The story of an 1874 kidnapping in Philadelphia that received sustained national attention.
In her first book, Philadelphia resident Hagen uses the backdrop of her city to re-create the uproar when at least two kidnappers snatched 4-year-old Charley Ross from his yard on July 1, 1874. The kidnappers issued ransom demands to Charley's father Christian, a dry-goods store owner, and Charley's mother Sarah. The author writes that before 1874, there had not been a recorded kidnapping for ransom in the United States. Without solid leads at first, police in Philadelphia and later in New York City (where a potentially knowledgeable informant resided) eventually identified likely suspects. The two leading suspects, career criminals William Mosher and Joseph Douglas, soon died in a shootout during a burglary unrelated to the kidnapping. During 1875, a former New York City police officer named William Westervelt received a prison sentence from a jury convinced he had served as an accomplice in the kidnapping. Westervelt was Mosher's brother in law, and he never stopped maintaining his innocence. Despite reward money of at least $25,000, nobody came forward with information reliable enough that it led to the return of Charley to his family. The kidnappers either killed the boy or left him somewhere under an assumed name, never to be reunited with his parents and his siblings. Hagen skillfully narrates a saga that transcends one kidnapping, a saga tied up with the World’s Fair that was about to open in Philadelphia. City officials feared the negative publicity from the kidnapping would reduce attendance, and thus cost Philadelphia much-needed revenue. In addition, Hagen folds in historical perspective about inefficient and sometimes even corrupt police practices in Philadelphia, New York and other metropolises. New York City police superintendent George Walling serves as an especially sharp example of the author’s accomplished character development.
A slice of American crime history both instructive and tragically entertaining.