Watch CBS News

New Exhibit In Germantown Tells Story Of Nation's First Kidnapping For Ransom

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Germantown Historic Society opened a new exhibit this weekend titled, "Kidnapped: Lost and Found." It tells the story of the abduction of a 4-year-old boy from his front yard in Germantown, 140 years ago. It was the nation's first kidnapping for ransom.

Before Patty Hearst -- and Charles Lindberg, Jr. -- there was 4-year-old Charlie Ross. He was the son of Christian Ross, a merchant who lived in Germantown.

"A few days before the kidnapping, the abductors would give the boys candy and introduce themselves and clearly had developed a trust," says Laura Keim, curator for Historic Germantown.

Keim says it was July 1, 1874 when little Charlie and his 6-year-old brother Walter were taken. Walter was released and told his parents of the abduction. Two days later, the Ross family began receiving letters demanding a ransom of $20,000 in exchange for the return of Charlie.

"It starts out, 'Mr. Ross, be not uneasy. Your son Charlie Brewster be alright. We've got him and no powers on earth can deliver him out of our hand,'" read Keim, on the first letter set to the Ross family.

Ross letter 1a
(credit: Barbara Hogue, Executive Director, Historic Germantown)

The Ross family received a total of 23 ransom notes, but Charlie was never found. All 23 original ransom notes were found in a Mount Airy basement, last year. They were purchased during an auction for the ironic sum of $20,000. All of the original notes are on display in the exhibit.

Click here for more information:

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.