Lindbergh Baby resurfaces again

Cousin's phone call set Florida retiree on a strange journey.

ORLANDO Fla. Fruitcake Nut case. Crazy as 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, the affable retiree, is simply the latest in a long line. Others included a country western singer, a factory worker, a couple of business men, a black women, and a man who put his claim on a postcard above three smudgy fingerprints and a stamp signature, "The Purple Planet Owner, Lt. Col. Frank C. Eyrwa, Tampa, Fla."

The Pretenders

The Lindbergh family called 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 says, 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 hands" 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 was 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 own life, particularly the years spent as 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.

Reality detaches

One day, quite suddenly, he went from reading about the case to inserting himself in the story.
He was the baby, kicked out of the 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 hands of Fred Aldinger, and the baby found in the woods was Robert Aldinger."
Aldinger telephoned Mark Falzint, archivist at the Kidnapping Archive in West Trenton, N.J., who has charted the appearance of 14 "Lindbergh Babies" since 1961. Falzint recorded Aldinger's news with equanimity. After all, he'd heard similar stories before.
Over time, the pair chatted for hours, Aldinger picking up the phone and Falzint politely confirming or countering questions he asked.
Falzint says the pretenders he has met have "all been nice friendly people." Most of them are orphans or foster children, with miserable childhoods.
One, Kenneth Kerwin, Maine, told this story: A man whose child had died arranged the Lindbergh kidnapping to regain a son. The man didn't like the new boy and gave him up for adoption.
One of the wilder accounts came from Geneva Cato Fields of Trenton, N.J., a retired kitchen worker. Fields says she first learned her identity from a former boyfriend in the CIA. She filled in the gaps with library research and self-published an account of her life, which she sold from the trunk of her daughter's car.
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.

Angry but touched

In a family memoir, "Under a Wing," Reeve Lindbergh expressed bewilderment that so many people believe they are her parents' first child.
"I am sometimes angry - Why doesn't this craziness ever stop? - but most often touched," she wrote, "What could have happened to these people? Where are their real families?"
In an interview she called them "poor things." Lindbergh said she never answered any of the pretenders' letter, because acknowledging them would "compound their suffering, the suffering of the child who died, and the suffering of my mother."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh is 93 and in failing health. Charles Lindbergh Sr. died in 1974.
"There was never any question about the body until years later," said Reeve Lindbergh, "when people arrived at the door and said: We are the baby."

Source: San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, July 11, 1999, page 6 , by Mary Jo Patterson, Newshouse News Service

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