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The Lindbergh Case - Ransom Negotiations

As the investigation into the kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s first child continued, one sticking point was the appointment of an intermediary to facilitate contact between the abductor and the Lindberghs. The abductor informed the Lindberghs that a contact appointed by them would not be acceptable.

John F. Condon, a retired New York principal, volunteered to act as an intermediary, and the abductor and the Lindberghs approved this move. Using a series of newspaper ads addressed to “Jafsie,” a name based on the sound of Condon’s initials JFC, the abductor outlined his terms for payment of the ransom and return of young Charles.

One newspaper ad led Condon to an April 1932 face-to-face meeting with a man calling himself “John.“ John agreed to give the Lindberghs proof that he had their child, which he did furnish later. The sleeping suit young Charles was wearing at the time of his disappearance was mailed to Condon following this meeting.

After several more negotiations, Condon met with John again, and paid him a $50,000 ransom, partly in gold certificates, the serial numbers of which were recorded. In exchange, John gave Condon directions to locate the child, whom he claimed was on a boat near Martha’s Vineyard. Police searched the area, but found neither the boat, said to be named “Nellie,” nor the child.

On May 12, 1932, the badly decomposed body of a small child was found in a field by a delivery driver who had stopped to relieve himself. The body was identified as young Charles, based on a specific deformity of the right foot and the fact that the body was wearing clothing made by the Lindberghs’ nurse. The cause of death was ruled head trauma.

To aid in the investigation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the recall of all gold certificates to the Federal Treasury. Lists of the serial numbers from the ransom money were distributed to banks and other businesses. A bank deposit under a false name in 1933 and various purchases in 1934 made with the ransom money pointed to the abductor’s presence in New York.

A description of the man passing the money was circulated, and on September 15, 1934, a gas station employee noted the license plate number of a similar-looking man who gave him a $10 gold certificate. The man, eventually identified as Bruno Hauptmann from vehicle records, was arrested four days later and charged with extortion and murder.

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