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Working with John Douglas

The cover of John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s best-seller Mind Hunter. Both of these men have been greatly helpful in supporting my work.

This past week I had the chance to join the legendary FBI criminal profiler, and founder of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit, John Douglas to film a NOVA documentary in the Bronx, NY featuring my father’s neighbor John Knoll.

It was at Woodlawn Cemetery, where the intermediary “Jafsie” Condon first met with the kidnapper who called himself  “John,” where Douglas interviewed me about my research and findings in the case. Between the takes, I was lucky enough to chat with Douglas and gain some valuable insight on his dedication to justice.

It has been an incredible opportunity to work with Douglas and his crime writing partner Mark Olshaker.

Here is a recent post Douglas put on Facebook plugging Cemetery John:

 I’ve written the foreword for a terrific new book to be published on June 14 by Robert Zorn called CEMETERY JOHN: THE UNDISCOVERED MASTERMIND OF THE LINDBERGH KIDNAPPING. Robert’s late father, a nationally recognized economist named Eugene C. Zorn, Jr., was convinced that in the summer of 1931, as a fifteen-year-old boy growing up in the South Bronx, he had unwittingly witnessed two German immigrant neighbors of his, John and Walter Knoll, conspiring at a New Jersey amusement park with Bruno Richard Hauptmann to kidnap the Lindbergh baby. (Eugene heard John speak in German to a man he called “Bruno” about “Englewood,” the New Jersey town where the Lindberghs were living in 1931.) Gene realized the importance of what he had seen and heard as a boy of fifteen when he happened across a magazine article about the kidnapping decades later and learned many details about the case that were unfamiliar to him.

 

Since his father’s death five years ago, Robert has crisscrossed the globe in search of the truth. During my first meeting with him, which lasted for six hours, he showed me evidence to support his father’s belief that his former Bronx neighbor John Knoll was indeed Hauptmann’s accomplice. The evidence, including a photograph that showed that Knoll had the same physical features as the mysterious “Cemetery John” figure in the case right down to a lump or “fleshy mass” at the base of the left thumb, was extremely compelling. A NOVA documentary is going to feature Eugene Zorn’s story and the evidence he and Robert compiled. In fact, just yesterday we were filming the documentary at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, where the intermediary first met “Cemetery John.” The book applies modern investigative criminal analysis to this important case in the crime annals of American history. It’s written in the nonfiction novel style of Capote and is a great read. You may want to follow what Robert is doing by “Liking” the Facebook page for Cemetery John. You will probably be hearing about this in the news after June 14th.

 

The paperback version of the book is now available through independent stores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

 





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.