The Sixteenth Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping

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Overview

Before there was CSI and NCIS, there was a mild-mannered forensic scientist whose diligence would help solve the twentieth century's greatest crime. Arthur Koehler was called the Sherlock Holmes of his era for his work tracing the ladder used to kidnap Charles Lindbergh's son to the culprit. The subject of an upcoming Smithsonian Channel show, this is a gripping tale of science and true crime.

When people knocked on wood for good luck, Arthur Koehler actually knew why. He could ...

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The Sixteenth Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping

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Overview

Before there was CSI and NCIS, there was a mild-mannered forensic scientist whose diligence would help solve the twentieth century's greatest crime. Arthur Koehler was called the Sherlock Holmes of his era for his work tracing the ladder used to kidnap Charles Lindbergh's son to the culprit. The subject of an upcoming Smithsonian Channel show, this is a gripping tale of science and true crime.

When people knocked on wood for good luck, Arthur Koehler actually knew why. He could explain the superstition dating back to ancient times when trees were held to be deities of the forest and simply tapping on them would invoke the aid of those higher powers to ward off evils…

Koehler knew every tree in the world was distinct, just like every person. As he liked to say, "A tree never lies."

And so the revelation came.

He…began to write to his best contact, his superior at the New Jersey State Police, Capt. J.J. Lamb, the man leading the Lindbergh baby kidnapping investigation. He wanted to remind him of the original report he'd conducted on the ladder a year and a half earlier.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Plenty of intriguing yet tragic details come to light in this chronicle of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of Charles A. Lindberg Jr., the 20-month-old son of the first aviator to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the ensuing manhunt for the kidnappers. Schrager, a winner of more than 20 Emmys for his work as a producer and reporter for Wisconsin Public Television, painstakingly profiles the players involved, the surrounding media frenzy (which H.L. Mencken dubbed “the biggest story since the Resurrection”), the police inquiry, and the forensic science that finally, after a two-year investigation, fingered Bruno Richard Hauptmann as the culprit. In particular, Schrager focuses on Arthur Koehler, a wood technologist with the U.S. Forestry Service and his research in xylology, the study of wood. It was Koehler’s crackerjack work with the only piece of evidence at the crime scene—a ladder—that led investigators to the Bronx and to Hauptmann, or—more precisely—his garage, where a cut plank in the attic matched the wood used to build the ladder. Based on the evidence, Hauptmann was found guilty and executed. Casual readers might find Schrager’s account overly detailed and repetitive, but for those who have an interest in the Lindbergh kidnapping, this is a comprehensive addition to the literature about the case. (July)
From the Publisher

"Framing the story around the kidnapping case, Schrager has written a much-needed biography about Koehler and his important work in the early days of forensic science. Dynamic and compelling, Schrager’s book is a perfect read for anyone interested in the history of criminal justice." —Library Journal

"Plenty of intriguing yet tragic details come to light in this chronicle of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of Charles A. Lindberg Jr., the 20-month-old son of the first aviator to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the ensuing manhunt for the kidnappers...this is a comprehensive addition to the literature about the case." —Publishers Weekly

"The climax of Adam Schrager's The Sixteenth Rail is Koehler's riveting testimony at the trial. A newspaper headline blared: 'Sherlock Holmes in Witness Box.' Some called it the birth of modern forensic science. Koehler himself put it more simply. 'A tree never lies,' he said." —Wisconsin State Journal

"A fascinating and objective look at the forensic evidence that led to the conviction of the Lindbergh baby kidnapper. For anyone who wants to rely on simplistic assessments of that frenzied case, this highly readable book will be enlightening." —Scott Turow, author

"The Sixteenth Rail is a compelling read about one of the most notorious crimes of the last century. Adam Schrager digs into the roots of forensics with a gripping tale of a USDA xylotomist who uses his deep knowledge of wood to finger the suspect. In a world where CSI solves crimes by the dozen every night, here is a true tale of a real, mild-mannered guy and his amazing knowledge of all things wood. It is a great story about the unpredictable relevancy of obscure knowledge." —Kirk Johnson, Sant Director, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

"Industry rightfully spends millions of dollars to stimulate innovation. They should spend some of those millions distributing this book. The modest Arthur Koehler was perhaps the greatest detective innovator of the 20th century." —Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper

"This exceptionally well-written book is a must for anyone interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping and the history of forensic science. Adam Schrager has done a masterful job by providing new information in what is perhaps the greatest forensic case in history." —Paul Dowling, Creator and Executive Producer of Forensic Files

"A well-researched, well-written account of Arthur Koehler, the wood expert who has been called 'the father of forensics,' and his exacting study of the ladder in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 that led to the death sentence of kidnapper Bruno Hauptman. The Sixteenth Rail explains how forensic science began to expand into new scientific realms beyond fingerprints and bullet markings. A thoroughly engaging account of the times and the trial." —Dr. Shirley Graham, Curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden

“A dedicated government employee of the US Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory, Arthur Koehler uses keen forensic skills with wood to help solve one of the 20th century's greatest crimes. The author masterfully depicts how Koehler, who knew that the wood from trees never really dies, deploys the tenacity of a great detective to make the ladder used in the kidnap of Charles Lindbergh's son eventually talk and convincingly point to Bruno Hauptmann. The reader is continually captivated by the incredible force and unflinching will Arthur Koehler brings to his scientific craft to coax compelling clues from the 'rails and styles' to help solve one of America’s most horrific crimes.” —Michael T. Rains, Acting Director, Forest Product Laboratory

"I have never read a book so well-researched or with as much depth into the forensic issues of a criminal case. I found myself thinking, 'I wish I had a chance to read this book thiry-five years ago when I was starting my law enforcement career.' The background on Arthur Koehler, 'Slim' Lindbergh, and the other characters made it such an enjoyable read, which is not typically the case when science is such a large factor in a book. For those of us who have a keen, or even passing, interest in criminal justice cases and forensic science, The Sixteenth Rail is a must read. Arthur Koehler is now on my list of American heroes. I will want to get my hands on more copies to gift my fellow police friends." —Colonel Mark Trostel, former head of the Colorado State Patrol

"The Sixteenth Rail is a riveting chronicle of the investigation and trial that dominated American public life for over two years in the early 1930s—and the xylotomist (expert on the identification of wood) at the center of that case, Arthur Koehler. In my twelve years as a federal prosecutor, I never encountered a witness remotely like Koehler; he combines unquestioned expertise, precision, and drama. Adam Schrager weaves a compelling tale of forensic science, criminal law, and American history. This incredible true story reads like a novel." —Anthony Barkow, former prosecutor

"As Arthur Koehler's granddaughter I grew up hearing his story and knew how it ended. Yet I raced through Mr. Schrager's suspenseful and perceptive book, eager to see how it all unfolded: the farm boy turned world-renowned forensic scientist, his meticulous investigations, the dramatic courtroom testimony. Schrager's portrait feels true to the intelligent, conscientious, outdoors-loving man I knew—and I even learned some surprising things about my own grandfather!" —Nikki Koehler Guza, Arthur Koehler’s granddaughter

Library Journal
People lie, but wood doesn't. As journalist Schrager (The Principled Politician: The Story of Ralph Carr) tells it, Arthur Koehler, a pioneer in forensic science, was often called into court as an expert witness. The most well-known case in which Koehler testified, though, was the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh's son. When he saw the pictures of the wooden ladder used by the kidnappers, Koehler knew he could make that wood talk. After nearly two years on the case, he was able to provide damning evidence by explaining the origin of the wood, the way it was used, and a piece of wood found in Bruno Hauptmann's attic that perfectly aligned with a piece missing from the ladder. Hauptmann was found guilty, and Koehler was considered a new Sherlock Holmes. VERDICT The hero worship so often reserved for Lindbergh in books about his child's kidnapping is here placed onto Arthur Koehler, a key but little-known player in this drama. Framing the story around the kidnapping case, Schrager has written a much-needed biography about Koehler and his important work in the early days of forensic science. Dynamic and compelling, Schrager's book is a perfect read for anyone interested in the history of criminal justice.—Kathleen Quinlan, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555917166
  • Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/2/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 965,845
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author


Adam Schrager is an Investigative producer and reporter with WISC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Madison, Wisconsin. He has covered politics for more than 20 years, most recently at Wisconsin Public Television and at KUSA-TV in Denver. Previously, he worked at commercial television stations in La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee in the 1990's. Schrager is the author of The Principled Politician, a biography of former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr whose stand on behalf of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor would cost him his political career. The book led state lawmakers to name the new state justice center after the former Colorado chief executive. His latest book is The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), co-authored with Rob Witwer. It has been lauded by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and political figures on both sides of the political spectrum.

In his career, Schrager has won numerous journalism accolades, including more than twenty Emmy awards. He taught journalism at the University of Denver and at Marquette University for a number of years and has conducted dozens of seminars on the impact of the media on politics. Schrager has an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Michigan and a graduate degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University.

He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and three children.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Very Interesting

    This book is an excellent follow-up to "The Aviator's Wife". It explains very thoroughly how a man from Wisconsin was instrumental in linking the wood from the ladder used to kidnap the Lindberg's baby to the kidnapper. We have come a long way since the early stages of forensics, and this book tells how this scientist was ahead of his time in this process. I found it a very interesting, though sometimes a little too technical for the average reader, read & recommend it to anyone interested in the Lindberg story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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