The Case that Will not Close

The Lindbergh Case

by Jim Fisher
Rutgers University Press, 480 pp., $22.95

The trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in 1935 for the kidnap-murder of Lindbergh’s infant son remains one of the four great American cases of the century, although unlike the other three—those of Sacco and Vanzetti, Alger Hiss, and the Rosenbergs—without political overtones. In all four cases defenders have accused the prosecution of manipulating the evidence, altering or making substitutions of trial exhibits in order to secure a conviction. Such charges are in many instances a last resort for defense lawyers struggling against the weight of contrary evidence, sometimes indeed the only possible defense. In the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, Hiss, and the Rosenbergs, unless there had been switched bullets, substituted typewriters, forged documents—as claimed by their partisans—Sacco, Hiss, and the Rosenbergs were guilty.

Bruno Hauptmann even before his trial was assumed to be guilty. The tabloids said he was. For the public the guilty verdict was immensely satisfying: justice, and at the same time vengeance. Not until forty-one years after the trial did the first scholastic challenge to the verdict appear with Anthony Scaduto’s Scape-goat. Scaduto argued that Hauptmann was framed by authorities determined to stop at nothing to convict him. The aim of his book is to “set the record straight after some forty years of distortion when those majestic pillars of the law who had once been men…were transformed into mindless avengers for a mindless society.”1

In all the great American cases, revisionism if it comes at all tends to come a generation later. Twenty-one years after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, G. Louis Joughin could still write that “prosecutors, judges and the hostile public majority have not found a single literary defender of their position.”2 Another thirteen years would elapse before such a literary defender emerged in the person of a Boston lawyer, Robert Montgomery, with his trenchant if acerbic Murder and the Myth.3

It took twenty-eight years following Hiss’s 1950 conviction for perjury before Allen Weinstein’s encompassing book on the Hiss case appeared.4 Weinstein writes that he had started out to prove Hiss’s innocence but, as his work progressed, contrary facts overwhelmed him until at last he had to conclude that Hiss was guilty. Much the same thing happened to me in regard to the Sacco-Vanzetti case, at least with regard to Sacco’s guilt.5 Similarly, Ronald Radosh said he started with a belief in the Rosenbergs’ innocence as an article of faith, “always thinking that in the future new evidence might emerge to prove the complicity of the government in a frame-up.” His book, published thirty years after their deaths, is a reversal, a demonstration of their guilt.6

Scaduto’s challenge was carried on five years later by the English author, journalist, and BBC commentator Ludovic Kennedy. In 1981 while on a BBC assignment in New York he happened to see Hauptmann’s widow Anna on the Today show as she passionately defended her husband’s innocence. Her simple sincerity so impressed him that he began a study of…

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