Volume 42, Issue 3 (May 1997)
Anatomy of the Lindbergh Kidnapping
The kidnapping and death of American aviator hero Charles Lindbergh's young son in 1932 was labeled the “Crime of the Century.” A hand-made wooden ladder left at the scene provided some of the most critical evidence connecting Bruno Richard Hauptmann to the crime. The information was supplied by Arthur Koehler, wood technologist for the U.S. Forest Service who, with remarkable tenacity and by meticulously detailed studies, was able to provide three lines of plant anatomical evidence crucial to Hauptmann's conviction and subsequent execution. Koehler traced part of the ladder's wood from its mill source to a lumberyard near the kidnapper's home through faint machine planing marks even before the suspect was known. After Hauptmann's arrest, Koehler demonstrated by wood anatomical comparisons that one of the side rails of the ladder previously had been part of a floorboard in Hauptmann's attic. Finally, he established that Hauptmann's hand plane had been used to dress the edges of several ladder parts. Koehler's testimony in this important trial was a turning point in the acceptance of botanical evidence as expert scientific evidence in the courts. In spite of the direct connection to Hauptmann indicated by the wood anatomical structure and markings from the ladder, Hauptmann maintained his innocence until the end. The case has been reexamined in recent years by several groups and individuals. Although some believe in Hauptmann's innocence, the wood anatomical evidence remains unchallenged in incontrovertibly linking Hauptmann to the crime.