We Is Got Charley Ross

You may not have heard of the book We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping That Changed America. Until I ran into Andy Kaplan — an avid “06880” reader, and CFO of DonorsChoose.org — I sure hadn’t.

Here’s the summary from Amazon.com:

In 1874, a little boy named Charley Ross was snatched from his family’s front yard in Philadelphia. A ransom note arrived three days later, demanding $20,000 for Charley’s return. The city was about to host the United States Centennial celebration, and the mass panic surrounding the Charley Ross case plunged the nation into hysteria.

The desperate search led the police to inspect every building in Philadelphia, set up saloon surveillance in New York’s notorious slums, and begin a national manhunt. With white-knuckle suspense and historical detail, Hagen vividly captures the dark side of an earlier America. Her brilliant portrayal of its criminals, detectives, politicians, spiritualists, and ordinary families will stay with the reader long after the final page.

What makes an 1874 Philadelphia kidnapping “06880”-worthy?

The fact that on December 15 of that year, a New York detective and 2 officers prepared to raid a small island off of Westport. Author Carrie Hagen writes:

Doyle had learned about an elderly couple who sold provisions to fishermen and wanderers from their home on the island. … (He) thought the pair could very well be hiding Charley Ross. Doyle assembled a team, secured a search warrant, and landed on the island at 3 a.m. on December 16.

Domesticated  animals and birds roamed the grounds outside of several shacks. When officers knocked on the main cabin, nobody answered. They pounded harder. An elderly man cracked open the door. Behind him, an old woman stood holding a candle. In a shaky voice, the man asked why they were bothering him so late at night.

Doyle’s men pushed the door open, entered the cabin, and said they were there to take Charley Ross back to his family.

The officers searched the home, and surrounding shacks. The couple insisted no one ever stayed with them. Doyle left without making an arrest.

That’s the only time Westport is mentioned in connection with the case.

Sadly, young Charley Ross was never found.

12 responses to “We Is Got Charley Ross

  1. Its a good story for the Hit TV series, “Cold Case”!

  2. …and the island was …..???? Which?

    • Absolutely no idea. And it’s certainly lost to the mists of time, as that’s all that was in the book.

  3. Nick Thiemann

    They say that every December 15, you can hear a child’s sry coming off the waters near cockonoe Island.

  4. amythompson1722

    Good story for cold case..


  5. Maybe it was Sherwood Island.

  6. Dan,
    Thanks for sharing with the ‘hood.

  7. Andy Kaplan

    Thanks for sharing with the ‘hood.

  8. Sprite Island?

  9. Wendy Crowther

    Great story, Dan and Andy.

    A quick Wikipedia search told me that there are 25 islands – wow, who knew – off the shores of Norwalk and Westport (all grouped into what are called the Norwalk Islands). A few of them currently have a house or a hut on them. Wikipedia also mentions some interesting historic bits about them. Searching the 1870 and 1880 census might provide some clues as to who might have lived on a Westport island, although the 1870 census provides no addresses, and the 1880 census separates Westport into 3 enumeration districts but doesn’t specify exact addresses of residents. Someone with a lot of patience and time might be able to figure out the mystery by combining census searching with a search of the local newspapers that might have printed the story about the detective’s invasion on or after Dec 16, 1874.

    Wish I had the time.

  10. Wendy Crowther

    Me again. Here’s a little more info found on the internet that might point to Cockenoe as possible location:

    “During the 1800’s the island [Cockenoe] was a working farm, complete with a farmhouse, barn, and livestock. This operation eventually evolved into the more lucrative business of a whisky distillery, which was raided by the Federal Government in 1870.”

    Those “provisions” sold to fisherman and wanderers might have included a little hooch. It certainly fits the “farm animal” description.