"Don’t take candy from strangers” is a phrase you might have heard your parent say to you when you were younger. But, there is a good reason for that. It came about primarily due to the first child abduction with the intention of gaining a ransom. Charley Ross was a young four-year-old boy when he and his brother were kidnapped in Philadelphia in 1874.
Charley and his older brother Walter were originally given candy by their future abductors, and when questioned by the Christian Ross their father, they determined that the man was just fond of children. However, a few days later they were playing when a buggy with the same two men once again appeared and offered to take them to get some firecrackers. Charley and Walter agreed, but after going off in an unfamiliar direction Walter began to voice his concerns. The two men stopped at a store and gave Walter 25 cents to buy some firecrackers and while he was in the store the two men fled with Charley still with them.
Mr. Ross came home the same day, and when he could not find his sons assumed they were out playing at a neighbor’s house. However, after several hours he became concerned, and when he asked his neighbors if they had seen his sons, a neighbor woman told him she saw the two boys get in a buggy with two men she had never seen before. Mr. Ross headed to the police for help, and on his way, Walter was returned by a man who found him lost, confused, and crying. Walter told his father what happened, and Mr. Ross let the police, who assumed a couple of drunks had taken the boys, handle the issue.
Christian Ross, not wanting to alarm his ailing wife, who was in a different town getting treatments, didn’t tell her that her sons were missing. However, she found out when she read a newspaper advertisement offering a reward for the return of Charley Ross. He would receive several poorly written notes seeking $20,000 for the return of his son. The police urged him not to pay, as it would set a precedent for other kidnappings across the city. Instead, the police conducted a massive manhunt searching every vehicle, boat, abandoned structure, and even started a house to house search. Several composers wrote songs about the incident, and even the Pinkertons were brought in to help find him. Within a short span of time, the missing Charley Ross had become a nationwide sensation. P.T. Barnum offered a $10,000 reward for his safe return, with the intent on having Charley as a part of his show.
A few months later two professional burglars were shot while attempting to break into a house. The two men named William Mosher and Joseph Douglas were already possible suspects, but the police hadn’t been able to find the pair. Mosher was killed in the altercation, and Douglas was mortally wounded. Prior to Douglas passing he told the police that they were responsible for kidnapping Charley, but only Mosher knew where he was. Walter would later identify the pair as the kidnappers, and Christian Ross would spend every penny he had to try to find his son, but sadly, Charley Ross never turned up. Because of this incident, Pennsylvania became the first state to make kidnapping a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Today, the largest non-government missing person database, is named after Charley Ross and is called The Charley Project. This organization is aimed at providing material on missing persons across the United States and is constantly being updated by the sole researcher and writer Meaghan Good. To this day, nobody knows what happened to Charley Ross.
Written by Josh Yohe