Charlie Ross Kidnapping Links...
Charlie Ross (born 1870) was a child in Germantown, Philadelphia, when he was kidnapped on July 1, 1874. The story was a media sensation of its time. The abductors mailed the Ross family twenty-three ransom letters over the course of the first four months of Charlie's absence, but despite a willingness to meet the demands of the abductors, the Ross family never saw their son again. In November 1874 two men were shot while burglarizing a house on Long Island. Although both men died that night, one confessed to police that he and his partner were responsible for kidnapping Charlie Ross. He claimed that only his partner knew the boy's whereabouts. A third man, later picked up, was charged and tried with being an accomplice and sentenced to seven years in jail. For years following the incident people turned up either claiming to know something about Charlie or of actually being Charlie Ross, but the boy was never found....
From "Ransom Kidnapping in America" by Patterson Smith -
Here is an excerpt about the Charley Ross Kidnapping. The book/website also contains accounts of many other similar crimes.
It is generally agreed that the first American kidnaping for ransom took place on July 1, 1874 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Charley Ross, the son of a merchant of comfortable but not wealthy means was walking with his older brother Walter when they were enticed into a buggy by two men who offered them candy. Walter was released many blocks away but not Charley. Not certain that his son was the victim of a crime, the distraught father placed an advertisement in a Philadelphia paper: "Lost—a small boy, about four years of age, light complexion, and light curly hair."
When no result followed, Ross placed another ad offering a $300 reward. An unsigned letter arrived advising him that his son was being held for ransom, that "no powers on earth" could free him, and that his life was forfeit if detectives were put on his trail. The letter was replete with misspellings so frequent and systematic that they seemed purposeful. It was the beginning of a series of 23 letters from the abductors and a remarkable correspondence in the annals of crime.
A few days later Ross received the second letter, which set the ransom at the then enormous sum of $20,000 and again threatened the life of the boy if detectives were put on the case. Ross was directed to respond through the personal columns of a city newspaper, a medium in wide use before the age of the telephone. The police discounted the kidnapers’ threats and advised the father against paying ransom lest further abductions be encouraged. Several weeks went by while Ross, at the bidding of the police, made equivocating replies to the kidnapers’ letters, which grew longer and more insistent but never left any clues which the police could seize on.
Despite massive searches for the buggy and its occupants, the Philadelphia police could make no headway. The authorities made offers of reward for information leading to the boy and called on the Pinkerton Detective Agency for assistance. On August 22 Pinkertons issued a three-page circular on which was pasted a copy of the only known photograph of the boy, taken at age two-and-one-half. The circular offered a reward of $20,000 and listed identifying questions to be put to any child thought to be Charley. ("Question: Who is your uncle on Washington Lane? Answer: Uncle Joe. Question: What horse does mama drive? Answer: Polly.")
On September 1 Pinkertons made a much broader distribution of a single-sheet reward flyer. It contained a lithograph of a painting that had been derived from the photograph by an artist working with the Ross family to provide an up-to-date likeness. This flyer generated thousands of false leads from around the Eastern seaboard, including a youngster named Charley Loss, who, when asked his name, was thought to be the missing child talking with a lisp. The entire nation became caught up in the Ross tragedy and a song entitled "Bring Back Our Darling" was published in sheet-music form. Its last verse began: "O Father in Heaven, please hear Thou our pray’r! / Pray soften the hearts of those men / Who robbed us of one who is dearer than all / To bring back our darling again."
Unknown to the general public, the first break in the case had come the previous month in New York City, where Police Superintendent George Walling was approached by a man with underworld connections. The informer told Walling that his brother, a burglar named William Mosher, had once proposed that he join him in a kidnaping plot similar to what transpired in Philadelphia. The informer, who had turned down the offer, added that his brother had also written a novel with a kidnaping plot. Mosher was said to be accompanied by a younger burglar named Joseph Douglas (or Douglass).
The informer also told the superintendent about a discharged policeman named William Westervelt, whose sister was married to Mosher. Walling got in touch with Westervelt and brought him into the investigation on an informal and confidential basis, while keeping his own detectives on the case. Westervelt was to attempt to locate the burglars through his sister.
Day after day passed while Westervelt supposedly sought out Mosher and Douglas, whose whereabouts always seemed to elude him.
Walling began to wonder whether Westervelt was dutifully tracing the suspects or warning them about the policemen’s own efforts. In the meantime Ross continued to hear from the kidnapers, whose letters were growing more impatient. The letters were now arriving from various post offices outside of New York City and Ross was replying to his correspondents through the personal columns of newspapers published in that city.
After several weeks had passed with Ross, at police behest, stringing the kidnapers along, the desperate father decided to meet the kidnapers’ terms. "The public were clamorous for the arrest and punishment of the kidnappers at any cost, yet were ignorant of the risk to the life of my child and consequent terror to which I was subjected," Ross wrote later. "It is comparatively easy to sacrifice another man’s child for the public good." But Ross’s change in policy had come too late. When various arrangements to deliver the ransom misfired, communications from the holders of his son ceased.
In December events took a critical turn when a night alarm signaled a break-in at the summer home of a Long Island resident. Neighbors surprised two intruders and mortally wounded them when gunfire erupted between the two groups. One burglar identified himself as Douglas and his partner as Mosher. As Douglas lay dying he said: "It’s no use lying now. Mosher and I stole Charley Ross from Germantown." Asked where the boy was, Douglas replied, "I don’t know where he is. Mosher knows." But Mosher now lay dead. Just before he himself expired, Douglas said, "The child will be returned safe and sound in a few days." That indeed is what everyone expected, but it was not to be. Charley was never seen again.
Mosher and Douglas were identified in the morgue by young Walter Ross as the men who had driven away with his brother and him in the buggy. In January of the next year the mayor of Philadelphia issued a circular to law-enforcement agencies. It bore the outdated photograph of Charley and carried a printed description of the child, his deceased abductors, their horse and buggy, a boat which they had used to approach their Long Island target, and other facts of possible use to investigators. The circular was headed "Confidential" and recipients were asked to "disseminate judiciously the facts set forth." Like earlier efforts, it produced no useful leads.
With the supposed kidnapers dead and no sign of Charley, the frustrated police now turned on Westervelt as their only target within reach. His many prevarications in his dealings with the authorities had convinced them of his complicity in the crime—if not in its actual commission, at least in shielding the kidnapers afterwards. The ex-policeman was brought to trial in Philadelphia in August, 1875, convicted on several counts of conspiracy in the kidnaping, and sentenced to the penitentiary.
Immediately upon completion of the trial, Barclay, the prolific Philadelphia publisher of factual and fictional crime pamphlets, issued the Life, Trial, and Conviction of William H. Westervelt for the Abduction of Little Charley Ross (1875) in printed wrappers. At the head of the title are the words "American versus Italian Brigandage," which bespeaks the feeling at the time that child-stealing was a peculiarly Sicilian practice (the homes of Italian immigrants had been among the first searched by the Philadelphia police). As in most Barclay publications, page numbering begins with page 19 in order to suggest a longer work.
The Westervelt pamphlet follows another Barclay practice in providing each illustration with legends in both English and German. As the Germantown locale of the kidnaping suggests, the Philadelphia area contained a large German-speaking population and Barclay issued many pamphlets in separate English and German versions. As an economy they would prepare a single plate for each illustration which would serve both editions. In the case of the Westervelt pamphlet, however, no German-language edition is known.
For Christian Ross, Charley’s father, the case did not end with the death of Mosher and Douglas or the imprisonment of Westervelt. Two years after the kidnaping he wrote The Father’s Story of Charley Ross, the Kidnapped Child, published by John E. Potter in 1876. It is the foundation work on the case and the cornerstone of a kidnaping collection. I have seen an 1878 printing as well, with a slightly altered title page and the imprint "published for the author." Its list of illustrations adds two items to that of the first printing but the newly listed illustrations themselves are omitted. An added page in the later printing dedicates the work to the parents "in the old world as well as in the new, who have shown so deep an interest in the story of the loss of my little son." This printing and an English edition issued by Hodder & Stoughton are much scarcer than the first printing.
Although The Father’s Story sold well and is often seen today, its profits were consumed by Ross’s search for his son, the publicizing of which had been one of its aims. A related publicizing effort consisted of a Charley Ross bottle which bore the boy’s name and image in clear glass. These campaigns engendered many alleged sightings of the child across the nation and even overseas but upon investigation all were proven false. Numerous claimants to Charley’s identity stepped forward on their own behalf. First they were young boys; as the years marched by they were adolescents, then grown men. Each believed—or claimed to believe—that he was the missing Charley. None was.
A good history of the case by Norman Zierold appeared in 1967 under the title Little Charley Ross, published by Little, Brown (who should be spanked for not providing an index). Zierold drew heavily on The Father’s Story, which still remains the best source for events up to the time of its publication. As I pick up my copy of that early work, a newspaper clipping from 1939 falls out. It is datelined Phoenix, Arizona, and begins, "A 69-year-old man walked into Superior Court today and astonished the clerk by filing suit to establish his identity as Charley Ross, whose kidnaping 65 years ago shocked the nation and was never solved."...