The Famous Man Who Found out His Father Was a Murdering Hitman
Charles Harrelson was even implicated in the murder of JFK
Charles Harrelson was an American criminal and hitman who became famous for the first killing of a judge in the 20th century. Some have implicated him in the JFK assassination. He is also the father of actor Woody Harrelson.
Charles Harrelson was born on 23rd July 1938 in Texas. As a young man, he enrolled in the navy; he moved to Los Angeles to sell encyclopaedias when he left. Here, he met Diane Oswald and fathered Woody and Brett Harrelson.
When Woody was seven years old, he lost touch with his father when he went to jail for robbery. Diane and Charles divorced, shortly after, in 1965, Charles would marry his second of four wives.
Harrelson the killer
In May 1968, Harrelson was charged with the contract killing of Alan Berg; the jury acquitted him.
The same year, Harrelson killed Sam Degelia. Degelia was a grain dealer from Texas who has upset his business partner, Pete Scamardo. Scamardo was not a good person to argue with as he was a part-time heroin smuggler who had employed Harrelson to transport his drugs.
Woody Harrelson had been estranged from his father, heard about his crimes on the radio.
He paid him $2000 to murder Degelia. At the original trial, a hung jury could not make a decision. On retrial, he was found guilty and given a fifteen-year sentence. He served just five years and was released on good behaviour.
The murder of a judge
However, he would not be free for long. In May 1979, Judge John H Wood Jr was found dead in a car park in San Antonio. Wood was notoriously tough on drug crimes; the day he was murdered, he was meant to be sentencing Jamiel Chagra.
An anonymous tip suggested that Chagra has used hitman Harrelson to eliminate the judge. A tape was also discovered showing Chagra and his brother admitting Harrelson’s involvement.
High on drugs, when he was arrested, Harrelson would admit to shooting JFK, something he later tried to retract. He also claimed that although he told Chagra he had murdered the judge, it was a lie to claim the money.
The jury did not believe any of his claims; he was sentenced to two life sentences for the first murder of a judge in the 20th century. In a strange twist, though, Chagra would be found not guilty on conspiracy to murder.
Conspiracies and appeals
When Woody started making money through his role in Cheers, he began funnelling funds to get his father released — stating how could he be guilty if Chagra had been found not guilty. Each appeal was rejected.
Regarding his claims to assassinate JFK, it was essentially thought he was lying; authorities found no proof to link him to the murder except him knowing Jack Ruby. Jim Marrs would further ignite this theory when he stated that Harrelson looked similar to the youngest of the three tramps in his book Crossfire.
This was not the end of Harrelson’s fame, though, when he tried to escape from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1995. The attempt failed but earned him a transfer to maximum security in Colorado.
Woody Harrelson built a friendship with his father through his visits to prison. He would also state that he based some of his characters on his father. Charles Harrelson died of a heart attack in prison on 15th March 2007.