On the 1st of July 1874, two little boys, brothers, were playing on the side of a public road near some villas at Germantown, a few miles from Philadelphia. The elder of the two, Walter Ross, was nearly six years of age; the younger, Charley Ross, was aged four years and two months. They were the sons of Christian K. Ross, a gentleman in business in Philadelphia, who lived in one of the villas at this pleasant part of the environs. His wife and some other children were at the time residing at Atlantic City on the sea-shore of New Jersey. Charley was a charming little boy, with a round full face, broad forehead, bright brown eyes, and light flaxen hair, curling in ringlets to the neck. Like all American children whom we have ever seen, Charley and his brother Walter were fond of candy, a sweetmeat of the barley-sugar species, the taste for which led in the present case to a serious misadventure.
For several days in their outdoor sports, the two boys had been presented with a present of candy by two men who were driving in a kind of wagon or drosky, and who stopped for a moment to talk to them. These interviews produced a slight acquaintance with the men. When they drove past on the 1st of July, and as usual gave them candy, Charley asked them for a ride, and also whether they would not buy him some crackers, which they promised to do. The crackers were meant to be used as fireworks on the 4th July, the annual fête commemorative of American Independence. After driving on for a certain distance, the men returned and took them for a ride into the wagon. Walter asked them to go to Main Street to get the fire-crackers, but was told that he and his brother would be taken to Aunt Susie's store. This was a place which had no existence. So onward the two boys were driven, amused with talk, and supplied with fresh doles of candy. By-and-by, as Charley thought the men were driving rather far, he began to cry, and begged to be taken home. To pacify him, the men gave Walter some money to go into a cigar-store which had crackers exhibited in the window; he was to buy two packages of crackers and one of torpedoes, and come back to the wagon. While he was gone on this deceitful mission, the wagon drove off with Charley. When Walter came out of the store with his hands full of fireworks, he was not a little surprised to find that the wagon had disappeared. He looked about in all directions, but could not see or hear anything of it. Finding himself deserted he cried loudly; a crowd gathered round him, and a kindly disposed person took him home.
On returning to his house in the evening, Mr Ross was distressed at the absence of little Charley, and alarmed from what Walter had to tell of the two men in the wagon. The only reasonable conjecture he could form was that the child had been stolen, though for what purpose he could not divine. Assisted by a nephew, he went off to make inquiries at different police stations; at none, however, could he hear any tidings to allay his anxiety. In the account given by Walter, he described the appearance of the two men, one of whom had rings on his fingers and wore gold spectacles; the horse and wagon were also described. Strange to say, no one knew who these men were. At taverns and livery-stables they and their equipments were unknown. The officers of police were at a loss what to make of the affair. For days Mr Ross continued the search for the child and his abductors. With his nephew he scoured the neighbourhood, telegraphed to various quarters, and advertised the loss in the newspapers. Hearing that there had been a band of gipsies in the neighbourhood, he supposed that they might have been concerned in the theft. Detectives were employed to visit the gipsy camp and make a rigorous search for the boy. The search was unavailing. The gipsies were apparently innocent of the crime.
Much public sympathy was felt for the father of the lost boy, and all were amazed at the possibility of a child being carried off in a manner so totally inexplicable. Where could little Charley be? He and his captors had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth. The only rational supposition that could be formed was that Charley had been stolen by two scoundrels in the hope of getting a heavy ransom on his restoration. Yet, a crime of this kind, though common enough in Sicily, where the laws meet with no sort of respect, was next to unknown in Pennsylvania or any other northern part of the United States. If Charley Ross had been abducted for the sake of a ransom, it was the beginning of a new crime in this part of the world, and as such would send a shiver through society; for no child of any man in good circumstances would be safe.
The conjecture that little Charley was stolen with a view to being held in ransom, proved to be the right one. The abductors had the audacity to write to Mr Ross, July 3, that he might keep his mind easy about Charley; but that no powers on earth would get him unless good payment was offered for him. The letter was in affectedly bad writing and spelling, and was not dated from any place. Strange to say, it must, from the short time between posting and delivery, have been written in Philadelphia, in which city, by a reasonable inference, the two thieves were concealed. The authorities now made a more minute and vigorous search, and a watch was put on all the railway dépôts day and night. Barns, stables, sheds, and unoccupied houses were looked into, and the police went through all known haunts of vice and professional beggars and vagrants. The search was not confined to the town and suburbs, but was extended up and down the Delaware and into the neighbouring states. Every canal-boat was carefully examined. To do the local authorities justice, they spared no pains to unravel this extraordinary mystery. The crime, as it now stood revealed, did not alone concern the bereaved father and his child; it concerned the whole