Did Agatha Christie know her forensic science? What some consider her most perfect mystery, “Murder on the Calais Coach”, better know as “Murder on the Orient Express”, was based on the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932. Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator who made the first N.Y. to Paris flight in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, was a national hero. His son was taken from the baby’s crib, and later found dead.
Bruno Hauptman was arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime as the country watched newsreels in movie houses, listened on the radio, and read sensational newspapers describing The Crime of the Century. Remember there was no TV then, and no O.J.
One of the major pieces of evidence was the ladder used by the kidnapper(s) to climb to the second story window from which the baby was abducted. A forensic wood technologist , Arthur Koehler, was able to trace the wood in the ladder to a lumber yard in South Carolina that sold the wood to a lumber yard in the Bronx near where Hauptman lived. Another piece of the ladder was proven to fit into a space in Hauptman’s attic, where someone had removed that beam. Tool marks on the wood from the ladder matched one of Hauptman’s chisels.
Some say that it was a man named Fish, who had stayed with the Hauptmans, who used his tools to build the ladder, and who also hid the ransom money in the Hauptman attic. Fish, a shady character, had fled to Germany. The term, fishy business, comes from the elusive Mr. Fish.
Hauptman claimed his innocence until the day of his execution, leading his wife to hire a lawyer to continue trying to find evidence to clear his name. She died at the age of 93.
In Christie’s mystery novel, a famous gangster is murdered in his train compartment on the Orient Express. The murder happens as the train is in transit, leaving only the occupants of the luxury Wagon Lit car as suspects. She concentrates on the revenge factor of all the characters deeply affected by the Lindbergh baby’s death. The forensics, carried out on a snow bound train, rely mostly on Christie’s detective,Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells”. After using a clever technique to visualize a death threat on a note found by the murder victim’s bedside, Poirot then relies on his memory and powers of observing human behavior to figure out who-dun-it.
See these links for more information about the Lindbergh case, and a fun way of learning about Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.