Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. January’s post comes from Center archivist Kris Wilhelm.
Mystery! Drama! Wealth! Fame! The Lindbergh baby kidnapping had it all. Newspapers called it the “Crime of the Century.” Telegraph wires hummed with the latest on the tragic abduction of the infant son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the heartbreaking discovery of the tot’s body more than two months later, and then the grizzly electrocution of the convicted murderer, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, in 1935.
The fiendish (and apparently chatty) kidnapper wrote 13 ransom notes. The President put all the investigative might of the Feds at the disposal of the cops - even the wood in the ladder that reached the nursery window was analyzed by the Forest Service (which they eventually figured out was made from Hauptmann’s attic floor)! The villain leaving all those ransom notes had the Boys in Blue stumped. That’s why my favorite document in the Center for Legislative Archives is the broadside listing the serial numbers on the ransom money. Those tiny serial numbers played a huge role in nabbing Hauptmann. Once those broadsides rolled off the Government Printing Offices’ presses, eagle-eyed cashiers and gas station attendants all over America were hot on the trail of the bills that led right to Hauptmann’s garage where the loot was discovered!
Hauptmann’s trial, which started 77 years ago today, grabbed the world’s attention. Even the witness chair in the court house was wired to the floor to foil willy souvenir hunters! See what I mean? Everything about this story begged for exclamation points!
Broadside of serial numbers, RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Governments, T18.2: L64. Publications of the Government Printing Office, a legislative branch agency, are in the custody of the Center for Legislative Archives.