By: Angie Haddock
When the most famous toddler in America, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., is kidnapped from his family home in New Jersey in 1932, the case makes international headlines. Suddenly a suspect in the eyes of both the media and the public, Betty Gow must find the truth about what really happened that night, in order to clear her own name—and to find justice for the child she loves.
I felt like we needed a good ol’ fashioned Historical Fiction over here, and this one piqued my interest. Fun fact: my eighth grade honors history class did a mock trial at the end of the year, and we re-enacted the Lindbergh kidnapping court case. So, I’ve been familiar with the basics of this story since I was 14.
Because this one is based on real events, I am not going to hold back on “spoilers.” The basics of the case, for those who are not familiar:
Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were super famous. They tried to mostly keep their first-born, Charles Jr., out of the public eye. When Charles Jr. was 20 months old, he was kidnapped from his crib while all the adults of the house were home. A broken ladder was found nearby, which was assumed to be how the kidnapper got into his second floor bedroom. There was a ransom note left. The Lindberghs paid the ransom, but the baby was not returned at that time. His body was later found in the woods near the house. The police kept trying to find out who did it, even after the body was found, by tracking the bills that had been used to pay the ransom. Eventually, they arrested and tried a German immigrant who had no known ties to the family.
In this retelling, the kidnapping takes place around 40% into the book, and the baby’s body is found at around 60%. Which brings me to my only struggle here: there is a lot of backstory presented before the “big event.” But really, while it felt like a lot while getting through the first 4o% – during the investigation, every little detail comes back up to be questioned. So, in reality, that immense background is necessary.
While this story is told from the nanny’s perspective, it really shines a light on the lives of all the “help” that work for both the Lindberghs and the Morrows. (As in, Charles Lindbergh’s in-laws.)
The house where the kidnapping took place was actually still being built, so the family was often staying at the Morrow’s estate instead. The Morrow property had a gate and a guard out front, so it made sense to target the other house. But, who knew when the Lindberghs would be there? This becomes a central question. While the man eventually arrested for the kidnapping had no known connections to the family, the idea is that someone on the inside had to have leaked the whereabouts/schedule of the baby – intentionally or by just being careless.
So everyone inside the house becomes a suspect. As does any romantic partners they have, people they may have been out drinking with that night, etc. And, if a character was drunk that night… what are the odds they’ll remember everything accurately, anyway? This spreads suspicion on so many characters. One, Violet Sharpe, even commits suicide. Was she hiding something, or just overwhelmed by the pressures put on the staff by the police?
We do eventually get all the way through the trial, in which our main character, Betty Gow, is ultimately exonerated. But even she continues to question those around her.
The writer presents the story with the assumption that the man accused really was the kidnapper, but he had an unwitting accomplice on the inside. I don’t think we’ll ever really know the details on that, as most of the real people are now deceased (and some were already deceased by the time of the trial). But it makes for a compelling read, nonetheless – especially for fans of true crime.