“I have found that liars in the end communicate more truth than do truth tellers.”
Special Agent Pendergast, FBI
In the case of New Jersey vs. Bruno Richard Hauptmann, one man’s testimony was essential to the conviction. Despite all the other forensic evidence, the handwriting, the wood evidence, the money, it was the dramatic performance of John F. Condon, Dr John Francis Condon, “Jafsie,” that moved the jury to convict Hauptmann as the kidnapper and murderer of little Charles August Lindbergh, Jr. When Condon thrice pronounced the verdict that Hauptmann was the man at St. Raymond’s cemetery on the night of April 2, 1932, the man to whom he paid $50,000, the trial was effectively over. Condon’s voice rang out over the crowded courtroom with the finality of doomsday, as he brought down his fist on the witness chair.
It would be hard to say, however, who in that courtroom was the most apprehensive about what Jafsie might blurt out during either direct or cross-examination. The defense team was prepared for the worst, but also for a test of wills. Perhaps Ed Reilly was over-matched, intellectually and financially; perhaps he was merely putting on a show for his patron, William Randolph Hearst; but even Big Ed managed to corner Condon on one or two occasions. The prosecutor had to pull his star witness back from the edge each time. Also in the courtroom was Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld, a consultant to the prosecution, who had his own fears about Condon, worrying that he might have one of his off days while on the stand. If that happened, Shoenfeld thought the result could be bad for the prosecution.
Much of Condon’s behavior throughout the investigation has been put down to eccentricity, and, with a sort of nonchalant wave of the hand, the old gent’s constant desire to be in the limelight. But as Judge Trenchard had said about some other somewhat questionable prosecution testimony, should we not, on the whole, accept his assertions as reasonable?
The differences in his various accounts, moreover, never really touched on the central narrative of his testimony: he met a man on two occasions, and gave police a description of what he looked like; and a composite drawing was made from his words (and those of Joseph Perrone) that strongly resembled Hauptmann. The other verbal descriptions given by Condon also made up a picture of a man who in age, height, weight, hair and eye color, seemed a good match. What did it matter then, that Condon changed certain details, such as the persistent coughing he had noticed at their first encounter, which became a single cough on the witness stand, or the fleshy enlargement at the base of Cemetery John’s thumb that seemed to disappear when things became serious. And, come on, didn’t he fear for his life, and wasn’t that why he failed to declare his identification of Hauptmann as Cemetery John that night of the arrest?
He more than made up for those slips, but his behavior still worried Prosecutor David Wilentz right up to the very moment he denounced Hauptmann. And with good reason. Down in Florida in the winter of 1934, Condon said he doubted a conviction for murder could be achieved. The old man sometimes behaved, well, like an old man, forgetful, even rather childish in inquiring if J.Edgar Hoover might have a medal to give him. Then, too, he thrice changed the description of a woman who approached him during the negotiations from a middle aged frumpish sort of person, to an attractive gypsy woman with curls on her forehead. The list of these “small details” and “innocent eccentricities” is almost endless – but no matter, on the central questions he was sure he was right.
But before the courtroom appearance, before he made his dramatic gesture thumping the witness chair, before the arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Condon himself was a “Prime Suspect,” in the pattern of those who come under Helen Mirren’s keen eye on the popular British mystery series. Condon had become a suspect in part because of the “missing taxi driver,” the man he claimed came to his door to deliver the note about where he was to go to get instructions about the place the ransom was to be paid. Here is Condon in his memoir of the case, Jafsie Tells All, published in 1936 describing the encounter at his front door the night of April 2, 1932:
At 7:45 o’clock that night, the doorbell rang. I nodded to Myra [Hacker, Condon’s daughter] Wordlessly, a trace of fright in her face, she got up, started for the hallway to answer the door.
I heard her open the door, could restrain myself no longer. I got up from my chair in the deathly silence of that tense room, followed her. Over her shoulder, I saw a man in a taxi-driver’s cap turn and start down the steps. His cab was pulling away from the curb as I tore open the envelope she handed me. I walked back toward the living room. Colonel Lindbergh and Colonel Breckinridge stood close at my side as I unfolded the note. It bore the kidnaper’s symbol signature. (p. 142)
Condon’s memory seems very acute here; he can even recall a “trace of fright in her face.” But what are the essential elements? Myra went to the hallway, Myra opened the door, Myra received the note, and Jafsie only saw the man over her shoulder as he suddenly turned and retreated down the steps to his cab. There was no verbal exchange at all. Condon never spoke to the man, had no occasion to ask him anything about where he got the note, or insist on getting his name or even have someone else get his name and badge number. He would say on other occasions about this omission that he was too excited about getting the child back safely, and simply forgot. A plausible answer at first blush, but it does not square with other accounts of the brief encounter.
Condon tells readers here and other places ad infinitum that of all the parties concerned, he was the most adamant about not paying the ransom without seeing the child. He was not the prime suspect, then, but the prime skeptic. Yet his skepticism fails him at a critical moment, or so it would seem from Jafsie Tells All. Jafsie prided himself above all on providing analytical interpretations of what was happening as the case went on, discovering supposed new evidence in the nursery of a palm print, designing a box that could be traced, etc. Yet he seems too excited at the crucial moment to ask even the most basic of questions. The night the first taxi driver, Joe Perrone, appeared at his door, by contrast, Jafsie had him thoroughly questioned.
Did his skepticism fail him here? The account in Jafsie Tells All effectively shuts off questions about why the second taxi man was never identified -- it was Myra’s fault – if anyone was to blame. The second taxi driver had become a somewhat embarrassing matter for Condon, because before he wrote his memoirs he had given several contradictory accounts of the encounter from the time of his first statements to the police and Grand Jury in 1932, even down to a few months before the arrest of Hauptmann. In Jafsie Tells All he cannot be blamed for failing to pursue the taxi driver’s identity – because Myra took the note from his hand, Myra was the only one who might have spoken to him, and he rushed down the steps before Condon could get to the front door.
Now turn back the clock to 1934. It is two years closer to the events, and an FBI agent interviews Myra:
She stated that she was at her father’s home the day and night of April 2, 1932, and that when the party who delivered the ransom note on that night appeared on the front porch of her father’s home she saw this party through the glass in the front door; that she approached the door but did not open it and then returned to the other room while her father answered the door. She stated that this party appeared to have dark skin, like that of an Italian; that he was slim and was not dressed like a taxi driver. She further stated that he did not appear to be over 25 years of age and could possibly have been as young as 19 years of age. She stated that she did not know what conversation ensued between her father and this party as she returned to the other room, but thinks that her father tipped this party as they had all previously discussed the fact that he should be given a liberal tip.
It should be noted here that Dr. Condon does not remember that his daughter Myra was at his home on the night of April 2, 1932; also, that the Doctor states that the party who delivered the ransom note on that date was dressed like a taxi driver. (E. Sandberg, “Unknown Subjects,” Report of July 24, 1934, Bureau of Investigation Report, in NJSP. )
Myra thus tells quite a different story. She and her father’s positions are reversed. Now it is she who only glimpses the man –and notes he is quite young, Italian-looking, and was not dressed as a taxi driver. She heard none of the conversation, but thinks he might have been given a tip – as they had discussed previously. So what she remembers is that the group inside Condon’s house had, in fact, discussed what to do if a message was brought as in the first instance on March 12th, by Joe Perrone – who became, it will be remembered, a key witness at the trial. Condon excuses himself from this conversation by asserting he can’t remember if Myra was there that night.
(Now before we go into the affair of the missing taxi driver in more detail, a brief comment on another issue raised by his memoir. In Jafsie Tells All, Condon explains that he was moved to write to the Bronx Home News imploring the kidnapper to return the child and offering $1000 of his own money by events the very night of the kidnapping, when he learned of the crime from an “Extra” newspaper while having a late night repast in a restaurant. It must have been very late, indeed, as no one knew of the crime until after 10 p.m. This is the only place he argues that his intervention was triggered that early. In other accounts, he places the date of his decision several days later. Is it just another one of those pesky coincidences or lapses that by placing his determination to enter the case earlier he avoids discussing a visit to his house on March 7, 1932, by another “unknown” person, a woman with a Swedish accent? We will come back to this mystery woman [there is one other of course, the frump or gypsy at the bazaar] and her visit later.)
As we continue reading backward, there appear more and more variations in Condon’s statements on the taxi driver. A short time before the FBI interviewed Condon and his daughter, Lieutenant Arthur Keaten of the New Jersey State Police reported that Condon could give only a “meager description” of the man. But a few days before that, in talking with FBI agent Thomas Sisk, he could remember significant additional details of the conversation:
Man: Are you Dr. Condon?
Man: Here is a note for you.
Dr.C: Where did you get it?
Man: Near 188th Street and Marion Avenue. A man asked me to give it to Dr. Condon.
Sisk added that Dr. Condon “is not positive but believes he overlooked getting the taxi driver’s name and address.” He might have done so, but in the excitement forgot to make a note. And he could not recall any more conversation with the man. This was odd thought Sisk, because Condon had testified before a Grand Jury in 1932 in much more detail. Sisk kept pressing Condon, who finally explained that he understood the “taxi driver” got the note near “Rosie’s” or Rosenhain’s restaurant -- where Dr. Condon often visited for late night refreshments. Yet another coincidence!
Sisk was understandably perplexed by the various stories :
Talking with Keaten and Lt. Finn of the New York Police, he discovered that “everyone who has worked on the Lindbergh case are (sic.) at a loss to understand why Dr. Condon did not obtain this taxi driver’s name and address.” (Arthur T. Keaten, Report, July 3, 1934, Reports File 317, NJSP; T.H. Sisk, “Unknown Subjects,” June 28, 1934, ibid.)
In the famous FBI Summary Report on the case, dated February 16, 1934, it is recorded that neither Col. Lindbergh nor Col. Breckinridge, who were both said to be in a back room that night ever saw the taxi driver. “Dr Condon is the only one who saw the man, and according to him, the man arrived driving a taxicab. Condon could give no description of either the man or the taxicab.” (Summary Report, p. 182) This is interesting, because as we will see, he had given detailed descriptions earlier, under oath.
Condon was questioned at length about the second taxi driver by New York Assistant District Attorney Edward F. Breslin on May 14, 1932 and appeared before a Grand Jury on May 20, 1932. Both times he gave lengthy (and as is often the case with Condon, confusing) answers to questions about the taxi driver. In Breslin’s office he was asked to explain the arrival of the second taxi driver. Condon said that the driver came around 8 or a little after with the note instructing Condon to head out for the rendezvous. The driver claimed that he had received the note from a man around 188th St and Marion Avenue wearing a brown overcoat. “He [the taxi driver] described the overcoat as having one button and from the description, or near the same description, I felt it was the same party.” What same party? Condon has evidently confused the events of March 12th with April 2nd. Here he continues his answer to Breslin: “The taxi man said he got a dollar from the man.” Now that was Perrone’s story about the events of March 12th.
Note how Condon has inserted this comment, and how Breslin misses taking it up. Of course one must remember that this was the first time that Breslin and others had confronted Condon only a few days after the discovery of the body. But one has to ask, did Condon deliberately attempt here to confuse the two encounters, or was he simply befuddled?
Did anybody take steps to determine who he was? continued Breslin, instead of pressing on the question of which taxi driver received a tip. And Condon replied:
I asked him who he was and where he came from. He said, “I came from 188th and Marion with this note to Dr. Condon.” I went to the door and asked him where he got it, what kind of man. He said, “Not richly dressed, brown fedora.” Personally I didn’t get his name.
Breslin was not satisfied with that last part of the answer:
Didn’t you attempt to get his name?
Not of the taxi man because there was nothing involved except the note. Someone attempted to get his name and address. [At this point, Condon suddenly brings in Milton Gaglio, a young friend who had taken down the name of the first taxi driver, and thereby confuses once again the line of questioning.] Milton came over for my lecture the first time and this time Milton was out of the case altogether. I don’t know whether anyone tried or not.
So, said a frustrated Breslin all but giving up, he didn’t know if the name had been determined or not, but thought not. That was correct, said Condon, easing himself out of the dialogue. Well, could Condon recognize him if he saw the man again?
I couldn’t describe him so well, I was more interested in the note and transactions than I was in the taxi driver
A week later before the Grand Jury, Condon’s memory about the driver had improved greatly – at least in some ways. Did Condon recollect who went to the door, he was asked? He went to the door on both occasions (March 12 and April 2) he said. Then this:
Q. Was there anybody else present while you were talking to the taxicab driver?
A. I am not positive whether a little man reputed to belong to the secret service was there or not at that particular time – he came many times, I think not.
Q. How far removed from you was Colonel Breckenridge when you were conversing with this taxicab driver or in full view of Colonel Breckenridge?
A. Yes, in full view I opened the door and kept him out, I didn’t call the taxi man in.
Q. He remained on the outside?
A. Yes sir, with the door half open.
As the questioning went ahead, a juror asked yet again if he had gotten a name. “I asked him where he came from but I didn’t go into detail or form or feature.” Did the man say anything, then, about the person who gave him the note? “I said to him, ‘What did he look like?’ he said, he seemed to be pretty poor, had had on an overcoat and a fedora hat or dark brown hat, I don’t know whether he used the word seedy or not.” So, it appears here and from the Breslin interrogation that Condon and the taxi driver had quite a little chat about the person. He had one button buttoned – a very observant taxi driver indeed. But the way Condon told the story, Perrone and the mystery man kept getting mixed up. Then in a new statement to the police on July 7, 1932, Condon added that the man was apparently a Jew, about 5 feet, six inches tall, with “long sideboards” on his face. (Transcripts of May 14 and May 20, 1932, NJSP; Statement of July 7, 1932, ibid.)
There are in Condon’s narrative three “phases” to the second taxi driver affair. In 1932, when he was first pressed about the messenger in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the dead child, police and other law enforcement agencies had little to go on in their questioning, and Condon’s explanations with all their vagueness seemed satisfactory, at least before a search had been made for the man’s identity. There were specific details about the man who gave the taxi driver the note, however. By 1934, when Thomas Sisk of the FBI had a lengthy session with Condon, no suspect had been arrested and all leads seemed to go nowhere. Pressed for more details on all his activities, “Jafsie” responded with additional information and concrete descriptions while still claiming he had not been interested in securing personal information about the messenger, only in getting the note. In 1936, Jafsie supposedly told all after Hauptmann’s conviction – but his story about the second taxi driver shrank to a glimpse over Myra’s shoulder.
So let us look at Sisk’s interview once more. Actually his report of June 28, 1934 on his conversations with Condon covered several dates in that month. During the course of these interviews Condon now said that he was positive the man was a taxi driver because he was wearing a “chauffeur’s cap and had every appearance of being a taxi driver and also the man stated he was a taxi driver.” Sisk asked if he saw a taxi at the curb? No, he did not, “and, in fact, made no effort to see whether a taxi was parked in front of the house as it was dark and the bushes and trees in front of his house obscured the view.” But then Condon reiterated that he had “no reason to doubt the man’s word.”
Sisk must have seemed doubtful, so Condon then related “that he has a vague recollection of having observed the lights of a car through the bushes and of hearing a motor running.” At this late date, he went on, he could not furnish a detailed description of the taxi driver, “except to state that the man was short and dark and possibly about 30 years of age and either Italian or Jewish. He further stated that none of the others present in the house came to the door or saw the taxi driver; of this fact he is positive.”
Two years later, of course, it is Myra, and Myra alone who saw the driver’s face. But Condon told Sisk that while he probably could not identify the man from a photograph, he would “possibly” remember him if he saw him in person. ( Sisk Report, June 28, 1934, copy in NJSP Reports File 317) For all of his elaboration from 1932 to 1934, Condon had provided precious little for the police to work with in finding the man. Little wonder he would not discuss the question of his failure to get the name and badge number in his memoirs. Condon also spun out his favorite line when dealing with the case—that it had been a crime perpetrated by aliens. He was the one who introduced the “Italian” element almost from the first when he reported on a telephone conversation that he overheard voices speaking in Italian; he claimed that he got interested in the case because of the insults of a group of men with thick, soupy accents. Etc.
The first effort to find out about the second taxi driver was to send men to the area around Rosenhain’s restaurant to see if there was a taxi stand nearby. There wasn’t. Moreover, the location was approximately ten blocks from Condon’s home, and was primarily a residential area. Not only was there no taxi stand there, “no taxicabs have ever followed the practice of cruising in this vicinity.” The only other possibilities, said Sisk, were that the driver lived in the locality and was having dinner so that when he came out, there was someone waiting with a note. Or, as one might surmise from Sisk’s inquiries, the messenger was not a taxi driver, but someone sent specially and for some reason did not want it known that he had undertaken the mission. And, given Condon’s various stories, Sisk suspected he knew more about his mysterious visitor than he wanted known.
The New York police effort was headed by Captain Richard Oliver, who pursued the matter with tenacity, as we will see, and the New Jersey effort by Lieutenant “Buster” Keaten and Captain Lamb. In their search they went over the trip sheets of all taxicab drivers in New York for the night of April 2nd, 1932; they posted notices on the bulletin boards of all the big companies asking for the driver to come forward, and they advertised in the taxi driver’s journal – all without success. Sisk was impressed with their work. “It seems hardly possible that the man who delivered the eleventh ransom note didn’t know the police wanted him for questioning, and if he actually was a taxi driver and had no part in the case it seems as though he would have come forward.” (Sisk Report, June 28, 1934)
It was true, Sisk added, that delivering a message was different than taking on a fare, and the driver might not have recorded the trip. Yet the efforts made to discover if a cabbie had been sent to Condon’s home by someone wearing a brown overcoat, with a brown or gray fedora, with one button buttoned at the top, was proving impossible. Sisk noted, however, that NYPD detective Thompson had told him that he believed there were two detectives watching the house that night and that an effort was under way to identify them and get their reports to see if they had seen any cab, and obtained a license number. Lieutenant Keaten added that there were a number of newsmen supposedly hanging around the house, and, if they saw a cab, they might have asked questions of the driver. (Sisk Report, June 28, 1934)
Although Sisk had heard about the NYPD detectives on watch the night of April 2nd, he apparently did not know that there were also (F)BI agents in a house across the street from Condon’s residence, and two others placed in another observation spot a block away. One of these, Special Agent Lackey, who was across the street saw Lindbergh’s tan Franklin convertible arrive shortly before 9:50 p.m. The car contained Col. Lindbergh, Breckinridge, and an unknown third man. They entered the house carrying two black bags and extra overcoats. Precisely at 9:50 p.m. these three exited the house and drove off in a northerly direction. Lights remained on until 1 a.m, then it was dark. The car did not return until April 3rd, but neither Lindbergh nor Breckinridge were inside. At 6:20 p.m. that evening the car again left and was not seen again; but at 1 a.m. Monday, April 4th, the car drove into the Lindbergh estate. “They had with them the black bags heretofore mentioned and appeared dejected. They were observed by Special Agent Wayne Merrick, who did not talk with them. Lt. Sweeney of the New Jersey State Police told Merrick the money had not been paid.” (J.M. Keith, “Memorandum for the Director,” April 6, 1932, Records of the F.B.I., National Archives)
This is, of course, at odds with other accounts, especially the timing of Lindbergh’s arrival at Condon’s home. There are, however, many discrepancies in Condon’s stories about how the money was paid, and received, too many to discuss here. But there is no other report in such detail of money not being paid. We do know that $20,000 was removed by Condon. This may be what the report refers to. What is one to make of Keith’s report, therefore, based as it is on information supplied by two other (F)BI Special Agents, Lackey and Merrick? The detail is impressive, and the car was obviously very familiar to them all. If Lindbergh arrived shortly before 9:50 that would be almost two hours after the mysterious cab driver delivered the message. Condon was vague about where Lindbergh and Breckinridge were at 8 p.m., saying only (every time) that they were in the rear of the house. But both men always said that they had been there at the time the message was received. The Keith Report disappeared into the archives, and was never heard of again until a search of the files produced it in 2003. One must be skeptical, yet there seems no motive for Keith to falsify statements intended for his superiors.
Another report, by Special Agent E. J. Connelley, partially confirmed Keith’s report as it noted that in addition to the ones Condon mentioned as being in the house that night, there were also operatives from the Intelligence Unit of the Treasury Department. (Throughout the investigation, the T-men and G-men were often at odds, with Hoover especially on watch to see that his agency was not being shunted aside by Lindbergh.) Connelley added that while Col. Norman Schwarzkopf said that Lindbergh and Condon proceeded alone to the payoff rendezvous, “reliable sources” had informed him that “four persons left the home at about 10:00 p.m. with a package on Saturday night, April 2, 1932” for the purpose of delivering the money. (Connelley to Hoover, June 22, 1932, FBI Records)
There is no indication in any report that the (F)BI agents saw a taxicab arrive; but that does not prove another car did not arrive that night. The date of the Keith report is April 6, 1932, and the (F)BI was being kept in the dark, literally as well as outside Condon’s house. Perhaps Keith did not ask Lackey about other cars. Still the precision of the reports is troubling. In a memorandum to J. Edgar Hoover, agents would have been careful to report all that was witnessed, if they knew such details about an important event. Keith and Connelley made their reports close to the events themselves, but may, of course, have been misled – even without Condon’s misguiding hand. Still, we will find that no police report, no (F)BI report, no news report provides a single instance of anyone on watch that night seeing the arrival of a taxicab.
Not surprisingly, all this led Captain Oliver to insist that there was no taxicab driver on the night of April 2, 1932. (Schwarzkopf File, Exhibit 11, p. 3, Hoffman Papers, NJSP) Oliver himself was there outside Condon’s house , “and when the Colonel left with the doctor, Oliver, dressed like a derelict, proceeded to follow in an old automobile. It was not long before the Colonel realized he was being followed, and the game of lose-me-if-you-can went on.” Lindbergh’s efforts to shake Oliver were unsuccessful, according to Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld, and he arrived near St. Raymond’s prepared to enter the cemetery, but held back out of fear that he might jeopardize the baby’s life. (Shoenfeld, The Crime and the Criminal, pp. 30-1.)
Shoenfeld’s source for the information is not revealed, although the statements allegedly made by Oliver are put in quotations. The question immediately arises as to what else he might have seen that night at Condon’s or at St. Raymond’s? We do not know. The reports from Captain Oliver’s men, who were also watching the house that night, however, were much more specific about the traffic in and around the house. No formal reports had been made by these men because of Lindbergh’s desire that police stay away from Condon’s home “that day.” In 1934, while not supplying copies of the wiretaps the police had made of Condon’s phone calls, Detective Phillip Creamer supplied Special Agent E. Sandberg with the information orally. There were many calls from New York Daily News correspondent Arthur O’Sullivan, hoping for a break. Other newspaper reporters called, and Condon even called the United Press to offer a reporter there the first break. Still more interesting, Agent Sandberg talked to two other detectives who said that they saw no taxicab drive up, but it would have been possible, they thought, for someone on foot to have delivered such a message. (E. Sandberg, Memorandum for File, July 12, 1934, FBI Records)
Clearly, there was a mystery here – one that would never be resolved. The note had been delivered, but by whom, and how could everyone have missed a car driving up to Condon’s house on this narrow street? Sandberg contacted O’Sullivan, who gave him detailed information about reporters who were in the vicinity of Condon’s home during the negotiations, and told him that if any of those men had seen a taxicab, and a messenger approach the house, he would have likely taken down the number or tried to contact that person for a story lead. “Mr. O’Sullivan did not recall ever having seen a taxi drive up to Dr. Condon’s house at any time during the ransom negotiations.” Since he was not there that evening, however, he would have to refer Sandberg to the others:
In conclusion it might be stated that O’Sullivan advised there was no organized surveillance of the Condon residence during the ransom negotiations, by newspaper men; that sometimes there would be quite a few of them in the neighborhood, and other times no one would be there; that it was therefore quite possible that various automobiles and taxicabs might have pulled up to the residence and not have been observed by anyone. (Sandberg, Unknown Subjects, July 11, 1934, NJSP)
O’Sullivan’s information, therefore, was far from conclusive. The sum of all the reports adds up to a compelling case, nevertheless, that no one observed a taxi cab drive up to Dr. Condon’s house on the evening of April 2, 1932, and that for everyone to have missed it, given the various “heads up” people had received that something important was afoot (even from Condon’s telephone calls out to the press), is, at the very least, a most remarkable situation. Only one person, Condon, “saw” a car through the bushes, and “heard” the motor running. Myra Hacker in her 1934 statement said that she saw the man over her father’s shoulder. In 1936, and only then, Condon said Myra took the message, and that he only caught a glimpse of the man disappearing down the steps.
And so we have come full circle chasing the “second taxi driver,” who would never be identified. But there is, as noted earlier, a third taxi driver who figures in the Lindbergh case, Maurice Silken. Joseph Perrone, whom we have not talked about, was truly eager to help the police. He was the first taxi driver, the one who delivered the note to the Condon house on March 12, 1932. Perrone called up the New Jersey State Police all the time with descriptions of suspects who resembled the man who gave him the note that night. He was eager to collect reward money. So was Mr. Silken. He claimed that he had knowledge of a ladder that was used in the crime. He claimed he saw Condon talking with suspicious men two or three days before the child’s body was discovered. And he claimed that he took a woman with a “Swedish” accent to Condon’s home the morning of March 7, 1932. All of his claims except the last were quickly disposed of as having no basis in the facts.
Silken came into the case through a series of letters to Col. Schwarzkopf in which he described a ladder he had seen on an automobile. When police contacted him they found much more interesting his story of having delivered a fare to Condon’s house on March 7th. Taken to Condon’s house for a confrontation, Silken said he realized he had been mistaken about seeing him with some suspicious men, but he reiterated his claim to having taken the fare to his house. The woman paid him the $1.00 fare and a fifteen cent tip. She was “in a highly nervous condition and spoke with a foreign accent apparently German or Swedish.”
After this recital, Condon confirmed Silken’s story. He had received a visit from a woman that day. Asked her name, Condon said he “did not know what her name was that that she had visited him for the purpose of having him get some children that she could keep at a summer camp she was going to operate on some large estate in the Atlantic Highlands, N.J.” When Condon finished this statement, Silken interrupted to say that he knew Condon told NY detectives that this woman was applying for a job in his household as housekeeper. “Dr Condon also admitted this to be the truth and being somewhat confused said that it was not right for these New York Detectives to be giving out information concerning this investigation.” (These paragraphs are drawn from reports by William T. Moffatt and William Horn, June 3, 6, and 8, 1932, Reports File 375, NJSP)
In a later letter of October 1934, Silken would claim that the woman he had driven to Condon’s home was Anna Hauptmann. But the third taxi driver had, almost by accident it would seem, brought out a problem connected with Condon’s truthfulness in stating his reasons for becoming involved in the case. In Jafsie Tells All, he had placed emphasis on events the night of the kidnapping. March 1, 1932, and that he brooded for some days about what he must do before writing the letter to the home news. In his near contemporaneous statements to police and the Grand Jury, however, he always placed the date approximately a week later, just before writing the letter. Silken’s sudden appearance was no doubt a surprise, and Condon could not get his story straight about the visit of yet another mystery figure on March 7, 1932. Here was one taxi driver who came forward, for his own good reasons, with a bunch of stories, one of which he hoped would lead to reward money. But Condon could not deny the truth of one.
On another occasion, moreover, Condon had told Arthur O’Sullivan about a visit from a woman who needed help, and threw herself on his mercy so to speak, as the only good woman in a criminal family. The police were not watching Condon’s house on March 7, 1932, and so he could have believed there was no way to prove or disprove whatever he said about visitors on that date. Were they one and the same, this woman who paid Silken a large fare and a tip in depression times to secure a housekeeper’s job; was she instead in search of children for a summer camp; or who was she? Was she, finally, offering Condon a chance to be in on finding one child?
Silken’s story unnerved Condon “and being somewhat confused” he then criticized the detectives for revealing details of the investigation. By his claims in Jafsie Tells All Condon eliminated two taxi drivers from a place in the Lindbergh Case, and covers a lot of his confusing statements as well. What do we know for sure? Some person brought a note to Condon’s house that night. If it was simply another taxi driver like Perrone or Silken, why did this person not make himself known to the police? Fear? That is always a possibility in such a case, especially at a time when the nation seemed under siege from the criminal elements. On the other hand, there might be a big reward for such information. It was depression time, and hardly anyone was so well off as to ignore that possibility. Or was it because this person was more deeply involved and did not want to be known? One cannot simply dismiss this distinct possibility after all the police efforts to discover the identity of the mysterious messenger proved fruitless.
And what, finally, is one to make of Condon’s various attempts to deal with questions about the encounter? One explanation is that he was embarrassed about not getting the name, and, rather than admit he was too nervous, made up details to satisfy his questioners; then, when it came to his memoir, he told the story as it actually happened. That’s possible, but what, then, are we to make of Myra’s story in 1934? It is hard to reconcile the two. Another explanation is that the person was, in fact, known to Condon. If so, that would explain much, in the same way, perhaps, as his multiple descriptions of the woman at the bazaar clouded another “messenger’s” identity. Yet a third explanation is that Jafsie lived in his own world, where details were to be shaped to provide a cocoon around his confusions and keep him at the center of all the action. Jafsie Tells All gave Condon the opportunity to straighten out all the twists and turns. And he did so – to the best of his ability. Little wonder, in any case, that the prosecution was worried about what he would say when he finally sat down in the straight-backed witness chair.