In the movies, death is often just the beginning of a grand puzzle. Mysteries usually start to unfold with a body in the drawing room; then something on the body leads the hero to a series of puzzles, and eventually, a treasure or some massive discovery. But things like that only work in Hollywood.
Sans the treasure, mind-boggling mysteries happen in real life too.
There are some cases that are so bizarre, it seems that they’ve been pulled straight from a movie; the details seem to be leading somewhere, but the secrets they’re meant to unlock never materializes. The death of Chuck Morgan in 1977 is such a case. The drama and peculiarity of this ordeal has baffled investigators for years, and remains unsolved to this day.
Gone and Back Again
There is very little available about Chuck’s life before this case began. He was a successful businessman who was the president of his own escrow agency (escrow agents hold property in trust for third parties while transactions or disagreements are resolved). He lived in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Ruth and their daughters.
On March 22, 1977, he left his home to drive two of his daughters to school. After he dropped them off, he vanished unexpectedly. His whereabouts were unknown for three days. On March 25, his wife Ruth was awoken at 2am by a thump at their back door. It was Chuck, looking worse for wear. According to Ruth’s account, he was missing a shoe, had a plastic handcuff around one ankle, and his hands were zip-tied together.
He indicated to her that he could not speak, but wrote a note saying that he’d been kidnapped. He also wrote that a hallucinogenic drug had been painted inside his throat, and that it would severely damage his nervous system if he ingested it. However, Chuck refused to name who had done this to him. He insisted that Ruth didn’t call a doctor or the police, because a hit would be put out on him and his family.
Secret Identity and Paranoia
For the next week, Ruth nursed her husband back to health, feeding him with an eyedropper. While this was going on, he began alluding to having secretly worked for the government to combat organized crime. He wrote that “they took my Treasury identification” and claimed that he had been working for them for two or three years. His wife knew nothing of this, and Chuck didn’t tell her anything else about it.
After the kidnapping, Chuck became very paranoid. He began wearing a bulletproof vest wherever he went. He also insisted on driving his daughters to and from school, telling the administrators that he was the only one who was allowed to pick them up. But despite all his precautions, Chuck wouldn’t be safe for long.
Two months after he disappeared the first time, in May 1977, Chuck disappeared again. This time, he was gone for over a week before Ruth heard anything. She received a phone call from a mysterious woman. She said, “Chuck is alright. Ecclesiastes 12, 1 through 8,” and hung up.
Two days later, Chuck’s body was discovered in the desert outside Tucson. He was still wearing his bulletproof vest, but he’d been shot in the back of the head. The bullet came from his own gun, a .357 Magnum that was found lying next to him at the scene.
Three clues were found at the scene. A piece of paper with directions to the crime scene written in Chuck’s handwriting and a pair of sunglasses that definitely didn’t belong to him were discovered in his car, indicating that he had probably met with someone shortly before his death.
The last clue was significantly stranger. A $2 bill was found clipped inside Chuck’s underwear. On one side of the bill, seven Spanish names were listed alphabetically from A to G. Above them, “Ecclesiastes 12” was written, with verses 1 through 8 marked by arrows drawn on the bill’s serial number. This was the same Bible verse that the mysterious woman had given to Ruth days before. The verse reads:
Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 King James Version (KJV)
121 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,
while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh,
when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars,
be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,
and the strong men shall bow themselves,
and the grinders cease because they are few,
and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets,
when the sound of the grinding is low,
and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird,
and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way,
and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden,
and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home,
and the mourners go about the streets:
6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken,
or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
On the back of this same bill, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were numbered 1 through 7. There was also a map, leading to an area between Tucson and Mexico. The towns of Robles Junction and Salacity were marked; both of these towns were known for smuggling.
Despite the absolutely bizarre circumstances, Chuck’s death was ruled a suicide by authorities. His family, as well as a reporter named Don Devereux, disagreed. Ruth said, “There is no way Chuck would’ve committed suicide. And if he had even contemplated suicide, he would’ve left a letter for his girls and for me.”
Two days after Chuck’s body was found, an unidentified woman called the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. This woman went only by the nickname “Green Eyes” and said that she was the same woman who had called Ruth before the body was discovered. She told police that Chuck had met her at a local motel the day that he died. He’d shown her a briefcase containing thousands of dollars in cash, saying that he was going to use the money to buy his way out of a contract that the mob had put on his life. There was no way to verify what the woman said, and no briefcase was recovered at the scene.
At some point, the Morgans were visited by two men who claimed to be FBI agents. Ruth’s account describes them this way:
“They opened and closed their identification very fast. They said they wanted to come in and look through the house. They never said what they were looking for.”
The men tore the house apart, though it’s unclear if they found what they were looking for or not. No one is certain whether or not the men actually were from the FBI. When Don Devereux filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI for information on Chuck C. Morgan’s case, they claimed that they’d never heard of him.
Most theories about this case operate on the assumption that Chuck was involved with organized crime, either knowingly or unknowingly. In the 1970s, the mafia moved into Arizona, mostly because of a state law that allowed land to be purchased through blind numbered trust accounts. This made the state a haven for untraceable money laundering.
Chuck Morgan had done real estate escrow work for at least one known mafia family. It was also possible that he’d been involved in the purchases of gold bullion and platinum for this family – this is known as a more convenient way to launder money.
The theory is that, for whatever reason, someone in the organized crime world put a hit out on Chuck. Perhaps he really was working with the government and someone blew his cover. Or perhaps he just got in over his head and threatened to go to the authorities. In any case, it’s thought that a hitman contacted Chuck, asking for payment in exchange for his life. But when he met the hitman in the desert, the man killed him anyway and took the money.
Don Devereux believes that Chuck really was working for the government, and that the bizarre $2 bill was the key to a code, or perhaps a coded message for the FBI. Unfortunately, without access to any documents that the bill could possibly unlock, we’ll never know what Chuck was trying to tell them.
Whatever happened to Chuck out in that desert, we may never know. The case has been featured on Unsolved Mysteries twice, and is the subject of a Buzzfeed Unsolved episode. Other than that, the case has had very little media coverage despite its bizarre details.
It’s unlikely that this case will ever be solved, but there is still hope. Cold cases are being solved every day with new technology, and it’s possible that Chuck’s killer left something behind that could still lead the authorities to them.