The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Kidnapping and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann, by Ludovic Kennedy. New York: Viking. 400 pp. Illustrated. $18.95. Fifty years ago, a carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal immigrant who fled to the United States to escape the economic hardships of postwar Germany, was tried, convicted, and executed for committing one of the most appalling and certainly one of the most publicized crimes of the American 1930s: the kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Found guilty, first in the court of public opinion, then in a court of law, Hauptmann went to his death proclaiming his innocence.
When British author and journalist Ludovic Kennedy happened to see Hauptmann's widow, Anna, on the ``Today'' show one morning in 1981, she was still proclaiming her husband's innocence. Moved by her sincerity, Kennedy, who had written books that led to the reversal of convictions in three British murder cases, decided to investigate the Lindbergh case. His film documentary for the BBC, ``Who Killed the Lindbergh Baby?,'' was broadcast in 1982 and is being rebroadcast this month by the PBS network. But to tell the full story, Kennedy knew he had to write a book.
This compelling, cogently written, and engrossing account of the Lindbergh case indicates -- horrifyingly -- that only one solid piece of evidence linked Hauptmann to the crime: some marked ransom money. Hauptmann's explanation of how he came to possess these bills was disregarded. In view of the publicity surrounding the case and in light of the other evidence amassed against him, his protestations carried little weight.