01 March 2007

British Suspects: America’s Most Famous Kidnapping’s British Connection

At 10:24 on the evening of May 21, 1927, the life of an unknown airmail pilot from the Midwestern United States changed forever. As Charles A. Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis at La Borget airfield, he became the first person to successfully fly from New York City to Paris, France. The triumphant end of his 33 ½-hour flight transformed this unassuming, shy, Minnesota airmail pilot into a world hero and media superstar.

Lindbergh returned to the United States and began a “Good-Will” tour of the nation in an attempt to promote civilian aviation. In December 1927, the American ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, invited Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis to visit. Mexican/American relations were quite tense at that time and the Ambassador believed, correctly, that a visit by Lindbergh would help to improve those relations.

While in Mexico City, Lindbergh met the Ambassador’s daughter, Anne Morrow. Soon thereafter, they began dating (she was Lindbergh’s first girlfriend). On May 27, 1929 they were married in her parents’ home in Englewood, New Jersey.

The Lindberghs tried, unsuccessfully, to lead a private and quiet life. They had hoped that by building their home in the isolated Sourland Mountains of New Jersey they would be left alone at last. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

On the evening of March 1, 1932 their first-born son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped from his second floor nursery. A ransom of $50,000 (about $750,000 of 2007’s dollars) was paid, but the Little Eaglet, as he was known, was not returned. Sadly, he was found dead in the woods, five miles from the Lindbergh’s home.

The New Jersey State Police were called in to investigate. Every lead, no matter how unlikely, was investigated. It was not until September 1934, however, that the police had their first real lead: a German immigrant carpenter had bought gas with a $10 Gold Certificate that was part of the ransom money. As luck would have it, the gas station attendant recorded the man’s license number on the edge of the bill. It should be noted that he did not do this because he was thinking it was Lindbergh ransom money. The United States had gone off the gold standard about a year prior and all of the gold certificates and coins in the country were recalled. The attendant was afraid the bank would no longer accept the gold currency, so he wanted a way to track down the customer and get his money.

The police traced the bill to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter living in the Bronx. He was arrested and extradited to Flemington, New Jersey and on February 13, 1936 was found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. A year later, on April 3, 1936 Richard Hauptmann was executed in Trenton, New Jersey.

The investigation that lead to Hauptmann’s arrest spanned two continents and involved not only the New Jersey State Police, but several hundred local police, the FBI and even Scotland Yard. Initially, the prime suspects were the domestic staff of both the Lindbergh’s home and the Morrow home in Englewood.

The Nanny
Many of the servants employed by the Lindberghs and Morrows were immigrants from Europe, several from Great Britain. Betty Gow was the “Little Lindy’s” nanny. She was born at 26 Polmadie Street in Glasgow, Scotland on February 12, 1904. Her mother was Isabella McLaglan. Her father, William Gordon Gow, was a baker. Betty was a member of the Govanhill Parish Church and she attended Wolseley Street and Haysfield Street public schools to the age of fourteen.

Betty worked as a sales girl in various stores in Glasgow. Her first job was as a dressmaker with Copland & Lyre, warehousemen, at 165 Sauchiehall Street. Six months later, she was working with the Kinning Park Co-Operative Society on Rutherglen Road as a cash girl. She left this job due to illness. Later, in 1923, she was employed by A.L. Scott, Boot Factors, on Argyle Street, first in the warehouse and later in their branch shop in Sauchiehall Street. She worked there for six years, quitting to move to America.

Betty immigrated to the United States on April 27, 1929 on the steamship Cameronia of the Anchor Line. She first came to Bogota, New Jersey where her brother, William, lived. Two days later she moved to Teaneck, New Jersey where she worked as a nanny for the Gibbs family. She then moved to Detroit where she was employed by the Adam Jackson family of Lakeweed Street. Mrs. Jackson was the sister-in-law of Betty’s brother William.

After leaving the employment of the Jackson family, she worked for a few days with the Ross Family and later for the Moser Family of Grosse Pointe before returning to New Jersey in October 1930.

Once back in New Jersey, she obtained work through the Lydia Lonquist Employment Agency with Mrs. Warren Sullivan of Englewood. She worked there for nine months before taking the position of nanny with the Lindbergh family in 1931.

Betty was the last person to see the baby alive. She had put him to bed around 7:30 pm and when she returned to check on him at 10:00, she discovered he was missing. Naturally, the police wanted to thoroughly investigate her. During her interrogations, they learned that she was dating a Norwegian sailor who jumped ship in March 1927. An illegal alien, Finn Henrik (Henry) Johnson managed to secure a job on Thomas Lamont’s yacht. In 1930, Betty was with the Lindbergh’s at their summer retreat in North Haven, Maine. It was while here that she met “Red” Johnson who was also in North Haven with the Lamont’s yacht.

Henry and Betty became prime suspects. Henry was arrested in Connecticut and interrogated and later released and he returned to Norway. Betty, too, was cleared of any compliance in the kidnapping by the New Jersey State Police. She continued in the employ of the Lindbergh’s, caring for their second child, Jon, who was born in August 1932.

After the trial of Richard Hauptmann, Betty Gow returned to Scotland and lived on Kings Park Avenue in Rutherglen, just outside Glasgow. She retired as a manager from the Ilene Adairs Dress Shop. She never married.

Betty died on July 16, 1996 at the Victoria Infirmary Annex in Glasgow at the age of 92.

The Butler and his Wife
Olly Whateley was born in Birmingham, England in 1885. He attended school up to the age of 15 when he took-up trade as a jeweler. He served his apprenticeship with Tandy & Sons of Birmingham and worked with them for 20 years.

From 1914 to 1918, Whateley was employed in the munitions plant in Birmingham. After the First World War, he went into business as a manufacturing jeweler and had his shop on Vyse Street in Birmingham. In 1926, he went to work for his brother-in-law, George Ward, who was the manager of Ward & Co Machine Shop on Dale Road.

In 1929, he left for the United States with his wife, Elsie, aboard the S.S. Scythia, arriving on March 12, 1930. Elsie was born in Birmingham on November 2, 1884. Like her future husband, she attended school to the age of 15 when she went into an office to work as a secretary. She did clerical work for six years and also took singing lessons for eight years.

While in the States, Olly was first employed by J.H. Potter of Mendham, New Jersey, as a butler. On October 15, 1930, he and Elsie obtained employment with the Lindberghs through the Hutchinson Employment Agency. The Whateleys acted as caretakers of Lindbergh’s estate in Hopewell, New Jersey during its construction. When the Lindberghs were in residence, the Whateleys took on the role of Butler and Housekeeper.

On May 23, 1933, Olly Whateley died in Princeton Hospital where he had undergone an operation for a perforated stomach ulcer. Just a few years later, Elsie would succumb to cancer.

Just a Scullery Maid
Violet Sharp was born on July 25, 1904 in Bradfield, England and later moved with her family to Beenham in Berkshire. Her brother James served with the First Royal Berks Regiment in Fyzabad (Dingapore), India. Violet and her sister, Emily, attended the Beenham School and Violet left there at age 14. In 1926 Violet went to work in London for Mr. Pearce Leigh in Gloucester Square, Paddington as a parlor maid.

Violet and Emily always had a desire to travel and they decided to move to Canada. Violet booked their trip at Canada House in London and they sailed from Southampton. They traveled Third Class to Quebec. From there, they continued on to Toronto.

Violet and Emily stayed at the Women’s Hostel on Carlton Street that was also a “servants agency.” Both obtained work through this hostel: Emily worked for Lady Kept of 7 Frank Road, Toronto, as a kitchen maid. She went by the name Edna Sharp while working there. Violet, meanwhile, went to work for a Mrs. Eaton of Island Avenue, Rosedale, Toronto, as a waitress. They both held their jobs for approximately three months.

On April 14, 1930 Violet entered the United States via Niagara Falls, New York as a quota immigrant. On May 13, 1930 she entered the employ of the Morrow Family in Englewood where she worked as a maid and became quite popular among the Morrow servants.

During the course of the investigation of the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, the police interrogated all of the domestic servants. When it came time to question Violet Sharp, the police noticed suspicious behavior. It became obvious to the police that Violet was lying about her whereabouts on the night of March 1st. The police questioned her three times, and each time Violet would contradict her previous statements. Finally, on June 10th, 1932, the police called requesting a fourth interview. She agreed, but before they arrived, Violet had run upstairs to her room and drank silver polish – it contained cyanide. She died just a few minutes later.
This, of course, convinced the press (and the police, initially) that she was indeed involved - somehow - with the kidnapping. Further investigation by the police, however, revealed that she was not involved in any way that they could determine.

Her suicide became an international scandal. The Daily Mirror in England ran the headline Murder By Third Degree. On June 20, 1932, Brigadier General Clifton Brown, a Conservative MP from Newbury, rose in the House of Commons to address the issue of possible mistreatment of a British subject by the New Jersey State Police:

Is my Honourable Friend aware that the parents, owing to letters that they have had from their late daughter, are quite convinced that, owing to the methods of investigation that have been pursued, she committed suicide and that they are very anxious in the interests of justice that the whole case should be investigated?

We will never know for sure why Violet committed suicide. The police could find no tangible connection between her and the kidnapping. It is possible that she was hiding facts not about the kidnapping but about her personal lifestyle. It was learned that, while “unofficially engaged” to the Morrow Butler, Septimus Banks, she continued to see other men. The police discovered that rather than seeing a movie on the night of the kidnapping she had, in fact, gone to a roadhouse called The Peanut Grille. The most disturbing discovery was that she had been a spy for the New York Daily News, leaking confidential information about the Morrows and Lindberghs to a reporter named McKelvie. While the police dismissed this as petty, for Mrs. Morrow’s servants it was quite serious. Violet would almost definitely have been dismissed and she would have faced scorn and shunning by the other servants – her friends – who took their oath of loyalty to the family seriously.

Keeping Up Appearances
One staff member who took her position in the Morrow household seriously was Josephine “Jo” Graeme. Mrs. Roderick Cecil Henry Grimes-Graeme was Mrs. Morrow’s private secretary since November 1919 and she would represent Mrs. Morrow when she was not at home. She also had the responsibility of hiring and directing the duties of all of the household servants.
Her late husband had been with the British Civil Service in South Africa. She had two sons, Arthur David Grimes-Graeme, who was born in Transvaal, South Africa, and Cecil Grimes-Graeme who was born in England. Both of her children attended McGill University in Montreal, Canada and resided on Victoria Street.

Jo Graeme maintained an upper-middle class lifestyle. She earned a salary of $350 per month ($5250 in today’s dollars) and maintained an apartment on East 73rd Street in Manhattan for $125 per month ($1875.17). It was rumoured that the Morrow estate paid for the apartment and the college tuition of her two sons. However, there was no mention of her or her sons in Senator Morrow’s will.

Jo Graeme was not well liked by the servants who worked under her, many of them characterizing her as a high flyer and they accused her of taking kickbacks from local merchants when she placed orders for the Morrows. They possibly were jealous of her being so close with the Morrow family. Newspapers reported that she and her sons would, at times, attend social functions at the Morrow home. Joe was also a confidante of Anne Morrow before her wedding and later of Constance Morrow. In fact, Constance would occasionally spend time at Jo Graeme’s Manhattan apartment when she was in town.

Although the servants did what they could to discredit Jo Graeme, the FBI was more interested her two sons. When Colonel Lindbergh authorized the payment of the $50,000 ransom in St. Raymond’s Cemetery, he was given a note with instructions on where he could find his child. The note told him to look for a boat called “Nelly” near Martha’s Vineyard. It turns out that the Graeme family had often spent their summers at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, not far from the spot where the ransom note directed Colonel Lindbergh to search for his son.

In addition, it was believed that because they had spent time in South Africa, the sons would have been able to fake the Germanic grammar and spelling that was found in the ransom notes. The FBI and the New Jersey State Police requested samples of their handwriting. When Jo Graeme learned of this, she protested to the British Embassy in New York. The Ambassador, in turn, warned the authorities that British subjects could not be questioned without approval of the Embassy. With a lack of evidence connecting the Graeme brothers with the kidnapping, the investigation was dropped.

The New Jersey State Police, the FBI and Scotland Yard investigated hundreds of suspects in both North America and Europe. All of the leads were dead-ends until the fateful day when the German carpenter from the Bronx decided to fill his gas tank. With the arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the authorities focussed their resources on his investigation. While the police were still under the assumption that he was part of a gang, it was decided to prosecute him as the lone culprit. Any question of others being involved had to be pushed aside; the Prosecution needed a conviction – a conviction that would carry the death penalty.

The British suspects, as well as most of the other suspects in the Lindbergh Case, were simply ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation. Usually, it is only the prominent family members that are remembered throughout history. But in 1932, a handful of household servants were elevated to the same level of notoriety and public interest as their wealthy employers.


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-----. Statement. April 13, 1932.

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-----. Obituary. May 24, 1933.