Researcher sues state to allow DNA testing in Lindbergh kidnapping

By: - November 2, 2022 6:48 am

The Lindbergh exhibit at the New Jersey State Police Museum in Ewing contains anonymous ransom notes sent to the Lindbergh family after their baby was kidnapped in 1932 (Photo by Dana DiFilippo|New Jersey Monitor)

A Princeton woman has sued the state to get access to evidence in the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping case in a quest to exonerate the New York man executed for abducting the toddler from his East Amwell home and killing him.

Margaret Sudhakar wants to use technology from this century — DNA testing — to “clarify longstanding historical discrepancies and uncertainties” in last century’s so-called crime of the century.

Sudhakar sued Gov. Phil Murphy, the New Jersey State Police, and the state Attorney General in September in state Superior Court in Mercer County, under the state’s Open Public Records Act and common law right to public access.

She had filed public records requests for access to 14 sealed envelopes and 11 stamps police said Bruno Richard Hauptmann used on ransom notes, as well as wood from a ladder the kidnapper used to climb into 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr.’s second-floor nursery.

Murphy’s office rejected her request, saying they aren’t the custodian of those records, while the state police and Attorney General’s Office failed to respond or provide a written explanation of any denial, according to the lawsuit.

Sudhakar didn’t respond to the New Jersey Monitor’s request for comment.

In her complaint, she wrote that she is a researcher working with New York-based screenwriter Wayne McDaniel and California-based film producer Chuck Braverman to compile “a definitive documentary” on a case that has been a favorite of documentary-makers.

“This is necessary to once and for all determine whether Bruno Richard Hauptmann’s saliva is present on the envelopes and stamps on the ransom letters sent to Charles A. Lindbergh,” Sudhakar wrote. “Given the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was either wrongfully convicted or part of a larger conspiracy and not the lone kidnapper, as outlined in several published books and articles, there is a significant public interest in these findings.”

The ransom notes, envelopes, ladder, and other evidence had been stored in state police archives until 1981, when then-Gov. Brendan Byrne issued an executive order declaring evidence in the case historical and ordering it opened to the public to research and view at the New Jersey State Police Museum in Ewing, where it remains today.

The Lindbergh exhibit at the New Jersey State Police Museum in Ewing contains the ladder used in the 1932 kidnapping of baby Charles Lindbergh Jr. and ransom notes sent afterward. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

No forensic examination using modern DNA testing has been done on the stamps, ransom envelopes, or wood from the ladder or floorboards of Hauptmann’s attic, where investigators said he got wood to build the ladder, Sudhakar wrote in her complaint.

At the time of his son’s kidnapping, aviator Charles Lindbergh was a global celebrity, having proven the possibility of transatlantic flight in 1927 after flying from New York to Paris nonstop.

His son’s abduction spawned all sorts of conspiracy theories even after police arrested Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter who protested his innocence until he was executed by electric chair in 1936.

This exhibit in the New Jersey State Police Museum in Ewing shows a mug shot of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was arrested and executed for the 1932 kidnapping of baby Charles Lindbergh Jr. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

In a 2018 episode of the documentary “Mysteries at the Museum,” Sudhakar appeared with a panel of Lindbergh experts who argued that Lindbergh likely orchestrated his son’s kidnapping.

They offered evidence they said showed the child was unhealthy, possibly with rickets. Lindbergh — who believed in eugenics — wanted to institutionalize the child or otherwise remove him from the public’s eye, they said. The baby, whose skull was fractured, likely fell to his death while being toted down the ladder, they said.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.