Born in 1899 in Germany, Richard Hauptmann (sometimes referred to by prosecutors as "Bruno" Hauptmann, but that was neither a given name nor one used by his friends or relativies) had served as a teenaged machine gunner in the German infantry on the western front. He lost two brothers in the war. In post-war Germany, unemployment was rife; food was scarce. With only eight years of general education and two years of trade school – where he learned carpentry and machinery – Hauptmann was unable to secure gainful employment. In March of 1919, he turned to crime.
With the help of a friend, Fritz Petzold, Hauptmann burglarized three homes. In a more daring daylight robbery, the two accosted two women at gunpoint and stole their food coupons – the women were pushing baby carriages down a city street. In short order, Hauptmann was tried and convicted. Although he was sentenced to five years and one week in prison, he was paroled after four years. Soon after being released, he was arrested again and charged with stealing some strips of leather belting. While awaiting trial, Hauptmann escaped from prison. He left his neatly folded prison clothes on the front stairs with a note which read: “Best wishes to the police.”
Hauptmann subsequently made two failed attempts to come to the United States. Both times, he was returned to Germany. On his third attempt, in November of 1923, he successfully entered the United States using a disguise and a stolen landing card. The following spring, he met Anna Schoeffler – a German immigrant who lived in the Queens. In October of 1925, they were married.
Life in the United States was good to the Hauptmanns. Anna worked in a bakery and Hauptmann was a carpenter. They lived in a comfortable home in the Bronx.
In September of 1935, a $10 gold certificate, with a license plate number written on it, was discovered at a local bank. The certificate was determined to have come from the Lindbergh ransom money. The license plate belonged to Richard Hauptmann. Soon thereafter Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the Lindbergh kidnapping. During a search of Hauptmann’s house and garage, nearly $15,000 of the Lindbergh ransom money and a plank containing the address and phone number of Dr. John Condon was found.
The state’s case against Hauptmann was compelling. Hauptmann was positively identified by Dr. John Condon as the man with whom Dr. Condon had met and delivered the ransom money. Prosecution experts testified that the ladder used in the kidnapping had been made from wood found in Hauptmann’s attic and that Hauptmann’s handwriting matched that found on the ransom notes. Eyewitnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates and that he had been seen in the area of the Hopewell estate on the day of the kidnapping. Based on this evidence, Hauptmann was convicted and sentenced to death.
Throughout the proceedings, Hauptmann maintained his innocence, claiming that the money found in his garage had belonged to a deceased friend, Isidore Fisch. He further maintained that he had not turned the gold certificates in because he was an illegal alien and he feared being deported. Hauptman was executed on April 3, 1936.