09 September 2008

The Ransom Notes: An Analysis of Their Content & "Signature"

One of the most fascinating areas of study in the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case is the Ransom Notes. While much has been discussed regarding the handwriting and possible meaning and design of the symbol or signature (“singnature”), I find the content of the notes to be most interesting. It is well known that Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld had done a psychological analysis of the contents in the 1930s, but the content can also provide a glimpse not only into the mind of the author(s) but also into their situation. The purpose of this paper is not to answer any questions, but to raise new questions the discussion of which will hopefully shed some light behind the scenes of the ransom note writer’s desk.

The first ransom note – what we call the Nursery Note – contains a surprisingly generic message. That in itself is interesting and will be discussed later. Another interesting aspect of the note regards the holes in the symbol used as the signature. The holes punched in this note are unique in that they do not match the shape of the holes in any of the other notes. They do however, match perfectly with regards to spacing – as do all of the holes in all of the signed notes.

The handwriting in the Nursery Note is obviously heavily disguised – so much so that it is difficult to match it to the handwriting of the other notes. This has led to some speculation that this note was from the actual kidnapper(s) and that all of the others were from a separate group of extortionists, especially since Mickey Rosner was provided with a tracing of the Nursery Note handwriting (not the symbol) that he in turn gave to his underworld associates. Two points beyond the handwriting that link this note with the others could negate this theory. First, the aforementioned holes link this note with all of the other signed notes. In addition, and strangely reminiscent of S226 and Rail 16, the Nursery Note and the second ransom note (3/4/32) were once the same piece of paper. Looking under a microscope, it is easy to see where the torn edge of the Nursery Note and the torn edge of Note #2 match perfectly.

As stated before, one of the odd aspects of the Nursery Note that makes it unique is its lack of uniqueness. It is a very generic message that is not in any way specific to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Even the envelope in which it was left behind is not addressed to anyone and the salutation of the letter begins with a businesslike “Dear Sir!” Assuming the letter writer was also the kidnapper, did he know whose child he was going to kidnap when he prepared the note? How far in advance was the note written? Or did he employ someone else to write the note for him and did not want to let on at this point that this was for the kidnapping of the most famous baby in the world?

The language of the message, while generic, is also very clearly expressed. Of all the notes, it is the easiest to convert into proper English.

Dear Sir!
Have 50.000 $ redy 25 000 $ in
20 $ bills 1.5000 $ in 10 $ bills and
10000 $ in 5 $ bills. After 2-4 days
we will inform you where to deliver
the money.
We warn you for making
anyding public or for notify the Police
the child is in gute care.
Indication for all letters are
and 3 holhs.

Dear Sir,
Have $50,000 ready. $25,000 in
$20 bills, $1,500 in $10 bills and
$10,000 in $5 bills. After 2 – 4 days
we will inform you where to deliver
the money.
We warn you against making
anything public or notifying the police.
The child is in good care.
Indication for all letters are
Signature and three holes.

As you can see, there is very little difference between the two notes. As the negotiations continue and the texts get longer, the language and writing style become more difficult to read.

An additional point of trivia: the Nursery Note is the only note with German punctuation in the salutation – the exclamation mark after Dear Sir! All of the other notes use what appears to be a colon with Note 6 using a comma and Note 7 using a period.

It is interesting to note that the Nursery Note and Note 2, as stated before, were punched independently of each other and independently of each other and independently of all of the other notes. Yet, the writer makes specific mention of the signature and three holes as being the “indication for all letters.” If so, why only prepare one? Unless, of course, the author was playing it safe and wanted to see how things played out after the crime was discovered.

When he wrote the second note (3/4/32) he also drew attention to the signature by writing “singature on all letters” next to the symbol. The fourth note (3/7/32) is the last note to draw attention to the symbol until the sleeping suite note was sent on March 16th.

Note 4 simply writes “singature” next to the symbol and the reference in the sleeping suite note (Note 9) is part of the writer’s attempt to remind Condon that he is indeed communicating with the actual kidnapper(s). “Well you have ouer singnature. it is always specially them 3 hohls.”

Dr. Dudley Shoenfeld points out in his November 1, 1932 report that there is a “striking absence of a threat. There is no intimidation.” He goes on to say that there is no attempt to “use some compulsion which will make the parents of the child hasten the payment of ransom.” If anything, the notes are full of delays:

“We will holt the baby until everyding is quiet.”
“We can note make any appointment just now.”
“We will arrangh this [a go-between] latter”
“We will inform you latter how to deliver the mony, but
not before the Police is out and the Papers are quiet.”

Ransom Note #2, sent on March 4th, made no mention of how the Lindberghs should get in touch with the kidnappers. It simply admonished Lindbergh for involving the police and press and increased the ransom to $70,000. Unlike the short, generic Nursery Note, the scolding of Lindbergh in Note #2 was rather lengthy. The first five sentences were enough to get that point across:

We have warned you note to make anyding
Public also notify the Police. Now you have to
Take the consequences. This means we will holt the
Baby until everyding is quiet. We can note make any
Appointment just now.

But the note continues on for another several sentences of admonition and frustration:

Is it really necessary to make a world affair out of this?
Or is it necessary to get your baby back as soon as possible?
To settle this affair in a quick way will be better for both sides...
...We will inform you later where to deliver the money. But we will
not do so until the police are out of the case and the papers are quiet.

It was two days later, on Sunday March 6, 1932 that Colonel Henry Breckinridge, Lindbergh’s attorney and close friend, attended the [in]famous Birritella Séance. After discovering a mysterious telegram from the Rev. John Birritella and Mary Ciritto – psychics who ran a spiritualist church in the Bronx – it was arranged for them to come down to Princeton where they met with him and Colonel Breckinridge and held a séance. Asked by the psychics if he has heard from the kidnappers, Breckinridge lied and told them “no”. He also tells them that there can be no delay in contact from the kidnappers as the situation was literally killing Mrs. Lindbergh.

The next ransom note, Note #3, was sent on March 7th, the day after the séance, and it was mailed not to the Lindberghs in Hopewell but rather to Colonel Breckinridge at his office. The note was a simple message asking that the enclosed envelope be delivered to Colonel Lindbergh. The note to Breckinridge was on plain paper and had no signature.

The note to Lindbergh, however, was signed and it referred back to information possibly gleaned at the séance. First, it could have been through the Birritellas that the note writer learned of Henry Breckinridge’s name and his association with the Lindberghs and therefore believed it would be better to send the missive to him rather than to Hopewell because “we know Police interfere with your privatmail.” The writer obviously believed that Lindbergh had not received the March 4th note, probably based upon Breckinridge’s “lie” to the Birritellas.

When the kidnapper(s) sent the second ransom note, it appears that they had planned to hold off on future communications for a while: “We can note make any appointment just now...We will inform you latter where to deliver the money. But we will note to so until the Police is out...” Also, if the Birritellas were indeed sent by the kidnapper(s), they re-enforce the delay in communication by telling Breckinridge that he would receive his next communication from them “within two weeks.” It was then that Breckinridge informs them that that would be too long because Mrs. Lindbergh would not survive. In fact, the séance ended “with emphatic requests from [Breckinridge] to both of them for quick action.” And it was indeed quick action as Ransom Notes 3 and 4 were sent the very next day.

What is interesting about the content of Note #4 (the note addressed to Lindbergh that accompanied the unsigned note to Breckinridge) is that it is an almost exact duplicate of Note #2, including the scolding:

Returning to the holes in the signature symbol, again we now know that Note #1 (3/1/32) and Note #2 (3/4/32) were punched independently of each other and of all the other notes. The next set of notes with holes is Note #4 (3/7/32), Note #6 (3/9/32) and Note #7 (3/12/32). These three notes were all punched together. Note #5 (3/9/32), oddly enough, is not signed and therefore there are no holes. So far, chronologically, only the instructional notes -- Note #3 to Breckinridge and Note #8 (3/12/32) left under the stone at the frankfurter stand – were unsigned. Note #5, however, appears not to be an instructional or directional note but rather a regular communiqué from the kidnapper(s).

The unsigned Note #5 was sent on March 9th to Doctor John F. Condon. It was an important letter in that it tells Condon that he may act as the go-between. One would think that a message from the kidnapper(s) as important as this would require the signature for verification. Included with this note, in its own sealed envelope addressed to Colonel Lindbergh, was Note #6. This letter was signed with the symbol and holes and it tells Lindbergh that Condon may act as the go-between. It goes on to give other instructions regarding the ransom money, the dimensions of the “packet” in which it was to be delivered and it further warns him not to involve the police.
Interestingly, the note goes on to tell Colonel Lindbergh that after the money is exchanged “we will tell you where to find your boy” and that he “may have an airplane ready” as the location is about 150 miles away. But before telling him the “address”, there would be a delay of eight hours.

It almost seems as if Notes 4, 6, 7 were to be the last letters of official communication, with unsigned Note #8 left as a directional note at the frankfurter stand. Note #7, which was signed, was delivered to Dr. Condon on march 12th by taxi driver Joseph Perrone and it gave him instructions to drive to the frankfurter stand on Jerome Avenue where he would find Note #8.
It appears that the kidnapper(s) expected the ransom exchange to take place at this time and that the notepaper with the holes is now used up. Some theories regarding the meeting that followed in Van Cortlandt Park see it not as the expected ransom exchange but rather a meeting between fellow gang members – Condon and “Cemetery John” – when Condon is informed that the baby had died. The content of the notes does not seem to support this; at least from the perspective of Cemetery John and whatever other gang members there may or may not have been. It could, however, have been Condon’s intent to delay the payment at this time for whatever reason, as he did not take the ransom money with him to the cemetery. This speculation needs to be left for another discussion as it is out of the scope of this paper.

What is interesting about Note #5, which is in the middle (so to speak) of the three signed notes is that it is not itself signed. Notes 4, 6 and 7 were punched at the same time, but delivered on three different days: Note 4 on March 7th, Note 6 on march 9th and Note 7 on march 12th. Since Note 5 and Note 6 were delivered together, why was the symbol not used on Note 5?
Could it be that the source of the symbol was not readily available? They had three papers punched available (they were punched at the same time, remember). Did they come up short because of having to re-write Ransom Note #2? This note, Note #4, was an unexpected replacement for the note that Breckinridge told the Birritellas Lindbergh never received. What was going on in the kidnappers’ camp?

Imagine if you will, the kidnapper and/or his gang have a template that is not easy to access. They punch the paper for the Nursery Note, and then put the device away because they want to wait and see what the reaction is to that first note. They take the device and punch the paper for the second note and put it away again. Later, they take the device and punch three papers with the intent of writing Notes 5, 6 and 7. The Birritellas are dispatched to make contact. They report back with the news that Note 2 was never received. Now they need to contact Lindbergh again, this time through Breckinridge. They realize they will need to authenticate their note, so they grab the paper that was intended for Note 5 and use it to write Note 4. Note 3 would need no authentication, it’s just instructional and it would be a waste of punched paper.

Assume, too, that the kidnapper(s) knew ahead of time that they would use Doctor Condon as the go-between. How this came about does not matter here. But it does make sense that the kidnapper(s), who had said more than once that the kidnapping was planned in advance, would have figured out who they would use before reading his letter in the newspaper. Assuming that they knew they would use him, it would make sense for the plan to have been to send Note 5 to him written on punched paper. But they are short one. They know that Note 6, which went to Lindbergh, needed to be signed and that Note 7, telling Condon where he needed to drive to, needed to be signed (else how would he know it was the actual kidnapper(s) telling him what to do? Again, it matters not if he was “in on it”. If he was, they needed to do this “for show”).

So, they have three punched pages, one is used to replace the note that the kidnapper(s) thought never arrived leaving them a page short. Rather than sending an un-punched page, why did they not simply punch three holes? What prevented them from gaining access to the template? Could a similar problem have occurred again? After the March 12th meeting with Condon in the cemetery, the kidnapper(s) said they would send him the child’s sleeping suit. One was sent along with a signed note, but it was mailed after a four-day delay. And, it was most likely mailed from Connecticut. The delay has often been blamed on the kidnapper(s) having the sleeping suit laundered. After all, when Breckinridge looked at it, he asked, “why did they launder it?” That probably never happened as both Lindbergh and the police agreed that it was “similar” to the child’s sleeping suit but they did not believe it was the one he was actually wearing on March 1st. If it was indeed a store bought sleeping suit (or one taken from the nursery by Condon the night he slept in the room) the kidnapper(s) would need to authenticate the package by sending a signed letter. Could the four-day delay have been caused by the need to gain access to the template again? After all, the kidnapper(s) would not have expected to use the template ever again once the ransom was paid on March 12th. When that failed to happen, they needed to scramble to prepare the next note.

Ransom Note 9 does arrive with the sleeping suit on March 16th and it has indeed been punched and the holes line up with all of the previous signed notes. This time, two notes have been punched at once. The shapes of the holes in Note 9 are unique from the previous notes, however they do match the holes on Note 10, which was sent on March 19th.

Now there is a big gap in communications. The next note does not arrive until ten days later! Note 11 arrived on March 29th. It, and Note 12 (April 1st) were also punched at the same time. Why the delay? Was it to throw the police off the trail? Was it to gain access to the template again? Both? Easter fell on March 27th that year; could this somehow have made it difficult to gain access to the template?

Continuing this new tradition of punching pages in pairs – which seems to have been adopted so that there would be enough punched paper to communicate but not too much to have laying around – Note 13 and Note 14 have matching holes.

Note 13 was the note mysteriously delivered to Doctor Condon by the “invisible taxi driver” on April 2nd. However, it is Note 14 that draws attention to itself in that it was another simple instructional or directional note left under a rock at the Bergen Flower Shop. It was the one that directed Condon to “cross the street and walk to the next corner”. There was no need to authenticate this note with the signature as a signed note (Note 13) had directed Condon to it. Also, and even more interesting, the envelope was addressed to Condon with both his name and street address, but with no stamp. Why? Why did the kidnapper(s) feel the need to write out Condon’s full address if the envelope was being left under a rock? The envelope for Note 8 – the one left under a rock at the frankfurter stand – was also addressed in this way. Why? After all, the notes that had led him these hidden notes told him that he would find them there.

Was it addressed so that if someone found it before Condon arrived they would simply have mailed or delivered it to Condon without opening it first? And could this be why the note was signed? So that if it were mailed to him, he would know that it was a legitimate note from the kidnapper(s)? Granted, it would be too late to meet with them that Saturday night, but at least he would realize that he was not double-crossed.

The last note, Note 15 is known as the Boad Nelly Note. This is the note that was given to Doctor Condon after the exchange of the ransom money was made. It is not signed which leads credibility to Condon’s claim that he insisted that he be given a “receipt” for the money. Some speculate that Cemetery John had the note with him all along; however, why would the kidnapper(s) furnish such an important piece of information on an unsigned paper? Why not, when punching the holes for Notes 13 and 14 punch one last page for the final note? Were they going to wait to see if they actually got the ransom money and then use the 8 hours they claimed Lindbergh would have to wait to punch one last paper? Or were they not even planning on providing the location of the baby to him, especially since the baby was lying in a shallow grave in Mercer County?

It is possible that the note was hastily written to fulfill Condon’s request in the cemetery as he claimed. But would a kidnapper or ransom negotiator have taken a fountain pen to a cemetery meeting? A pencil maybe, but an ink pen? And if Cemetery John did happen to have a scrap piece of paper in his pocket, why was he carrying an envelope, too? The note was handed to Condon in a sealed envelope. It should also be pointed out that the Boad Nelly Note is the most neatly and evenly written of all the ransom notes, which should not be possible if written last minute given the stress of the evening as well as the lack of a smooth writing surface not to mention the poor lighting conditions. But, as stated above, if it was prepared ahead of time, why was it not authenticated with the signature?

A study of the ransom note contents raises many more questions than it answers, but they are important questions that force us to try to shed a little more light on the hidden actions of the kidnapper(s). While it is not possible to know for certain what was going on behind the scenes, these questions and theoretical answers may help us to understand not only the world of the kidnapper(s) but also of Condon and others whose actions were in their own ways influencing the content of the ransom notes.


The Ransom Note “Signatures”