Charley Ross – 1874

By | January 26, 2017

“I don’t expect to find Charley”



A handbill distributed by The Pinkerton Detective Agency, offering a reward

Charley Ross, aged four, was the first American to be kidnapped for ransom. On 1 July 1874 Charley and his six-year-old brother, Walter, were playing outside their home when they were enticed into a horse-drawn carriage with the promise of firecrackers by two men.

At 6pm their father, Christian Ross, came home from work and sat reading the newspaper for an hour before he became concerned at the fact that his two sons were not home. A search began for the boys and Walter was found crying on the corner of Palmer Street and Richmond Street in Kensington, 12 km (8 mi) from home. Of his brother there was no sign. The next day Walter was recovered enough to explain what had happened. The two men had taken the boys to a shop and Walter was given 25¢ to go inside and buy the firecrckers. When he came out, the carriage and his brother were gone.

The boys’ mother Sarah was away recovering from illness in Atlantic City and did not know about the kidnapping until her husband advertised in newspapers, offering $300 for Charley’s return. On 3 July Christian Ross received a letter from the kidnappers demanding a sum of money for Charley’s release. Three days later another note arrived with a demand for $20,000.

On 21 July New York police were told that William Mosher and Joseph Douglass were the kidnappers. The police continued to explore other avenues while looking for Mosher and Douglass, who had recently escaped from jail while awaiting trial for burglary. The next day the mayor of Philadelphia offered a $20,000 reward for the return of Charley or the arrest of his kidnappers.

As with all such cases, the police were inundated with hundreds of replies from cranks and attacks were made on families who had children who looked like Charley. On 14 December Mosher and Douglass were shot during a burglary. Mosher was killed outright but Douglass lived long enough to admit the kidnapping but said that only Mosher knew where Charley was held.


529 East Washington Lane, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


4pm-5pm Wednesday 1 July 1874


William Westervelt, Mosher’s brother -in-law, was charged in 1875 with writing the ransom notes and sentenced to seven years in prison and a $1 fine. Christian Ross spent the rest of his life looking for his son. He said, “This makes 573 boys I have been called to see… I don’t expect to find Charley.” He died in June 1897. Sarah Ross took over the search until her death on 13 December 1912. Walter died in 1943. The Ross home was demolished in 1926 and the Cliveden Presbyterian Church now stands on the site.

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