“CONSPIRACY CONFLICT: DID LINDBERGH KILL HIS SON? IS AN OHIO MAN LINDBERGH’S BABY?” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: An elderly Ohio retiree who looks like the famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, wonders about a great-aunt’s allegation that his mother switched her son in 1932 for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby in New Jersey. It’s a far-fetched story – but many believe it might be true due to some amazing circumstances. Plus… given Charles Lindbergh’s stature as an international hero, investigators in 1932 didn’t consider the unthinkable… that Lindbergh may have killed his own son.
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When their firstborn child was kidnapped from their home on March 1st, 1932 and found murdered in the woods two months later, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh were the most famous couple in America, and the case would become the most publicized crime of the 20th century.
Eventually, suspect Bruno Richard Hauptmann was convicted and executed for killing “Baby Charlie”. But this delayed justice did nothing to answer the questions that still surround the death of Lindbergh’s child and confound crime writersand armchair detectives 87 years later.
Beginning before his execution and still lingering today, relentless theories suggesting Hauptmann’s innocence continue to surface. Because up until his capture almost three years after the crime, none of the investigators believed that ONE man could have carried out this audacious crime alone. And even though Hauptmann was convicted, there was never any credible evidence placing him near the Lindbergh property the night the baby was taken.
But until recently, no one ever took a serious look at those who should be the prime suspect when a child is killed…the parents. Did Charles Lindbergh fake the kidnapping of his son – because he murder his own baby?
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
An elderly Ohio retiree who looks like the famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, wonders about a great-aunt’s allegation that his mother switched her son in 1932 for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby in New Jersey. It’s a far-fetched story – but many believe it might be true due to some amazing circumstances.
But first… given Charles Lindbergh’s stature as an international hero, investigators in 1932 didn’t consider the unthinkable… that Lindbergh may have killed his own son. We begin with that story.
While you’re listening, be sure to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can sign up for the newsletter, find transcripts of the episodes, paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, watch old horror movies, find my other podcast – “The Church of the Undead”, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
By the way, Weird Darkness is in the running to be voted “Best Horror and Crime Podcast” by Podcast Magazine – but I need your votes to make that happen! I have a link below in the show notes to take you to the voting page, and you can vote as often as you’d like, so please come back every day and vote again! And thanks in advance for doing so!
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
The investigators, law enforcement, and journalists were all looking the wrong way. For almost nine decades now, everyone examining this crime considered it a “kidnapping“… when they should have been looking for a BABY KILLER! The kind of criminal who would murder a sleeping child in his crib, or kill him soon after the abduction to keep him quiet. A human monster who could smash a 21-month-old child’s skull.
What if there never was a kidnapper? What if this loftiest of high profile crimes was merely just another missing child murdered by his parents? Or in this case, his father.
The circumstantial evidence against Lindbergh in the death of his son is compelling, intricate, frustrating, persistent and mysterious. Just like the man himself. Every biography of Lindbergh treats him like a god, and today he is still revered as a great American hero. But what did he really do to deserve it?
In May 1927, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 33-1/2 hours, becoming the first pilot to accomplish this feat. And with this triumph, he emerged from virtual obscurity to instantaneous world fame, transforming an oddball loner into a beloved public figure.
But did this sudden adulation go to his head? A Lindbergh quote after his historic flight provides some unsettling insight: “There were times in an airplane when it seemed I had escaped mortality to look down on earth like a God.”
It didn’t seem to matter that if he had failed, other pilots would have made the crossing within days. He was just an average bush pilot who beat the competition across the Atlantic for the $25,000 prize. Years later, a friend of his wife was quoted as saying “If he hadn’t made that flight, he’d be running a gas station in Minnesota.”
Lindbergh was now the nation’s most eligible bachelor. Before marrying the middle daughter of Ambassador Dwight Morrow in 1929, he first courted Anne’s older sister Elizabeth, but dumped her for Anne within several months. Also during this time, youngest Morrow sister Constance received a letter threatening to abduct and kill her unless $50,000 was paid and placed in a specially made box in a cemetery….an eerie harbinger of the kidnapper’s ransom demand in 1932. The perpetrator of this earlier threat was never identified.
While seven months pregnant in 1930, Anne flew with Charles for two weeks in an open cockpit at high altitude. Upon returning she was hospitalized for four days, yet when questioned Lindbergh lied about this to the press. After he was born, baby Charlie was immediately put on a special diet. The child had a larger head than normal, and he showed other symptoms indicative of rickets. Rumors that something was seriously wrong with the world’s most famous baby would never subside.
As time ripened his legendary status, Lindbergh’s character flaws were twisted into admirable traits by those who knew him or wrote about him. The cruel behavior he directed at those he disliked or dominated was excused as mere “practical jokes”.
In truth, Charles Lindbergh was a racist, misogynistic man of the times who never took advice from anyone but himself. Eventually, his well-known obsession with order, routine, and privacy would consume his daily life. But where did he draw the line between privacy and secrecy? Because within the last several years, DNA evidence has proven that Lindbergh fathered five out-of-wedlock children born by three different mothers in Germany in the 1950’s.
When looking at the Lindbergh baby murder, it all starts with the prime constraint theory… a circumstance or condition which all facts of the case must be filtered through and clarified by. With Lindbergh, there is ONE fact that EVERY shred of evidence must answer to.
Only Charles, Anne, their three servants, and some servants at the Morrow mansion in Englewood NJ knew that the family would be staying at the Hopewell house on a Tuesday night…and only after Lindbergh decided they would remain there past Sunday for the FIRST time ever.
Lindbergh’s new home, named Highfields, was in an isolated area of the Sourland Mountains near Hopewell NJ. Charles had rented a farmhouse about four miles away from the construction site to oversee the initial phase. In the winter of 1932, the house construction was almost finished, but the grounds were a muddy mess.
The family’s habit was to stay there on the weekend but return to the Morrow mansion on Monday. The last minute decision to stay over at Highfields because of baby Charlie’s cold was unprecedented…a complete break from Lindbergh’s established pattern.
Described by writers as “spacious” and “rambling”, the house is anything but. On my recent tour I was astounded by the narrow hallways, constant closets, and cramped rooms…everything seemed built on a small scale. I can attest that sound travels well through this 14 room/5 bathroom country house. Also, the location was extremely isolated in 1932 and still is today.
Visiting these gaunt rooms and walking the lonely grounds where this primal, ageless mystery was spawned, today any cold case detective would be indelibly struck by a single jarring thought…that THIS crime was an inside job.
Let’s look at the undisputed facts of the case, and see where they lead…
On the night of his son’s abduction, Charles Lindbergh did something completely out of character. I am always suspicious when a suspect takes an action the day of a crime that seems unrelated yet was something they had NEVER done before.
He was a scheduled speaker at the New York University alumni dinner, and Lindbergh never missed an opportunity to be adored and applauded. Yet on this night in question, he blew off this social function without even notifying them. Instead, he drove the two hours back to Highfields, where he arrived around 8:25 PM.
Lindbergh had phoned ahead with strict instructions that no one was to enter the nursery between 8-10PM that night…he didn’t want the child “coddled”. Both Anne and nursemaid Betty Gow were in and out of their respective bathrooms (next to the nursery) during that period, but neither woman heard anything.
Baby Charlie was missing from his crib when Betty checked him at 10 PM. She and Anne both assumed that Lindbergh had removed the child as a practical joke. Yet when confronted with the empty crib, Lindbergh exclaimed, “THEY have stolen our baby!” With his unfounded pronouncement, from that moment on this crime was considered a kidnapping.
A ransom note was eventually found on a nursery windowsill… the kidnapper apparently entered through this window on a broken ladder found nearby. But how could he have backed out onto this rickety ladder through the window while carrying a 35lb child on a windy, rainy night without disturbing anything by the window? And also leaving no muddy footprints on the nursery floor?
Other things didn’t add up. Why did “THEY” enter the house when all five adult residents were awake and moving about, instead of waiting until after midnight?
How did “THEY” know which room was the baby’s nursery, and how did they know which nursery window had the broken shutter lock?
The “Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping” became an instant media sensation. Journalist H.L. Mencken set the bar for hyperbole by calling it “the biggest story since the Resurrection”. Indeed, the mysterious abduction of the premiere American power couple’s first born child would become an international obsession.
With the eyes of the world upon him, Charles Lindbergh immediately took control of the investigation and directed it away from Highfields. He erroneously assumed the New York mafia had stolen his son, and foolishly gave gangster Mickey Rossner a copy of the ransom note to circulate among the underworld, which led to 13 other ransom notes being delivered by mail to Lindbergh.
When J. Edgar Hoover sent two FBI agents to consult on the investigation, Lindbergh angrily sent them away. He had the New Jersey State Police already reporting to him, and he threatened to shoot any officer who didn’t follow his protocol.
In April, Lindbergh and his “liaison,” John Condon delivered $50,000 in gold certificates to an unknown man in a Bronx NY cemetery claiming to represent the kidnap gang.
Despite the pleas of New Jersey and New York investigators, Lindbergh forbade any policemen to stake out the cemetery and follow the suspect, whose directions on where to find the child turned out to be bogus.
Other extortion demands would follow, but on May 12th the body of Charles Lindbergh Jr. was discovered 2.5 miles south of the Lindbergh house and about halfway between Highfields and the farmhouse Lindbergh had rented in Mount Rose. It was clear the baby had been murdered by a blow to the head the night he was taken. The killer showed familiarity with the area, placing the dead child in a shallow grave about 50 feet from the road in a dense woods while in total darkness.
Even though the coroner said he could not identify the mummified remains, Lindbergh said, “I am perfectly satisfied that is my child.” Then he ordered it cremated… an absolutely astounding decision that not only denied his wife the right to bury her child, but also destroyed the most valuable piece of evidence.
On May 23rd, Morrow family maid Violet Sharpe committed suicide rather than face more questioning about possible involvement in the baby’s death. And she WAS one of the handful of people who knew the Lindbergh’s would be staying at the house in Hopewell the night of March 1st.
The case lay dormant for more than two years, even though the investigation was ongoing. They were following the money, as the gold certificates were showing up all along the eastern seaboard. Despite Lindbergh’s objection, the police had allowed bank officials to record the serial numbers from the bills.
On September 17th, 1934, a Lindbergh ransom bill was passed at a gas station in the Bronx. Since it was a gold certificate, which were being recalled by the government, the attendant wrote down the license number on the bill so he wouldn’t get stuck for the $10. It confirmed by the bank’s list and traced back to one Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was arrested the next day.
New York police would find almost $15,000 of the ransom money in Hauptmann’s garage. He claimed to be holding it for his business partner Isador Fisch, who had left for Germany, paid for his ticket with Lindbergh ransom money, and died there in 1933. It was a “fishy” story to be sure, and newspapers judged Hauptmann guilty with blaring headlines celebrating the capture of the “Lindbergh Kidnapper”.
Yet the money was found wrapped in newspapers from September 1934 and not from April 1932 when the ransom drop went down. This supported Hauptmann’s story that he had recently rediscovered the package the now deceased Fisch had left in his care before sailing for Germany. He was astounded to find it contained the money, and since Fisch had owed him $7000 but was beyond repaying it, Hauptmann hid it in the garage and didn’t tell his wife about it.
But his wife did alibi him for the murder. Several witnesses could place Hauptmann two hours away from Hopewell on the night in question, picking her up at the Bronx bakery where she worked. Anna Hauptmann insisted that her husband picked her up every Tuesday night, including March 1st, 1932. And Hauptmann’s work records showed him doing carpentry work in New York City during that day.
Beyond the ransom money, the case against Hauptmann was thin. Unlike the 1932 Schoenfeld profile of the kidnapper as an anti-social loner dissatisfied with his station in life, Hauptmann was happily married with a young son and had many friends among the Bronx German community, including Isador Fisch. But he was a secretive man…an illegal immigrant whose wife didn’t know his first name was Bruno until he was arrested.
At trial, the New Jersey prosecutor pulled out all the stops. Someone had to pay for killing the Lindbergh baby. Handwriting experts claimed Hauptmann wrote the 14 ransom notes while agreeing the one in the nursery was different from the others. Two unsavory and unreliable witnesses placed him near Highfields the day of the crime.
Convoluted “wood evidence” supposedly proved that master carpenter Hauptmann had pulled a single board out of his landlord’s attic to finish the kidnap ladder, rather than just use the wood stored in his garage. And of course, there was the matter of that ransom money…even though the majority of it was still unaccounted for.
Spurious identifications by Condon and Lindbergh won the case, though neither man had identified him before the trial as “Cemetery John.”
Lindbergh’s testimony was highly improbable… he identified a voice he heard calling to Condon from over 70 yards away and three years earlier as that of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.
That turned out to be all the jury needed to convict the German carpenter. Even with the conviction, the logistics of the crime were a mystery. How could Hauptmann have accomplished this incredible scheme alone? Indeed, all communication after the kidnapping stressed that the “gang” was well organized and had been planning the abduction for some time.
After the death sentence was handed down, the Boston Herald pulled no punches. “Hauptmann’s trial was a raucous tragedy… with few exceptions prosecution witnesses either distorted the truth or committed flat-out perjury… the state police had tampered with physical evidence, and in many cases suppressed vital information.”
Most amazingly, Lindbergh had been allowed to sit at the prosecutor’s table for the whole trial, wearing a shoulder holster under his suit coat. From a legal perspective, having the victim’s father in the courtroom for any reason other than his own testimony is strictly forbidden and grounds for appeal.
Not satisfied that justice had been served, New Jersey Governor Harold Hoffman launched his own investigation and focused on one aspect of the crime…the complicity of others. “I do not believe this crime was committed by any one man, and there is ample evidence that the chief witnesses and the prosecution share my belief.” Shortly after Hoffman made this statement, Charles Lindbergh secreted his wife and new son on a freighter to England in the dead of night. Our American hero had left the country.
Hauptmann continued to insist he was innocent. He declined a newspaper offer of $100,000 for his wife if he confessed. And when the Governor offered to commute his death sentence for the same confession, he tearfully told Hoffman he had “nothing to confess”. Some investigators believed he would spill his guts when he was strapped in the electric chair, but Hauptmann remained silent when asked if he had any final words.
The fascination with this crime endures almost nine decades later. Even though a man was convicted and executed, the police, prosecution, and press were never able to reveal precisely who the kidnapper was and what preparations and methods he, or they, employed.
All the evidence BEFORE Hauptmann’s capture indicated a well-prepared gang was involved…at least in the NY extortion case. Yet all the evidence at the crime scene in Hopewell suggested that the removal of the child could have been an inside job.
People can lie… but behavior never lies. And if demeanor is everything, why would America’s hero act this way after his son went missing?
Lindbergh left instructions that his son was to be put to bed at 8 PM, and that no one should disturb him or enter the nursery until 10 PM. And baby Charlie was kidnapped during that time frame.
- Lindbergh was scheduled to attend the NYU alumni dinner, yet he didn’t show or call to cancel. Despite his renowned reliability, he blew off a commitment on the night his son was taken.
- He told Anne he heard the sound of wood snapping from outside, yet Anne and the three servants said later they heard nothing that night, and the normally alert family watchdog Wagoosh did not bark.
- When Betty Gow found the empty crib at 10 PM, both she and Anne assumed Lindbergh had taken the child as a practical joke, as he had done several weeks before by hiding him in a closet.
- When Lindbergh saw the empty crib he announced. “Anne, they have stolen our baby!” Even before searching the house for the toddler, Lindbergh planted the seed that his son had been kidnapped.
- Anne and the servants searched the house, starting in the nursery, and none of them saw the ransom note on the window sill. Yet Lindbergh discovered it after returning to the nursery alone.
- Handwriting experts would later agree that THIS FIRST note was different from the other 13 ransom notes, suggesting it was written under duress and an attempt was made to disguise the writing.
- Lindbergh put himself in charge of the investigation, insisting that the NJ State Police turn over all their information to him. At one point he threatened to shoot any officer who violated this order.
- When Hoover sent two FBI agents to assist with the investigation, Lindbergh turned them away, refusing help from the one agency whose experience and training gave them the best chance of returning his son.
- Lindbergh shunned the FBI yet invited numerous cranks, tipsters, mediums, and gangsters to help while blocking every logical police procedure which might have yielded useful information.
- Lindbergh replaced solid investigative procedure with his amateur methods, obscuring the trail, creating false leads away from Hopewell, and taking actions designed to create deceptive clues.
- Lindbergh rejected an NYPD plan to stake out the ransom drop at the cemetery.
Lindbergh tried to explain this behavior away by saying he did not want to jeopardize the safe return of his son. Yet the child was never threatened in any of the ransom notes…most likely because the extortionists never possessed the child to begin with.
Many smaller strands are also suspicious. Why did Lindbergh call to say he would be “late”, and then strangely honk his horn when he arrived home at 8:25 PM? Why did he forget to bring Charlie’s other dog that always slept under the crib? Why did he call Betty Gow to the nursery to see the note, send her downstairs for a knife, and then refuse to open the note until the State Police arrived? Wouldn’t an anxious father rip the note open? Why did he suddenly take his family to live in Europe “for their safety” right when Governor Hoffman re-opened the investigation? Why not just take them right after the kidnapping?
And WHY on earth did Lindbergh order his son to be cremated immediately after HE made the identification? Not only was the child’s body important evidence, but Lindbergh never stopped to consider if Anne might like a Christian burial for her son.
Bruno Hauptmann may have been “Cemetery John”, but more likely got the second hand “hot money” from Isador Fisch, who was known to traffic in illegal currency. And in 1933 gold certificates could be bought for 25 cents on the dollar, an excellent margin for a sleazy speculator like Fisch.
But there is no CREDIBLE evidence to place Hauptmann at the Lindbergh estate that night, and his work records and wife’s testimony place him in the Bronx all that day. There is nothing to suggest that HE could kill a baby.
The truth of this seminal crime resides with the handful of people who knew the Lindbergh family would be staying at Highfields on a Tuesday night…for the first time EVER.
Morrow servant Violet Sharpe killed herself rather than face more questioning…did she tell the wrong person about the family’s last minute change of plans?
Nursemaid Betty Gow, one of five people at the crime scene, had a shifty boyfriend who was aware of the baby’s location that night. And Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s older sister Elizabeth was at the Hopewell house over the weekend…did she kill the child in a delayed fit of jealousy over Lindbergh jilting her for the younger sister?
Charles Lindbergh, deathly afraid of scandal, would have covered up any of these scenarios with a fake kidnapping.
Or was baby Charlie murdered for a more sinister reason? Rumors about the mental and physical health of the child flourished even before the “kidnapping”, and it’s interesting to note that press pictures after the crime were all of Charlie at age one or younger…there were no photos showing the child at 21 months.
Lastly, did Lindbergh accidentally kill his child during a prank that went awry? He had hidden the child in a closet three weeks previously, making the servants search for hours before revealing the “joke”. And daredevil Lindbergh, a former stunt pilot, and wing walker, would have thought nothing about using a rickety ladder to gain entrance to his own home to remove his child.
If the ladder broke on the descent and his son was killed, Lindbergh would never have come clean that he was to blame. And the location in the woods where the body was found reeks of Charles Lindbergh, who knew that road like the back of his hand and would have no problem hiding his son’s body in the dark.
A Lindbergh quote from the Spirit of St. Louis glimmers for this writer: “The important thing is to start; to lay a plan and then follow it step by step no matter how small or large each one by itself may seem.” IF he accidentally killed his own son, Charles Lindbergh had the temperament and acumen to quickly formulate a coverup and carry it out to the letter. Even if it meant sending an innocent man to the electric chair.
Did Anne eventually have doubts about a husband who later fathered five illegitimate children in Germany? A husband who was known for playing cruel pranks, the perpetual practical joker who NEVER committed another one after the death of his son.
In her last televised interview in 1992, Anna Hauptmann made a personal appeal to Anne Lindbergh to “reveal the truth about this matter”. “I’m waiting for the truth to come out. When it does, I will die the next day in peace.” And just hours before his execution, Bruno Richard Hauptmann sustained his innocence and spawned the doubt that still survives today: “You think when I die it will be like a book I close. But the book, it will never close…”
An elderly Ohio retiree who looks like the famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, wonders about a great-aunt’s allegation that his mother switched her son in 1932 for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby in New Jersey. It’s a far-fetched story – but many believe it might be true due to some amazing circumstances. That story is up next.
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Robert Dolfen’s story is so fantastic that sometimes he doesn’t seem to believe it himself.
But then he remembers the unusual circumstances, the compelling testimonies, the amazing coincidences.
And he begins to suspect that the improbable could be true.
The Norton, Ohio, man has always maintained silence about his family’s secret. His friends don’t know. Nor do his neighbors. Nor do other retirees from PPG Industries.
“You don’t run around telling people, ‘I was the Lindbergh baby back in 1936,’ ” Dolfen explains.
Yes, that Lindbergh baby–Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the kidnapped son of aviator Charles Lindbergh and author Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
History books record that the 20-month-old baby was stolen from his crib March 1, 1932, from the second-story nursery of the Lindberghs’ home near Hopewell, N.J.
Although the Lindberghs paid a $50,000 ransom, the toddler’s body was discovered May 12 of that year in a wooded area only a few miles from the family home.
Or was it?
Some began to have doubts when 4-year-old Bobby Dolfen was thrown into the international spotlight in January 1936.
Summit County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents found themselves investigating a wild rumor that the Akron youth was really the Lindbergh boy. Bobby’s great-aunt on his father’s side, a 60-year-old Barberton, Ohio, woman, contacted Akron private detective John I. Silverstein, who took her story to local authorities. She told Silverstein that the boy’s mother, Glendora “Dorry” Dolfen, was involved in a 1932 conspiracy to exchange her sickly son, not yet 7 months old at the time of the kidnapping, for the Lindbergh boy.
Dorry was unable to defend herself against the claim, having died in December 1934 of complications from childbirth.
Officers scoffed at the allegation but dutifully checked it out. When witnesses began to corroborate the far-fetched tale, the story took on a life of its own.
Bobby was living with his aunt and uncle, Thelma and Clifford Miller, when a caravan of deputies, newspaper reporters and photographers arrived unannounced at their home on Oakwood Drive in Ellet, Ohio.
“I can remember when the detectives come up in Ellet . . . guys in suits and topcoats,” Dolfen says. “I was out in the back playing.”
Officers did a double take when they spotted the youth. He really did fit the Lindbergh boy’s description: blue eyes, curly blond hair, dimpled chin.
In a bizarre coincidence, the boy was wearing an aviator’s helmet and goggles–just like what Charles Lindbergh wore on the first solo flight across the Atlantic.
“There was a guy with a big camera come around there and he took a big flash,” Dolfen recalls. “Well, that scares the hell out of you when you see a big flash in the daylight. I didn’t know what was going on.
“My aunt come out and asked them what was going on and then she took me in the house.”
Akron’s media circus had begun. Local newspapers published photos and articles about “Lindy’s double.” The news spread to the Associated Press and United Press International, which transmitted stories to newspapers around the world.
“The pictures of this Ohio youngster Robert Dolfen, they call him, so resemble Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh that I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that that boy is the Lindbergh baby,” Chicago housewife Marie A. Marten wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, after spotting a Chicago newspaper article. “The lips, the mouth, the nose, the shape of the cheek and the chin . . . I think that child should be investigated further.”
Reporters camped out at the tiny home in Ellet.
“They stayed there day and night,” Dolfen says. “They kept walking around the house, trying to get a peek in there and take more pictures.”
Aunt Thelma told the officers that there had been a mistake: The boy was her nephew Bobby, not the Lindbergh baby. She stayed awake at night with a shotgun in her lap, fearing that someone might try to break in and kidnap the child.
“There probably is only one chance in a million that Robert Dolfen might be the missing Lindbergh baby,” Summit Sheriff James Flower told the Akron Times-Press. “But that one chance must be checked out.”
Bobby was taken to the Akron police station to have ink fingerprints and footprints made. When the boy took off his shoes, it was noted that he had an overlapping toe on his right foot–just as the Lindbergh baby had.
“I gave ’em hell when they got my feet all dirty with those footprints,” Dolfen says. “It took a while to come off.”
Digging in the Garden State
Meanwhile, details emerged that backed up the great-aunt’s conspiracy theory. Detectives learned that Dorry Dolfen, a New Jersey native, had taken her son Bobby to the Garden State only days before the Lindbergh kidnapping. She said she was going to visit a sick uncle.
When she returned two weeks later, a handful of witnesses would later tell police and reporters, she was carrying a large wad of money, which was unusual during the Depression, and her son didn’t look the same.
Ira Myer, an Akron auto mechanic, reportedly told detectives in 1936 that he had driven “the real Bobby” to Children’s Hospital in early 1932, about a month before the kidnapping, for a hernia operation.
“The baby was very ill at the time and lay limp in my arms when I took him into the hospital,” Myer told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1936.
He didn’t see Dorry again until she returned from New Jersey soon after the Lindbergh baby was taken. He stopped by the Dolfen house one day and she offered to reimburse him for the gas he used driving her around town.
“She took out a roll of bills and gave me some,” Myer said. “Then she said, ‘Have you seen Bobby?’ I looked at the child and was amazed to see that the child was a third larger than the other Bobby had been. Also, he had curly hair where the original Bobby had had one little tuft of straight hair . . .
“I took one look at the child and I said ‘Why, that’s not Bobby, Dorry.’ I’ll never forget how she stood there a minute, thinking, and then she suddenly admitted it. ‘No, you’re right,’ she said. ‘That’s not Bobby.’ She didn’t say any more and I didn’t press her. I figured her own baby had died, though I had never seen the death notice, and that she had adopted a child. I never thought of the Lindbergh child at that time.”
Esther Ebert, who had worked for the Dolfens, gave the newspaper a similar account:
“I was there when they took Bobby to the hospital. Mrs. Dolfen then told me that she was going to New Jersey to see a sick uncle. When she returned in about two weeks, I was called back to the house. There was a child there but it was not Bobby. I said to her: ‘Why, Mrs. Dolfen, that is not Bobby.’ ‘Oh, yes it is,’ she said, ‘Only they fed him up at the hospital and he got bigger and his hair got curly.’ ”
Strangest of all, Bobby’s father began to have doubts.
“I was summoned home from a trip I made to St. Louis when my child was a baby,” Andrew Dolfen, an Akron bus driver, was quoted as telling police. “They informed me my son was very ill. When I arrived home, I found a perfectly healthy child who didn’t resemble my baby at all.
“I said to my wife at that time, ‘This is not our child. Our child did not have curly hair.’ Later, I noticed that my wife had plenty of money. I saw $600 in $20 bills in her possession at one time. She could not seem to explain to me where she got it. Off and on, I would say to her ‘This is not our boy.’ ”
According to newspaper accounts (the police records are lost), Bobby’s great-aunt told detectives that Dorry Dolfen knew Violet Sharpe, a maid who worked for Anne Lindbergh’s mother, Elizabeth Morrow, at her Englewood, N.J., estate.
During the kidnapping investigation, police suspected that Sharpe might know more about the crime than she was telling. They grilled her repeatedly, wanting to know her whereabouts during the kidnapping.
In a shocking development, Sharpe committed suicide on June 10, 1932, rather than face a fifth round of police interrogation. Conspiracy theorists believe the suicide proves that Sharpe played a role in the kidnapping, but skeptics say the maid killed herself to avoid having to reveal she had been cheating on her fiance.
Bronx carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal immigrant from Germany, was charged with the murder in September 1934 after passing some marked ransom money in New York. Officers searched his home and found $13,760 in ransom bills hidden in his garage.
Hauptmann told officers that the money belonged to his business partner, Isidor Fisch, who had died a few months earlier. He said he spent some of it because Fisch owed him $7,000.
Bobby’s great-aunt told investigators a bizarre tale: that Fisch had visited Akron in the early 1930s and was in league with a Barberton gang that had planned the Lindbergh kidnapping. A body of a child was dug up from a cemetery by this gang for authorities to find in place of the Lindbergh baby. They took off the child’s sleeping garments and put them on the body, then gave the Lindbergh child to Dorry, who returned from her New Jersey trip with a new baby.
“Bruno Richard Hauptmann has nothing to do with the kidnapping of the Lindbergh child,” the great-aunt told police. “They planted the money on him one time when he and his wife were away.” Pressed on how she knew all this, she shut down, saying she was afraid for her life.
Hauptmann was convicted of murder on Feb. 13, 1935, in a circuslike proceeding that became known as “The Trial of the Century.” Although circumstantial, the evidence was compelling:
The ransom money was hidden in Hauptmann’s garage.
Handwriting experts agreed he wrote the ransom notes.
Wood from a homemade ladder used in the kidnapping was traced to a Bronx lumberyard near the carpenter’s home.
Telltale marks on the ladder matched Hauptmann’s tools.
Finally, a board used to make the ladder had been sawed out of Hauptmann’s attic floor, experts testified.
Hauptmann went to the electric chair April 3, 1936, proclaiming his innocence. He refused to confess to the crime, even when the New Jersey governor offered to change the death sentence to life in prison.
Skeptics speculating on motives have wondered if Bobby Dolfen’s great-aunt knew Hauptmann and was trying to save Hauptmann from execution by inventing the baby-switch story. Whatever the case, the tale began to unravel.
It was learned that the great-aunt had been committed to Massillon State Hospital in 1924 because of “hallucinations that her family was persecuting her.”
Andrew Dolfen, who earlier said he doubted his son’s identity, disputed the quotes attributed to him in earlier statements. He told the Akron Times-Press: “All I said was that he didn’t look very sick after the operation. I never said he didn’t look like the same child.”
The Bobby Dolfen investigation screeched to a halt when Akron officials heard from Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the New Jersey State Police and father of the future Gulf War general.
Schwarzkopf said Bobby’s fingerprints had been compared to prints taken from one of the Lindbergh baby’s toys. They didn’t match.
And that was that.
Well, not exactly.
More than 60 years later, an Akron journalist tracked down Robert Dolfen in Norton after rediscovering 1936 files about the baby-switch allegations.
For the first time, Dolfen decided to talk about the case that has haunted him all his life.
You see, Dolfen still has doubts about his identity.
And he’s been thinking a lot lately about exhuming his mother’s body at Old Tallmadge Cemetery to do a DNA test.
He wants to know for sure.
Over the years, dozens of people have claimed to be the Lindbergh baby. One man, who recovered “memories” of being carried out of the Lindbergh nursery through hypnosis, legally changed his name to Charles A. Lindbergh III. Many of the tales have been at least as outrageous, including that of a black woman from Oklahoma who said she was Charles Lindbergh Jr. until someone changed her sex and dyed her skin.
As far as Robert Dolfen knows, he’s really Robert Dolfen. He’s the guy who worked for 41 years at PPG and spent seven years in the National Guard. He’s the guy who graduated from Norton High School in 1950. And he’s the guy who was born to Andrew and Dorry Dolfen on Aug. 24, 1931–13 months after Charles Lindbergh Jr.
“You only know what you’ve been told, and what I’ve been told is I’m me,” he says. “I don’t have anything to dispute that. But you wonder.”
He keeps thinking about the family legends: His mother knowing the maid who committed suicide. Bobby Dolfen being in New Jersey the week of the kidnapping. The small fortune his mother brought back from her trip. The neighbors saying the boy was someone else.
“You know, the more you run onto, it puts maybe a little more doubt in your mind,” he says.
The Family Secret
It would be easier to dismiss the baby-switch theory if Dolfen didn’t so resemble Charles Lindbergh. Photos of the American icon, who died in 1974, bear an eerie likeness to Dolfen: the receding hairline, the piercing eyes, the wide nose, the prominent ears.
Dolfen is friendly, soft-spoken and intelligent. He has a dry sense of humor and a warm smile. In adulthood, Dolfen provided for his family what he never had as a child: a stable home.
He and his wife, Betty, have three children: Norton school board member Cindy Webel, University of Akron employee Denise Montanari and Bank One worker Bob Dolfen.
All are self-taught experts on the Lindbergh kidnapping case. The Dolfens didn’t tell their children about the family legend until 1972, when fourth-grader Denise brought home a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh from the Norton library.
“When we came home, my dad saw it and he sat my sister and I down–I think my brother was too young at the time–and explained it to us,” she says.
Her parents showed them the old news clippings and photos.
“And they told us we weren’t allowed to tell anybody,” Montanari says. “We haven’t told anybody for years.”
The family has spent years of quiet research on the kidnapping. They know just about every conspiracy theory associated with the crime and can name every prominent figure connected with the case.
And despite evidence that most historians consider definitive, they maintain room to doubt. For instance: What if the dead infant found in 1932 wasn’t really Charles Lindbergh Jr.? What if it was Bobby Dolfen? “The garments could’ve been switched,” Robert Dolfen speculates. “The baby that was found had a soft spot,” or fontanel, in its skull and “the Lindbergh baby wouldn’t have had a soft spot. But then it was cremated and they really never had a regular autopsy on it.”
Cindy Webel says, “I don’t think it’s the Lindbergh baby because of that 1-inch soft spot,” she says. “A 20-month-old baby could not possibly have a soft spot. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s not the Lindbergh baby.”
Betty Dolfen adds: “The Dolfen baby was smaller than the Lindbergh baby. When Bobby came back from New Jersey, he was bigger.”
What about the fingerprint evidence that ruled out Bobby Dolfen in 1936?
“There’s a doubt there,” Dolfen says. The latent prints on the toy “could’ve been any baby–not the Dolfen baby, but some other baby that was in the house that had a hold of the toys . . . If you didn’t see who put ’em on there, you don’t know whose they are.”
What about Bruno Hauptmann? Did he kidnap the Lindbergh baby?
“He was probably connected,” Dolfen says. “Maybe he had something to do with it.”
A Doubter’s Brief
Author Russell Aiuto, a retired educator who served as president of Ohio’s Hiram College from 1985 to 1988, is a Lindbergh buff who has “read almost everything published” about the case.
Contacted at his Maryland home, Aiuto offers a few theories of his own.
“I don’t put much stock in the idea that the Lindbergh baby survived into adulthood, or for that matter, that the corpse in the woods wasn’t Charles A. Lindbergh Jr.,” he says.
Conspiracy theories about the body not being the Lindbergh baby seem to originate from two sources, Aiuto says.
“The first was the confusion about the corpse’s length,” he says. “It was measured as 33 inches, but the original fliers about the baby’s disappearance said 29 inches. Of course, 2 feet 9 inches is 33 inches, and the measurement on the flier was a misdescription.
“The other issue is that the corpse had a 1-inch-in-diameter fontanel that usually disappears at one year of age. The Lindbergh baby was 20 months old. While this may be uncommon, it is also uncommon for a 1-year-old to be 33 inches tall.”
Furthermore, Aiuto points out, the body was identified by two people who should have been able to recognize it.
“Despite the condition of the body and the sloppy autopsy, both Lindbergh and Betty Gow, the nurse, identified the body, not only by the curiously bent toes but by the shreds of clothing as well,” he says. “If it is a conspiracy, it had to include those two as co-conspirators. I think that is unlikely.”
Former FBI agent Jim Fisher, a criminal justice professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, has written two books on the subject: “The Lindbergh Case” (1987) and “The Ghosts of Hopewell” (1999).
“There’s this whole sort of subculture of Lindbergh case buffs,” Fisher says. “There’s enough mystery in the case that you can sink your teeth into it. Nobody, myself included, has all the answers to the case. And there are mysteries and loose ends, as there are in all cases of complexity.”
However, Fisher is “absolutely convinced” that the body found in 1932 was the Lindbergh baby. “All the evidence that I’m aware of–and it’s considerable–establishes the identity,” he says.
Still, he declines to rule out completely that the body could belong to someone else.
“I wouldn’t say anything is impossible until the DNA would straighten it out,” he says.
DNA testing would be the best way for Dolfen to prove he’s really a Dolfen. That’s why he’s been thinking lately about his mother’s unmarked grave in Tallmadge.
“I don’t like that idea of digging anybody up,” Dolfen says.
“We’re pushing it,” Webel says. “You just want to know one way or the other.”
Betty Dolfen says, “We just want to know, is he or isn’t he?”
It would cost thousands of dollars to exhume the body and test the DNA. Even so, Dolfen was asking his family doctor about the idea recently.
“He says there’s a lot to that,” Dolfen says. “It ain’t like taking a swab of spit.”
There is another option, although it might be difficult persuading New Jersey officials to act. A lock of the Lindbergh baby’s hair is on exhibit at the New Jersey State Police Museum in West Trenton, along with Hauptmann trial evidence including the kidnapping ladder and ransom notes.
Museum curator Mark Falzini says microscopic analysis shows that the Lindbergh hair matches hair found at the wooded area where the body was discovered. The color, texture and cellular arrangement are the same.
However, the DNA has never been tested, Falzini says, and there are no plans to do so.
A Quest for Truth
Robert Dolfen says he only wants the truth. He isn’t looking for fame. He doesn’t want to be on “Oprah.”
“If you find out for sure, okay, and if you don’t, hell, I’m about done anyhow so it ain’t gonna make that much difference to me,” he says.
“We’re not after any money or nothing,” Betty Dolfen says. “We just want to know.”
And what if the improbable tale somehow became true? What if all the history books had to be rewritten?
“Life would change–as I know it–dramatically,” Dolfen says. “You could probably never surmise what the change would be. It would be so much.”
One thing is for certain: The news media would be camped outside the Dolfen home again–just like in 1936.
Truthfully, Robert Dolfen likes being Robert Dolfen. It’s what he knows best.
Would he really want his life to change so dramatically at this point? Would he really want to be plastered across every newspaper and magazine, beamed by satellite to every television set?
“No,” Dolfen says after a moment of thought. “Not that much.”
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Be sure to join me for a new sermon every Sunday at my other podcast, “The Church of the Undead”, also found at WeirdDarkness.com. Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“The Lindbergh Maybe” by Mark Price
“The Murder of Baby Charlie” by JT Townsend
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If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” — Psalm 105:4
And a final thought… “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.