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The History of the Federal Kidnapping Act

The History of the Federal Kidnapping Act

Each individual state handles kidnapping charges that occur within its borders. However, when other states get involved, the federal government will now step in and start pursuing the kidnappers to bring them to justice. This was made possible through a landmark piece of legislation known as the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932, which came hot on the heels of a criminal scandal that shook the entire country: the kidnapping and murder of the son of famous pilot Charles Lindbergh. It’s because of this famous victim that the law is also known as the “Little Lindbergh Law.”

The Crime

On March 1st, 1932, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was placed into his crib in the Lindbergh family home. He was just 20 months old. Not long after, a loud noise was heard and those in the home quickly discovered the child had been taken and in his place the kidnapper left a random note, demanding $50,000, an extremely large sum of money at that time. The kidnapper left a few pieces of evidence at the scene, notably a few footprints and a few pieces of a wooden ladder device that allowed the kidnapper to reach the child’s second floor window.

News quickly spread like wildfire and before long an investigation was underway in New Jersey, where the Lindbergh family lived. While there was no legal jurisdiction for it, the Attorney General and the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover, both agreed to use the resources of the United States Department of Justice to help with the case. Federal authorities wouldn’t have to wait long to get their full clearance, as the federal government passed the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932 in its entirety in just 19 days.

While the ransom was initially paid using soon-to-be-removed gold certificates and bills with recorded serial numbers, the body of young Lindbergh was found not long after, apparently having been murdered by a blow to the head.

The Arrest

Investigators noticed that over a stretch of more than two years, many of the bills with matching serial numbers were spent in New York City, and financial institutions found some of the gold certificates. Authorities eventually tracked down Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record back in his native country. A search of his home revealed evidence, including more than $14,000 of the original ransom money and wood that matched the materials used to construct the ladder device involved in the kidnapping.

Hauptmann was arrested, tried, and convicted, though somewhat controversially, and was executed in 1936, a little over four years after the crime was committed.

The Legal Act

Because there was no legal authority which allowed federal investigators to step in at any particular time, this infamous crime led to Congress moving swiftly to enable the Department of Justice to move quickly once more than one state got involved. In this case, the child was moved from New Jersey to New York, prohibiting New Jersey law enforcement from being able to pursue the kidnappers effectively.

This prompted Senator Roscoe C. Patterson of Missouri to introduce his bill on June 3, 1932 as a way of allowing federal investigators to step in when state investigators could no longer pursue suspects once they crossed state boundaries. President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law on June 22, 1932 after it passed both the House and the Senate in the weeks prior.

If you are facing federal kidnapping charges, call the Law Office of David L. Owen, Jr., P.C. today at (303) 622-3281 and get help from an experienced Denver federal criminal defense lawyer!

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