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Monday, March 24, 2014

Buy A Ticket --- Catch A Kidnapper


Crime Fighting and Moviegoing Rolls Into One

A Lindbergh Ransom Bill Was Passed Here
It was a time for crime. Banks robbed, outlawry rampant, and worse still, kidnappings far/wide for cash ransom. Most appalling of these was the Lindbergh case, his toddler snatched from a crib and killed in commission of said heinous act. The public was for stringing up of kidnappers, considered the lowest of scum. There was dance-on-rope finale to a California abduct where Jackie Coogan, of all people, helped tie hemp. America would, in fact, become a nation of junior G-Men --- what alternative where law broke down and order had to be self-kept? Theatres as community centers became more so when patrons were invited, as here, to bring evidence as well as admission to Public Hero #1. The gambit had worked before, a Lindbergh ransom bill passed at the Loew's Sheridan in Greenwich Village, New York on 11-26-33. That plus the ticket seller's ID of Bruno Hauptmann helped clinch that nabber's prosecution and put him chair (as in electric) bound. And lest we forget John Dillinger, shot down by FBI men outside Chicago's Biograph Theatre where he'd gone to see Manhattan Melodrama on 7/22/34.

It's a Celebration After John Dillinger Is Gunned Down Outside Chicago's Biograph

Now came May 1935 and kidnap of nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser on way-home from Tacoma, Washington school. The boy was free after a week, ransom collected by two men and a woman, the trio dumb to record of serial numbers on cash. Citizenry would gaily spend a first half of June matching bills against these digits which were posted in banks, hotels, railroad stops ... and theatres. This was, for breathless weeks, more fun than Bank Night. After all, the boy was home and unharmed. Now was time to slap cuffs, and we could all lend hand to that. And what's this about $500 reward the Loew's Grand was offering? Check contents of your wallet against their lobby posted serial list and go home richer, that was what. Of course, you may have to stand a grilling from G-Men, but that was acceptable risk against extravagant reward (think of $500 by 1935 measure). What fortuitous tie-up for an MGM picture "So Timely" as Public Hero #1, it having "Completely Caught The Heart Throb Of The Day." Timing counted for much in 1935 (still does), but few rode the wave so mightily as PH#1. Did anyone collect the reward? Don't know ... but imagine crowds gathered round the Grand's lobby list. And here's happy footnote: George Weyerhaeuser is still alive, and will be eighty-eight in July.

More on Public Hero #1 HERE. And for further theatre tie-in to a real-life kidnap case, there is THIS.

1 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reviews some evidence against Bruno Hauptmann:


Banks still use marked bills as a way of combating bank robberies, giving them as "bait money" to the robbers. Most often they're useful as evidence when they're still in the possession of the robbers, though occasionally sharp-eyed store keepers will notice a serial number from lists distributed by the police.

What tripped up Bruno Richard Hauptmann was that the Lindbergh ransom money was in gold certificates. On April 5, 1933, President Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard and ordered all gold coins and gold certificates over $100 turned in. By 1934, gold certificates in all denominations were being rapidly withdrawn from circulation. The Lindbergh money was in denominations of $10, $20, and $50. When Hauptmann paid for a movie ticket with a $10 bill in 1934, it was like going to the multiplex today and laying down a $100 bill. Actually, it was even worse than that. Using the Consumer Price Index as a basis, $10 in 1934 would be the equivalent of $181 today. That it was a gold certificate as well simply added an element of triangulation. It was an act that would be noticed, noted, and remembered.

The particular act which put the police on his trail was paying for gasoline with a $10 gold certificate in September, 1934. The gas attendant took down the license number of his car, and his arrest followed shortly afterwards.

There is still some question about how involved Hauptmann really was in the kidnapping. He was convicted and eventually executed as the sole person responsible, but some of the evidence suggested that the someone in the Lindbergh household was also involved. A maid, Violet Gow, committed suicide shortly after police began questioning her, but this was attributed at the time to her being in an anxious and agitated state. Police methods were not very gentle then. A pasteboard box with over $15,000 in ransom money was found in a closet in Hauptmann's house. Hauptmann's story was that an acquaintance of his, one Isidore Fisch, had left the box with him before leaving for Germany. When he accidently knocked the box open, he discovered nearly $40,000 in currency in it. Since Fisch owed him $7,500, he began helping himself to the money. Hauptmann's financial journals, which appeared quite meticulous, did not reveal any debt from Fisch, though they did record speculative investments in the stock market which were out of line with the money he earned sporadically as a carpenter.

Fisch, a petty criminal, apparently died in Germany. Hauptmann went to the chair without ever admitting his guilt, even when it seemed a pardon from New Jersey's governor might be obtained if he did. In finding him guilty, the jury was especially impressed by two pieces of evidence: a portable ladder just long enough to reach the nursery window of the Lindbergh child, which was made from floor boards from the attic of Hauptmann's house--or so an expert witness for the prosecution asserted--and Charles Lindbergh's identification of him as the man who called out, "Hey doctor," when Lindbergh and Dr. John F. X. Condon met up with a man who claimed to be one of the gang which kidnapped the child.

There were also the gold certificates Hauptmann had been passing out and was still in possession of. This was the last element in the jury's triangulation.

Daniel

1:43 PM  

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