‘The Lindbergh Case’
A colloquially written excerpt-driven book review for the cast and artistic team.
The following are my personal thoughts upon reading The Lindbergh Case by Jim Fisher as well as a lot of quote material from the text. This is to provide the company and theater community with interesting and relevant content related to our production of Violet Sharp. Please read the following excerpts– though long, not as long as the nearly 500 page text.
This book is the main secondary source that the playwright used in the writing of Violet Sharp; moreover, the author of the book, Jim Fisher, is a former Edinboro University of PA criminology professor (PASSHE sister school), cold-case investigator, and FBI agent (as well as a well-respected author).
If you are interested in a specific character, location, etc. please let me know and I can probably pull the information for you very quickly. If something doesn’t make sense on here, please let me know so I can clarify it for you.
“The second major television documentary on the Lindbergh case, produced by New Jersey Network, and featuring narrator Edwin Newman, old film clips, and just about everybody who has ever had the slightest brush with the case, was aired in New Jersey in March of 1989. The producers of Reliving the Lindbergh Case had the opportunity, and perhaps the obligation, to make an honest attempt to present an accurate historical account of the crime” (Fisher, xvii).
Similar to our play/bad sources that shouldn’t be used:
“Fiction writers occasionally use celebrated crimes as a basis for their novels. Agatha Christie, for example, used the Lindbergh kidnapping as a plot device in 1934 mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. In 1991, Max Allan Collins published a book called Stolen Away: A Novel of the Lindbergh Kidnapping. Collins mixes historical happenings and real people with characters, dialogue, and events he has made up. His narrator-protagonist, a salty private eye named Nate Heller, has an affair with Evalyn McLean, gets his pal Colonel Lindbergh to admit privately that he lied under oath when he identified Hauptmann’s voice in the cemetery, repeatedly makes a fool out of Colonel Schwarzkopf, ridicules Hoover’s FBI agents as a bunch of law school flunkies, and proves that Al Capone was the brains behind the kidnapping” (Fisher, xvii).
- Many other similar sources have bad information on the internet. Even many pictures of Violet that you can Google to find are not actually pictures of her.
Jim Fisher’s interest in the Lindbergh case:
“I was not particularly interested, at this time, in whether Hauptmann [the man convicted and executed for the kidnapping] had received a fair trial: I was simply curious to know if he had kidnapped and murdered young Charles Lindbergh. Like so many before me, once I got into the case I was hooked. As a result, there is no aspect of the case I haven’t explored” (4).
Jim Fisher’s/available sources:
“During the next two years I made four trips to the Lindbergh case archives, which were housed at the state police headquarters in West Trenton, New Jersey. On these occasions Detective Plebani made available, at my request, thousands of police reports, letters, memos, logs, affidavits, statements, photographs, press clippings, and trial exhibits. I also examined all of the physical evidence— the kidnap ladder, the fifteen ransom notes, Hauptmann’s known handwriting, the baby’s garments, and so on. In addition, I listened to several taped interviews of deceased Lindbergh case principals. At my request, the New Jersey State Police made photocopies of hundreds of documents, including large portions of the official 32-volume, 7,587-page transcript of the trial, Hauptmann’s 190-pge interrogation, and 224 pages of state police memos reporting Hauptmann’s conversations and activities during his incarceration in the Flemington, New Jersey, jail. Thanks to Detective Plebani, I was able to examine hundreds of documents, material no other researcher studied” (4-5).
Jim Fisher’s important conclusions- opposing many conspiracy theories:
“1 The New Jersey State Police conducted a thorough investigation under the most difficult circumstances, an investigation few modern law enforcement agencies could match if the crime were committed today. As in all investigations of celebrated crimes, the police in the Lindbergh case made mistakes and forgot to do certain things, but these errors were not major major and turned out to be relatively harmless.
2 The Lindbergh case investigators and prosecutors did not fabricate any evidence of Hauptmann’s guilt or suppress evidence of his innocence.
3 Hauptmann received as fair a trial as could be expected under the circumstances. The trial judge was unbiased, experienced, and competent, and the jury was made up of intelligent and rational people with a lot of common sense. Moreover, Hauptmann too advantage of a full range of appeals under the guidance of a competent and dedicated attorney.
4 There is no hard evidence to support the notion that Hauptmann was aided in the crime by accomplices.
5 The evidence clearly shows that the Lindbergh baby was in fact killed, and the corpse found near the Lindbergh estate ten weeks after the crime was his” (5).
- In lieu of our show, I ask if the actions of the police were really all harmless?
Jim Fisher’s guarantee of book, explanation of narrative format:
“There is no scene, conversation, or event in this book that did not happen. By presenting the story of this case in narrative form and in the words of the participants, I have attempted to re-create the circumstances and emotional climate in which the investigation of the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping was conducted. The story unfolds as the evidence available at this time dictates, providing what I believe is an accurate account of what took place. I began my research without prejudice. My conclusions, and the conclusions to which the narrative leads, are the logical ends of an investigation untarnished by preconceived notions. Although written for the general reader, the book is deeply rooted in the methods of scholarly research and professional criminalistics” (6).
About Lindbergh, the hero:
“In May 1927, after his historic 3,610-mile flight across the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Loius, the “Lone Eagle” received hundreds of medals, honorary memberships, and awards of every kind. His most pretigious honors included a commission as colonel in the U.S. Army, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Besides making him a celebrity and as honored citizen, the flight made Lindbergh wealthy. He accepted a twenty-five hundred dollar a week salary from the Guggenheim Foundation for a series of goodwill tours throughout the Americas. He was given stock in TWA and American World Airways and wrote articles for The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post” (8).
Anne and Charles meet:
“Lindbergh was a guest of honor at the home of Dwight D. Morrow, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and one of the wealthiest men in America. The multimillionaire was a partner in the J.P. Morgan banking company. In Mexico City, Lindbergh met and fell in love with the ambassador’s daughter, Anne Spencer Morrow, a twenty-one-year-old honors graduate of Smith College. In many ways the two were opposites. She was dark-haired, small, and delicate and wanted to be a writer. He was tall, a college dropout, and interested in science and mathematics. They became engaged, and in May 1929 were married at the Morrow estate in Englewood, New Jersey. Because the couple was constantly being hounded by reporters and cameramen, the wedding ceremony was small, private affair attended by a few friends and relatives. On June 22, 1930, while the Lindberghs were living at the Morrow estate called Next Day Hill, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was born” (8-9).
The Lindbergh home:
“A real estate agent purchased thirteen small farms in East Amwell Township, New Jersel, a remote woodland area about two and a half miles north of Hopewell,, a smallfarming community located in northern Mercer County. Mercer County, situated along the Jersey-Pennsylvania border, is in the middle section of the state. It is where the state capital, Trenton, is located… About a hundred of Lindbergh’s acres spread north into Hunterdon County, the site of the house itself. Construction of the fifty thousand-dollar, fourteen-room structure was started in the summer of 1930 while the Lindberghs were opening up new air routes in the Orient. While they were gone, the baby was kept in Englewood, New Jersey, at the home of his grandparents, about sixty miles from Hopewell. The new house, over seventy feet long and forty feet wide, was constructed of natural fieldstone. Covering the twenty-eight-inch thick boulders were several coats of sparkling whitewash. In addition to the living room, dining room, kitchen, four bathrooms, and five bedrooms, the house included servants’ bedrooms and a servants’ sitting room. There was also a spacious pantry, a den, and a three-car garage. The front yard included a fifty-five acre landing strip. Behind the house, beyond the area that had been cleared, were dense woods. The fourteen-by-twelve-foot nursery, situated at the southeast corner of the house directly above Colonel Lindbergh’s den, had three shuttered windows. Two of the baby’s windows faced south and the other east”(9).
I would suggest that everyone in the company read Chapter 1 of Jim Fisher’s book about the events before the kidnapping and about the Lindbergh family.
Prior to the crime:
“In January and February of 1932, the Lindberghs and their baby began spending weekends at their newly built home. At this time they were served by three domestic employees. Residing at the Lindbergh estate were Oliver and Elsie Whately, a middle-aged English couple who functioned as butler and cook… The other servant , twenty-eight year old Betty Gow, the child’s nursemaid, was from Glasgow, Scotland She had been serving the Lindberghs since February 25, 1931. She had been hired on the recommendation of Mary Beattie, a lady’s maid employed by Mrs. Morrow. Miss Gow had come to America in May 1929. Slender, dark-haired, and very pretty, Betty Gow was not in the habit of accompanying the Lindberghs and the baby on their weekend excursions to the estate at Hopewell” (9-10).
Colonel Lindbergh had built his new home in this rugged, remote area of New Jersey to get away from reporters, autograph hunters, and ordinary people who flocked to him at every chance. He was also hounded by cranks and mental cases. The Lindberghs felt endangered by these people and took every measure to avoid them. There wasn’t a major road to the Lindbergh estate. The only direct access to the house was a dirt lane. So it was here, in the Sourland Hills of Jersey, that Lindbergh hoped to find peace and solitude” (10).
“On Monday, February 29, the Lindberghs decided not to follow their regularly schedule of returning to Englewood on Monday morning. It was chilly, windy, and rainy, and the baby was getting over a cold he had picked up on Saturday. On Sunday, Mrs. Lindbergh had kept the baby in his room all day. She had been giving him milk of magnesia and putting drops in his nose. At 11 Tuesday morning, Colonel Lindbergh telephoned the Morrow home and arranged to have Mrs. Morrow’s chauffeur, Henry Ellison, drive the baby’s nursemaid to Hopewell” (10).
Lindbergh’s opinion on the kidnapping:
Both Colonel Lindbergh and Colonel Schwarzkopf agreed that the crime was the work of criminals who knew what they were doing. They had custom built a ladder for the job, had worn gloves, and had known that the Lindberghs would still be in Hopewell on Tuesday, a deviation from their normal routine” (20).
“On March 10, a pair of detective from the Newark Police Department were scheduled to question a twenty-eight-year-old Morrow maid named Violet Sharpe. Like other interviews, it was strictly routine. Of the twenty-nine domestics, Violet Sharpe was the most popular. In 1929 she had come to America via Canada from the little village of Tult’s Clump in Bradfield, England. She had worked for nine months in Toronto before moving to New York City, where she registered with the Hutchinson’s Employment Agency on Madison Avenue. Ten days later she was interviewed by Mrs. Cecil Graeme of the Morrow staff, who recommended her for employment. The woman Violet had worked for in Toronto described her as “sober, industrious, willing and loyal.” Violet’s sister Emily worked as a maid for Miss Constance Chilton. Miss Chilton and Elisabeth Morrow, Anne Lindbergh’s sister, were co-owners of private school for children” (47).
“Violet had short, dark hair and sparkling brown eyes. Her protruding front teeth and round, rosy working-girl’s face gave her the look of a chipmunk. Overall, she was plump and somewhat bottom-heavy. Everyone in the Morrow house knew that someday Violet would marry Septimus Banks, the middle-aged English butler who had served Ambassador Morrow before his death. Banks was the head of the domestic staff. Although he was the head domestic, Septimus, whose former employers included Lord Islington and Andrew Carnegie, was an alcoholic who was having a hard time staying sober. He had been fired several times for being drunk on duty, but on each instance Septimus had been reinstated by Mrs. Morrow. Other men had taken Violet dancing and to the movies. On occasion she would even sneak an illicit beer at one of the local speakeasies. Violet had to be very discreet, however. Mrs. Morrow was old-fashioned and straight-laced, and Violet couldn’t afford to lose her job. Without Mrs. Morrow’s endorsement she wouldn’t be able to find work in the midst of the Depression. And things were even worse in England” (47).
“On March 10, Detective Sergeant McGrath and Det. James F. Schiable of the Newark Police Department came to the Morrow house and asked Violet to accompany them to Hopewell for a routine questioning. The officers had expected Violet to go alongwillingly like all the others. But she was not as docile as the other domestics— in fact she was rather sharp-tongued. She made it clear that she resented being questioned and that she was cooperating because she had no choice. She was also very nervous. Assuming that Violet was the temperamental type, the detectives gave little thought to her abrasiveness. But once the questioning began, they realized that Violet was also being evasive. The officers tried to clam her. They explained to her that they were asking everyone the same questions…” (47). [Read pages 48 and 49 for her interrogation details— nearly identical to those provided in the script.]
Lindbergh’s honor and decorum:
Fisher notes again and again Colonel Lindbergh’s “sense of fair play” in regards to the kidnapping negotiations, and that Lindbergh sincerely trusted the kidnappers and their word. Lindbergh, inside and outside the realm of the kidnapping was an overly honest man, who embodied the prescribed “American” way of life. “Lindbergh would even keep a promise to the people who had stolen his son” (83).
Mrs. Lindbergh’s faith/respect in her husband:
[Before the body was found] “As long as her husband was optimistic, Mrs. Lindbergh was too. She had confidence in his abilities and judgment” (87). When two attempts to retrieve Charlie from the kidnappers’ boat failed, Anne Lindbergh comforted her husband who was downtrodden: “This time she was the one who comforted. Everything would be all right, she said. They would just have to be patient” (88). She later said she sensed that Charlie was not alive all along, and that finding his body affirmed what she had always sensed.
The second questioning of Violet:
“ At noon on April 13… Insp. Harry Walsh of the Jersey City Police Department went to the Worrow estate in Englewood to question the maid, Violet Sharpe… In her first interview, Violet had been unfriendly and very nervous. Not only that, her answers had been evasive and vague. The dark-haired, high-strung Englishwoman had told the Newark officers that on the evening of the kidnapping a man she knew had called her… As detectives pressed Violet for details she became evasive and coy. For example, she couldn’t remember her date’s name or the names of the other couple. As for the movie, she didn’t remember its title or what it was about. As a rule, detective become suspicious when the person they are questioning is uncooperative or evasive. They often interpret this as a sign of guilt. And once their suspicions are aroused, they are reluctant to let go until they have resolved the issue. This is why, over a month later, Violet Sharpe was being questioned again by Schwarzkopf’s friend and colleague, Inspector Harry Walsh” (91-92).
The third questioning of Violet:
“Inspector Walsh began the interview by asking Violet to describe her background. Violet complied, speaking with her head bowed, occasionally stealing a glance at Colonel Lindbergh. Lindbergh’s presence, or possibly Violet’s illness, made her quite docile. This was in sharp contrast to her first two interviews. She was almost polite— but very nervous” (144).
At the end of the fourth and final questioning of Violet:
“After a cursory examination, the doctor said that Violet was on the verge of hysteria. Because of this and the fact that her blood pressure was very high, he told Walsh that he would have to terminate the questioning. The doctor’s orders angered Walsh. He was certain that Violet was faking— she was using the doctor to keep the police away. “We’ll call it quits for today,” Walsh said. “But tomorrow we’ll have you brought up to our offices in Alpine for more questioning.” Anticipating an argument, he looked the doctor square in the face. When the physician didn’t protest, Walsh shook his head in approval as though he approved of his own decision. Like all good cops, he liked to be in charge. Violet got to her feet and walked unaided out of the room. Laura Hughes was seated at the desk working on her notes. She looked up sympathetically as Violet passed by. To the secretary’s utter amazement, Violet flashed a sly smile, then winked. Walsh didn’t see this, and neither did the doctor. The secretary decided not to tell them— Violet had enough trouble” (150).
After Violet Sharp’s suicide, which described in the page called “Violet’s ‘Jar’”:
“Schwarzkopf and his men were being accused of things much more serious than planting a little evidence, so the matter of [Ernie] Brinkert’s business cards [which were supposedly found in Violet’s things and belonged to a ex-convict "Ernie" whom Violet talked of] never caught the public’s attention. As a result the controversy was soon forgotten. (It should be noted that a six-page inventory listing the personal effects found in Violet’s room, seventy-three items in all, did not include Brinkert’s business cards. This document was prepared by the New Jersey State Police on June 15, 1932.) The Violet Sharpe controversy put Colonel Lindbergh in an awkward position. He wanted to defend Schwarzkopf against the charges of incompetence and brutality, but couldn’t. If he allowed himself to be drawn into the debate, he would have to publicize his opinion that Violet Sharpe was innocent. Knowing that Schwarzkopf believed otherwise, and that such a statement would weaken Schwarzkopf’s position, Lindbergh kept his silence” (160).
“The furor over Violet’s suicide quickly faded. Acting British Consul-General Shepherd had completed his investigation of the incident and had forwarded his report to Anthony Eden, the Under-Secretary of His Majesty’s Foreign Office. Speaking in front of the House of Commons on June 29, Eden reported that Mr. Shepherd had interview all of the Morrow servants and was satisfied that “no physical violence whatever or so-called ‘third degree’ methods” were used by her interrogators. “Miss Sharpe,” he said, “had not been maltreated by the American police. As far as the British were concerned, the matter was closed” (161).
“Four years after Violet’s death, the New Jersey State Police uncovered information that probably explains her suicide. Investigators disclosed that while Violet was employed at the Morrow estate, she went out with five men with whom she had been sexually intimate. One of these men was William O’Brien… [whom she met] at the nearby YWCA. Violet probably had been afraid that the Lindbergh investigators would find out about her relationship with these men. If Mrs. Morrow had found out about this, she would have fired Violet. The thought of being jobless and having no one to recommend her in the midst of the Depression had terrified her. She would have no choice but to return in disgrace to her parents’ crowded cottage in England [where the job market and economy was worse than America]. Violet was probably also thinking of Septimus Banks. He had planned to marry her. Worried about her job and future in America, sick and weak from her recent hospitalization, and under relentless attack by investigators who believed that she had helped the kidnappers, Violet had ended her dilemma by taking her life” (161-162).
“Violet’s death left a gaping hole in Schwarzkopf’s investigation. What had once been a promising lead was now nothing more than a troublesome loose end. Violet Sharpe had given the Lindbergh investigators something to focus on. Now that she was gone, the police were on the defensive, and somewhat adrift” (162).