On March 15, 2007, convicted contract killer Charles Voyde “Chuck” Harrelson died of a heart attack inside his cell at the Supermax ADX prison in Florence, Colorado. He was 68.
Harrelson had arrived in the extreme-security facility after attempting to escape from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1995, where he’d been serving two life sentences for the 1979 assassination of U.S. District Judge John Wood. As a piece of horrible history, Wood’s death was the first killing of a federal judge in the 20th century.
Prior to that, Harrelson had been tried and acquitted for the 1968 paid torture-murder of carpet salesman Alan Harry Berg. Then, in 1973, Harrelson got 15 years in the murder-for-hire case of grain dealer Sam Degelia. He received parole in ’78 for good behavior, shortly after which he executed Judge Wood.
On top of all that, some people believe that Chuck Harrelson might have assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
Still, the reason that Chuck Harrelson commanded such high-profile attention upon his passing — and continues to — is that he is the father of popular actor Woody Harrelson. So, yes, you read that right: Woody Harrelson’s dad may have been the triggerman in the November 22, 1963 killing of JFK.
The Kennedy allegations first arose during Harrelson’s six-hour 1980 standoff with police officers who had come to take him in for the Judge Wood killing. Harrelson, who said he was “high on cocaine,” announced that he had indeed shot Wood to death while the judge was changing a tire in his driveway. He also added that El Paso drug kingpin Jamiel Chagra paid him $250,000 to do it. In addition, Harrelson blurted out that he had blown JFK’s head off, and yelled to the cops about exactly how and for whom he had done it.During Harrelson’s subsequent trial, Joseph Chagra, the brother of Jamiel Chagra, corroborated the hitman’s claims. He said that Harrelson had drawn maps, pointed out where he hid, and explained the details of his role in the great American tragedy in entirely credible terms.
Alas, during that trial, no one with the last name “Chagra” could himself be called credible. The AP then reported that the “FBI apparently discounted any involvement by Harrelson with the assassination.”
Later on, Harrelson recanted both confessions. He said he only took credit from some other killer for knocking off the judge to get Chagra’s money. The JFK stuff he chalked up to being whacked out of his mind on coke when he said it.
After making amends and maintaining an uneasy personal relationship with his father in 1988, Woody Harrelson funded his appeals. All such attempts to get released or for a new trial just dried up and went away.
What did not simply disappear, though, was talk of Chuck Harrelson playing some lethal part in JFK’s murder, especially during the conspiracy-crazed 1990s.
The specific thought came to be that Harrelson was one of the “Three Tramps,” a trio of men who appear in photographs being escorted by police near the Texas School Book Depository from which “official” JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald reportedly fired his rifle and fled.
In the commanding and frequently referenced 1989 tome, Crossfire: The Plot to Kill Kennedy, author Jim Marrs states that Chuck Harrelson was in deep “with criminals connected to intelligence agencies and the military.” The book also tied Harrelson to Jack Ruby, the Dallas strip club owner with Cuban mafia ties who executed Lee Harvey Oswald on live television.
The best-selling 1992 JFK assassination study The Man on the Grassy Knoll by John R. Craig and Philip A. Rogers assembles evidence that Harrelson was indeed one of the Three Tramps.
The other two, according to the book, were Charles Rogers and Chauncey Holt. The authors conclude that Harrelson and Rogers were the sharpshooters who picked off the president, and that Holt assisted them with supplies and cover materials.
Following Grassy Knoll‘s publication, Chauncey Holt did claim he was a CIA operative and that he had delivered false federal-agent IDs and handguns to Charles Harrelson and Charles Rogers just outside Dealey Plaza on November 22.
Regardless, three other men were officially arrested and identified as the “Three Tramps.” Reportedly, those guys were actual hobos who had just been rounded up from a nearby box car and held for four days until being released.However, as with seemingly every conceivable element of the JFK assassination, the cosmic loop of theories, conspiracies, coincidences, and contradictions only grows more massively intertwined and maddeningly endless.
Still, here’s one more. Director Oliver Stone based his 1991 cinematic paranoia masterpiece JFK in large part on Jim Marrs’ Crossfire book, which asserts Chuck Harrelson’s role in the assassination.
Two years later, Stone followed up with Natural Born Killers, in which he cast Woody Harrelson as a berserk, ruthless, limitlessly prolific murderer.
Coincidence? Sure, maybe. But then again, in a world where the dad of a bartender from Cheers may have pulled off the crime of the millennium, anything is truly possible.
Main photos: Charles Harrelson [Houston Police Department]