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1930s & Earlier / Charley Ross Abduction Case - 1874
The first prominent child abduction in American history was the Charley Ross case. On July 1, 1874, four-year-old Charley Ross was playing with his five-year-old brother Walter in the front yard of their home in the affluent Germantown section of Philadelphia. Two men pulled up in a horse-drawn carriage. They offered the two brothers candy and fireworks if they would take a ride into town with them. The naive youngsters agreed. After a short ride, the carriage stopped in front of a store. Walter was given a quarter to buy fireworks. When he came out of the store, the carriage was gone. A sobbing Walter was found by a policeman. Walter explained what had happened. He described one of the men as having "a monkey nose." Not long afterward, ransom demands were mailed to Charley's father, Christian Ross, from various post offices in and around Philadelphia. The notes demanded the enormous sum of $20,000 for the boy's safe return. Christian was heavily in debt following the 1873 stock market crash and could not afford to play the ransom. The Pinkerton Detective Agency circulated thousands of handbills with an artist's drawing of Charley's face which made the case national news. Attempts to meet with the kidnappers on several occasions failed when the abductors never showed up. There were no significant developments in the case until December 1874 when two career criminals were shot while attempting to burglarize a judge's home in Long Island. One intruder, Bill Mosher, died instantly. The other, Joe Douglas, was mortally wounded. Before he died, Douglas confessed that he and Mosher had kidnapped Charley Ross in July. Contradictory statements were given as to whether the boy was still alive. Walter was taken to Long Island to identify the dead twosome. He agreed they were the men who had taken him for the carriage ride in July. Mosher was easily identified because of his deformed "monkey nose." The Ross family resolutely continued to pursue leads for Charley well into the 1930s. Hundreds of would-be Charley Rosses were investigated. None could be proven as legitimate. It is believed the admonition, "Don't take candy from strangers" was inspired by the Charley Ross kidnapping.