Exhibits of the National Law Enforcement Museum: History Time Capsules


Exhibits of the National Law Enforcement Museum: History Time Capsules

In past issues of the National Law Enforcement Museum Insider, we shared brief overviews of the Museum’s permanent exhibits. Now, we examine some stories and artifacts each exhibit will highlight.

From a 1763 document calling a meeting to select a constable to a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department uniform jacket worn by an officer at the World Trade Center on 9/11, the collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum contains thousands of artifacts that document the history of American law enforcement from the 17th century onward. Some of these objects will be showcased in the History Time Capsules exhibit.

Seven large cases that will curve along the north wall of the Museum, each time capsule will hold artifacts and images that provide a “snapshot” of a particular time in American history, viewed through the lens of law enforcement.  The “Gangsters and G-Men” case centers on the development of federal law enforcement as agents pursued the notorious criminals of the 1930s.

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Ephemera: Lindbergh Kidnapping Poster, March, 11, 1932.  2006.338.1.  Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Ephemera: Pass to Hauptmann trial, 1935. 2007.56.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Manuscript: Invitation to execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, January 6, 1936.  2006.338.2.  Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.

Eighty years ago this March, in 1932, aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son, Charles, Jr., was kidnapped from his bedroom. Due to Lindbergh’s celebrity status as the first man ever to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, the crime especially shocked the nation. And since kidnapping wasn’t a federal crime at the time (Congress would change this by passing the Federal Kidnapping Act in June 1932), law enforcement officials at the local and state level sprang into action to investigate. This wanted poster—which will be featured in “Gangsters and G-Men”—was produced just eleven days after the baby was kidnapped and directs informants to contact the New Jersey State Police.

When the baby was found dead two months into the investigation, President Herbert Hoover recognized the need to strengthen the resources available to solve the crime and ordered all federal investigative agencies to assist the state police.  The Bureau of Investigation (BOI), as the FBI was then known, would coordinate any federal level investigations related to the case.  A month after the president’s order, the Federal Kidnapping Act officially gave the BOI jurisdiction in the case, a major shift in law enforcement policy, and they took over full responsibility for investigations from the New Jersey State Police.  Agents followed thousands of leads, analyzed evidence in their fledgling scientific crime lab (which had only been established that year), and continued to coordinate the efforts of other agencies, including tracing the dollar bills the Lindberghs had paid as ransom. Eventually these efforts led to the identification and arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Like every aspect of the case, the five week trial in January and February 1935 attracted widespread media and public attention.  Trial passes, such as the one shown here, granted the public access to a trial. There, they could witness the Bureau’s expert analysis, which contributed significantly to the prosecution’s case.  Bureau Document Section experts had analyzed the handwriting on the series of ransom notes received by the Lindberghs, concluding they were written by a German and later determining that Hauptmann’s handwriting matched.  An expert on wood analyzed a ladder found near the crime scene and linked it to wood from floorboards in Hauptmann’s attic. The expert also identified tool marks on the ladder that matched those made by tools owned by Hauptmann, who was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.  His original execution date was Jan. 17, 1936, as shown on this invitation.  That day, the governor of New Jersey granted a 30-day reprieve, after which Hauptmann was resentenced to death and his petition for clemency was denied.  He was electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

The kidnapping, investigation, and trial took place during a time of profound growth for the Bureau.  Its name changed three times, becoming the familiar Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.  Congress expanded its legal powers as a result of the Lindbergh case and gangster-related crime sprees and granted its agents authority to carry guns and make arrests.  The early success of using science to solve crimes helped to shape the highly professional agency the FBI would become. 

The Lindbergh Kidnapping artifacts in “Gangsters and G-Men” bring to life in a tangible way a famous historic moment that shaped law enforcement.  The other six History Time Capsules will also use artifacts to shed light on some other notable moments for law enforcement, allowing visitors to gain a better understanding of American policing and its evolution. 

NATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT MUSEUM

901 E Street, NW, Suite 100 | Washington, DC 20004-2025 | phone 202.737.3400 | fax 202.737.3405
www.LawEnforcementMuseum.org | museum@nleomf.org