Mark Falzini ’91, the archivist who oversees the New Jersey State Police Museum’s mountain of research connected to the Lindbergh kidnapping, has taken questions and requests from authors, academics, journalists, schoolchildren—even from the plain curious, including two retirees who visit the museum every month to pore over documents and swap opinions.
History tells us that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was executed in 1936 for the 1932 kidnapping and murder of legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr. Yet interest in this New Jersey-based factual drama has not waned in the 80 years since the Lindbergh baby was abducted, solidifying Falzini’s status as an investigative Sherpa.
Not that he minds. “That’s what it’s here for,” says Falzini, referring to the West Trenton, NJ, museum and its 250,000 documents, photographs, videos, and artifacts. Besides, Falzini, an insatiable history buff, is forever curious. “I’m still learning little tidbits,” he says,“because I’m always looking at things and thinking, ‘Oh, look at this…”
Falzini quickly learned why so many people become infatuated with the Lindbergh case when he began working at the museum in 1992.
“You have mystery, you’ve got the rich and famous, you’ve got the poor, you’ve got the immigrants, the illegal aliens,” he says. The kidnapping and subsequent trial, which took place in Flemington, NJ, were set against a historically rich backdrop that featured the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler. For Falzini, history is about telling stories, and the Lindbergh case, which he calls “America’s greatest soap opera,” has everything. Even better, the plot keeps thickening.
“You’re always finding new things,” he says, “because you’re looking at things with new eyes.”
To paraphrase Hauptmann, the book on this 80-year-old case has not closed. Theories abound regarding motivations and participants. Yet despite his expertise, Falzini, author of Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case, doesn’t have a theory of his own.
“I’m exposed to so much information, I’m baffled,” Falzini explains. “And if I pick one thing I believe, then when someone else comes in [and] I go to help them with their theory, I’m going to be blocked. This way, by taking on their theory for the day, I’m better able to help them, but also, in a selfish way, I get to help myself and learn more.”
Lloyd Gardner, a professor emeritus at Rutgers, visited Falzini’s museum while researching his book The Case That Never Dies. “He knows so much more about the case than anyone else,” Gardner says of Falzini. “He is able to guide researchers without imposing his views on them. ”
Gardner adds that many archivists consider limiting outsiders’ access to materials part of their job. Falzini, “unfailingly kind and courteous,” actually offers research suggestions.
“He’s in a beautiful little spot where courtesy exists,” Gardner says.
Recently, that courtesy was extended to some Hollywood filmmakers. J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s 2011 biopic of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, features a segment on the Lindbergh kidnapping. Not surprisingly, Falzini and the museum played a role in what audiences saw onscreen.
Michael Sexton, the film’s property master, and his assistant, Kevin Shaw, met with Falzini in December 2010. The duo spent eight hours examining the evidence, shooting photographs, drawing sketches, and taking measurements. Several months afterward, Falzini helped Sexton and Shaw over the phone and through e-mail.
In the end, Hollywood sort of got it right.
“The props for the movie—the ladder, the wallpaper [in Charles Jr.’s room]—those were all accurate,” says Falzini. “Everything else, well, I don’t know. They screwed up William Allen, big time. They had a white guy portraying him…. I was really annoyed by that, because how could you make such a major mistake?” Allen, one of Falzini’s favorite figures in the case, was the African-American truck driver who discovered the corpse of Charles Jr. several miles from the Lindberghs’ Hopewell, NJ, home.
But the biggest oversight by the filmmakers? Falzini and the museum were not acknowledged in the movie’s credits.
“I don’t know why,” Falzini says. “But it was an honor to work on the film, and I would work with Mike and Kevin again in a heartbeat. They’re both great guys and fantastic to work with.”
Regarding his alma mater, Falzini remembers the College as being “the best time of my life.” He cites professors John Karras and the late Tom Faughnan with teaching him how to write and research, essential tasks in his line of work.
“A history degree at Trenton State prepares you for anything,” Falzini says.
“I’m damn lucky,” he adds. The reason why comes a few moments later: “I’m paid to work on my hobby.”
I read with great interest Mark Falzini’s (’91) article on the Lindberg kidnapping case in the TCNJ Magazine. Being a graduate of the class of ’71, I would like to share my “connection” to this case. But first, let me start in the present and then work my way back……
On January 2nd, 2010 at about 12:30AM, my 90 year old mother was sleeping downstairs in a chair near the front door of her 120+ year old row home in Trenton when a fire started in the row home next door. Flames and smoke soon spread throughout the 6 unit complex. As she was sleeping downstairs on the main floor, fire engulfed the entire 2nd floor and attic which ultimately rendered her house and 4 other units uninhabitable. Eventually, the fire was spotted and Trenton Police and Fire were called. The entire city block was cordoned off as firefighters struggled to put out the fire. In the meantime, Trenton Police asked a neighbor if anyone lived at my mother’s address. The neighbor reported that an “old lady” lived there. Not receiving an answer after knocking on the door and ringing the doorbell, Trenton Police broke the front bay window and the neighbor entered and unlocked the front door. Trenton Police then entered through the front door and rescued mom who was now awake, startled and confused by all the noise of someone breaking and entering through the front bay window! Mom had no idea that the fire had completely engulfed her 2nd floor, where she often slept, and her 3rd floor attic, while she was sleeping. Police whisked mom to safety to an unknown neighbor one block away who offered to assist. The row home where the fire started was “totaled” while mom’s house suffered major fire, smoke and water damage. She instantly became homeless and lost most of her possessions.
On or about the date the Lindberg baby was kidnapped, March 1st, 1932, my grandfather, Walenty Pacia, a 42 year old legal immigrant from Poland residing in nearby Ewing Township, together with his 45 year old neighbor-friend, Frank Wucinski, decided to take a ride to the Hopewell Township area and uproot some young cedar trees to plant on their properties. Apparently, this was a common occurrence back then as much of Hopewell Township was rural and wooded. They travelled together in my grandfather’s Nash, dug up some trees, came back home and planted them on their properties. Evidently, someone observed them and the Nash in the Hopewell vicinity and reported them to the police.
On the date the body of the Lindberg baby was discovered, May 12th, 1932, detectives from the Jersey City Police Dept and New Jersey State Police paid a visit to my grandfather, Walenty and his friend, Frank who were interrogated by them in connection with the kidnapping. Needless to say, they had nothing to do with this crime other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My grandfather was 5’5” and 145lbs. As a young child, I remember him telling me that he was once visited by 2 of the biggest men (detectives) he had ever seen although I didn’t understand why at that time. I do now.
Fast forward 78 years later….the friendly neighbor 1 block away who agreed to take my mother from the police at 1:00AM and give her shelter was the granddaughter of Frank Wucinski, “partner in crime” with my grandfather 78 years previous. The granddaughter, Nancy Kucinski, had a copy of the police interrogations of both her grandfather and mine. She kindly gave my family a photocopy which I treasure to this day as part of my heritage.
I am happy to report that my mother, who is now 93, was not injured during the fire and is now happily residing with my brother, Ted and his wife, Inez. I thank God there was a happy ending to this tragedy.
And that is my connection to the case of the Lindberg baby kidnapping discovered 78 years after the “crime of the century.”
[Should Mark Falzini be interested, I would be happy to add to his collection by providing any of the information above.]
Thomas Pacia, ‘71