It takes a thief to catch a thief.
That was how imprisoned mob boss Al Capone proposed to bring the kidnapped Lindbergh baby home safely.
On March 2, 1932, from his cell in Cook County Jail in Chicago, one day after the son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh had been kidnapped, “Scarface” Al Capone offered an award of $10,000 for information that would lead to the capture of the kidnappers and the baby’s safe return.
“I know how Mrs. Capone and I would feel if our son were kidnapped and I sympathize with the Lindberghs,” said Capone (Washington Post, March 11, 1932). Compassion, however, was not the only aspect of Capone’s offer.
The gangster had been in jail for four months awaiting appeal of his eleven-year penitentiary sentence for income-tax evasion. Capone asked for a temporary release from jail in order to use his influence to search out the abductors. “If I were out of jail I could be of real assistance. I have friends all over the country who could aid in running this thing down,” Capone told reporters (Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1932).
After police officials ignored his initial offer, Capone made several more pleas over the course of the next two months. He proposed to put up $200,000 bail and even offered to place his younger brother in jail as a hostage if he could be freed on bond.
When asked about accepting Capone’s offer, U.S. District Attorney George Johnson, who had prosecuted the gangster and sent him to prison on the tax evasion charges, stated that any deal with Capone would be decided by the federal government.
Officials were reasonably skeptical of the notorious mobster’s motives. For years, Capone had successfully eluded prosecution for countless crimes including bootlegging, gambling, and murder, until he was charged with tax evasion in 1931.
Capone’s proposal to save the Lindbergh baby even made it to the Senate floor. Some senators speculated that the baby may have been kidnapped by an associate of Capone for the premeditated purpose of liberating the mob boss. Ultimately, Uncle Sam refused to bargain with the criminal.
A plan, outlined by one of Capone’s lieutenants, was given to a “high official” who was to present it to the Lindberghs. The family considered it, but ultimately turned it down.
Sadly, the search for baby Lindbergh ended in tragedy in May 1932 when the child was found murdered a few miles from the family home.