Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Monday Night-Tuesday Night: the Immediate Genesis of the Crime?

when the stars line up
and you catch a good break
and people think your lucky
but you know it’s grace
it can happen so fast
or a little bit late
timing is everything.
Garrett Hedlund, "Timing is Everything" Lyrics

Those who argue that it was impossible for the crime to have been put together by a kidnap team in the short time after Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s call to the Morrow home in Englewood at 10:30 on the morning of March 1, 1932, have a good point. Several investigators at the time and later, notably Harry Walsh the high ranking police officer from Jersey City, who was in on all the crucial interrogations, and John Douglas the former FBI profiler, who writes today on famous cases, both believed that Violet Sharp somehow tipped off the conspirators that the Lindberghs would be at Highfields that crucial night. But how, ask the dissenters, could such a crime be put together in the time remaining after Anne’s call?  It couldn’t, so therefore it must have been the work of a lone wolf, Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

But does that conclusion really follow – if the tip off came earlier, on Monday night? It is true that contacting Hauptmann to give him a “go” signal so late in the morning would have been difficult, especially since there was no telephone in his apartment.  But suppose the signal had been given earlier – on Monday night, and not necessarily to Hauptmann?

What do we know about Monday night?  Anne had stayed down at Highfields instead of returning home as the family usually did at the end of the weekend.  Her concern was for Charlie’s cold, which caused her enough worry that she stayed close by the nursery, and broke her husband’s “rule” by entering the nursery on more than one occasion between the hours of eight and ten.   Anne and Charles spoke on the telephone Monday night around 7:00 pm. He had worked in New York and called to let her know that he would not be home that night.  We do not know all that was said during that conversation, but it certainly left in doubt whether they would return to Englewood the next day. The cold had gone down to Charlie’s chest she informed her husband, and she planned to send Whately out for a thermometer; and she would recall for police that she kept a close watch on Charlie that night.  It did not sound like she was ready to take the child out so long as his condition did not markedly improve.  Plans were made in the phone conversation for Charles to come to Hopewell if the decision was to stay another night – suggesting that it was a not unlikely choice.

We do not know about any other phone calls made from Highfields that night.  There may have been none.  But even if there were none, we do not know, either, whether Charles spoke with his mother-in-law that evening, or whether any other persons including the servants at Englewood had some knowledge of what was said.

Several things might follow from this brief note about Monday night’s possible conversations.  The uncertainty about the return could explain why Hauptmann reported for work the next day if he had been expected to be a part of the kidnapping team that traveled to Hopewell. It has never been explained what might have happened had he actually been put to work at the Majestic Hotel that day. He was not.  But perhaps it made no difference.  He could have gone to work because his role might have been finished with the construction of the ladder.  The plans went ahead without him, because he was not needed.  The final “go” signal could have been given after Anne’s Tuesday morning call, but it would have been given when things had already been put in train.  As in the nature of a “Fail-Safe” code during the Cold War.

If we go down that path, the mystery of “Tuesday Night” clears up a bit.  It has always been difficult to understand how a kidnaper or kidnap team could have possibly known the Lindberghs would be there, the only time they had ever stayed over that long.  Here was an opportunity that might not come again soon.  If Charlie was the target and only target of a team effort, taking him from Hopewell would be far easier than a risky endeavor at the Morrow Estate with all of its servants inside.  The decision had been made to carry out the crime – and the sooner the better after the decision, because delay might well mean a loss of nerve, and defections.  So there was some urgency.

This argument is somewhat strengthened by Anne’s March 13th statement, because she does not say she spoke to Charles the next morning, April 1st, when, she records the child was better with no fever.  She spoke to Betty Gow, however, but did not say “anything definite about our return to Englewood,” even as she asks that Betty come down to Highfields.   According to her statement, Charles did not call until some time between 6 and 7 to tell her he “would be late in coming home.”  The wording suggests that the plan had been to stay that night, unless things changed more dramatically.  Given the number of communications about their plans, several people could have known where they would likely be as early as Monday night.  

Otherwise, we have to speculate along with others in the past, that Hauptmann was so enraged by not having work that day that he returned to his house, perhaps finished the ladder (with a great deal of sawing and planning), and rushed down to the Hopewell area in time to have been seen by the old man Amandas Hochmuth, spinning off into a ditch as he rounded a corner – all this before noon.  He then hung around all afternoon until he tried to hide from Benny Lupica who saw him near the entrance to the target house.  And, to make it perfect, he luckily hit on the right night!  That is really the only way to make the lone wolf theory work.

So the question arises:  who was the key planner/organizer?  The ransom notes themselves suggest detailed planning, not a shot in the dark.    Subjects for a later post – most certainly.

(Thanks to Mark Falzini for previewing this blog, which, in part was stimulated by  our conversations over the timing of the phone conversations on Monday and Tuesday.)