Is Along Came a Spider (2001) a True Story?

A Lee Tamahori directorial venture, ‘Along Came a Spider,’ marks the second outing of Morgan Freeman as the forensic psychologist and MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) detective Alex Cross after the 1997 film ‘Kiss the Girls’. Cross’ partner is killed when a sting operation goes horribly wrong, and he subsequently resigns from the force. However, he soon learns that a US senator’s daughter gets kidnapped by a man who was supposed to be her computer science teacher.

Naturally, Cross is drawn back into the perpetual cat-and-mouse game between the police and criminals by the abductor himself, whose sole reason for taking the young girl is a twisted pursuit of fame. Cross teams up with Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who was part of the security detail for the girl and seemingly feels responsible for the kidnapping, to find her before it’s too late. If the realistic characters and the true-crime setting of ‘Along Came a Spider’ have made you wonder whether the show is based on real-life events, we have the answers for you.

Is ‘Along Came a Spider’ Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Along Came a Spider’ is not based on a true story. Screenwriter Marc Moss adapted the 1993 namesake novel by bestselling author James Patterson. Like ‘Kiss the Girl’ before it, the 2001 mystery-thriller film revolves around the exploits of Alex Cross, who uses his brilliant deductive reasoning along with his psychology background to solve crimes. The novel ‘Along Came a Spider’ is actually the first Alex Cross book that Patterson published. Since then, the series has found a large readership. Several books belonging to it have been featured on the New York Times Bestseller list for multiple weeks in a row.

When Moss wrote the script, he introduced certain changes that have been controversial. He not only omitted the part about the kidnapper Gary Soneji or the Spider having dissociative identity disorder but also completely left out the subplot about his family. In fact, unlike the source material, the film never really delves deep into its antagonist’s character. The childhood abuse that caused his DID doesn’t get a mention; neither does his attempt to kill Cross and his family. Furthermore, the film wraps that part of the story neatly by showing Soneji’s death. However, in the book, he lives and gets sent to a mental health facility. In time, he becomes one of Cross’ worst adversaries.

Another key element absent from the film is the romance between Cross and Flannigan. In the movie, he is married to a woman named Vicki. The movie also differs in its portrayal of Flannigan’s ultimate fate. While it shows that she gets gunned down by Cross, the book depicts her being executed by lethal injection. Moss also changed Maggie’s name to Megan and her classmate Michael Goldberg’s name to Dimitri Starodubov. Unlike in the film, they are taken together by Soneji in the book. It takes much longer for Cross and others to recover Maggie in the book than it does for them in the film. Almost two years after her kidnapping, she is found living with a Bolivian family around the Andes Mountains.

The Story of the Lindbergh Kidnapping

Soneji’s actions are heavily influenced by the real-life 1932 kidnapping of one-year-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the son of renowned American aviator Charles Lindbergh Sr. The kidnapper was a man named Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant who came to the US through illegal means in 1923. On March 1, 1932, Charles Jr. was taken from his room in the Lindbergh home in Highfields, New Jersey, and $50,000 in ransom money was subsequently demanded. Although the family paid the amount, the child’s body was discovered a few miles away from their home on May 12.

According to some experts, the death was likely an accident, caused by a brain injury sustained during the kidnapping. On September 19, 1934, Hauptmann was apprehended by the authorities for his connection with the kidnapping after it was discovered that he had spent some of the ransom money. He was tortured in later that day during the interrogation but kept saying that the money wasn’t originally his. It belonged to one of his friends, Isidor Fisch, who left it with him in a box when he departed for Germany in December 1933. Fisch passed away four months later in the city of Leipzig.

According to Hauptmann, he opened the box after it sustained damage due to a roof leak and found the money. He kept it because he thought Fisch owed it to him due to a business transaction between them. This line of defense didn’t stick, especially after Fisch’s family came to the US to testify at his trial. He was ultimately given a death sentence, which was carried out via an electric chair on April 3, 1936. The case was exponentially hyped by the media, which christened the Hauptmann trial as the ‘Trial of the Century” and ran stories referring to him as “The Most Hated Man in the World.” This is precisely the type of infamy Soneji is after in ‘Along Came a Spider.”

Read More: Along Came a Spider Ending, Explained