29 April 2010

New Jersey State Secret Service

A frequent question asked of the staff at the New Jersey State Police Museum is about an organization called the New Jersey State Secret Service. The questions usually revolve around their badges - are they legitimate - and, just what is (or was) the New Jersey State Secret Service?

Almost nothing is known about the New Jersey State Secret Service. What is known is that it had absolutely no connection with the New Jersey State Police nor the United States Secret Service. The New Jersey State Secret Service actually was a private detective agency located in north Jersey.

Chief George W. Bier was the operator of the agency. In 1930, his office was based at 319 Twentieth Street in West New York, New Jersey. The Bergen County headquarters of the organization where a gentleman named Fred N. Munroe worked as Deputy Chief was located at 292 Main Street in Hackensack. At one time the office was also located at 278 Ross Avenue in Hackensack.

Fred Munroe worked as a private eye for the New Jersey State Secret Service on a part-time basis. His "day job" was working in the photo-engraving department of the New York Daily News. Apparently, he was a decent detective because on March 19, 1932 "...he arrested two men in Hackensack on a charge of counterfeiting...[he] has a long record of arrests to his credit." (NY Daily News, "News Pix" page 6. April 1932). Deputy Chief Munroe also worked on the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case in March 1932, providing data on various suspects to the New Jersey State Police.

A few years prior to Munroe's his involvement in the Lindbergh Case, Chief Bier was arrested. According to a July 20, 1930 New York Times article, Bier surrendered to authorities at the Hundson County Prosecutor's Office "...in response to a warrant charging him with obtaining money under false pretenses."

Two men identified George Bier as being the distributor of badges inscribed with "New Jersey State Secret Service". Allegedly Bier was selling these badges for more than $150 along "with the promise of immunity of police action."

Michael Thuz and Joseph Hohol, who had been arrested for violation of Prohibition laws, both identified Bier. Thurz claimed that Bier had sold him a New Jersey State Secret Service badge in December 1929 for $150. "Hohol said he had received a badge from Bier for 'favors.'"

As of now, nothing more is known about this private detective agency. How long into the Depression Decade of the 1930s it lasted and how many legitimate cases they investigated continues to be a mystery.

01 March 2010

Enter: Jafsie

Doctor John F. Condon - Jafsie - is one of the greatest enigmas of the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. The first question asked about him is how did this 71-year-old retired schoolteacher and principal come to be involved as intermediary or "go-between" in the first place? George Waller, in his 1961 book Kidnap, sets the now famous scene in Doctor Condon's house on the evening of March 5th that most subsequent authors have used to relate how he thrust himself into the Lindbergh Case. [1]

There was a family dinner at the Condon home that included his wife, daughter and two sons. Already upset over the kidnapping, the day's news that the Lindberghs had appointed petty mobsters Salvatore Spitale and Irving Bitz as agents to conduct negotiations with the kidnappers "crowned his indignation with outrage." The accompanying editorial in the paper, stating the editors' "shock that the Lindberghs had found it necessary to employ the underworld in an effor to reclaim their child...seemed to be a confession that the United States itself could not do so." [2] This was a disgrace to the zealously patriotic Condon.

Waller's description of the dinner scene continues with Dr. Condon saying to his family that, "by golly Uncle Sam would restore the baby - and he would help!" [3]

It was in the wee hours of the morning of March 7th, that Condon sat up writing his letter to the editor of the Bronx Home News. That letter was to serve as an open letter to the kidnappers in which, as we have been led to believe over the years, Condon was offering his services as go-between as well as offering an additional $1,000 of his own money to the ransom payment.

This is not correct. While he did indeed offer the $1,000, Condon himself never offered his services as "go-between" in the letter that he wrote.

It seems that only two books, The Hand of Hauptmann, by Haring and The Case That Never Dies, by Gardner, get the wording of Condon's real offer correct. This is probably because they went by his actual handwritten letter and not by what was published in the newspaper.

Condon's letter to the editor is divided into two sections. The first is to the editor of the Home News and the second is to the kidnappers. When one reads the letter penned by Condon, "in purple ink...and his elegant Spencerian hand" [4] one realizes that two suggestions are being made to the kidnappers. First, "in addition to the $50,000 offered by the Colonel [Lindbergh], I offer $1,000, which I have saved from my salary..." Second, he is suggesting that, "...the one who handed the Colonel's son out of the window to the man on the ladder...go to a Catholic priest and confess his or her transgression, giving the child unharmed to any priest whom the kidnapper will name." [5] Condon continues, "I stand ready in person at my own expense to go anywhere, alone on land or water to give the kidnapper the extra money, and promise never to utter his or her name to anyone."

Condon made his appeal on behalf of the "mother of the child, for the sake of Him, who suffered at Mount Calvary, before his mother, who suffered anguish and whose heart was pierced with sorrow." Condon said that he was appealing to the "inner soul" of the man or woman, rather than making threats of punishment "for the erring one." "For the sake of his own mother, that he may offer restitution for his crime, I offer all that I could scrape together $1,000, of my own money, so that a loving mother may again have her darling child, so that people will know that the greatest criminal in the world has a bright spot in his heart, and that Colonel Charles A. Lindberg [sic] may know that the American people, of whom, I claim to be one, are grateful for the honor that he bestowed upon the United States by his pluck and daring."

In the first section of his bombastic epistle, Condon explains to the editor that he has been following his columns "since the pioneer days" and was asking the editor "to go even beyond the realm of 'journalism' , into speculative philosophy for the benefit of Colonel Charles A. Lindberg's [sic] --kid-- child. [sic]" He emphasizes that he has "never betrayed a confidence." He further explains that he is writing, "with a view to assisting the brave Colonel, and his devoted wife Mrs. Lindberg [sic] to bring back to her bosom the tender offspring, with busting arms around her neck, with his little fingers causing that joy, which offers no parallel in the world and which only a mother can experience, I make an offer to the kidnappers, with instruction as to how to proceed to restore the beautiful baby to its mother's arms."

After reading the text of Condon's original letter, most of which has been excerpted above, one may wonder how it came to be that Condon "offered his services" as go-between and how so many authors could get his offer wrong. There is absolutely no offer to be a "go-between". He only suggests that the kidnappers turn the baby over to a Catholic priest and after doing so, he would go anywhere to pay them the additional $1,000 he was offering of his own money.

It appears that the alteration is the fault of Harry Goodwin [6] or Gregory Coleman, the editors of the Bronx Home News. The editor re-worked Condon's letter, using only excerpts taken out of context to support the editor's interpretation of Condon's intentions. The following is what actually appeared in the newspaper. It is taken from a blurry copy, so not all of the words are clear. The italicized words are those that actually came from Condon's letter; the rest are the words of the editor used to change the meaning of Condon's offer:


An offer to act as 'go-between' on negotiations for the return of 20 month-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. with the promise of absolute secrecy as to the identity of the kidnappers and an additional $1,000 to the ransom which has been arranged by Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, was made today by Dr. John F. Condon, 2974 Decatur Ave., near 201st St., educator, author and raconteur. The added ransom represents the major portion of Dr. Condon's savings yet he asserted that he is willing to part with it in order to restore the child to his anguished parents. In his appeal to the abductors, Dr. Condon said, ' I offer all that I can scrape together so that a loving mother may again have the child and that Col. Lindbergh may know that the American people are grateful for the honor that he bestowed upon them by his pluck and daring."


'Let the kidnappers know that no testimony of mine, or coming from me will be used against them. I offer $1,000 which I have saved from my salary as additional to the suggested ransom of $50,000 which is said to have been arranged by Col. Lindbergh. I stand ready at my own expense to go anywhere, alone, to give the kidnappers the extra money and promise never to utter his name to any person. If this is agreeable to them, I ask the kidnappers to go to any Catholic priest and return the child unharmed with the knowledge that any priest must hold inviolate any statement which may be made by the kidnappers.'


Dr. Condon is one of the best known educators in the Bronx. He retired in 1930 after 48 years as a school teacher and since then has devoted much of his time to giving lectures at Fordham University. In offering to act as 'go-between', in negotiations for the return of the Lindbergh baby, Dr. Condon said that he was doing so on his own initiative and would be responsible to no person for information which he might obtain from the abductors.

Condon apparently supported the alterations. While one might imagine his shock upon reading what was published, there is no record of him decrying the fact that he was now seen as offering his services as the go-between. He even writes in his book, Jafsie Tells All! that, "in announcing my offer to act as intermediary, I was attempting to put into practice that resolution 'to help anyone in distress.'" [7] He is never asked about this in his questioning by the police in 1932. He was only asked if it was true that he was offering $1,000. Even in his book Condon misconstrues his own letter. For example, he writes on page 18:

I offer $1,000 which I have saved from my salary as
additional to the suggested ransom of $50,000 which is
said to have been demanded of Col. Lindbergh. I stand
ready at my own expense to go anywhere, alone, to give the
kidnapper the extra money and promise never to utter his
name to any person.

In the next sentence he writes:

If this is not agreeable, then I ask the kidnappers to go to
any Catholic priest and return the child unharmed, with the
knowledge that any priest must hold inviolate any statement
which may be made by the kidnappers.

Although not explicitly written, this has now become an "either/or" offer. Condon does not come right out and say in the first paragraph that the kidnappers are to give him the child in return for $1,000, however the next paragraph sure implies it: "If this is not agreeable, then...go to any Catholic priest and return the child unharmed..."

Sidney Whipple, author of The Lindbergh Case: The Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann writes that, "[this] was not the first such offer that had been made by public-spirited citizens. John Grier Hibben, President of Princeton University, Warden Lewis Lawes of Sing Sing prison, Dudley Field Malone, noted New York lawyer, and many others had offered to act as intermediaries, always upon a pledge that no harm would befall the kidnappers. Dr. Condon was in good and respectable company." It should be remembered, too, that at the time of Dr. Condon's letter, Colonel Henry Breckenridge, Lindbergh's attorney and confidant, was already serving as intermediary - apparently appointed by the kidnappers since they chose to send the fifth ransom note directly to his office in Manhattan.

All of this begs the questions, why did the editor completely change the published version of Condon's letter? Did Condon approve of this change or did he just "run with it" after the fact? And, more importantly, with all of the other go-between offers, why go with Condon? Condon claims that Cemetery John, a member of the alleged "kidnap gang" that he met with in Woodlawn Cemetery, told him that one of the gang members knew Condon. Would that not make the negotiations with him all the more dangerous? If true, would not the person who knew him also know about his unpredictable and publicity seeking personality? Is that the kind of intermediary a kidnap gang would want?

Or, did the editor of the Bronx Home News manipulate Condon and capitalize on his known huge ego? Who was it who distorted Condon's letter? The Bronx Home News. Who benefited from Condon's involvement? The Bronx Home News. They now had the inside scoop! They already had a relationship with Condon and Gregory Coleman of the paper was with Condon on a regular basis. Could they have goaded him into writing the letter to the editor (that they then doctored) or could it have been a happy coincidence and the editor seized on the opportunity? Could the most famous "go-between" in history be a product of a newspaper's attempt at scooping their competition?

Could it be that simple?

1 George Waller. Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case. Dial Press, New York. 1961. this scene appears to be based on Condon's description set forth in Jafsie Tells All!

2 Waller, pg. 30.

3 Waller, pg. 30.

4 Waller, pg. 31.

5 Condon also offers $1,000 "for anyone, who can prove to my satisfaction, in the history of the world where a Catholic priest has ever betrayed the screts of the Confessional."

6 Harry Goodwin was the editor "who had improved with a blue pencil the wording of many of my little stories." Greogry F. Coleman was his assistant. The owner and publisher of the paper, James O'Flaherty, was a long time friend of Condon's with whom he played baseball.

7 Jafsie Tells All! pg. 19.