Thirty years ago, while on holiday in Cape Cod, I bought a second-hand copy of The Airman and the Carpenter (1985), Ludovic Kennedy’s account of the kidnapping in 1932 of the aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby son from the family home in New Jersey and the framing of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant who worked as a carpenter, for the crime. I read it enthralled. It is still on my shelves and a pretty thorough dismantling of the case against Hauptmann it is too.
But what has always intrigued me is the small pile of cuttings about the case, taken from recent American newspapers and magazines, that had been scrupulously tucked into the dust jacket by the previous owner. Fifty years after the crime, despite Kennedy’s research, the writers of these articles were still defensive, insisting that there were mountains of evidence against Hauptmann and taking issue with Kennedy’s outrage at the miscarriage of justice that had led the German to the electric chair in 1936: ‘offensive, presumptuous … almost enough to hope that Hauptmann may have been guilty after all’, wrote Peter Prescott in Newsweek. Kennedy clearly had a nerve delving into the USA’s crime of the century and challenging its conclusion.
Richard Ingrams, in his study of his friend Ludo’s long campaigns against miscarriages of justice, says that the American response depressed Kennedy. He later wrote, ‘The reluctance of Americans ever to admit error … would seem to stem from the macho image they have of themselves … When