At fifty-two, Edward J. Reilly was a large and boisterous man who always wore a pin-stripe suit adorned with a white carnation. Branded “the Bull of Brooklyn” by the contemporary media, he was a well-known and seasoned criminal defense attorney. Reilly not only boasted that he had represented more than two thousand defendants, but he also maintained that he had obtained acquittals for most of them.
From the onset, Reilly’s involvement in the Hauptmann trial was highly publicized. When a New York newspaper offered to pay the costs of the defense in exchange for exclusive stories about Hauptmann and his wife’s efforts to prove his innocence, a bidding war among the New York newspapers ensued. The New York Evening Journal weighed in with the highest bid and Reilly’s representation was secured.
Reilly professed his belief in his client’s innocence and reminded the press that “a mere accusation of guilt is not proof of guilt.” The defense strategy turned on Isadore Fisch. At trial, Reilly would argue that it was Fisch, not Hauptmann, who had kidnapped the Lindbergh’s child; it was Fisch who wrote the ransom notes and collected the gold certificates; and it was Fisch who had left the money that had been found at the Hauptmann residence. The state’s expert witnesses could be refuted with contradictory exptert testimony; the defense’s answer to everything else was simply Isador Fisch.
Reilly, however, was unable to produce the witnesses he promised. Of those who did appear and testify, most were rendered unreliable by the prosecution. At one point during the proceedings, Hauptmann asked “Where is [Reilly] getting these witnesses? He is killing me.” After the trial, Reilly unsuccessfully attempted to collect additional fees for his representation from Anna Hauptmann.