“The most vicious, heartless, cold-blooded killer I have come across”
Charles V. Harrelson was born on 23 July 1938 in Huntsville, Texas, the youngest of six children. He became a professional card player. In 1968 he was paid $2,000 to murder the Texas grain dealer Sam Degelia, Jr by shooting him in the head. The money came from Mr Degelia’s partner Pete Scamardo. The jury was hung and it was not until 1974 that Harrelson was found guilty. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The murder cost him five years in Fort Leavenworth.
By 1979, Harrelson was back on the streets and Arab drug dealer Jimmy Chagra offered him $250,000 to kill 63-year-old Judge John Howland Wood. The jurist was known as “Maximum John” because of his policy of punishing guilty felons. Harrelson laid in wait outside the judge’s home in San Antonio with a high-powered rifle. He fired one shot, hitting Justice Wood in the back. Chagra had been due to appear in court on the day the judge was murdered. Chagra had been told that he was certain to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Tuesday 29 May 1979
Harrelson was caught and arrested after one of the biggest-ever FBI manhunts. Harrelson denied shooting the judge and said that he had claimed that he had shot him simply to collect the $250,000 on offer. As Judge William Session sentence Harrelson to a double life term he described him as “the most vicious, heartless, cold-blooded killer I have come across”. After the first murder Harrelson’s ex-wife took their three sons to live in Ohio and did not tell them what their father had done until 1975. In 1996 Harrelson tried to escape from prison in Atlanta and was transferred to a high security jail. In 2003 Jimmy Chagra was released from prison and said that Harrelson was indeed innocent of the murder but he did not name the real killer. Charles Harrelson died aged 68 of a heart attack in the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, on 15 March 2007.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Charles V. Harrelson’s eldest son Woody grew up to become an actor and starred as Woody Boyd in the sitcom Cheers. He also played a serial killer in Natural Born Killers (1994).