Title: Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case
Author: Mark W. Falzini
Rating: 4 stars
What’s it about: The Lindbergh kidnapping
How did you hear about it: Amazon
Exactly 84 years ago today, in the rural town of East Amwell, New Jersey, the most famous toddler in the world, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., was abducted from his second-floor nursery while his parents, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow ate dinner downstairs. In the chaos that followed, with ransom demands from the kidnappers, a box with $50,000 was handed over to an unknown man in the shadows of a Bronx cemetery. All to no avail: The child’s body was discovered two months later just a few miles from the Lindbergh home. A ferocious hunt for justice ended with the sensational trial, conviction and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in New Jersey’s electric chair in 1936. Hauptmann refused all efforts for leniency in exchange for a confession, claiming innocence until the end.
Book after book has been written about the case, but one book stands out for the simple reason the author doesn’t even try to second-guess the jury’s decision. In Their fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case, Mark W. Falzini offers short essays on 26 major and minor characters involved in the case. Writing in a simple style, Falzini provides biographical facts within the context of life in New Jersey and New York nearly a century ago, shaped by the Depression, Prohibition and immigration, both legal and illegal. The result is a poignant historiography of ordinary people hustling to make a living who are thrown by chance into their 15 minutes of fame.
While the subject matter is grim, the book’s style is anything but, with intermittent humor and impeccable research. Amid the profiles is a chapter on Hauptmann’s car, a dark blue 1930 Dodge with light blue striping and wire wheels, bought for $737 with an initial deposit of $25 cash and $2 credit.
There’s also a fascinating essay on the “Flemington Talesmen,” the four women and eight men who comprised the jury and were sequestered for 43 days and 42 nights in the Union Hotel across the street from the courthouse earning three dollars a day. The youngest juror was “Pretty Boy Bob,” a 28-year old unmarried schoolteacher, who held out for a non-guilty verdict until the final, fifth ballot. And then there was juror Ethel Morgan Stockton, nicknamed the “beauty in the box” who almost caused a mistrial when she smiled at Hauptmann as he took the witness stand to testify.
A rather sad essay profiles Violet Sharp, the English maid who worked for the Morrow household and killed herself by drinking silver polish barely two months after the baby disappeared. And then, of course, there are the experts, including xylotomist Arthur Koehler, who identified the wood of one rail of the kidnap ladder as coming from Hauptmann’s attic floor, arguably the most incriminating of the evidence.
Contributor: Kathleen Le Dain
Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case was published in 2008 by iUniverse.
Click here to read about The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, an excellent historical fiction about the Lindberghs.
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