Why Cemetery John?

John Knoll, my father's neighbor and the criminal mastermind behind the Lindbergh kidnapping.

For me, the whole thing started in March of 1980 when I was a 22-year-old graduate student on spring break from the Wharton Business School. My father, Eugene C. Zorn, Jr., a prominent economist who had just published an article in The New York Times a few days earlier, was vacationing with me in the Hamptons at the home of my aunt and uncle. It was at this point that my father first told me that he was positively convinced that as a 15-year-old boy growing up in a German neighborhood in the South Bronx, he had unwittingly witnessed two German immigrant neighbors of his—John and Walter Knoll—conspiring with Bruno Richard Hauptmann outside Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey to kidnap the Lindbergh baby.

At the time, John Knoll was still alive, but his younger brother had died many years earlier. Hauptmann had gone to the electric chair in 1936 after he had been convicted of murdering the Lindbergh baby.

For the rest of his life, my father was haunted by his belief that two men—the Knoll brothers—had escaped justice and lived the rest of their lives in freedom while their accomplice went to his death close-mouthed. Dad had tried to approach Lindbergh through a mutual friend who sat on the Board of Directors of Pan Am with the aviator, but Lindbergh never responded to a letter hand-delivered by this mutual friend, who had once served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Eisenhower.

After my father’s death in 2006, I embarked on a research odyssey and crisscrossed the States and Germany in search of the truth. With my father having handed off his “Project Jackson” (named after the street on which my father grew up) to me, I had no idea what I might find. Yet I determined that if I came across any piece of evidence or fact about the case that ruled out John Knoll as a participant in the kidnapping, I would immediately terminate the project and that would be that. What I discovered, however, was one piece of compelling evidence after another that pointed squarely in John Knoll’s direction.

I’ve been aided by the greatest FBI profilers in the world, by prosecutors highly familiar with the Lindbergh case, by a top researcher of psychopathic personality, by forensic experts across a broad range of disciplines, and by members of John Knoll’s own family (who, incidentally, are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and who have become beloved friends). The journey has been an extraordinary one, and it has afforded me the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever encountered in my life.  My father had believed that a measure of justice would be brought to the Lindbergh case at long last with the telling of his story.

Thank you for “listening” as we go forward on this journey of exploration together..

  • Jean Fletcher says:

    Please extend my message to Robert Zorn and thank you!
    Mr. Zorn,
    Your book is brilliant and I can well imagine how compelled you must have been to write it. Your quotation by Doyle at the beginning of your book says it all…. “…it must be true”.
    Thank you for sharing this perfectly researched information from the past with the world.
    God bless you & yours,
    Jean Fletcher, Rome GA

  • Hello, Robert Zorn — I loved “Cemetery John” — fascinating! I’m sure people have driven you crazy with theories, as the Lindberghs were. May I add mine? I wonder if the perceived slight by Lindbergh that set off the kidnapper happened on the Lindbergh’s honeymoon–hence the wild goose chase of the “baby being cared for on a boat” which was coincidentally in the honeymoon area. It doesn’t sound like Knoll ever lived in that area, but it struck me. OR I wonder if the man’s beef was actually with the Morrows — could he have been the one who wanted to kidnap Con? Had the senator slighted him? That struck me, too. Maybe he couldn’t get through the Morrows’ fence so tried their son-in-law.

    … I read the book on disk on a trip and had to buy a regular copy for my mother for Christmas. Now that I have it, I’m having to skim it again before I give it to her.

    The website I’ve listed, by the way, is my book about my great-uncle, who survived the Titanic — a truly fascinating story he told me firsthand… and then the part he never told me, of how he and his wife were fleeing their jobs and wound up on the Titanic. This was the part of the story my great-uncle buried his whole life. While his hidden story was nothing criminal like Knoll’s, I can perceive someone could hide something for decades.

    Thanks —

    Julie Williams

  • gcogill says:

    One of the finest, well-researched books I had read in a long long time.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *