The Tragedy of Hawley and Haines

Celebrated murder case of the 1920s. The idle sons of wealthy immigrants, James Bandruzian and Chico Cardenzo met at Columbia University, where both were pursuing philosophy degrees. Political radicals, they decided to kidnap the infant son of film director D.W. Griffith from his New Jersey mansion and hold the child for ransom as a show of support for labor leader Eugene V. Debs.

The pair sent a series of ransom notes signed “Hawley and Haines,” demanding that Griffith open soup kitchens in the Bowery and toss money into rural hobo camps from passing trains. After a six-week international manhunt, the missing child was discovered, nursing a broken leg, in a tobacco shed in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Bandruzian and Cardenzo were arrested three days later in Greenwich Village at the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Immigrant Communists and Anarchists, after hair found on a homemade ladder left at the kidnapping scene was determined to be foreign-looking.

Griffith’s child recovered, but due to intense public outcry Bandruzian and Cardenzo were charged with murder. Though ably defended by future vice-president John Nance Garner, who delivered a 23-hour filibuster summation before collapsing from exhaustion, the pair were convicted and sentenced to death. Last-minute protests by Griffith’s friends in Hollywood, who felt the real kidnappers were still at large, proved futile, and the pair went to the electric chair at the New Jersey State Penitentiary on December 3rd, 1926. The prison was torn down in 1968 and the land is now home to the Meadowlands athletic complex. The ghosts of Bandruzian and Cardenzo are said to haunt section 128, row 14, seats 7 and 8.

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