To escape the media, the Lindberghs had built a 390-acre estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, where the whole family lived. Normally, Lindbergh would return to Englewood, New Jersey during the weekday, but his son had a cold on the day he would be kidnapped, and remained at the house in Hopewell.
The 20-month child was abducted at about 9:00 pm on March 1, 1932. He was snatched from his nursery by a person who entered the house by climbing up to the second floor nursery window by a ladder. The nurse, Betty Gow, checked on the child at 10:00 pm, only to find him missing. Earlier, the Lindberghs had heard a loud noise while they were in the living room, around the time that the child was kidnapped. At 10:25, Ollie Whately, the Lindbergh caretaker, called the police.
There were extensive negotiations with several purported kidnappers and purported associates. There were several hoaxes on where the child was and who had him. Eventually, a ransom of $50,000 in gold cerificates was handed by an intermediate, Dr. John Condon, to a stranger, whom seemed to be the true kidnapper. Dr. Condon would later identify the stranger as "sounding foreign". The stranger asked Dr. Condon " ... would I burn [be executed], if the package [baby] were dead?" When questioned further, he assured Dr. Condon that the baby was alive. When the exchange was complete, the stranger instructed that the kidnapped child could be found on a boat named "Nellie" near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. This was not true, however.
Seventy-three days after he was kidnapped, on May 12, the body of the Lindbergh child was accidentally found in Hopewell, four and one half miles southeast from his family's house. The body, which was lying face down was covered with leaves, insects, and rotting vegetation. The body was badly decomposed, to the point where they could not tell if he was a boy or a girl. His organs were eaten by animals, and his left leg was missing below the knee. He was positively identified by his father and nurse. Because the child had a hole in his head, the investigators could tell a massive blow to the head had killed the child shortly after his kidnapping.
More than three years later, in September 1935, a gold certificate from the ransom money was discovered; it had a license plate number written on it. The license plate belonged to Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record who was charged with the murder. The trial attracted wide media attention and was dubbed "trial of the century". Evidence produced against Hauptmann included the hand-made ladder used in the kidnapping (which matched wood found in his home), and the handwriting on the ransom note. Hauptmann was positively identified by Condon as the man to whom he had delivered the ransom money. Other witnesses testified that it was Hauptmann who had spent some of the Lindbergh gold certificates and that he had been seen in the area of the Hopewell estate on the day of the kidnapping. Based on this evidence, Hauptmann was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on April 3, 1936.
The Lindberghs moved to Europe in December 1935, partly to evade the spotlight over their first son's death.
Some people are doubtful that Bruno Hauptmann killed the Lindbergh baby, and several books have been written about the child's death. Hauptmann's widow was particularly active in calling for his exoneration. Some theories have suggested he participated in the kidnapping but did not kill the child; others have suggested he was uninvolved. Hauptmann himself always maintained his innocence, claiming that the money that had been found belonged to Isidore Fisch, a friend who had since deceased.