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Cols. Lindbergh And Mustard
Want to write about a famous crime? Why not start out by totally ignoring character and motive?
April 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 2
These books go beyond the mere righting of purported old wrongs to commit new and wildly irresponsible wrongs of their own.
Noel Behn’s book Lindbergh: The Crime (Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press) has an equally ludicrous thesis, but since it is better written, published by a well-known New York firm, and comes with blurbs from four well-known journalists—Peter Maas, Gay Talese, Pete Hamill, and A. E. Hotchner (who should all know better)—it is more insidious. Behn claims to believe—I say “claims” because it is hard to credit that anyone could seriously believe it—that the baby was actually murdered three days before the world learned of the supposed kidnapping in a fit of mad envy by Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s older sister, Elisabeth, and that when the tragedy was discovered, the Lindberghs decided that rather than have the guilty woman arrested and risk a family scandal, they would enter an elaborate conspiracy to cover everything up, a wonderfully ironclad cabal that eventually included Charles and Anne Eindbergh, all the Eindbergh servants and some of the Morrow staff, Henry C. Breckinridge, the former Assistant Secretary of War who was the Lindberghs’ attorney, and William J. Donovan (who would one day run the Office of Strategic Services). According to Behn, Eindbergh himself saw to it that the first ransom note was written, ordered the child’s room wiped down to eliminate fingerprints, presumably dumped the corpse of his only child in the woods, then banged together a ladder and stomped around the muddy grounds to leave a false trail for the state police to find.
Where did Behn get this notion? From a ninety-three-year-old attorney named Harry Green, he says, who once worked for the New Jersey governor Harold Hoffmann. Two of the Morrow servants swore affidavits attesting to it shortly before Hauptmann’s execution, Behn claims he was told.
Just how had Elisabeth Morrow killed the baby?
Well, Green couldn’t remember.
Where are all the important affidavits now?
Thrown away by a janitor because they were water-damaged.
Any other “evidence"?
None—and Green has died since Behn says he interviewed him.
So far as anyone knows, Elisabeth Morrow was not even present at the Lindberghs’ estate on the day in question. Nor, though both sisters were smitten by Lindbergh when they first met him, is there any indication that Elisabeth was seriously envious when her younger sister won his heart or bore his child. Meanwhile, scattered through the first three volumes of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s published letters and diaries, there is ample documentation of the sisters’ deep affection for each other: when Elisabeth Morrow died of pneumonia at the age of thirty after a long series of crippling heart attacks, her grieving sister wrote that “life wasn’t going to be worth much without her, as the world would be without sun or fire”—hardly the sentiments of a mother writing about someone who she knew had slaughtered her child. Nor, I think, could any reasonable person reading Mrs. Lindbergh’s heartbreaking letters and diary excerpts after her child’s disappearance and death entertain for a moment Behn’s bizarre suggestion that they represent merely an after-the-fact attempt to “keep the fib intact, to make sure the record supports her husband’s scenario and there are no slip-ups that could point to her sister.”
It is impossible to demonstrate conclusively that Behn or the two New Hampshire sleuths are wrong, of course. Negatives always defy proof. But I would like to offer one more bit of suggestive evidence for the other side. In 1989 I wrote a film called “Lindbergh” for The American Experience series on PBS. The producer, Stephen W. Ives, was fortunate enough to get an on-screen interview with Mrs. Lindbergh. Our subject was the life and personality of her late husband, we assured her; we weren’t interested in probing into the painful business of her baby’s death. But Mrs. Lindbergh herself brought up the subject while trying to explain the stoicism with which her husband had always managed to put difficult things behind him. Men and women differed in the way they reacted to tragedy, she said; her husband “had to escape” after the baby’s death, she said. “He went flying and went on with his work.” She paused for a moment. “But I couldn’t take it in one draft at all. And I still can’t. I mean, when I draw the curtains at night I think, ‘It’s good to draw the curtains. Somebody must have known we were in the house.’ These things come back to you.”
Then she stopped, gestured helplessly with her hand, and sat quiet for a time, apparently lost in her memories of what cruel strangers had done to her and her family nearly six decades earlier. Mrs. Lindbergh is said to be in failing health now and no longer gives interviews. One can only hope the cruelty committed by these latest intruders into her life has been kept from her.