Bruno Richard Hauptmann could hardly have foreseen how prophetic his close-to-final words would become when he uttered them on the night of April 3, 1936, shortly before being escorted to the electric chair in the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton.
Hauptmann, in the oddly syntaxed and sometimes poetic way he had of speaking, told his minister, "They think when I die, the case will die. They think it will be like a book I closed. But the book, it will never close."
More than a half century later, the book in the Lindbergh kidnapping case remains open. And, with the publication of Noel Behn's "Lindbergh: The Crime" (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25), there is a new and sensational charge.
Mr. Behn, best known for his novels "The Kremlin Letter" (1966) and "Big Stick-Up at Brink's!" (1977), says the "evidence" he's uncovered (which he concedes is undocumented) is based on interviews with an attorney who was hired to investigate the case after Hauptmann was convicted and on "a logical reconstruction of events." It strongly suggests, he says, that Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was not kidnapped from his crib on March 1, 1932, nor murdered by his abductor. Rather, he was murdered several days earlier by his aunt -- Elisabeth Morrow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's sister -- because Elisabeth sought revenge on Anne.
And the toddler's father, possibly the most famous and popular man in the world at the time, devised the false kidnap plot to protect his family from the notoriety, says Mr. Behn.
Often sickly and apparently emotionally troubled, Elisabeth believed Lindbergh should have been hers, that Anne stole him away, according to Mr. Behn, citing sources including Anne Morrow Lindbergh's diaries and letters. Elisabeth apparently had nervous breakdown after Charles and Anne became engaged, and had a mild heart attack after Charles Jr. was born. After Elisabeth returned to her mother's home, some miles from the new house the Lindberghs had just built in southern New Jersey's Sourland Mountains, ugly things happened -- the baby was found dumped into a trash closet and the family dog was killed, and Elisabeth was suspected.
The Lindberghs ordered the servants never to leave young Charles alone with his aunt. But one day they did just that, according to Mr. Behn, and the 20-month-old toddler was found several months later buried in nearby woods, killed by a blow to the head.
Several newspaper accounts at the time and some investigators had hinted that Elisabeth killed Charles Jr., but that view had always been dismissed as too ghoulish to consider and has not been heard since the '30s.
Anna Hauptmann, the executed man's widow, now 94 and living in a small town in Pennsylvania's Amish country, said recently, "I remember that about the sister, that she did it because she was jealous. I remember it from years ago, from the papers or from an investigator" for New Jersey Gov. Harold Hoffman, who was governor at the time of the trial.
There have been several books about the Lindbergh case in the past 17 years, starting with this writer's 1976 "Scapegoat," and several TV shows. "Scapegoat" -- to get my own tilt on record -- and the books and shows that came after documented Hauptmann's innocence. (One exception is "The Lindbergh Case," by Jim Fisher, who was given complete cooperation by New Jersey State Police and turned out what Mr. Behn, 65, calls "their version," and what others have called "a whitewash.")
Mr. Behn, raised in a Chicago suburb, is once-divorced and lives in New York. Before he began writing, he made a rather long detour in theater. He was a producer and manager of straw-hat theaters, then operated and was producer at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane from 1956 to 1961. He won an Obie in 1958 for producing Samuel Beckett's "Endgame."
"But theater was the distraction. Theater was the place for my gregariousness, but I wanted to write books," he says.
By 1963, he'd given up the theater and started "The Kremlin Letter." It was a best seller. John Huston directed the film, which starred George Sanders and Max von Sydow. Mr. Behn brings counterintelligence work to his espionage and crime books, having served in Army counterintelligence in the early 1950s.
Mr. Behn has been working on the Lindbergh case for eight years, off and on at first, but full time in the last four years. In brief, after studying the Lindbergh files for a couple of years and deciding he hadn't uncovered enough new material to write a book, Mr. Behn heard about Harry Green, a 93-year-old retired New Jersey lawyer living in Los Angeles.
Mr. Green was Hoffman's friend and personal attorney. During the trial, Hoffman had become convinced that Hauptmann was innocent, mostly because some of the investigators working on the case gave him copies of official State Police documents that cast serious doubt about his guilt.
Hoffman hired Mr. Green as his chief investigator immediately after Hauptmann was convicted. The governor's investigation was sub rosa; he knew, he later said, that it would mean the end of his political career if the voters learned he was trying to save Hauptmann.
Mr. Behn located Mr. Green and spent hours with him. Mr. Green told him Elisabeth killed the child "out of jealousy." After Hauptmann was sentenced to death, the Lindbergh chauffeur, one of the servants who found the child's body, signed an affidavit accusing Elisabeth, Mr. Green said. One of the Lindbergh maids signed a similar affidavit. The chauffeur had driven the two servants who had charge of the toddler on a shopping trip, leaving Charles Jr. alone with Elisabeth despite the Lindberghs' orders; when they returned, the child was dead of an obvious head wound and Elisabeth was hysterical, said the affidavits.
(By the time the chauffeur made his affidavit, Elisabeth was dead, apparently of heart failure; the family never announced the cause of death.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Behn concedes, Mr. Green's "evidence" is pure hearsay. The affidavit and other documents concerning Elisabeth as killer are gone. Mr. Green said they were in a storeroom that got flooded and the janitor "just dumped them."
Most objective journalists and other investigators who have examined New Jersey State Police, FBI and New York police documents released in the last two decades agree that there are holes in the case. Among them are documents casting doubt on all the eyewitnesses who identified Hauptmann as the man involved in the kidnapping; on much of the physical evidence presented at the trial; and on Lindbergh's identification of Hauptmann's voice as being that of a man in a New York cemetery who shouted two words to attract Lindbergh's attention and get the $50,000 ransom.
Lindbergh went to such lengths to fake a kidnapping and then to permit an innocent man to die, Mr. Behn believes, because if the truth were revealed "there would be a stigma on family that never would wash away. . . . After Hauptmann was arrested with some of the ransom money, Lindbergh had to make that terrible decision -- that if it was ever going to end, Hauptmann would have to die. Someone had to go down. I can see it within the nature of Lindbergh."