Tie that binds to Lindbergh
Newest 'kidnapped baby' to emerge claims link to Hauptmanns
ORLANDO Fla. Fruitcake. Nut case. Crazy as a loon.
Robert Aldinger understood how people would react if he revealed that he believed he was Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. - the blue-eyed, golden-haired baby kidnapped and murdered in one this century's most sensational crimes.
Aldinger had kept the shocking discovery mostly to himself. His children didn't know. Friends and neighbors in Orlando didn't know.
His lawyer knew, because he helped Aldinger bank his DNA. "I'm leaving a trail, " said Aldinger, 70.
And his wife knew. How could she not? Since the belief planted itself in Aldinger's brain last year, blooming from the suspicion to full-fledged obsession practically overnight, she has listened to hours of talk about the mysterious 1932 murder.
Barbara Aldinger isn't 100 percent convinced that Bob is the Lindbergh Baby, but she's supportive.
"It'd be some story if it were true," she said.
Dozens have claimed to be the famous aviator's son, kidnapped from his second-story nursery in central New Jersey and killed 67 years ago.
They started showing up in the 1950s and never really stopped, even though Charles Lindbergh Sr. had identified the corpse, and the State tried and executed a German immigrant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, for the murder.
Aldinger, an affable retiree, is simply the latest in a long line. Others included a country-Western singer, a factory worker, a couple of businessmen, a black woman and a man who put his claim on a postcard above three smudgy fingerprintS and a stamped signature. "The Purple Planet Owner, Lt. Col. Frank C. Eyrwa. Tampa. Fla."
The Lindbergh family calls them "The Pretenders" - deluded and maybe greedy folks who hungered to be recognized as the son of the renowned Lindbergh.
And they have ignored Bob Aldinger, as they have all the others.
Unlike some of the pretenders, Aldinger isn't looking for money. What he wants, he said, is a mother.
"The first thing I want is for you to know the truth. Next, I want to be in the presence of my mother, and to hold her hand." he wrote recently to Reeve Lindbergh, the youngest of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh's five surviving children, all born after the kidnapping." After that, I would like to meet you and my brothers."
It's hard to understand why a guy like this would decide in his 70th year that he is someone else.
Hard, except to those familiar with the details of the kidnapping and the conspiracy theories that abound. Fascination with the case has bred a steady stream of documentaries, articles and books.
Such a book started Aldinger's strange route from being who he was to who he thinks he is now. It wasn't a pleasant journey. "Darn near broke me up," he said.
Last year, a cousin researching the family tree phoned him from West Virginia with a curious question: Had he ever heard that his grandmother, Lena Aldinger, had introduced Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh baby kidnapper, to Hauptmann's wife, Anna? She had read it in a book.
Aldinger, a self-educated man and avid reader whose hobby is researching art history, suggested the cousin consult court records. She did, confirming that Bob's grandmother had, in fact, introduced the couple. She also learned that Bob's father, Fred Aldinger, had been Hauptmann's buddy.
Intrigued, Aldinger began studying the case - a laborious task, since a progressive eye disease has made him legally blind. He is also quite deaf.
He looked at the facts and thought about his life, particularly the years spent as a young boy in the Home for Friendless Children in the Bronx, N.Y. His father, who told him his mother was dead, rarely visited. When he was 10, his father took him out, but life didn't get much better. The boy, nearsighted and hard of hearing, was beaten and emotionally abused. A few years later, he ran away from home.
From a letter he obtained through the New Jersey Lindbergh Kidnapping Archive, Aldinger learned that his mother had actually been alive during those years. He pondered that information, plus his father's connection to Hauptmann.
One day, quite suddenly, he went from reading about the case to inserting himself in the story.
He was the baby, kicked out of his rightful family by Charles Lindbergh because something was wrong with his hearing, and placed with someone else, for money. After all Aldinger knew, there had been rumors back in 1932 - never documented - that the Lindbergh baby Was slow to develop.
"Lindbergh wanted to get rid of his child because he was defective," Aldinger said. "He had some connection through Fred Aldinger, whose own son, Robert, died.
"The Lindbergh baby was dropped into the hands of Fred Aldinger, and the baby found in the woods was Robert Aldinger."
Aldinger telephoned Mark Falzini, archivist at the Kidnapping Archive in West Trenton, N.J., who has charted the appearance of 14 "Lindbergh Babies" since 1981. Falzini received Aldinger's news with equanimity. After all, he'd heard similar stories before.
Falzini said the pretenders he has met have "all been nice, friendly people." Most of them are orphans or foster children with miserable childhoods.
One of the wilder accounts came from Geneva Cato Fields of Trenton, N.J., a reired kitchen worker.
The Lindbergh baby was born deformed, "with dual, perfectly normal male and female reproductive organs," Field said in an interview. "They removed the male and left me a perfect female. They also made me black and sent me away."
By: Mary Jo Patterson of the Newark Star-Ledger
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