S1/E4: Roy Harich / Charley Ross

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June 26 1981

Daytona Beach, Florida

22 year-old Roy Harich returned home from work at 4:00 PM. By his own admission, he drank 15 cans of beer and smoked six joints between 4 and 9 PM. He was on his way home from a friend’s house later that night when he met 18 year-old Carlene Kelley and her 17 year-old friend Deborah Miller.

 

The two girls were walking to a nearby pier to meet their friends. They did not know Harich, but after talking with him a bit, they accepted a ride to the pier. The three smoked a bowl of the girls’ marijuana in Harich’s van before leaving.

 

On the ride, Harich suggested they go to the woods where he was growing marijuana plants. He wanted to continue to party with the two teens. They agreed.

 

After stopping at a convenience store to pick up a six-pack of beer, they drove down a long dark road to the marijuana patch.  The plants were too damp to smoke, so Harich placed them under the hood of the van to dry.  They waited… and talked.

 

June 27, 1981

 

An hour passed. It was now after midnight. Harich began to talk about the sexual problems he had been having in his marriage. Feeling uncomfortable, Deborah asked if they could leave.

They got into Harich’s van and drove away. But Harich stopped after just a few yards. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at the girls. He then forced Carlene to perform oral sex on him before raping her. Harich told the girls to exit the van and get dressed. They complied and began to walk away, but he stopped them. He said that it was a long walk through the woods and suggested that he would give them a ride to safety. Harich promised he wouldn’t harm them any further. The girls gave in, and got back into his van.

 

Harich had driven the girls about a quarter of a mile down the road, when Carlene asked him to stop so she could use the bathroom. He told them both to get out and walk the rest of the short way to the highway. He took them behind the van and instructed them to lie down while he drove away.

 

The girls complied. He then walked back to the van. Deborah whispered to Carlene to remember the license plate number. Deborah was staring at the ground when she heard Carlene begin to cry and beg Harich not to shoot her. Deborah looked up to see Harich pointing his gun at the girls again. This time, a towel had been wrapped around the barrel to muffle the sound.

He told Carlene he wouldn’t shoot her if she was quiet. He lied. He immediately shot her in the back of the head. He then shot Deborah in the back of the head. Incredibly, both girls survived the shooting.  As the girls lied crying in pain and terror, Harich again returned to the van…this time, for a knife. He walked over to Deborah, lifted her head by the chin and began to cut her neck. She used her hands to protect herself, but still, the knife cut deep. He then turned to Carlene and cut her neck so viciously that he severed her spinal cord, causing instantaneous death.

 

Amazingly, Deborah not only survived the brutal attack, but was able to stay conscious. She walked, and then crawled to the side of the highway, stopping many times along the dirt road to rest. When she reached the highway, she flagged down a passing motorist, who took her to the hospital.

 

With a bullet hole in her head and a cut so deep that it severed her windpipe and nearly severed her spinal cord, Deborah literally held her head in her hands to keep it atop her shoulders

 

At the hospital, Deborah told police that her attacker’s name was Roy. She described his physical appearance and his van.

 

Harich later claimed that he couldn’t remember anything that happened that night and had read about the murder in the newspaper. According to Harich, he heard that the police were looking for a man with a van that resembled his. He contacted a defense lawyer and claimed that they agreed he would be proactive, and go to the police as a sign of his innocence.  He was arrested before this could happen.

 

Harich’s initial defense was that he was too high on drugs and alcohol to recall any of the events of that night.  But in December of 1981, he changed his story.  Nearly six months later, he said he remembered the details of the night of July 26th. He claimed that he recalled meeting Carlene and Deborah, and their trip to the woods. He denied the sexual battery of Carlene Kelley, her murder, and the attempted murder of Deborah Miller. He stated that he drove the girls out of the woods and dropped them off at a nearby convenience store so they could call a friend for a ride home…but evidence and eyewitness testimony from Deborah Miller proved otherwise.

 

1982

 

The State of Florida charged Harich with first degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and two counts of kidnapping.  The jury and presiding judge concluded that he was guilty of all charges. Harich was sentenced to death.

 

April 24, 1991

7:06 AM

After several failed appeals, Roy Allen Harich was executed just moments after his final appeal.  He died in the electric chair at Florida State Prison. He was the 26th inmate to be executed in Florida and the 145th nationwide since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions.

More than 100 years before Harich committed his heinous crimes, the very first kidnapping for ransom took place this week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This is the story of Charley Ross.

 

1874

Christian and Sarah Ross lived in Germantown – an upscale section of Philadelphia, with several servants and their seven children, Stoughton, Harry, Walter, Charley, Sophia, Bridget, Annie and Marian.

June 26th

The two eldest Ross children, Stoughton and Harry, left their home early in the morning to spend their summer vacation with their grandmother in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Sarah and Sophia left for Atlantic City, with the intention to spend several weeks. Sarah promised Walter and Charley that after two weeks, she would send Sophia home to pick them up and bring them to the seashore. The boys were excited for the trip.

June 27th

Christian sat alone in the nursery when five-year old Walter came up to him, saying that a man in a wagon had given Charley and himself some candy.

When Christian asked his son if he knew who the man was, Walter replied “No sir.”. He then cautioned Walter to not ask strangers for anything. Thinking that the mystery man was simply a kind stranger, Christian was left with no feeling of foreboding or concern.

 

July 1st

 

In the early morning, Charley and Walter asked Christian for money to buy firecrackers for the upcoming Fourth of July festivities. Not wanting the children to have firecrackers without his supervision, their father told them he would buy some and set them off on the fourth with the boys.  The children were disappointed, so Christian promised to also bring home a cart-load of sand from the beach, in which they could set off firecrackers on the fourth.

Later that day, Charley was playing with Walter in the front yard of their family’s home, when a horse-drawn carriage approached them. Two men greeted the boys and offered them candy and fireworks if they would take a ride with them. The boys agreed and they all took the trip through Philadelphia to a store where Walter was directed to buy fireworks inside with the 25 cents given to him by the men.  While Walter was in the store, the carriage left without him.

It was 6PM when Christian returned home that evening. When he asked his serving staff where the boys were, he was told they had been playing outside on the sidewalk with neighbor children. Christian went to the sidewalk and called for the boys. There was no response. He assumed the boys were playing somewhere else in the neighborhood and returned home. When some time passed, he became worried and searched the immediate area, with no luck. Christian became truly concerned and had his daughters go door to door to any house they might be at, while he searched the rest of the neighborhood. It was only on his way back home that a neighbor of his asked him if the boys would likely accept a carriage ride from a stranger. When Christian said they would be, his neighbor stated that she heard the boys talking to some men, and shortly after saw a carriage leave the area.

Christian returned home and, upon finding that the children were still not there, headed to the police station. It was now 8PM.

While approaching the police station, he saw Walter and a strange man running toward him. The man’s first name is lost to history, but he is referred to in transcripts as Mr. Peacock.

Christian asked where Walter had been, but the boy was too frightened to speak. Mr. Peacock said he found Walter standing on a corner in one of the northern districts of Philadelphia. When asked where Charley was, Walter said “Why, he is alright. He’s in the wagon”. Walter had never considered that his brother was the one in serious danger.

Christian’s heart sank. He sent Walter home and proceeded to the police station, where he telegraphed the Central City Office with Charley’s description. A response came back a half an hour later. No children matching the description had been brought to any of the district station houses.

11PM

Christian spoke to Detective Joyce at the Central Police Station. After hearing the story, the Detective opined that it sounded like a quote unquote drunken frolic, and that Charley would either be brought back home or dropped off on the street for a night patrolman to find.

This response infuriated Christian, who spent the rest of the night searching for Charley and doing his own detective work.

July 2

Christian finally returned home at 5AM, exhausted, distraught and desperate. He woke Walter up and asked him every detail he could remember of the two men that abducted Charley. With the physical description in hand, Christian again began searching for his son with the help of Mr. Peacock and Detective Joyce, who finally took the situation seriously. They even took Walter in a carriage to try to recreate the ride the two strangers took him for the previous day.

July 4

After days of fruitless searching and detective work, no motives were uncovered and there were no suspects. Then a letter came in the morning’s mail. It was fraught with misspelling and poor grammar. Christian believed the poor writing to be a ruse to conceal the abductor’s true identity. The letter read:

“July 3 — Mr. Ross : be not uneasy you son charley brewster be all writ we is got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand, you will have two pay us before you get him from us, and pay us a big cent to. if you put the cops hunting for him you is only defecting you own end. we is got him put so no living power can gets him from us a live, if any approach is maid to his hiding place that is the signal for his instant annihilation. if you regard his lif puts no one to search for him you money can fetch him out alive an no other existing powers, don’t deceive yourself an think the detectives can get him from us for that is impossible. you here from us in few day.”

There was no signature.

Christian was horrified and relieved at the same time. Relieved that his child was alive, as evidenced by the fact that the abductor used Charley’s middle name, Brewster. Walter knew Charley’s middle name and must have given it to the men while with them in the carriage.

Christian did not obey the letter’s instructions, however. Along with police, he searched high and low for Charley, to no avail. They had no choice but to wait for further communication from the kidnappers.

 

July 6th

The second letter arrived. It read:

“Philadelphia, July 6. — Mr. Ros : We suppose you got the other letter that told you we had you child all safe and sound. You mite offer one $100,000 it would avail you nothing, to be plain with you, you mite invoke al the powers of the universe and that could not get you child from us. We set god — man and devil at defiance to rest him out of our hands. This is the lever that moved the rock that hides him from you $20,000. Not one dollar les — impossible — impossible — you cannot get him without it. if you love money more than child you be its murderer not us for the money we will have if we don’t from you we be sure to get it from someone else for we will make examples of yore child that others may be wiser. We give you al the Tim you want to consider well wat you be doing. Yu money or his lif we will have— don’t (later you self you will trap us under preteens of paying the ransom that be impossible— don’t let the detectives mislead you they tell you they can get him and arrest us to — if you set the detectives in search for him as we told you before they only search for his life. for if any approach be made to his hiding place by detective his life will be instant sacrificed, you will see you child dead or alive if we get you money you get him live if no money you get him dead. when you get ready to business with us advertise the folding in Ledger personals (Ross. we be ready to negotiate). we look for you answer in Ledger.”

The “Ledger” is referring to the Public Ledger, a daily newspaper in Philadelphia published from 1836 to 1942.

The ransom was set. $20,000. Christian was in disbelief. $20,000 in 1874 is comparable to over $400,000 in 2017. To add to the almost unimaginable sum, Christian Ross appeared to be wealthy, but in reality, was heavily in debt, due in large part to the stock market crash of 1873.

With the option of paying the ransom out of the question, Christian had no choice but to go to the police. The press picked the story up almost immediately and the kidnapping became national news.

Everyone was on the lookout for young Charlie. The famous Pinkerton detective agency was even enlisted by affluent Philadelphians to help find the boy. They printed millions of flyers and posters with Charlie’s likeness. The kidnapping even seeped through to the popular culture of the day, with a popular song called “Bring Back Our Darling”, written by Dexter Smith and W.H. Brockway. You’re hearing the song now.

The ransom money was soon crowd sourced by conscientious citizens, but every time the attempt was made to give the kidnappers the money per the ransom notes, the kidnappers failed to show.

All communication from the kidnappers eventually ceased and Charlie Ross was never seen again. His fate remains a mystery, but it seems the question of who kidnapped him was answered just six months later.

From the December 18th, 1874 edition of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Register: a Virginia newspaper:

“Confession of a dying burglar”

He and other man were shot while entering a home near New York

Dated December 14, 1874

A telegram was sent from New York to Christian Ross, it read:

“To Mr. Ross, father of Charley Ross, Germantown, PA” Two men were killed this morning in the act of burglary at Bay Ridge near this city (Brooklyn). One before dying confessed that they stole Charley Ross, and said the other man had him concealed, but did not know where. Both are burglars known to the police. “

Superintendent Walling of the police, received a dispatch from fort Hamilton stating that two men, named William Mosier and Joseph Douglass, alias Clark, were shot and killed while attempting to commit a burglary. Douglass, before dying, declared to a passing Sailor that attended the dying man, that Mosier knew all about Charlie Ross. A detective was at once dispatched from the central office to identify the burglars. Mosier is supposed to be the man who wore goggles and induced the missing boy to go with him in the buggy. Douglass was mortally wounded but survived a half hour after being shot. Mosier was killed on sight. Douglass claimed Mosier kept the hiding place of Charley from him He said Mosier had a wife and six children, but did not know if one of them was in fact Charley.

Unquote

Mosher and Douglas were career criminals. Douglas lived two hours after being shot, during which time he gave his confession. He didn’t give any helpful details as to where Charlie could be or if he was even alive.

Charlie’s brother Walter was taken to New York to view the bodies of Mosher and Douglas. Walter confirmed that the two men were the ones that took Walter and Charlie the day of the crime.

 

1876

Christian Ross published “The Father’s Story of Charley Ross, The Kidnapped Child” to help raise money for the continued search for his son. Interest in the case waned, and Ross took to giving lectures in Boston to keep Charley’s story in the public eye. He and his wife never gave up searching for their son. Christian Ross died in 1897 and Sarah Ross in 1912. When all was said and done, the Ross’ spent over $60,000 in their search, and interviewed nearly 600 boys, teenagers and men who claimed at various times to have been Charley. All were imposters.

In a 1924 story that coincided with the 50th anniversary of the kidnapping, Walter Ross said he and his three sisters still received letters from middle-aged men claiming to be their brother.

The abduction of Charley Ross still has lasting implications. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Don’t take candy from strangers”, well, it’s believed that the saying originated from this case.

The Charley Project, a well-known missing persons database, is named for Charley Ross.

 

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