we is got him

  • "As sad and unsettling this tale is, Hagen tells it with the splendidly compelling narrative momentum of a contemporary true-crime writer...."
    The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • "That the two events actually overlap is a writer's gift to Hagen, but more the result of her triple-threat skills as researcher, journalist and storyteller."
    Minneapolis, St. Paul StarTribune
  • "Verdict: A must-read for those interested in true crime and law enforcement history."
    Library Journal
  • "A slice of American crime history both instructive and tragically entertaining."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Hagen's We Is Got Him chronicles an equally horrific, more heartbreaking, and tragically more relevant 19th century story, with characters only Dostoevsky could invent."
    Michael Capuzzo, New York Times best-selling author of The Murder Room

Featured on Mysteries at the Museum


In 1874, kidnappers snatched a little boy named Charley Ross from his family’s front yard in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. A ransom note arrived the next day, demanding $20,000 for his return. As Philadelphia prepared to host America’s centennial celebration, the mass panic surrounding the Charley Ross investigation jeopardized city politics and plunged the nation into hysteria.

The desperate search led the Philadelphia and New York police departments to inspect every building in Philadelphia, set up saloon surveillance in New York’s notorious Five Points neighborhood, and elicit citizens’ participation in a national manhunt. While the world followed the investigation through the press, Americans were simultaneously horrified and united in their efforts to find the boy and catch his kidnappers. The stolen child called attention to an America that the approaching 1876 Centennial would not celebrate: a country propelled by industrialization, lost to consumer culture, and increasingly separated by class.

The Ransom Notes

(Freeman's Auctioneers and Appraisers)

Update (since publication):

In 2013, 22 of the 23 kidnapping letters resurfaced in the basement of a northwest Philadelphia family home. The letters, which had disappeared from the papers of Charley's father Christian sometime after his 1897 death, seemed to have come from a 20th century auction lot. Once authenticated by Freeman's Auctioneers and Appraisers, the letters went to auction in December 2013. A local collector purchased the documents and donated them to the Germantown Historical Society.

In Spring 2014, Carrie Hagen co-curated an exhibition featuring the letters at Germantown Historical Society. Eve Kahn for The New York Times included "Kidnapped: The Ransom Letters of Charley Ross, Lost and Found," in her list of the year's most intriguing auction finds.

The letters are part of the collection at the Germantown Historical Society and available for public viewing.