Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hide in Plain Sight II

When writers start planning their stories, they plant clues or items that the police and readers are searching for in different places. Sometimes, these clues are hidden inside something like bedposts, walls, loose bricks, etc. On the other hand, these clues are placed in the most obvious place to throw readers and the police off guard. The most obvious place is in plain sight.

High School Lesson Plan from “”

In my last post I took up the question of why the body was not found earlier if it had been placed where it was found  on the night of March 1, 1932?  More evidence has come to my attention that makes this question even more relevant, and requires further examination.  At the outset I want to thank Mark Falzini for several photos and documents that are of great importance in this inquiry, which, I believe, opens a new avenue for exploring the Case That Never Dies.  In addition I would like to thank Dolores Raisch for her memories of discussions with the widow of Lieutenant Arthur Keaton. 

The body was found at around 3:15 on the afternoon of May 12, 1932, it will be remembered, in a location just off the Mt. Rose Road near Hopewell.  The finder, William Allen, had left a truck on the opposite side of the road from a wide, cleared area that bordered the woods.  Going into the woods from that area was very easy, and was a logical spot to stop.  “Going under a bush he lowered his head and as he raised his head he saw a skeleton on the ground.”[1]  I have placed this final phrase, on the ground, in italics because of later descriptions of the place as a “burial site,” or “ shallow grave.”  Among these were observations later that same afternoon by two of the best investigators in the case, Lieutenant Arthur Keaton of the NJSP and Inspector Harry Walsh of the Jersey City Police.  Photographs taken of the site by police photographers do not show what one would call a grave, as we would normally understand that term, hardly more than a scratched out place.  Allen’s sighting of a leg of the corpse, clearly visible to a casual eye, further disqualifies the spot as a “grave.” 

Keaton and Walsh reported that they immediately took steps to secure the area from intruders, so that the collection of evidence could be undertaken without the presence of reporters and public gawkers – unlike what had happened the night of the kidnaping.[2]  This is an important point, as will be discussed later.  Meanwhile, returning to the original teletype on the discovery,  William Allen is reported to have said the body was “pretty well concealed,” somewhat at odds with his other explanation, but the teletype adds, “The body was lying in a depression as though there had been an attempt to bury it.”  An attempt to bury it bespeaks someone in a hurry, of course, but re-affirms  the original statement of a skeleton on the ground, not a leg sticking up from a grave.

Let us leave that point for a moment.  Keaton and Walsh reported that they removed “two shirts” and took them to the home of Col. Lindbergh “in a burlap bag for identification,” and after Betty Gow made a positive identification, “retained [them] as evidence.”  This is an important point, because several burlap bags were brought by police to the scene for the collection of soil and any other material.  These bags should not be confused with the burlap bag found some yards away from the corpse and that was evidence itself.  It turned out that the burlap bag later labeled 022 did contain vital evidence that would upset the official narrative. These other burlap bags, brought to the scene by police, were forerunners of the evidence bags used today.   The report says the shirts were “retained as evidence.”  What it does not say, however, is that the shirts were actually taken to Lieutenant Keaton’s home, where they were spread out on the kitchen table – and stayed there for a period of time, at least a few days.  Mrs.Keaton recalled that he stayed up late at night studying them. [3]

And now, once again, back to the original teletype.  “We could not tell how long the body had been lying there.”  Why such a definite statement upon a cursory examination?  It would appear that from the first, from the time of Keaton’s and Walsh’s examination of the site, there were great doubts about whether the corpse had been there from the beginning.  I have already written in another blog that Walsh at the trial was not at all definite about whether the corpse had sunk in enough to account for it being there from March 1, 1932.  Lt. Keaton’s widow remarked later that her husband was, in fact, convinced that the body had been moved there, even after State Police officials questioned him many years afterwards in an effort to shake his conviction.[4]

Keaton’s convictions may also help to account for some other points about the police investigation of the area where the body was found, and what was left out at the trial because they would raise the issue of whether someone had moved the body there later – after the ransom payment was made.  For example, the burlap bag found there was not introduced into evidence.  While it was speculated that the child might have been placed in such a bag, the prosecution did not want to get into a debate over the possibility that the corpse was already in a state of decay when placed in the bag – and dumped out later.  There was no blood found on the bag.  But what was found in the bag was a human bone and some hair that compared to the victim’s hair in all details, color, etc.  The bone was from the right hand, a metacarpal bone from the right little finger that connects to the wrist.  This bone was taken from a vial labeled, “Bone taken from burlap bag 022,” when the investigation was reopened years later.  The bone had been placed in the vial before or during  forensic examinations at the Squibb laboratories in May 1932. The other human bones –eight in number – were found in the leaves and soil around the corpse.[5]

These findings were made by Dr. Wilton Krogman in 1977, who mis-identified the bone found in the bag as a foot bone, however, and reconfirmed and correctly identified by Dr. William Bass, at the request of Anna Hauptman’s lawyer.  It makes sense, therefore, why the “burlap bag 022” was not introduced into evidence at the trial.  The bone’s finding was confirmed as coming from the burlap bag. Introducing that evidence would definitely suggest that someone placed the corpse in plain sight, probably hoping it would be found sooner rather than later.  Of course William Allen’s discovery was a chance encounter, but the area, as noted in the previous post, and again here, was an inviting place for almost anyone passing by, from walkers and picnickers, and people just wanting to pull off for a few minutes’ rest.

 Also, and perhaps important, on the undershirts found on the corpse, a State Police review of the evidence in the spring and summer of 1977, stated that , “Jute fibers found on garment [handmade shirt from body] corresponding to fibers from burlap bag found near body.”  Now, it is possible, that these fibers came from the bag used to transport the shirts to Highfields.  They may have become stuck to the shirt during the placing and removing of the shirt in the burlap bag that was not the one found at the scene.  But there can be fewer doubts that Keaton and Walsh also knocked off a bone from the skeleton when they placed the shirts inside a bag they took to Highfields.   Bones do not fall off recently dead corpses.

Two final points of interest before leaving the scene where the body was found.  In my last post I talked about Trooper Carmody’s discovery of a crumpled newspaper, the New York Daily News, dated March 1, 1932.  It might be argued that this another instance where reporters wished to create stories, and that the newspaper was placed there after the discovery of the corpse.  That is not very likely, however, because before the press got there, police had established the area as a secure  location within a short time, as I say above, unlike Highfields the night of the crime.  What explains the newspaper?  Was it put there at the time the child’s body was, as it were, moved into position for the next stage of the drama? 

The second point refers to William Bass’s examination of the bones from the foot and hands.  These were, he writes, at or slightly under the maximum length for bones of a child his age.  Whether this finding adds significantly to other post-mortem findings about the child’s fontanel and teeth may be a subject for a future post.

[1]  Initial Teletype of Identification of the Body of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.,  May 12, 1932, from the New Jersey State Police Museum. 
[2]   Keaton and Walsh, “Report Concerning the Finding of the Body of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.,” May 12, 1932, ibid.
[3]   Dolores Raisch, email to author, March 18, 2012.
[4]   Ibid.
[5]   William M. Bass, “Skeletal Material Associated with the Lindbergh Kidnap Case,” American Journal of Human Biology, 3:613-16 (1991), from a copy in the NJSP Museum.