Originally created 02/08/98

Lindbergh case fostered bizarre claims



In 1980, Harold Olsen, a middle-aged longshoreman from New York, told the world he was the missing son of aviation great Charles Lindbergh.

The 20-month-old Lindbergh baby was kidnapped from his second-floor nursery on March 1, 1932. The body was found with a shattered skull in a shallow grave that May by a truck driver.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a carpenter, was convicted of the murder and electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

But the 52-year-old Mr. Olsen claimed the badly decomposed body found by police was planted by mob operatives in an elaborate scheme to help free notorious crime lord Al Capone from an Atlanta prison. Mr. Olsen said he was raised by a Swedish couple after organized crime bosses rescued him from his kidnappers.

"The body the police found was not that of the Lindbergh baby," Mr. Olsen told reporters. "It was badly decomposed, making positive identification a near impossibility. And the whole thing was done very quickly."

Mr. Hauptmann protested his innocence to the grave. He was arrested with part of the $50,000 in ransom money paid by Mr. Lindbergh.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Hauptmann was completely innocent," Mr. Olsen said. "He had nothing to do with the actual kidnapping."

Had police not been in such a hurry to solve the case, Mr. Olsen said, they would have noticed numerous physical differences between the real Lindbergh baby and the dead child found in the shallow grave near the Lindbergh home.

For one thing, he said that the dead baby's body was four inches too long -- "a fact that the police knew but chose to ignore."

Why didn't the grieving parents notice the physical differences?

"Lindy wanted to get the thing over with and to save his wife's sanity," Mr. Olsen explained. "He also wanted to shut out Capone's interest."

Mr. Capone had informed Mr. Lindbergh that he knew the whereabouts of the missing baby and would organize his release in exchange for freedom. The crime boss was desperate to avoid being sent to Alcatraz, where he was to serve out the remainder of his life sentence.

According to Mr. Olsen, Mr. Lindbergh was a "super-patriot and stiff-upper-lip gentleman of the old school" who so despised the mob that he would rather sacrifice his own son than have Mr. Capone released from prison.

But it was still in the interest of the Chicago mob to keep the real Lindbergh child alive, Mr. Olsen added. "As long as they could produce the boy, they didn't have to fear a murder rap. Besides, the mob always plans for the future: The child might be a valuable pawn worth playing at a later date."

A Capone operative named Werner Olsen arranged for the real Lindbergh baby to be raised by his brother and wife in Connecticut. They changed the child's name and birthdate but could not alter the physical scars and deformities similar to those born by the Lindbergh infant.

"My mother's relatives often noticed these similarities and hinted that I was adopted. They said I might be Lucky Lindy's lost child."

Apart from the skull indentation over the left eye and the deformed toes, Mr. Olsen said that Mr. Lindbergh's other son, John, noticed that he had certain birthmarks on his body which matched those of his dead brother.

"For what it's now worth, I am the missing Lindbergh baby," Mr. Olsen said.

Randall Floyd is a syndicated writer living in Augusta.