Friday, March 9, 2012

Hide in Plain Sight

But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and discriminating ingenuity of D——; upon the fact that the document must always have been at hand, if he intended to use it to good purpose; and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was not hidden within the limits of that dignitary’s ordinary search — the more satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at all.

Edgar Allen Poe, The Purloined Letter

The concept of “hide in plain sight” has usually been associated with Edgar Allen Poe’s 1844 story, “The Purloined Letter.”  Poe introduced in a series of short stories a “detective,” C. Auguste Dupin who lived in Paris, and was a precursor to the unjustly (?) more famous Londoner, Sherlock Holmes.  In the Purloined Letter a blackmailer deceives the police by not attempting to hide the incriminating letter in a secret niche, but in plain sight on his desk in an ordinary position among other envelopes.  The key deduction by Dupin was that the blackmailer needed to have ready access to his potential means of reward in order to be powerful.  Was that the situation in the Lindbergh Crime?  When the corpse of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., was found on May 12, 1932, there were outcries that the police had not carried out a search near the environs of Highfields.  The New York Times reported that “rural neighbors” of Lindbergh had complained that was the case, and also that Governor A. Harry Moore was under pressure to fire Col. Schwarrzkopf, commander o f the State Police.  What can we learn about the discovery of the corpse that would have any bearing on these questions?

A photo taken on May 13, 1932, the day after the child’s corpse was found displays an aerial view of the scene.  The road is crowded with cars and an enterprising person has set up a hotdog stand across the road.  If you look closely at this picture it is apparent that the police have already stationed guards to keep people from actually tramping across the grass to the point where the body was found. Looked at closely, the photo reveals the existence of a fence on both sides of the road apparently around a dry creek bed.  Another ground level photo taken around the same time confirms the existence of the fence on that side of the road where the body was found.  The site is less than two miles from Hopewell, and the fence and the absence of tall undergrowth would draw attention to the area.   A police report and accompanying map (see below) gives a good impression of the area as well, and confirms how manageable the site would seem to be for someone in a hurry to dispose of the body.  Moreover, the original reports that  the body was found 75 yards off the road were not true; it was a scant 45 feet off the road.

Now look closely again at the photo posted here and you will be able to see two troopers standing near a small tree.  That apparently marks the actual site – or close to it.  Note how much the grass is beaten down or absent, and also note how at this point in the road a wide space exists between the road and the trees that would make it easy to pull over and take the body but a few feet to a wooded area.  There appear to be tracks shown in the aerial photo suggesting cars that have pulled off and back onto the road – although that is not entirely clear.

A few thoughts emerge from this photo.  It appears to be a very easy location for dumping the child, with quick access to a “hiding” place.  But second, and for that same reason, a place that should have been searched immediately after the kidnaping. 

It has never been entirely clear how thorough the searches were.  On April 7, 1932, Col. Schwarzkopf of the State Police wrote in an untitled memorandum that a log had been kept of all the searches, and which included this assertion, “ a re-check of all the surrounding area was made by experienced detectives in a minute search of the territory for a radius of at least five miles.” (italics added).

The location where the child was found was less than two miles from Hopewell. Many rumors surfaced then and later that the child had been moved to that location from another place.  The body had sunk into the ground for a few inches, but Captain Harry Walsh testified that it was not possible to tell if the body had been there from the beginning, or had been placed there sometime afterwards.  Arguments can be made either way.  A kidnaper might well have become fearful after leaving Highfields and  decided to dump the body as soon as possible.  On the other hand, the likelihood of an early discovery in such a prominent place could have cut short ransom negotiations.  Having placed the child’s body so close to the road, moreover, why did “Cemetery John” risk two meetings – one that lasted an hour, the second that sent Jafsie back to Lindbergh’s car to get the money?  Did the kidnaper have reason to feel sure the body had not been discovered?  The discovery of the body goes down with the thumb-guard mystery as yet another unexplained “clue” in the Lindbergh Case.

(Thanks to Jim Davidson and Mark Falzini for the photograph, and our geography lesson.  The photo will appear in their forthcoming book, Arcadia Press book, "Images of America: New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial".)


Here is the police report and map.  Note the discovery of a piece of newspaper dated March 1, 1932.  Was this left by accident, or on purpose to help with identification?