The first known kidnapping for ransom in the United States occurred on July 1, 1874. Four-year-old Charley Ross was playing in his front yard with his brother Walter when a carriage approached. The driver offered them candy and fireworks to lure them into the carriage. When they went to purchase the fireworks, the driver abandoned Walter and drove away with Charley still in the carriage. Soon, Charley’s parents started receiving letters demanding huge sums of money in exchange for Charley’s safe return. Though he had a large house, Charley’s father was actually in severe debt, so he couldn’t afford the ransom. He contacted the police, but their attempts to find Charley were unsuccessful.
It wasn’t until the police investigated another kidnapping later in the year that they were able to identify the abductor. When they found a ransom note relating to the Vanderbilt kidnapping they were able to match the handwriting to that from the Charley Ross kidnapping. The handwriting matched a fugitive’s names William Mosher. He had died in a burglary in Brooklyn earlier that year, but his crime partner, Joseph Douglas, admitted that Mosher was the abductor of Charley Ross. Douglas claimed that only Mosher knew where Charley was. He also said Charley would be returned safely a few days later. However, he never was. Charley’s father spent $60,000 in his search for his son. Several impostors came forward throughout the years claiming to be Charley. Charley’s father dies in 1897 having never found Charley. His mother passed away in 1912, and his brother, Walter, died in 1943.
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