ESCANABA - Could it be true?
An Escanaba native who believed he was the kidnapped Lindbergh baby from one of the most highly publicized crimes of the 20th century, may soon have his story told through film.
Harold Olson - who died about eight years ago and grew up in Escanaba - claimed he was the kidnapped child of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. His story is being carried on by his cousin Anita Carlson and screenwriter Judy Papineau, both of Escanaba. Though a body said to be the child's was discovered a few months after the 1932 kidnapping, Carlson asserts that records show the body identified was actually a female and longer in length than the Lindbergh baby should have been. So could Harold have been right?
This composite photograph above shows Charles A. Lindbergh, age 69, at left, and Harold Olson, age 52. (Courtesy photo)
This composite photograph shows Harold Olson at left at age 52, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh at age 70. (Courtesy photo)
"He not just believed it, but he had 99 percent proof that he was the Lindbergh baby," said Carlson, who noted Harold had birthmarks identical to that of the kidnapped child.
She said growing up, Harold was told from a young age he was not a member of the Olson family, but instead could be the child of Lindbergh or gangster Al Capone. Some believe he was kidnapped, held in a house, and eventually flown into the Upper Peninsula.
"The story was that Al Capone actually brought the Lindbergh baby here and flew over and landed in Stonington on my great-grandparents' property," said Carlson. She believes the Lindbergh baby assumed the identity of a deceased child in the Olson family who had been named Harold.
Carlson said the Olson family knew the baby they were receiving was the Lindbergh baby, but Harold was not officially informed of his identity until prior to leaving to serve in the Korean War. After returning home from Korea, he moved out east to Connecticut, met his wife Angie, and spent his life wondering who he really was.
According to Carlson, who stayed in touch with Harold over the years and once paid him a visit, Harold spent many years researching to prove his identity until his death.
"He stated from the very beginning of his research he was not out to collect anything from the Lindberghs," said Carlson. "Nothing as far as money or anything. All he wanted to find out was where he was from and who his parents were."
Papineau first became acquainted with Harold's story in the 1980s when she read Theon Wright's book "In Search of the Lindbergh Baby," on which her screenplay is based. Wright was a reporter for United Press in the 1930s and did some reporting on the Lindbergh case. He eventually learned about Harold and his story from his daughter, also a reporter, and mentioned it in a few chapters of his book.
"The author's daughter lives in North Carolina and I've been in touch with her for several years now through email and she's all for having this movie made," said Papineau. "She said that's exactly what her father would want, so that's been great being in touch with her and then meeting Anita."
Papineau also contacted Harold to tell him about her idea; he, in turn, sent her photos and information he had collected over the years.
"I started writing it over two decades ago," said Papineau, of the screenplay. "I was busy working and I had a child to raise... and it took me years just to get that first draft down."
She highlighted a scene of the screenplay showing just one of the unusual experiences Harold had that led him to question his identity.
Papineau said Harold and his wife Angie were about to board a ferry to Cape Cod on their honeymoon when a woman accompanied by her daughter asked to feel the dent in the back of his head. The woman proceeded to tell him he was the Lindbergh baby and that she had cared for him as a child.
After looking into it a bit further, Harold learned where the woman had lived during the kidnapping.
"There were readings done by the psychic Edgar Cayce to find the Lindbergh baby and this was only known by the FBI," said Papineau. In the readings, Cayce described a house in New Haven, Conn., as the location of where the baby was being held. He detailed how to get to the house, which FBI officials apparently could not find, but Harold found in an hour. When Harold met with the daughter of the woman who had lived in the home, she asked if he remembered meeting her mother.
"The old lady that came up to them on their honeymoon, asked to feel his head, told him he was the Lindbergh baby - that was her mother," said Papineau. "She lived in that house, as described by Cayce as being where the baby was held. That's one of the lovelier moments in my screenplay. That had to be quite a moment for Harold."
Papineau has since entered her screenplay into the Nantucket Film Festival in Massachusetts, which will be held at the end of June.
"This is the case where you've got maybe 500 screenplays entered in the contest, where seven will be noticed, so it pretty much takes a miracle," she said.
The screenplays appear before a panel of judges, which Papineau said is one of the only ways to get exposure without an agent.
"There's all kinds of film festivals all over the country...but this one was recommended by a friend of a friend who is a screenwriter in New York," she said. "She mentioned that writers seem to really like this one."
Since writing the screenplay, Papineau has written two more - including one based on another of Wright's books. Carlson, on the other hand, is planning to honor Harold by writing a book entitled "In Search of Yourself," which will focus more on Harold's life rather than on the Lindbergh case itself.
"I had a conversation with him a few days before he died," she recalled. "I said, 'You know, Harold, would you like me to write your story?' and he said, 'Thank God for you. Yes,' so I promised him I would."
She said even living in Escanaba, some people have had a hard time believing Harold's story and are quick to make an opinion without knowing what he went through his entire life. She hopes her book will allow people to come to their own conclusion on what really happened.
"I want to leave the reader so they can make up their own minds," she said. "But I want to have all the facts, the information that's right there so they can make a good closure on that."