Crimes are, unfortunately, committed every day in this great country of ours. While most crimes are largely forgotten, save by those directly involved or impacted by the crime, others are remembered for decades, even centuries. Those crimes are the ones that changed American history, like the seven we have for you today.
Below are some of the most shocking, famous crimes in American history, crimes that changed the way we look at the U.S., and view the world.
April 14, 1865 – The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
One of the first truly famous crimes in America was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and, just one month after his second inaugural address, was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865, while watching the play, Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Not only was John Wilkes Booth a well-known stage actor who previously performed in Ford’s Theatre, but he was also a well-known Confederate sympathizer who was fanatically pro-slavery. And he desperately wanted to free the South from the tyrannical rule of Abraham Lincoln.
The civil war technically ended just five days before Lincoln was assassinated. Confederate Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.
The Civil War might have been done on the fields, but in the minds of Confederates, there was still time to change the course of history.
Booth initially wanted to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for thousands of Confederate soldiers. But after the fall of Richmond and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Booth decided it made more sense to shoot the president.
On the night of April 14, 1865, Booth opened the door to the private balcony suit, snuck up behind the president, pulled out his derringer, and fired a single shot at the back of Lincoln’s head. The president died at 7:22 a.m. the following morning.
Lincoln’s murder was actually part of a larger plot to derail the U.S. government. Booth and his cohorts plotted to kill Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, who was supposed to be with Lincoln on that fateful night. Secretary William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson were also supposed to die that night.
Grant unexpectedly changed his plans and opted out of seeing the play. Fellow conspirator George Atzerodt lost his nerve (or got drunk), which ended up saving Johnson’s life. While Booth was assassinating Lincoln, another conspirator, Lewis Powell, entered Seward’s home and stabbed the cabinet minister, four of Seward’s children, a bodyguard, and a messenger. Somehow, Seward survived the attack.
President Lincoln’s death was mourned in the North and South with Ulysses S. Grant calling Lincoln “incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.”
The Civil War was over and America just lost one of its greatest presidents.
March 1, 1932 – Kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby
On March 1, 1932 Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was kidnapped at about 9:00 p.m. from a nursery on the second floor of their home near Hopewell, New Jersey.
The baby’s absence was discovered by his nurse, Betty Gow, and reported to Charles and Anne. The couple found a ransom note on the nursery window sill demanding $50,000 (more than $900,000 today).
Investigators found muddy footprints in the room, footprints under the nursery window, and a broken ladder used to climb up to the open second-floor window. No blood stains were found in or around the nursery. Police did not find any fingerprints either.
A few days later, another ransom note appeared, this time asking for $70,000 ($1.2 million today). After handing over the ransom, they were told that the kidnapped Lindberg baby could be found on a boat named “Nellie” near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Despite numerous efforts, investigators never found Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. As is often the case, the baby was found by accident. On May 12, 1932, the body of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. was found partially buried and badly decomposed less than five miles southeast of the Lindberg home.
The head was crushed, there was a hole in the skull, and some of the body members were missing. According to the coroner, Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. had been dead for about two months. and the death was a result of a blow to the head.
Two years later, investigators arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter. He maintained his innocence, but for a working-class German immigrant, it did no use. The deification of Charles Lindbergh Jr., and growing anti-German sentiment sealed Hauptmann’s fate.
The prosecution’s case was not exactly iron clad; it was mostly circumstantial. The main evidence was the ransom money they found on him, which Hauptmann claimed was given to him by a friend, and testimony from handwriting experts that said Hauptmann wrote the ransom note.
Intense public pressure was enough to convict Hauptmann.
He was executed on April 3, 1996.
Since that time, numerous books have been written on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby; in particular, whether Hauptmann was innocent and a victim of the American criminal justice system.
His wife, Anna Hauptmann spent the rest of her life trying to clear his name, maintaining that her husband was “framed from beginning to end” by hapless police desperate to close the case.
It is quite possible that the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby is unsolved and that the U.S. government put an innocent man to death. Popular theories that have surfaced about the kidnapping include the child’s nanny being involved and a retired teacher, who volunteered to meet the kidnapper on two occasions.
Following the most notorious crime of the 1930s, kidnapping was made a federal offense.
November 22, 1963 – The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
Who shot JFK? The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is perhaps the most debated and talked about crime in American history. If you believe the Warren Commission, which was assigned to investigate the assassination of Kennedy, than the answer is 24-year-old Marine veteran Lee Harvey Oswald.
It was Oswald alone who shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on that fateful day. After shooting Kennedy, Oswald fled the building and fatally shot Patrolman J.D. Tippit. When finally captured, Oswald famously said, “I’m just a patsy.”
Those who do not take the Warren Commission as gospel, however, have different takes on what occurred on as the president’s motorcade drove along Elm Street in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Oswald was murdered by local strip-club owner Jack Ruby as he was being escorted to a car in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters. The entire incident was broadcast live on national television at 11:21 a.m. Central Time on Sunday, November 24.