Back on July 1, 1874, little Charley Ross (4 years old) and his brother Walter (5 years old) were playing in the front yard of their family’s home in Philadelphia. A carriage passing the home stopped and two men offered to give the boys a ride and buy them some candy and fireworks for the upcoming 4th of July celebration. The boys agreed and climbed aboard.

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As the carriage made its way through the streets the men gave little Walter a quarter and sent him into a store to buy the fireworks. When Walter emerged from the store, his arms full of fireworks, the carriage was gone.

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The boys’ father Christian Ross provided well for his family. They appeared to be quite well off, but in reality they were slowly drowning in debt from losses in the stock market. Letters began to arrive from the kidnappers. The letters were poorly written and full of spelling mistakes, but it was clear that they were warning against alerting the police and wished to receive $20,000 for the return of Charley. Christian had no means to come up with that sort of money, so he went to the police and press for help.

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The press had a field day with the story and several prominent Philadelphian families hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate. Little Walter had people on the lookout for a man with a nose like a monkey, and the song “Bring Back our Darling” was written in honor of the kidnapped boy.

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The kidnappers were eventually found, although it was a year later when they attempted to break into a mansion and were met with shotgun blasts. One of the men was killed instantly while the other, “monkey nose”, was mortally wounded. He confessed to the kidnapping as he lay dying. Sadly he died before telling the police where to find Charley. They never found the real Charley, although many imposters presented themselves. The lasting impact of this case gives us the expression, “Never take candy from a stranger”.

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