Carrie Hagen's tale of local crime mystery in 'We is Got Him'

GERMANTOWN - December 7, 2011

History buffs and mystery lovers might be in for the best thrills in Germantown. It's the setting of "We is Got Him," a new book by local author Carrie Hagan. It traces the 1874 kidnapping of Wilbur and Charley Ross, just 4 and 6, outside their family home.

Little remembered, it is the first recorded case of a ransom kidnapping in American history.

Hagen explains, "There was no procedure for a case like this. It hadn't happened before with a middle class family. The police didn't know what to do. Philadelphia didn't know what to do. So it was quite shocking."

The kidnappers let Wilbur go, but kept little Charley, using newspaper classifieds to make their demands.

The boys' father collapsed in a nervous breakdown and copycat kidnappings started up all over the nation.

"Within that first month of interrogation, Philadelphia's police chief authorized the search of every single building in the city. So people had to open their homes to police officers to come in to search for Charles. So that sense of invasion was an ominous overtone," says Hagen.

The book can also be used as a historical walking guide.

A neighborhood church is still bordered by the stone fence where the boys were taken. The main thoroughfare of that day is still an important roadway today, Germantown Avenue with its host of historical homes and gardens.

A current police station sits near the site of an older one, where the Ross family first reported the kidnapping. And the Germantown Historical Society sits in the square where police immediately questioned merchants.

A perfect afternoon ramble as you contemplate Charley, who was never returned to his family.

"But that lingering question of what happened to Charlie is just going to have to be one of history's mysteries, that people just aren't going to know."

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