It’s been 80 years since famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was snatched from his crib and murdered. But Stratford High School students and Texas author Robert Zorn, 55, revisited the crime of the 20th century in a lecture Friday.
Zorn recently published a book titled “Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind Behind the Lindbergh Kidnapping.”
He told Stratford students that intrigue still surrounds the case, largely because it was never completely solved.
Authorities convicted and executed Bruno Hauptmann for the crime, but at the time, investigators were certain that he did not act alone.
More than one pair of tracks were found outside the Lindberghs’ home that spring night in 1932.
And who exactly was “Cemetery John,” the infamous shadowy figure said to have penned messages to the distraught couple, and showed his face long enough to collect a $50,000 ransom?
Zorn said a decades-old memory shared from father to son could hold the answer to those questions.
While on his death bed, Zorn said his father and renowned economist Eugene Zorn made him promise to research an idea that had haunted him for years. Zorn told the students his father died believing that his boyhood friend John Knoll and “Cemetery John” were one and the same.
According to Zorn, Knoll was born in 1904 in a small European village before he immigrated to the United States.
Zorn said his father grew up in an immigrant-filled neighborhood in the South Bronx, N.Y. It was there that the two men became friends.
The belief in Knoll’s guilt stemmed from a teenage encounter Eugene Zorn witnessed between Knoll and a group of other men.
His understanding of the men’s conversation was limited since they were speaking in German. But Zorn said his dad was able to make out two things: One of the men was named Bruno, and they were talking about the Englewood neighborhood in New Jersey.
“At the time that my father died, he had an interesting story, but he didn’t have all the evidence,” Zorn said of his struggle to investigate the theory. “How do you go about researching a crime that happened 80 years ago? Obviously the people that are involved in this are all long dead. My challenge became to find out everything I could about a person who was completely unknown in history.”
All of Zorn’s research was gathered in the United States and Germany.
His book compares pictures of Knoll to drawings of “Cemetery John” reconstructed by investigators.
Knoll’s handwriting samples were compared with that found in ransom notes. Even a picture of a hand deformity Knoll had matches a description of the suspect, Zorn said.
“My goal was never to tarnish anyone’s reputation. If I ever came across any shred of evidence that disproved my dad’s theory, I would have let the whole thing go,” Zorn said.
Stratford freshman Taylor Mollo, 14, said she knew little of the Lindbergh kidnapping before Zorn’s presentation. She said she was impressed by the amount of information Zorn uncovered about Knoll.
“When (Zorn) started out, he basically had nothing. How he went from nothing to enough to write a book was really interesting,” Mollo said.
Stratford media specialist Connie McClanahan said students can learn from Zorn’s research, whether his theory is correct or not.
“Mr. Zorn was able to link history and literature in a real-world example,” McClanahan said. “The students were able to see how the things they learn in class can still apply. Hopefully they were able to relate to it enough to believe that they can do what he did, too.”