to killing a helpless young girl.”

Rule has collected hearsay tips and anecdotal evidence that tie Bundy to Ann Marie. A former Burr neighbor wrote that “Ted was the morning paper boy…That little girl used to follow him around like a puppy…She would have gone with him if he asked her to crawl out that window.”

Another woman emailed Rule remembering that her ninth grade classmate Bundy had asked if she wanted to see “where he had hidden a body”.

And Donald Burr is convinced he saw young Ted Bundy in a construction ditch on a nearby street the morning his daughter disappeared. Bob Keppel today insists “the story gets better and better over the years with him and Ann Marie.”

But to others the facts have blurred with time, leaving an impression the case against Bundy is stronger than it really is.

Retired detective Tony Zatkovich, the original investigating officer in 1961, states that “Bundy absolutely had nothing to do with this.” He believes the killer knew the family and was familiar with the layout of the house. Tacoma detectives currently assigned to the case are divided between Bundy and another teenage suspect.

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Bundy died in the Florida electric chair for the 1978 murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach…his last victim was also his youngest. But was his FIRST victim even younger?

Louise Bundy can’t accept that her son started his killing spree while living under her roof. She was pregnant that summer and frequently up at night. “There’s no way he’d have gotten out of this house with us knowing it.” Louise contends that at 14 Ted was too small to have abducted an 8-year-old girl. She says the Burr house “was in another part of town”, and denies her brother lived next door to Ann Marie’s piano teacher.

Bundy himself wrote to the Burr’s in 1986, telling them “you have been misled by rumors about me…I had nothing to do with her disappearance…At the time I was a normal 14 year old boy…I had absolutely no desire to harm anyone.”

DID HE OR DIDN’T HE?

To judge Ted Bundy as a suspect in the murder of Ann Marie Burr, there are three points to deliberate:

  • *How far away did he live from the Burr’s in 1961?
  • *When did he start killing?
  • *Was he really a “normal 14 year old boy”?

Bundy’s death house disclaimer argued that “the Burrs lived all the way across town from where I hung out as a kid and had my paper route…It was a different part of the world with different schools.”

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Even while he was dating attractive women that he knew, Bundy was the “deliberate stranger”, killing college co-eds and other trophy victims from 1974-1975…

A map quest today confirms it. Bundy’s house on Sky Line Drive was 3 miles away from the Burr home on 14th Street – yet legend wants him on the next block. This distance supports Ted’s denial; Bundy had chided Kepple for “not really taking a serious look at it.”

Some investigators agree with Ted’s own contention that he began killing women in January 1974. Yet others “like him” (as a suspect) in the 1966 murder and assault on two stewardesses in their Seattle apartment – Bundy was a 19 year old college student working part time at a nearby grocery store.

It’s rare for a serial killer to get his first notch before age 15, even though his sexual and violent impulses fuse in early childhood. Bundy denied murdering before age 27, but his night raids as a young peeping tom (a classic early route for rapists) suggest the opportunity for an earlier kill.

Many Faces

Bundy was a true changeling. But contrary to the media coverage, he was NEVER the All-American boy…his pathology began at an early age.

So how does a “normal 14 year old boy” morph into a psychopath? Is the answer buried in Bundy’s paternity?

The obscure “salesman” who stole into prudish Louise Cowell’s life just long enough to seduce, impregnate and abandon her was never identified. Some relatives doubt her vague and conflicting stories about Ted’s father.

Unwed mothers in 1946 were cloistered. 22 year old Louise gave birth in seclusion, returning home to raise the child as her “adopted brother.” Yes – little Ted Bundy believed his mother was his sister, and his grandparents were his parents.

Louise’s mother was a reclusive semi-invalid, while her father was vigorous man who relatives describe as “an extremely violent and frightening individual”. Louise and her two younger sisters lived in fear of him.

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Ted Bundy’s father was never identified, but several family members felt that Louise Cowell’s father Sam would have been capable of raping his eldest daughter…

Writers and Criminologists who have pored over Bundy’s history to explain his brutal acts wonder: perhaps his grandfather really was, as Ted once claimed, his father.

When a journalist confronted her with that recently, Louise Bundy “demurred in a matter of fact voice, with none of the indignation that one might expect.”

Yet her younger sister (Ted’s Aunt) remembers waking up one morning as a teenager to find her grinning 3 year old nephew lifting her covers and placing three butcher knives beside her.

A psychiatrist who studied Bundy labeled this “extraordinarily bizarre behavior in a toddler”, indicative of “a traumatized child who was not only unwanted but was punished for having been born.”

In an email to this writer, Ann Rule declares “my personal opinion is that Ted Bundy killed Ann Marie Burr.” And though she’s written about hundreds of murder cases, “Every time I give a talk in the Northwest, someone asks about Ann Marie.”

A recent TV adaptation of her book ends with an erroneous flashback of young Ted approaching Ann Marie on her front porch in broad daylight. The final shot shows them walking off hand in hand as neighbors bustled about.

Ted is a serious suspect until you do the logistics. How could a boy not yet 15 roam a neighborhood 3 miles away, casing a house so well that he could steal a child in the night and evaporate her? It doesn’t seem plausible – but with Bundy nothing ever does.

Scan0058He haunts by slithering gracefully among us – he might have been a friend of your son or dated your daughter. He was our worst nightmare – perfect evil living just around the corner.

If he could be the bad seed of an incestuous grandfather, then perhaps his virgin venture into murder became his most perfect crime.

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Ann Marie Burr in her first communion dress. This picture was taken just two weeks before she vanished forever…

The night before his execution, Ted Bundy’s last words to his mother were “a part of me was hidden all the time.”

And more than 42 years later, Ann Marie Burr is still in the wind…

***Author’s Note: Ted Bundy was the “godfather” of serial killers – a creature too complex to fully explore in this article. Contact this writer with questions about Bundy and for more information on the Ann Marie Burr Case. 

 

EPILOGUE

Here’s some updated information I’ve gleaned from conversations with Beverly Burr (Ann Marie’s mother) since I wrote this article.  On a sad note, Beverly died several years ago, never learning the truth about what happened to Ann Marie.

1. She does not believe Ted Bundy kidnapped and murdered her daughter.
2. Ann Marie did not take piano lessons next tore to Ted’s Uncle.
3. She does not recall seeing Ted Bundy delivering their paper.
4. She likes the same suspect that investingating officer Tony Zatkovich liked in 1961: a 17 year old neighbor boy who lived three doors away.
5. She described the family as “very religious” and their teenage son as “strange” but with an “unusual interest” in Ann Marie.
6. She admitted to me (with embarrassment) that 3 days after Ann went missing, she went to their house on some pretext. Finding them not home and the door open, she went through their first floor looking for any sign of Ann Marie, specifically her cross pendant received a month earlier at her first communion. She became frightened and left without searching the 2nd floor or finding any trace of her daughter.
7. This suspect was eventually questioned and given a polygraph (results inconclusive) before the family’s lawyer pressured the cops to charge him or release him.
8. She says the suspect is still alive (age 63) and still living in Tacoma.
9. She keeps tabs on him – says he has been completely estranged from his family for more than 40 years.
10. She told me she sees Louise Bundy in the grocery store from time to time. Ted’s mother knows who Beverly is but avoids her and does not speak.

Beverly Burr is an amazingly courageous woman who has never gotten the closure she deserves – I wish I could give it to her. I know if my child had disappeared I would never stop looking…

Ted Bundy is a suspect in the Burr case – nothing more. Like may Bundy mavens, I wanted to link him to Ann Marie when I first read about it. My heart had him guilty, but my head isn’t buying it. Like Beverly Burr, I believe it’s just a macabre coincidence.

I’m much more willing to accept Ted’s involvement in the murder/assault of the two stewardesses in 1966 Seattle – but even that case had a better suspect (landlord’s son).

If you would like more information about the Bundy/Burr conundrum, there is a recent book out called “Ted and Ann” by Rebecca Morris that explores the connection between the serial killer and the missing child.  I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this book…but it IS the only book length treatment of this fascinating case…  JT

True Crime Detective Fall Program Schedule

 

FINAL QCN COVER HIGH RES 2The fall docket of the JT Townsend True Crime Detective Series is called to order! The author of the newly released Queen City Notorious (the eagerly awaited sequel to local cult classic Queen City Gothic) will be holding court at the following PUBLIC venues in the greater Cincinnati area and administering a scintillating slice of murder most foul on these selected dates.  So extradite yourself to one of my chilling power point presentations.  Plead Guilty.  Come over to the dark side of our history…

09/19/2015: North Dearborn, IN library…11AM…QCN program.
09/22/2015: Erlanger, KY library…7PM…QCN
09/24/2015: Mt. Healthy branch library…6PM…QCN program.
09/29/2015: Milford Township library…6PM…QCN program
10/05/2015: Miami Township branch library…6PM…Lizzie Borden
10/06/2015: West Chester library…7PM…Cincinnati Stranger
10/14/2015: Westwood Historical Society…7PM…Cincy Strangler.
10/15/2015: Monfort Heights branch library…6PM…BRICCA.
10/20/2015: Florence KY library…7PM…QCN program.
10/21/2015: Green Twp branch library…7PM…Jack the Ripper.
10/22/2015: Cheviot branch library…6PM…Lizzie Borden
10/24/2015: Fairfield library…11AM…QCN program.
10/26/2015: Union Township library…6PM…QCN program.
10/28/2015: Anderson branch library…7PM…QCN program.
11/05/2015: Independence KY library…7PM…Lincoln Assassination.1- Final Cover

PL-01Remember this, my friends and minions. Justice may be blind…but SHE can see in the dark.  And when it comes to murder, there are no secrets…only hidden truths…

The Bricca Mystery… And Nobody Is Talking

No One is Talking...49 years ago this month, the Gerald Bricca family was murdered in what would become the most notorious and obsessive cold case in Queen City history.

Jerry Bricca, wife Linda, and daughter Debbie were found stabbed to death on Greenway Avenue in the Bridgetown neighborhood of Cincinnati. Going down between the 4th and 5th murders of the “Cincinnati Strangler”, this grisly triple homicide pushed a city already on edge to the breaking point.

The young family was slain on Sunday night September 25 1966, sometime between 9-11PM.  Two nights later, concerned neighbors discovered their bodies after noticing the lack of activity at the house.  Detectives were already 48 hours behind the killer.

Scan0168Several factors indicated the assassin knew the victims.  There was no forced entry, a carving knife matching the wounds was missing, and the house was ransacked yet nothing taken.  There were no defensive wounds or signs of a struggle.  The Briccas’ two dogs, known to be aggressive, were found locked in the basement.  Investigators theorized that 4-year-old Debbie was murdered because she could identify her parent’s killer…or killers.

Over 300 people were interviewed in connection with the case.  Eventually, the focus narrowed to a married man known to be romantically involved with Linda Bricca.  This man hired a lawyer after his second interview and refused any further cooperation.  By early 1967, Bricca investigators and their prime suspect retreated into a lingering psychological stalemate that was never broken.

Scan0010Five decades later, this unsolved crime still haunts anyone who dares to remember it. Because there is something sinister at the heart of these murders – a motive so twisted that the line between passion and insanity was obliterated.

Consider an investigation that became an ominous impasse when detectives were engulfed by a case beyond belief…
Or a prominent prime suspect who lawyer-ed up and lived the rest of his life under a cloud of dreadful suspicion…
And a community so passionate about this grim and terrible crime that the rumor mill is still spinning after almost 50 years…

The murder house

Even after almost half a century, the house where the Bricca family was murdered has yet to give up its secrets.

Armchair detectives know that every good mystery has a wild card. So is there a clue, motive, or secret ready to drop in from left field? Because the key to understanding a crime is to expose the skeletons that spawned it.

Today, the Bricca mystery lingers in cobwebs and survives on whispers… a terminal case with a fading pulse.

But for those who have kept this slaughtered family in their memories, it will never be too late to learn the truth…

-JT

© 2017 JT Townsend