The first kidnapping for ransom in America made headlines and involved police departments and detectives across several states, including the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency. Among thousands of claims to be the lost child, only one man took his claim to a court of law and was declared by a jury to be the kidnapped child, Charles Brewster Ross. Modern day references to the Charley Ross kidnapping include Gustave Blair’s claim. We now know he was Nelson Miller, despite the 1939 court ruling that said otherwise.
As the newly adjudicated Charles Brewster Ross, he returned to Compton, IL, his childhood home in Lee County, on September 6, 1939, to reveal details of his life and the people he cared about. With a reporter and photographer, he identified the “Murder House,” the “Grim Sentinel” tree where bodies were buried and the “Scene of the Crime” where John Hawk, one of the kidnappers, was killed by his Miller father. He identified Mrs. Emma Holdren, the Millers’ housekeeper, as the only true “Mother” he had. Under the Millers’ employ, she reportedly cared for Nelson as a sick child when he arrived at the Miller home in 1874.
In 1943, the man who born Nelson Miller, changed his name to Gustave Blair and in 1939 was declared by an Arizona jury to be Charley Ross, died. The official record states he died as “Charles Bruster Ross.” (The certificate was later changed from “Bruster” to “Brewster”).
In 1943 Nelson Miller was buried alone as “Charles B Ross” four years later after succumbing to pneumonia and evidently either fully convinced he was the kidnapped child or unable to admit he had deceived the world. His son tried for years to advance his father’s claim, to be recognized by the Ross family and to obtain his rightful inheritance. No record has been found that Nelson, or his son, attempted to legally access any of what remained of the Ross family fortune (though according to media reports, there was no real fortune to be had, as Christian Ross depleted all of his assets searching for his son).
Nelson Miller’s victory in a Maricopa County courtroom as Gustave Blair was, and still is, reported to have solved the disappearance of Charley Ross, but it was met with considerable skepticism. DNA evidence clearly supports the sad declaration made by the Ross family 146 years ago – that Charles Brewster Ross, the kidnapped child, is still lost.