Anthony Scaduto, a journalist and author who wrote the first serious biography of Bob Dylan and an investigative book contending that Bruno Richard Hauptmann was wrongly executed in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 85.
The cause was complications of diabetes, his wife, Stephanie Trudeau, said.
Mr. Scaduto was a veteran reporter at The New York Post when he left that job to write “Bob Dylan,” a 280-page biography that took a journalistic look at Mr. Dylan’s still-evolving life and work.
Reviewing the book in The New York Times in February 1972 along with two others, about John Lennon and Janis Joplin, Peter Marin, a writer on social issues, seemed to question whether the artists deserved such attention.
The books, Mr. Marin wrote, were evidence of “the corrosive effects of media and the eerie electronic dimension we have created in America, a dimension in which Janis Joplin, Dylan and Lennon float like elephantastical golemical presences, blown past all proportion into enormous stars.”
Mr. Scaduto responded to the haughtiness in a letter to the editor. “In our day and age,” he wrote, “I can’t help feeling pity for this type of pedant. Just as I pity anyone who can dismiss Dylan — the man and the artist, not my book — so cavalierly.”
Mr. Scaduto lived to see Mr. Dylan win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The subject of his other major book, Bruno Hauptmann, remains a polarizing figure, his guilt or innocence in the Lindbergh case still provoking debate among crime buffs.
Hauptmann was executed in 1936 for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh, one of the most famous men in the world, and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The child had been taken from the Lindbergh home in New Jersey in 1932. A body identified as the boy’s was discovered that May near a highway four and a half miles from the house.
In “Scapegoat: The Lonesome Death of Bruno Richard Hauptmann,” published in 1976, Mr. Scaduto, aided by his experience covering crime for The Post, built a convincing case that justice had not been served. He found evidence that had been withheld, witnesses who had bent the truth, and more.
“ ‘Scapegoat’ should be compulsory reading for those who fear that postwar rulings by the Supreme Court, protecting the rights of the accused, have tied the hands of justice,” John L. Hess wrote in reviewing the book in The Times. “By overriding the rights of Hauptmann, the authorities may well have let the real perpetrators get away.”
Anthony Scaduto was born on March 7, 1932, in Brooklyn. His father, Frank, had a food import-export business, and his mother, the former Louise Bondelmonte, was a seamstress.
Mr. Scaduto attended Brooklyn College for two years but left school because he was already working at The Post, where he had started as a part-time copy boy right out of high school. His ability to write well soon got him elevated to staff reporter. His work for The Post included a 1964 series on the New York City police that captured the tensions of that time, dynamics still evident a half-century later.
“The New York policeman today is a perplexed, sometimes frightened man,” he wrote. “From the cop on the beat to the highest-ranking superior, he points with pride to the praise the force has received from some quarters for its careful, bend-over-backwards handling of civil rights demonstrations, which are often admittedly deliberate attempts to provoke arrest.
“At the same time,” he continued, “he is bewildered, honestly shocked, to discover that a large number of Negroes and Puerto Ricans distrust and fear the police uniform and are expressing their hostility more and more openly.”
Mr. Scaduto’s books also include “Lucky Luciano: The Man Who Modernized the Mafia,” published in 1975 under the pen name he sometimes used, Tony Sciacca. (The surname was taken from the Italian town where his father was born.) Two years after his Dylan biography came out, he published “Mick Jagger: Everybody’s Lucifer.”
Mr. Scaduto married Maria Ventra in 1954; that marriage ended in divorce in 1974.
In addition to Ms. Trudeau, whom he married in 1978, he is survived by three children from his first marriage, Teri, Laurence and Frank Scaduto; a son from his second marriage, Michael; and a grandson.
After the birth of his son Michael in 1980, Mr. Scaduto returned to full-time journalism, working on Page Six at The Post and then covering pop culture for New York Newsday and, after that paper stopped publishing in 1995, for Newsday on Long Island. He retired in 2002.
Though Mr. Scaduto was best known for his writing on pop culture and crime, he brought depth to a range of subjects, including, in a five-part series for The Post in 1966, the accelerating cost of food in the United States, a significant public issue at the time.
For the series he looked at the costs incurred all along the food chain, from the farm to the transportation system to the supermarket. And for those who — to borrow the title of his Lindbergh book — made an easy scapegoat out of their grocer, he had bad news.
“The dreary fact,” he wrote, “is that if supermarkets and food chains in the New York area gave up all their profits and handed them over to the shopper as price cuts, a basket of food costing $10 would be cut only to about $9.90.”