EDITOR'S NOTE: This article, because of its great timeliness and importance, has been rushed into this issue.
I am writing this literally within the shadow of the electric chair. For upward to fourteen months I have been confined in the cell nearest to the execution chamber in the New Jersey penitentiary. The courts of New Jersey have now said that I shall die on the night of April 3, and that I shall die in the chair that is just beyond the door that faces me and has faced me every waking hour of my life these past fourteen months. The courts have said that on the night of April 3 I shall be prepared to leave the cell which has been my home; walk through the door which has been facing me these weary months; tread the few steps that lead from that door to the electric chair; that on that night I shall be led out on a walk from which I shall never return.
When I rise to join in that last deathly procession, I shall walk as any man walks, striding along one foot ahead of the other. I shall breathe the air my guards are breathing. I shall hear things that are being said, with ears that are as the ears of other men. I shall say with a voice that is the same as voices of other men that a tragedy is being enacted, that a life is being wantonly taken, that I am innocent of the crime of which I have been convicted, as innocent as any one in the world; and then, if the decision of the court is carried out, I shall be strapped into the chair, and in a few fleeting seconds this body that is mortal will be no longer living and breathing but just a mass of clay.
And I ask, WHY? Why must this thing be? Why should this thing happen? Why should the State of New Jersey take from me that which is most precious to all men — life? Why should they widow my loyal wife and orphan my lovely baby? Every hour, every day, since the Flemington jury rendered their verdict, I have asked myself that question. I am as innocent of the crime of killing the Lindbergh baby or even the slightest participation in that or any crime like it, as any one who reads this.
I cannot think how right-minded people anywhere could, being in full possession of the facts that have been presented, imagine even for a moment that I could in any way be connected with the dastardly crime which was committed. Permit me, then, in a little of the time left to me, to review very briefly the things which have led me where I am.
As a boy in Germany I knew hardship. I saw the result of the dissipation of funds earned on drinks and other riotous things in the case of my father. I then and there resolved that I would ever do my utmost to be honest, reliable, and upright, so that some day I might take my place, an honest one, an honorable one, in society, and that by industry and thrift I might prosper, and that some day I might meet some fine girl to whom I could wed, and that by diligence and thrift we might mal ourselves a home in which to rear our family. I had no thought that I ever would be more than an honest, diligent, upright citizen, a faithful husband and, if it should please God, a loving father.
Is there any one that can't see that I could not be guilt of this crime? Let us go over for a moment, if you please, the testimony which was used against me. It may be divided into four principal parts. First, identification witnesses who appeared against me. Second, the ransom money found in my possession. Third, the hand writing testimony presented by the state Fourth, the testimony of the so-called wood experts.
As to identification witnesses, it appears to me that by this time every one must realize that the testimony of Hochmuth and Whited, the only two witnesses really used to place me in New Jersey at any time close to the date of the crime, has certainly been completely knocked down. Hochmuth testified that in a fleeting second he saw and recognized me in an automobile as I passed by his home, and that he saw a ladder in my car. This man has been proven, since, to be one who did not live where he testified he did, but who lived in New York City. He was about eighty-seven years of age, and it has come out that he was on relief in New York City, and that at the time he was receiving relief he was suffering from cataracts of both eyes, and his vision was thus seriously affected and he couldn't recognize from day to day people that he saw every day.
It was further brought out, I understand, in affidavits by disinterested parties, that Hochmuth could not tell a piece of wood from a piece of stone as they lay before him. Then he himself has said now that he never saw any suspicious person about the neighborhood of the scene of the crime. In the face of this, could there be any doubt but that Hochmuth has been entirely discredited?
As to the witness Whited, who testified that on two occasions just before the kidnaping he saw me right near the Lindbergh home — it has since developed that on April 23, almost two months after the night of the kidnaping, in a written statement given to the New Jersey State Police, Whited swore he had not seen any strange person about the Sourland Mountains immediately prior to the kidnaping. This statement was made to a New Jersey-State Police officer, and apparently was made voluntarily.
Whited also testified that, before he was induced to come over to New York where he claimed to recognize me, he was shown pictures of me over a period of two days, and he also admitted that he was promised one third of a reward of $25,000 offered by New Jersey to the person who brought about the arrest and conviction of the Lindbergh kidnaper; that he was promised $35 a day for the time he spent; and that he was promised certain other rewards by the State Police.
It develops that the very careful State Police of New Jersey, who had been so exceedingly careful about everything else, had failed to take any statement from Whited on the night of the kidnaping when he told them the story of seeing some one there, and the only statement in their file was a statement in which Whited said he had never seen any strange or suspicious person about the Sourland Mountains. I have always had to wonder in the face of that statement why the State Police ever went back to see Whited after my arrest. The facts as related here are undisputable, as an examination of the record of the State Police will, I believe, prove. Very clearly, no reputable eyewitness has ever placed me within the State of New Jersey at, before, or after the kidnaping.
We come now to that so strange man, Dr. John F. Condon, the man who so loves to be called "Jafsie," who I am told stops people on the street, grabs them by the arm, and says, "Do you know I am Jafsie?" That man who has told as many stories as there are minutes in the day. That man who quibbles over difference between identification and declaration of identification. Dr. Condon was a lifelong resident of the Bronx. He is a physical culturist and an ardent lover of outdoor athletics. He is a habituate of a vacation ground near New York known as City Island. I also love the outdoors and love to indulge in athletic games. In July, 1932, I bought a canoe and I kept the same at Dixon's Boat House in City Island. I went there almost daily through the summer evenings, and I went without fail every week end to City Island to Dixon's Boat House, and all through the summers of 1933 and 1934 I continued going to City Island. Dr. Condon, I am advised, has a place of business adjacent to Dixon's Boat House. I am advised he is a rowing enthusiast and frequently rents boats from Dixon's Boat House.
I never knew Dr. Condon. There was no occasion for me to know him. It may well be that he was there and that I saw him any number of times during the summers of 1932, 1933, and 1934, but there was nothing about him to make him stand out in my memory. However, it is impossible to believe that during those three years Dr. Condon never had occasion to see me face to face. I was there and he was there day after day, and if I had been the man whom he had talked to for one hour and fifteen minutes in Woodlawn Cemetery and in St. Raymond's Cemetery, and the man he saw walking along the street as he was riding by in a bus, he would have had me in custody within 1932.
Is it possible that he could have failed to recognize me during that period of time? And yet there he was and there I was.
But Dr. Condon in January, 1935, had not the slightest hesitation in going on the witness stand and positively identifying me as the man he had talked to in Wood-lawn Cemetery and the man he had paid the ransom money to at St. Raymond's. Was he telling the truth?
Hauptmann, electrocuted April 3, and a facsimile of his signature to this final written statement:
"It is my belief that their suffering, their agony, will be greater than mine. Mine will be over in a moment. Theirs will last as long as life itself lasts."
—Bruno Richard Hauptmann
Likewise, he saw me in the Greenwich Station at New York in September and in the jail at Flemington in November, talking with me in the jail for over an hour, and yet in December, 1934, he approached a prisoner in a Florida prison camp and asked him all kinds of questions about passing ransom money, and then indicated to the man that he thought he was the "John" whom he, Condon, had met. If Condon had been in touch with the Lindbergh kidnaper, wouldn't it have been so simple for him to verify the fact that he was dealing with the real kidnaper? Dr. Hudson, that eminent New York scientist, had discovered fingerprints in the Lindbergh nursery of the baby; a ten-cent ink pad handed to the man with whom Dr. Condon was dealing, so that the hand of the child could be pressed on it and then on paper, leaving a fingerprint on the paper, so that a comparison with the fingerprints found by Dr. Hudson could be made, would have definitely proved whether or not Condon was dealing with the kidnaper. No such thing was ever done.
Since my conversation with Condon, he has said in a signed statement that I did not build the ladder and that he knows the man who did build it. He has said that he was offered $250,000 to change his testimony. Condon has said that it is impossible that this kidnaping job could have been a one-man job. Condon has said that he does not believe that I could have written the phone number found on the board in my closet because there would not have been any necessity for doing it. He has said that a certain woman contacted him and she clearly was one of the group of kidnapers. I could go on and point out any number of things Condon has said that in no manner, shape, or form jibe with the testimony in Flemington.
I am advised that my attorneys have tried desperately to have Condon returned to New Jersey so that they might question him about these things, but they have been entirely unsuccessful. I am advised that my attorneys have been told that under no circumstances would Dr. Condon make himself available to them in order that they might get him to explain his statements.
Second, as to the testimony of the ransom money. There wasn't one particle of evidence to disprove the story I told about the ransom money. I told the true story. I got this money in the same manner I have told. I did with it exactly as I have repeatedly told, and I had no more idea that it was the Lindbergh ransom money than the man in the moon. It is strange to me that despite the fact that there was $50,000 in ransom money passed, and despite the fact that they found $15,000 of it in my possession, only one additional $5 bill and one additional $10 bill ever was attempted to be traced to me. I refer now to the $10 bill given to the gas-station attendant and the $5 bill testified about by Celia Barr.
I say without hesitation that Celia Barr lied. I never saw the theater where she was employed and my witnesses very strongly covered the night on which she says this bill was passed to her. There was proof of $2,980 of ransom money being placed in a bank by a Mr. J. J. Faulkner and there has been proof of ransom bills showing up here and there, but on not one single occasion could they trace these ransom bills to me. They examined my brokerage account, examined the lawyer who purchase the mortgage for me, and examined the records of the bank where I had deposited as much as one single dollar and in no case could they place another ransom bill in my possession. Shouldn't that have shown the truth my statements? Wasn't my story more reasonable believe than the attempt of the state to say that some $49,984 of this money had been traced to me when the wasn't a speck of truth in the statement?
And now as to the handwriting testimony. I have been advised that handwriting experts can be hired on any occasion by anybody who has enough money to pay their big charges. I am told that often cases arise where hand writing experts are hired on both sides of a case, and that they without a blush of shame go to the witness stand and testify for the side by whom they have been hired. I have bee told of an instance where one of the alleged experts who testified against me testified in the case re Sullivan in Central New York wherein, immediately after the expert swore that a certain signature was that of a man named Sullivan, he was confronted with undisputable evidence that the signature had been written by a professional penman in Rochester months after the death of Mr. Sullivan.
THE LINDBERGH CASE IS STILL UNSOLVED
The man Hauptmann is dead.
His wife has been widowed and his child orphaned.
Nothing that can now be done by any one will bring him back.
However, the death of Bruno Richard Hauptmann did not close, in any sense of the word, the investigation being conducted by those who believe in the innocence of the deceased. On the contrary, his death has only spurred them to greater effort to bring a definite and conclusive solution to this greatest of all mysteries in the long history of American jurisprudence.
When this investigation is finished, I believe that clear-thinking people everywhere will agree that the testimony presented against Hauptmann was testimony of the most circumstantial nature, in which inference was drawn from inference, and on which no human being should have been convicted and killed.
I also believe that it will not only be possible to clear the name of this man, but in due course, when conditions in New Jersey are different from those existing at the present time, to bring about a complete and conclusive solution of this mystery.
To that end, all those who have fought so valiantly that justice might be done will continue in their efforts to bring this case to a proper, correct, and just conclusion.
—C. Lloyd Fisher.
One of the experts testifying against me in my case conceded that, as a result of a mistake he had made, an innocent man served three or four years in a Western penitentiary.
I wonder if the public knows that the State of New Jersey spent more money for handwriting experts' testimony than my defense had from the first day of my arrest down to the present time. And then I wonder if they know about the method by which handwriting experts get specimens from which to make their examination. I was directed to sit down in a Greenwich Station and told to write the following dictation. I was told to write exactly as it was dictated to me, and this included writing words spelled as I was told to spell them. I will venture to say that if any person reading these lines had been found with the $15,000 of ransom money, handwriting experts could have been found in these United States who would have testified that the handwriting on the ransom notes was the handwriting of the person who had the ransom bills.
And so we come to the ladder testimony. I am a carpenter. I am considered a good carpenter. I have done any number of carpentry jobs of which I am proud. There are any number of places prosecution authorities could have gone to see specimens of my handiwork. It is impossible that any carpenter, any man skilled in that trade, could have built the kidnap ladder. And then the testimony of the witness Koehler that the now famous "Rail 16" was part and parcel of a board that had been originally placed in my attic floor. Shortly after I moved to the address where I lived when I was arrested, in late 1931, I built a new garage on the premises and did other little carpentry jobs about the premises and was continually going to the lumber yards buying lumber. Is it possible that I, or any other man planning the use of a ladder in such a crime, would climb up a trap door into the attic and use a piece of board from the floor for such a ladder? I say it is beyond possibility.
And what of the testimony presented in my behalf? Why was it totally ignored? Dr. Hudson, an eminent physician and scientist of New York City, now an officer of the Police Department of New York City, testified that although the State Police reported that not a single fingerprint could be found on the ladder or in the nursery, he found any number of prints in the nursery room and about 500 on the ladder. And not one of the fingerprints found by Dr. Hudson was mine. How could the jury get away from that?
And the testimony of Celia Barr — didn't my witnesses completely offset her testimony? She picked an important day in my life to give as the date upon which I had passed a ransom note. She picked my birthday, and witness after witness testified that I was in my home entertaining at a birthday party, twenty miles from the theater where she said I passed the ransom bill. Apparently my witnesses, honest, reliable, homey folks, were given no consideration.
What about my alibi for the night of March 1, 1932? Witness after witness testified as to where I was. The wrath and the venom of the combined State Police forces of New Jersey and of New York were turned loose on my witnesses and records of their lives were searched for some blemish to be brought out against them.
In the early days of my youth war assailed the world. Scarcely more than a boy, I was thrown in with hardened soldiers and obliged to live the life they lived. At the conclusion of my service in the war I was returned to my native village with absolutely no resources, and shattered in health. I found my family poverty-stricken, due to the conduct of my father and to war conditions. I was hungry; so were my family; so were my neighbors. So was every one in Germany. I was not properly clad, since Germany had only a meager supply of clothing to give to returning soldiers.
I have talked with many American soldiers, and they have told me that they, under the same desperate circumstances, did the same thing I did. In order that I might keep body and soul together, I stole. I stole food. I stole an overcoat on one occasion. I did the very, very same thing that hundreds of returning veterans of all countries did upon their return from the hell that was war. I never committed a crime of violence, never injured a human being, and the criminal record that was so much talked about in the early days of my arrest and during the long days of my trial consisted solely of theft of things which I had to have for my very existence.
I don't ask the world to condone what I did, but I do ask them to consider the facts and circumstances. I served the full time that the state exacted, and when I first stowed away to America, I did not escape from any jail, as has been said. The worst that can be said of me is that I violated a parole.
I came to America — to my mind the land of opportunity, a new world. I was fortunate in meeting a very wonderful girl, who, having full knowledge of my past, honored me by becoming my wife. I worked hard, faithfully, and did whatever job I could get to do, and my wife likewise constantly worked for wages. We saved, getting along on as little as possible so we could store away as much as possible for the future. Much has been said about my finances, but the facts, irrefutable, were that we had accumulated some considerable means prior to January 1, 1932, and we were a happy, contented couple. In the fall of 1933 God in His goodness saw fit to give us our son Mannfried, a lovely little fellow and the object of all the affection, love, and kindness that loving parents could give him.
Thus, at thirty-five years of age, there seemed to be ahead for myself and my family just the thing I had dreamed of. True, our home was a modest one, but we were contented and happy. I had reason to look forward to the continuation of my life along its beaten course. I had reason to look forward to old age that would bring contentment and satisfaction.
Then, unexpected like a lightning bolt or earthquake, came my arrest for the murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. It is impossible to describe how I felt when I realized that I was being charged with that most dastardly crime of all times. It must all be a joke, it must all be a farce, all some horrible mistake! I knew nothing about the Lindbergh baby. I knew nothing about the ransom money. I knew nothing about that crime or any crimes in connection with it, and I confidently expected that within a day or two I would be returned to my home, my wife, and my baby.
But no such thing happened. I was not returned but was extradited to New Jersey, tried for the murder of this child, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to death; and, despite every effort on the part of my counsel, my conviction has been upheld and I am now near the day upon which the law says I must die.
But what of the Friedricksons, who said I was always in the bakery on Tuesday and Friday nights? March 1 was on a Tuesday. What of my wife, honest and loyal and an upright Christian woman to whom truth is sacred? What of the young man Carlson, against whose character not a bit of evidence could be found? What of Louis Kiss, who definitely knew the night he saw me and could fix it by two separate events both of moment in his life? What of von Henke? What of Manley, the old man who arose from a sickbed to come and testify that on the night of March 1, at nine o'clock in the evening, he saw me in the Friedrickson bakery?
I had no money to hire these witnesses. The State of New Jersey spent thousands of dollars. Money flowed like water in their effort to convict me. Thousands were spent to bring the Fisch family to America. There was no such incentive for witnesses to testify for me. There was no entertainment in the Hotel Hildebrecht for my witnesses; no expensive tours to Coney Island and visits to the theater as was provided by the State to the Fisch family. Not one five-cent piece was paid to them except their bare traveling expenses from New York City to Flemington, New Jersey. And yet witness after witness, interested solely that justice be done, came forward of their own accord and testified as to where I had been. But, apparently, the jury could see but one side of this case.
What of the testimony showing that I had worked the afternoon of April 2 until five thirty in the afternoon on a carpentry job in downtown New York? Is that the action of a man who has a plan of action for nine o'clock that will get him $50,000? As I listened to the testimony of the witnesses produced in my behalf, none of whom were known to me personally, bar my wife and Mr. Kloppenburg and possibly one or two others, I felt very happy, because I could not conceive in the face of such overwhelming proof that I could be held as the kidnaper of the Lindbergh baby. I was to learn to my bitter sorrow just how mistaken I really was.
And so I sit, ten feet removed from the electric chair, and unless something can be done to aid me, unless something can be done to make some one tell the truth, or unless some one does tell it, I shall at eight o'clock Friday evening, in response to the call from my keepers, raise myself from my cot for the last time and shall walk that "last mile." I suppose there will be in that chamber some of those who have had part in the preparation of my case for the prosecution. It is my belief that their suffering, their agony, will be greater than mine. Mine will be over in a moment. Theirs will last as long as life itself lasts.
Publication Date: May 2, 1936