The Charlie Ross Enigma

Late on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh of June, 1874, two men in a shabby-covered buggy stopped their horse under the venerable elms of Washington Lane in Germantown, that sleepy suburb of Philadelphia, with its grave-faced revolutionary houses and its air of lavendered maturity.

All about these intruders was historic ground. Near at hand was the Chew House, where Lord Howe repulsed Washington and his tattered command in their famous encounter. Yonder stood the old Morris Mansion, where the British commander stood cursing the fog, while his troops retreated from the surprise attack. Here the impetuous Agnew fell before a backwoods rifleman, and there Mad Anthony Wayne was forced to decamp by the fire of his confused left. Not far away the first American Bible had been printed, and that ruinous house on the ridge had once been the American Capitol. The whole region was a hive of memories.

Strangely enough, the men in the buggy gave no sign of interest in all these things. Instead, they devoted their attention to the two young sons of a grocer who happened to be playing among the bushes on their father’s property. The children were gradually attracted to confidence by the strangers, who offered them sweets and asked them who they were, where their parents were staying, how old they might be, and how they might like to go riding.

The older boy, just past his sixth birth anniversary, tried to respond manfully, as his parents had taught him. He said that he was Walter Ross, and that his companion was his brother, Charlie, aged four. His mother, he related, had gone to Atlantic City with her older daughters, and his father was busy at the store in the business section of the settlement. Yes, that big, white house on the knoll behind them was where they lived. All this and a good deal more the little boy prattled off to his inquisitors, but when it came to getting into their buggy he demurred. The men got pieces of candy from their pockets, filled the hands of both children, and drove away.

When the father of the boys came home a little later, he found his sons busy with their candy, and he was told where they had got it. He smiled and felt that the two men in the buggy must be very fond of children. Not the least suspicion crossed his mind. Yet this harmless incident of that forgotten summer afternoon was the prelude to the most famous of American abduction cases and the introduction to one of the abiding mysteries of disappearance. What followed with fatal swiftness came soon to be a matter of almost worldwide notoriousness—a case of kidnapping that stands firm in popular memory after the confusions of fifty-odd years.

On the afternoon of July 1, the strangers came again. This time they had no difficulty in getting the children into their wagon. Saying that they were going to buy fire crackers for the approaching Fourth of July, they carried the little boys to the corner of Palmer and Richmond Streets, Philadelphia, where Walter Ross was given a silver quarter and told to go into a shop and buy what he wanted. At the end of five or ten minutes the boy emerged to find his brother, his benefactors and their buggy gone.

Little Walter Ross, abandoned eight miles from his home in the toils of a strange city, stood on the curb and gave childish vent to his feelings. The sight of the boy with his hands full of fireworks and his eyes full of tears, soon attracted passers-by. A man named Peacock finally took charge of the youngster and got from him the name and address of his father. At about eight o’clock that evening he arrived at the Ross dwelling and delivered the child, to find that the younger boy had not been brought home, and that the father was out visiting the police stations in quest of his sons.

In spite of the obvious facts, the idea of kidnapping was not immediately conceived, and it even got a hostile reception when the circumstances forced its entertainment. The father of the missing Charlie was Christian K. Ross, a Philadelphia retail grocer who was popularly supposed to be wealthy, and was in fact the owner of a prosperous business at Third and Market streets, and master of a competence. His flourishing trade, the big house in which he lived with his wife and seven children, and the fine grounds about his home naturally caused many to believe that he was a man of large means. In view of these facts alone the theory of abduction should have been considered at once. Again, Walter Ross recited the details of his adventure with the men in a faithful and detailed way, telling enough about the talk and manner of the men to indicate criminal intent. Moreover, Mr. Ross was aware of the previous visit of the strangers. Finally, the manœuver of deserting the older boy and disappearing with his brother should have been sufficiently suggestive for the most lethargic policeman. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia officials took the skeptical position. Their early activities expressed themselves in the following advertisement, which I take from the Philadelphia Ledger of July 3:

“Lost, on July 1st, a small boy, about four years of age, light complexion, and light curly hair. A suitable reward will be paid on his return to E. L. Joyce, Central Station, corner of Fifth and Chestnut streets.”

The advertisement was worded in this fashion to conceal the fact of the child’s vanishment from his mother, who was not called from her summer resort until some days later.

The police were, however, not long allowed to rest on their comfortable assumption that the boy had been lost. On the fifth, Mr. Ross received a letter which had been dated and posted on the day before in Philadelphia. It stated that Charlie Ross was in the custody of the writer, that he was well and safe, that it was useless to look for him through the police, and that the father would hear more in a few days. The note was scrawled by some one who was trying to conceal his natural handwriting and any literate attainments he may have possessed. Punctuation and capitals were almost absent, and the commonest words were so crazily misspelled as to betray purposiveness. The unfortunate father was addressed as “Mr. Ros,” a formal appellation which was later contracted to “Ros.” This missive and some of those that followed were signed “John.”

Even this communication did not mean much to the police, though they had not, at that early stage of the mystery, the troublesome flood of crank letters to plead as an excuse for their disbelief. As a matter of fact, this first letter came before there had been anything but the briefest and most conservative announcements in the newspapers, and it should have been apparent to any one that there was nothing fraudulent about it. Yet the police officials dawdled. A second message from the mysterious John wakened them at last to action.

On the morning of July 7, Mr. Ross received a longer communication, unquestionably from the writer of the first, in which he was told that his appeal to the detectives would be vain. He must meet the terms of the ransom, twenty thousand dollars, or he would be the murderer of his own child. The writer declared that no power in the universe would discover the boy, or restore him to his father, without payment of the money, and he added that if the father sent detectives too near the hiding place of the boy he would thereby be sealing the doom of his son. The letter closed with most terrifying threats. The kidnappers were frankly out to get money, and they would have it, either from Ross or from others. If he failed to yield, his child would be slain as an example to others, so that they would act more wisely when their children were taken. Ross would see his child either alive or dead. If he paid, the boy would be brought back alive; if not, his father would behold his corpse. Ross’ willingness to come to terms must be signified by the insertion of these words into the Ledger: “Ros, we be willing to negotiate.”

Such an epistle blew away all doubts, and the Charlie Ross terror burst upon Philadelphia and surrounding communities the following morning in full virulence. The police surrounded the city, guarded every out-going road, searched the trains and boats, went through all the craft lying in the rivers, spread the dragnet for all the known criminals in town and immediately began a house-to-house search, an almost unprecedented proceeding in a republic. The newspapers grew more inflammatory with every fresh edition. At once the mad pack of anonymous letter writers took up the cry, writing to the police and to the unfortunate parents, who were forced to read with an anxious eye whatever came to their door, a most insulting and disheartening array of fulminations which caused the collapse of the already overburdened mother.

In the fever which attacked the city any child was likely to be seized and dragged, with its nurse or parent, to the nearest police station, there to answer the suspicion of being Charlie Ross. Mothers with golden-haired boys of the approximate age of Charlie resorted to Christian Ross in an unending stream, demanding that he give them written attestation of the fact that their children were not his, and the poor beladen man actually wrote hundreds of such testimonials. The madness of the public went to the absurdest lengths. Children twice the age and size of the kidnapped boy were dragged before the officials by unbalanced busybodies. Little boys with black hair were apprehended by the score at the demand of citizens who pleaded that they might be the missing boy, with his blond curls dyed. Little girls were brought before the scornful police, and some of the self-appointed seekers for the missing boy had to be driven from the station houses with threats and blows.

Following the command of the child snatchers with literal fidelity, Mr. Ross had published in the Ledger the words I have quoted. The result was a third epistle from the robbers. It recognized his reply, but made no definite proposition and gave no further orders, save the command that he reply in the Ledger, stating whether or not he was ready to pay the twenty thousand dollars. On the other hand, the letter continued the ferocious threats of the earlier communication, laughed at the police efforts as “children’s play,” and asked whether “Ros” cared more for money or his son. In this letter was the same labored effort to appear densely unlettered. One new note was added. The writer asked whether Mr. Ross was “willen to pay the four thousand pounds for the ransom of yu child.” Either the writer was, or wanted to seem, a Briton, used to speaking of money in British terms. This pretension was continued in some of the later letters and led eventually to a search for the missing boy in England.

In his extremity and natural inexperience, Mr. Ross relied absolutely on the police and put himself into their hands. He asked how he was to reply to the third letter and was told that he should pretend to acquiesce in the demand of the abductors, meantime actually holding them off and relying on the detectives to find the boy. But this subterfuge was quickly recognized by the abductors, with the result that a warning letter came to Mr. Ross at the end of a few days. He was told that he was pursuing the course of folly, that the detectives could not help him, and that he must choose at once between his money and the life of his child.

Ross was advised by some friends and neighbors to yield to the demands of the extortioners, and several men of means offered him loans or gifts of such funds as he was not able to raise himself. Accordingly he signified his intention of arriving at a bargain, and the mysterious John wrote him two or three well-veiled letters which were intended to test his good faith. At this point the father and the abductors seemed about to agree, when the officials again intervened and caused the grocer to change his mood. He declared in an advertisement that he would not compound a felony by paying money for the return of his child. But this stand had hardly been taken when Mrs. Ross’ pitiful anxiety caused another change of front.

Unquestionably this vacillation had a harmful effect in more than one direction. Its most serious consequence was that it gave the abductors the impression that they were dealing with a man who did not know his own mind, could not be relied upon to keep his promises, and was obviously in the control of the officers. Accordingly they moved with supercaution and began to impose impossible conditions. By this time they had written the parents of their prisoner at least a dozen letters, each containing more terrifying threats than its antecedents. To look this correspondence over at this late day is to see the nervousness of the abductors, slowly mounting to the point of extreme danger to the child. But Mr. Ross failed to see the peril, or was overpersuaded by official opinion.

At this crucial point in the negotiations the blunder of all blunders was made. Philadelphia was tremulous with excitement. The police of every American city were looking for the apparition of the boy or his kidnappers. Officials in the chief British and Continental ports were watching arriving ships for the fugitives, and millions of newspaper readers were following the case in eager suspense. Naturally the police and the other officials of Philadelphia felt that the eyes of the world were upon them. They quite humanly decided on a course calculated to bring them celebrity in case of success and ample justification in case of failure. In other words, they made the gesture typical of baffled officialdom, without respect to the safety of the missing child or the real interests of its parents. At a meeting presided over by the mayor, attended by leading citizens and advised by the chiefs of the police, a reward of twenty thousand dollars, to match the amount of ransom demanded, was subscribed and advertised. The terms called for “evidence leading to the capture and conviction of the abductors of Charlie Ross and the safe return of the child,” conditions which may be cynically viewed as incongruous. The following day the chief of police announced that his men, should they participate in the successful coup, would claim no part of the reward.

All this was intended, to be sure, as an inducement to informers, the hope being, apparently, that some one inside the kidnapping conspiracy would be bribed into revelations. But the actual result was quite the opposite. A sudden hush fell upon the writer of the letters. Also, there were no more communications in the Ledger. A week passed without further word, and the parents of the boy were thrown into utter hopelessness. Finally another letter came, this time from New York, whereas all previous notes had been mailed in Philadelphia. It was clear that the offer of a high reward had led the abductors to leave the city, and their letter showed that they had slipped away with their prisoner, in spite of the vaunted precautions.

The next note from the criminals warned Ross in terms of impressive finality that he must at once abandon the detectives and come to terms. He signified his intention of complying by inserting an advertisement in the New York Herald, as directed by the abductors. They wrote him that they would shortly inform him of the manner in which the money was to be paid over. Finally the telling note came. It commanded Mr. Ross to procure twenty thousand dollars in bank notes of small denomination. These he was to place in a leather traveling bag, which was to be painted white so that it might be visible at night. With this bag of money, Ross was to board the midnight train for New York on the night of July 30-31 and stand on the rear platform, ready to toss the bag to the track. As soon as he should see a bright light and a white flag being waved, he was to let go the money, but the train was not to stop until the next station was reached. In case these conditions were fully and faithfully met, the child would be restored, safe and sound, within a few hours.

Ross, after consultation with the police, decided to temporize once more. He got the white painted bag, as commanded, and took the midnight train, prepared to change to a Hudson River train in New York and continue his journey to Albany, as the abductors had further instructed. But there was no money in the valise. Instead, it contained a letter in which Ross said that he could not pay until he saw the child before him. He insisted that the exchange be made simultaneously and suggested that communication through the newspapers was not satisfactory, since it was public and betrayed all plans to the police. Some closer and secret way of communicating must be devised, he wrote.

So Mr. Ross set out with a police escort. He rode to New York on the rear platform of one train and to Albany on another. But the agent of the kidnappers did not appear, and Ross returned to Philadelphia crestfallen, only to find that a false newspaper report had caused the plan to miscarry. One of the papers had announced that Ross was going West to follow up a clew. The kidnappers had seen this and decided that their man was not going to make the trip to New York and Albany. Consequently there was no one along the track to receive the valise. Perhaps it was just as well. The abductors would have laughed at the empty police dodge of suggesting a closer and secret method of communication—for the purpose of betraying the malefactors, of course.

From this point on, Ross and the abductors continued to argue, through the New York Herald, the question of simultaneous exchange of the boy and money. Ross naturally took the position that he could not risk being imposed on by men who perhaps did not have the child at all. The robbers, on their side, contended that they could not see any safe way of making a synchronous exchange. So the negotiations dragged along.

The New York police entered the case on August 2, when Chief Walling sent to Philadelphia for the letters received by Mr. Ross from the abductors. They were taken to New York by Captain Heins of the Philadelphia police, and “Chief Walling’s informant identified the writing as that of William Mosher, alias Johnson.”

In order to draw the line between fact and fable as clearly as possible at this point, I quote from official police sources, namely, “Celebrated Criminal Cases of America,” by Thomas S. Duke, captain of police, San Francisco, published in 1910. Captain Duke says that his facts have been “verified with the assistance of police officials throughout the country.” He continues with respect to the Ross case:

“The informant then stated that in April, 1874—the year in question—Mosher and Joseph Douglas, alias Clark, endeavored to persuade him to participate in the kidnapping of one of the Vanderbilt children, while the child was playing on the lawn surrounding the family residence at Throgsneck, Long Island. (Evidently a confusion.) The child was to be held until a ransom of fifty thousand dollars was obtained, and the informant’s part of the plot would be to take the child on a small launch and keep it in seclusion until the money was received, but he declined to enter into the conspiracy.”

With all due respect to the police and to official versions, this report smells strongly of fabrication after the fact, as we shall see. It is, however, true that the New York police had some sort of information early in August, and it may even be true that they had suspicions of Mosher and were on the lookout for him. A history of subsequent events will give the surest light on this disputed point.

The negotiations between Ross and the abductors continued in a desultory fashion, without any attempt to deliver the child or get the ransom, until toward the middle of November. At this time the kidnappers arranged a meeting in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York. Mr. Ross’ agents were to be there with the twenty thousand dollars in a package. A messenger was to call for this some time during the day. His approach and departure had been carefully planned. In case he was watched or followed, he would not find the abductors on his return, and the child would be killed. Only good faith could succeed. Mr. Ross was to insert in the New York Herald a personal reading, “Saul of Tarsus, Fifth Avenue Hotel—instant.” This would indicate his decision to pay the money and signify the day he would be at the hotel.

Accordingly the father of the missing boy had the advertisement published, saying that he would be at the hotel with the money “Wednesday, eighteenth, all day.” Ross’ brother and nephew kept the tryst, but no messenger came for the money, and the last hope of the family seemed broken.

The Rosses had long since given up the detectives and recognized the futility of police promises. The father of the boy had, in his distraction, even voiced some uncomplimentary sentiments pertaining to the guardians of the law, with the result that the unhappy man was subjected to taunt and insult and the questioning of his motives. Resort was, accordingly, had to the Pinkerton detectives, who evidently counseled Mr. Ross to act in secret. In any event, the appointment at the Fifth Avenue Hotel was the last of its kind to be made, though Ross and the abductors seemed to have been in contact at later dates. Whatever the precise facts may be on this point, five months had soon gone by without the recovery of the boy, or the apprehension of the kidnappers, while search was apparently being made in many countries. If, as claimed, Chief Walling of the New York police had direct information bearing on the identity of the abductors the first week in August, he managed a veritable feat of inefficiency, for he and his men failed, in four months, to find a widely known criminal who was afterward shown to have been in and about New York all of that time. Not the police, but a stroke of destiny, intervened to break the impasse.

On the stormy night of December 14-15, 1874, burglars entered the summer home of Charles H. Van Brunt, presiding justice of the appellate division of the New York supreme court. This mansion stood overlooking New York Bay from the fashionable Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. The villa was then unoccupied, but in the course of the preceding summer Justice Van Brunt had installed a burglar alarm system which connected with a gong in the home of his brother, J. Holmes Van Brunt, about two hundred yards distant from the jurist’s hot weather residence. Holmes Van Brunt occupied his house the year around. He was at home on the night in question, and the sounding of the gong brought him out of bed. He sent his son out to reconnoiter, and the young man came back with the report that there was a light moving in his uncle’s place.

Holmes Van Brunt summoned two hired men from their quarters, armed them with revolvers or shotguns and went out to trap the intruders. The house of Justice Van Brunt was surrounded by the four men, who waited for the burglars to emerge. After half an hour two figures were seen to issue from the cellar door and were challenged. They answered by opening fire. The first was wounded by Holmes Van Brunt. The second ran around the house, only to be intercepted by young Van Brunt and shot down, dying instantly.

When the Van Brunts and their servants gathered about the wounded man, who was lying on the sodden ground in the agony of death, he signified that he wished to make a statement. An umbrella was held over him to keep off the driving rain, and he said, in gasping sentences, that he was Joseph Douglas, and that his companion was William Mosher. He understood he was dying and therefore wished to tell the truth. He and Mosher had stolen Charlie Ross to make money. He did not know where the child was, but Mosher could tell. Mr. Van Brunt told him that Mosher was dead, and the body of the other burglar was carried over and exhibited to the dying man. Douglas then gasped that the child would be returned safely in a few days. On hearing one of the party express doubt about his story, Douglas is said to have remarked:

“Chief Walling knows all about us and was after us, and now he has us.”

Douglas died there on the lawn, with the rain drenching his tortured body. Both he and Mosher were identified from the police records by officers who had known them and by relatives. Walter Ross and a man who had seen the kidnappers driving through the streets of Germantown with the two boys, were taken to New York. The brother of the kidnapped child, though he was purposely kept in the dark as to his mission, immediately recognized the dead men in the morgue as the abductors, saying that Douglas was the one who gave the candy, and that Mosher had driven the horse. This identification was confirmed by the other witness.

The return of the stolen boy was, therefore, anxiously and hourly expected. But he had not arrived at the end of a week, and the police officials immediately moved in new directions.

Mosher had married the sister of William Westervelt, of New York, a former police officer, who was later convicted of complicity in the abduction. Westervelt and Mrs. Mosher were apprehended. The one-time policeman made a rambling statement containing little information, but his sister admitted that she had been privy to the matter of the kidnapping. She had known for several months, she said, that her husband had kidnapped Charlie Ross, but she had not been consulted in his planning, and did not know where he had kept the child hidden, and was unable to give any information.

Mrs. Mosher went on to say that she believed the child to be alive and stated her reasons. She did not believe her husband, burglar and kidnapper though he was, capable of injuring a child. He had four of his own and had always been a good father. The poverty of his family had driven him to the abduction. Also, Mrs. Mosher related, she had pleaded with her husband to return the stolen boy to his parents, saying that it was cruel to hold him longer, that there seemed to be little chance of collecting the ransom safely, and that the danger to the abductors was becoming greater every day. This conversation, she said, had taken place only a few days before the Van Brunt burglary and Mosher’s death. Accordingly, since Mosher had then agreed that the child should be sent home, she felt sure it was still living.

But Charlie Ross never came back. The death of his abductors only intensified the quest for the boy. Detectives were sent to Europe, to Mexico, to the Pacific coast, and to various other places, whither false clews pointed. The parents advertised far and wide. Mr. Ross himself, in the course of the next few years, made hundreds of journeys to look at suspected children in all parts of the United States. He spent, according to his own account, more than sixty thousand dollars on these hopeful, but vain, pilgrimages. Each new search resulted as had all the others. At last, after more than twenty years of seeking, Christian K. Ross gave up in despair, saying he felt sure the boy must be dead.

For some time after the kidnappers had been killed and identified, a large part of the American public suspected that Westervelt or Mrs. Mosher, or some one connected with them, was detaining the missing child for fear of arrest and prosecution in case of its return home. The theory was that Charlie Ross was old enough to observe, remember and talk. He might, if released, give information that would lead to the imprisonment of Mosher’s and Douglas’ confederates. Accordingly, steps were taken to get the child back at any compromise. The Pennsylvania legislature passed an act, in February, 1875, which fixed the penalty for abducting or detaining a child at twenty-five years’ imprisonment, but the new law contained a proviso that any person or persons delivering a stolen child to the nearest sheriff on or before the twenty-fifth day of March, 1875, should be immune from any punishment. At the same time Mr. Ross offered a cash reward of five thousand dollars, payable on delivery of the child, and no questions asked. He named more than half a dozen responsible firms at whose places of business the child might be left for identification, announcing that all these business houses were prepared to pay the reward on the spot, and guaranteeing that those bringing in the boy would not be detained.

All this was in vain, and the conclusion had at last to be reached that the boy was beyond human powers of restoration.

To tell what seems to have been the truth—though it was suspected at the time—the New York police had fairly reliable information on Mosher and Douglas soon after the crime. Chief Walling appears, though he never openly said so, to have been informed by a brother of Mosher’s who was on bad terms with the kidnapper. Not long afterwards he had Westervelt brought in for questioning. That worthy had been dismissed from the New York police force a few months earlier for neglect of duty or shielding a policy room. His sister was Bill Mosher’s (the suspected man’s) wife and it was known that Westervelt had been in Philadelphia about the time of the abduction of Charlie Ross. He was trying, by every device, to get himself reinstated as a policeman, and Walling held out to him the double bait of renewed employment and the whole of the twenty thousand dollars of reward offered for the return of the boy and the capture of the kidnappers.

Here a monumental piece of inefficiency and stupidity seems to have been committed, for though Westervelt visited the chief of police no fewer than twenty times, he was never trailed to his scores of appointments with his brother-in-law and the other abductor. Neither did the astute guardians of the law get wind of the fact that Mosher and Douglas were in and about New York most of the time. They failed to find out that Westervelt and probably one of the others had been seen with the little Ross boy in their hands. Indeed, they failed to make the least progress in the case, though they had definite information concerning the names of the kidnappers, both of them experienced criminals with long records. It might be hard to discover a more dreadful piece of police bluffing and blundering. First the Philadelphia and then the New York forces gave the poorest possible advice, made the most egregious boasts and promises and then proceeded to show the most incredible stupidity and lack of organization. A later prosecutor summed it all up when he said the police had been, at least, honest.

But, after Mosher and Douglas had been killed at Judge Van Brunt’s house and Douglas had made his dying statements, it was easy to lure Westervelt to Philadelphia, arrest him, charge him with aiding the kidnappers and his wife with having been an accessory. Walter Ross had identified Mosher and Douglas as the men who had been in the buggy but had never seen Westervelt. A neighboring merchant appeared, however, and picked him out as the man who had spent half an hour in his shop a few weeks after the kidnapping, asking many questions about the Rosses, especially as to their financial position and the rumor that Christian K. Ross was bankrupt. Another man had seen him about Bay Ridge the day before Mosher and Douglas broke into the Van Brunt house and were killed. A woman appeared who had seen Westervelt riding on a Brooklyn horse-car with a child like Charlie Ross. In short, it was soon reasonably clear that the one-time New York policeman had conspired with his brother-in-law and the other man to seize the boy and get the ransom. Westervelt’s motives were rancor at being caught at his tricks and dismissed and financial necessity, for he was almost in want after his discharge. Apparently, he had assisted in the preparations for the kidnapping, had the boy in his charge for a time and used his standing as a former officer to hoodwink the New York police. He had also had to do with some of the ransom letters.

On August 30, 1875, Westervelt was brought to trial in the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia, Judge Elcock presiding. Theodore V. Burgin and George J. Berger, the two men who had helped the Van Brunts waylay and kill the two burglars, testified as to Douglas’ dying story. The witnesses above mentioned told their versions of what they had heard and observed. A porter in Stromberg’s Tavern, a drinking resort at 74 Mott Street, then not yet overrun by the Celestial hordes, testified that Westervelt was often at the Tavern drinking and consulting with Mosher and Douglas, that he had boasted he could name the kidnappers and that he had arranged for secret signals to reveal the presence of the two confederates now dead. Chief Walling also testified against the man. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on three counts of the indictment, reaching its decision on September 20, after long deliberation. On October 9, Judge Elcock sentenced the disgraced policeman to serve seven years in solitary confinement at labor, in the Eastern Penitentiary.

Westervelt took his medicine. Never did he admit that the decision against him was just, confess that he had taken any part in the kidnapping or yield the least hint as to the fate of the unfortunate little boy.

Nothing can touch the heart more than the fearful vigil of the parents in such a case. In his book, Christian K. Ross recites, without improper emotion, that, not counting the cases looked into for him by the Pinkertons, he personally or through others investigated two hundred and seventy-three children reported to be the lost Charlie. In every case there was a mistake or a deception. Some of the lads put forward were old enough to have been conventional uncles to him.

In the following decades many strange rumors were bruited, many false trails followed to their empty endings, and many spurious or unbalanced claimants investigated and exposed. The Charlie Ross fever did not die down for a full generation, and even to-day mothers in the outlying States frighten their children into obedience with the name and rumor of this stolen boy. He has become a fearful tradition, a figure of pathos and terror for the generations.

As recently as June 5 of the current year, the Los Angeles Times, a journal staid to reaction, printed long and credulous sticks of type to the effect that John W. Brown, ill in the General Hospital of Los Angeles, was really the long lost Charlie Ross. The evil rogue “confessed” that he had remained silent for fifty years in order to “guard the honor of my mother” and said he had been kidnapped by his “foster-father, William Henry Brown,” for revenge when Mrs. Ross “declined to have anything further to do with him.”

Comment upon such caddism can be clinical only. The fact that the wretch who uttered it was sick and dying alone explains the fevered hallucination.

As an old newspaper man, I know that any kind of an item suggesting the discovery of Charlie Ross is always good copy and will be telegraphed about the country from end to end, and printed at greater or lesser length. If the thing has the least aura of credibility about it, Sunday features will follow, remarkable mainly for their inaccuracies. In other words, that sad little boy of Washington Lane long since became a classic to the American press.

At the end of more than fifty years the commentator can hazard no safer opinion on the probable fate of Charlie Ross than did his contemporaries. The popular theories then were that he had died of grief and privation, that Mosher had drowned him in New York Bay when he felt the police were near at hand, or that he had been adopted by some distant family and taught to forget his home and parents. Of these hollow guesses, the reader may take his choice now as then.


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