Cold Case Explorations

Researching Cold and Unsolved Cases from the US and Beyond

Twice Missing, Once Shot: Who Killed Charles Morgan?

This case has remained unsolved for 46 years, 5 months, and 19 days.

In the 1970s, Arizona (AZ) was a haven for money laundering and a key narcotics pipeline. State laws allowed anyone to buy land through numbered blind trust accounts, making it easy for criminals to engage in money laundering. Reportedly, one escrow agent, Charles Morgan, had assisted some crime families with purchasing gold and platinum along with other escrow work.

In March of 1977, Morgan went missing for a few days, returning later with a story of being tortured and with some of his private documents taken from him. His wife urged him to go to police, but he refused, stating that it would make his family a target, too.

A few months later, Morgan went missing again, but this time there would be no happy ending. His body would be found on June 18, some weeks after he went missing for the second time, and there would be some odd discoveries in his nearby car — including one of his teeth wrapped in a handkerchief

Although the medical examiner was unable to conclusively determine a manner of death, local authorities ruled Morgan’s death as a suicide. Many disagree with this assessment, including his family, and over forty years later, this case is still being debated. Who killed Charles Morgan?

Table of Contents

About Charles “Chuck” Morgan

I tried to find as much information as I could about Charles Morgan, but there wasn’t a ton of information out there that spoke of his life prior to his murder. The case is also an older one, which might explain the dearth of information.

Morgan the Businessman

In 1977, Morgan was a 39-year-old escrow company owner in Tucson, AZ. His company was called Statewide Escrow Service, Inc., and it seems that he was quite a successful businessman, running the company for around 15 years. He was married to Ruth Morgan and together, they had four daughters.

A photograph of Charles Morgan.
A photograph of Charles Morgan (12 News).

Money Laundering?

However, there were rumors that Morgan did escrow work for organized-crime families: the Ned Warren family in Phoenix and the Joe Bonanno family in Tucson. Some of those were rumors were apparently true as he’d testified in a secret Arizona state investigation by the Treasury Department that spanned across the border into Mexico.

When asked about his work, Morgan admitted to his wife that there was money laundering going on, but that he wasn’t directly involved. She explained: 

“Chuck mentioned to me once that there was money laundering going on, but nothing that he himself was involved in. He told me, ‘The less the girls and you know, the better off you will be’” (Unsolved).

So, although Morgan knew about some issues regarding criminal activity and money laundering, he didn’t suggest to his wife that he was directly involved. Perhaps he was more intertwined than he let on, however, judging by how things eventually played out. 

The First Disappearance

On March 22, 1977, Morgan headed off to work after dropping his daughters off at school, as he so often did. However, he didn’t return that night, nor the next day. It’s not clear if this alarmed his wife, Ruth, but he eventually returned three days later on March 25 at 2 AM. Ruth described the experience:

“I was in bed and the dog started barking. I got up, went to the door and opened it and there was Chuck. He was missing a shoe and had one plastic handcuff around one ankle and a set around his hands” (Unsolved).

Unable to Speak

Morgan didn’t speak to Ruth and instead would only write to her, explaining that his throat had been coated with a hallucinogenic drug and that if he spoke, he might go insane or even die. It’s not clear if this was actually true or if he just believed it to be. He also communicated that he’d been kidnapped and tortured.

When Ruth suggested going to police or the hospital, Morgan refused, explaining that it would only put the rest of their family in danger. Reluctantly, she agreed not to and tried to help her husband however she could.

Charles Morgan was only able to communicate via pen and paper for a time after his kidnapping.
Charles Morgan was only able to communicate via pen and paper for a time after his kidnapping (Aaron Burden).

Nursed Back to Health

Over the next week, Ruth helped nurse Morgan back to health. Again, it’s not clear if they went to a hospital, but it seems that they didn’t — perhaps out of fear of retribution from whomever had done this to Morgan. He also revealed that he was an agent for the Treasury Department, and that they’d taken his Treasury identification away from him. 

Whether or not Morgan was really an agent for the Treasury Department is hard to say, although he did indeed testify in an investigation regarding some organized crime groups, so it’s entirely possible. 

The Aftermath

After the kidnapping, Morgan was resolved not to let whatever happened occur again. He purchased a bulletproof vest and a .357 Magnum for personal protection, and would take both with him whenever he left the house.

The Second Disappearance

Shortly before he went missing again, Morgan told his family that he had written a letter that explained everything in case something should happen to him. He ended up going missing again, and though his family searched for this letter, they never found it.

June 7: Morgan Goes Missing Again

According to a newspaper at the time, Morgan went missing a second time on June 7, 1977. This was just a few months after the last time he went missing, but this time, there would be more permanent consequences.

Morgan hadn’t shown up to his office on June 7, but he called in shortly before noon to say he’d be there in about 30 minutes. However, he never showed up, and that was the last time anyone heard from him. A missing persons report was filed and a missing-person bulletin was put out by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD).

A .357 Magnum revolver similar to the one Charles Morgan might’ve carried.
A .357 Magnum revolver similar to the one Charles Morgan might’ve carried (American Rifleman).

June 16: Strange Phone Call

On June 16, Ruth received an odd phone call. The caller said, “Chuck is all right. Ecclesiastes 12, 1 through 8,” and then hung up before Ruth could ask any questions. Part of the verse includes the following:

“Remember him — before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken… and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Ecclesiastes 6-8 (Source: Bible)

Some have suggested that the verse is an ominous foreboding that Morgan was going to die (or be “[returned] to God,” as the verse states). 

June 18: A Body Found

On June 18, 1977, two walkers on the Papago Indian Reservation made a horrifying discovery: a dead body. It turned out to be Charles Morgan, found about 30 feet off Arizona Highway 86, roughly 40 miles southwest of Tucson. He was wearing a bulletproof vest and had been shot once in the back of the head. His car, a new Mercury Cougar, was also found at the scene.

The Investigation

The PCSD was called to the scene to investigate Morgan’s death. It wasn’t clear what they were looking at to start with — be it an accident, murder, or otherwise — and they had their jobs cut out for them.

Odd Items Found on Morgan

Morgan had been wearing a bulletproof vest when he died — although even that can’t save you from being shot in the head. To me, it indicates that he was afraid of something or someone, and of being targeted. 

Additionally, a $2 bill was found pinned into Morgan’s underwear with some Spanish surnames (which some think to be a code of some kind), a Bible verse reference (Ecclesiastes 12), and a drawn map of the area. None of the markings or writings on it were ever publicly explained, however.

Some of the odd notes and drawings on the $2 bill found on Charles Morgan’s body.
Some of the odd notes and drawings on the $2 bill found on Charles Morgan’s body (Unsolved).

Was Morgan Hiding from Something?

According to the PCSD’s investigation, Morgan was hiding in an E-Z 8 Motel for at least a week before he died. He was also trying to pull together enough cash to pay off a “contract on his life,” an acquaintance told authorities, not wishing to be identified because she was afraid for her life. She was known only as Green Eyes. “If they accept this, then everything will be all right,” Morgan had reportedly told her.

Green Eyes also reported seeing a briefcase full of bills — mostly $20s and $50s — and that Morgan had raised about $80,000 in cash. The last time she heard from him was a few days before he was found dead when he called her around noon. During that call, he’d asked Green Eyes to call his wife to tell her that he was “okay.” 

It was ultimately discovered that it was this same acquaintance, Green Eyes, who made that the phone call to Ruth a few days before Morgan’s body was discovered. Remember that the caller had referenced Ecclesiastes 12: 1–8, and one of the notes on the $2 bill was a reference to Ecclesiastes 12. The coincidence (or connection) has never been explained.

Items Found in the Car

Some interesting items were found in Morgan’s car, including several cases of ammunition, some weapons, citizens band (CB) radios, a pair of sunglasses that weren’t his, and one of his teeth wrapped in a handkerchief. Additionally, a briefcase was found matching the description that Green Eyes had given. There was no money in there anymore though, only some business paperwork.

Sunglasses not belonging to Charles Morgan were found in his car near his body.
Sunglasses not belonging to Charles Morgan were found in his car near his body (Unsolved).

Autopsy Results

The autopsy determined that Morgan had been shot by a large-caliber bullet in the back of the head, and his .357 Magnum revolver was found next to his body. No fingerprints were found on the gun, although gunshot residue was found on one hand which suggests that his hand was close to the gun when it was fired.

Ultimately, the medical examiner was unable to come to a conclusion about how Morgan died — whether it was a suicide or a homicide. (As an aside, if you’re struggling yourself, please reach out to the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.)

Car and Office Ransacked

According to some sources, there were reports that Morgan’s impounded car was broken into while in possession of authorities and that Morgan’s office was also ransacked by people pretending to be FBI agents. When the FBI was contacted in later years, they denied having anything to do with the case or the search of the office.

Death Ruled a Suicide

Originally, the PCSD suspected that Morgan’s death was due to a suicide. Detectives told the media, “Evidence in the June death of a businessman who testified in a bank investigation points only to [suicide].”

However, his family and business associates strongly disagreed, stating that there were others that might’ve had a motive to kill him. Despite this, the PCSD formally ruled the death as a suicide. Sergeant Joe Jett, the head of the sheriff’s homicide unit, explained, “We have found no evidence that anyone took part in the death but himself.”

A newspaper article about the killing of Charles Morgan.
A newspaper article about the killing of Charles Morgan (Newspapers).

Case Closed?

For the better part of five decades now, that’s where the case of Charles Morgan has stood. Some suggest that it really was a suicide while others are thoroughly convinced that something more nefarious took place. What really happened to Morgan? Let’s examine some of the more popular theories in this case.

Theories on What Happened

There are several plausible theories about what happened to Charles Morgan. Though the authorities officially ruled his death a suicide, debate still rages on to this day with some thoroughly convinced that he was murdered.

Morgan Committed Suicide

The PCSD officially ruled that Morgan’s death was a suicide, so is it possible that it was? There are a number of factors pointing to the idea that he committed suicide:

  • he was killed with his own gun (the .357 Magnum)
  • there was gunshot residue on his hand
  • he seemed to be afraid of someone or something in the weeks before his death (and he perhaps ended his own life to escape the threat)
A gunshot residue (GSR) test being performed.
A gunshot residue (GSR) test being performed (Chemical & Engineering News).

However, his wife, Ruth, disagreed that her husband would ever have committed suicide: 

“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.”

Ruth Morgan (Source: Unsolved)

A journalist investigating the case, Don Devereux, agreed that it didn’t look like a suicide: 

“I’ve never seen, in all my years as a journalist, a fellow take himself out in the desert wearing a bulletproof vest and shoot himself in the back of the head.”

Don Devereux (Source: Unsolved)

Morgan was Murdered to Silence Him

Many people believe that Morgan was murdered in order to silence him simply because he knew too much about corrupt businessmen and politicians in the area. Some of his surviving daughters agree with that sentiment, including Megan Hidley: 

“My father had a lot of information about people here in Tucson that could have been very detrimental. There was a lot of information about politicians, people who are still alive that work in our government. He had that information, and they wanted to silence him.”

Megan Hidley (Source: Tucson)

Morgan Pissed off a Mob or Gang

Others suggest that because Morgan had testified for the state regarding illegal activity, he was targeted by either a mob or a gang for retribution. This wouldn’t be surprising as there have been many, many cases of people killed for cooperating with authorities to the detriment of mobs and gangs. Perhaps one of these groups learned that Morgan had cooperated with authorities and set out to get revenge on him. 

Morgan Was Murdered for the Money

Still others suggest that this mysterious Green Eyes woman was the one to have killed Morgan — not for vengeance, but for his money. Remember that the briefcase had been emptied of cash and was found in Morgan’s car near his body. There was also the unidentified pair of sunglasses in the car that did not belong to Morgan. Could they have belonged to Green Eyes?

What Do I Think Happened?

This case is certainly a bizarre one, with some of the evidence pointing to a suicide and some of it pointing to a potential homicide. It’s important to look at the whole of the physical and circumstantial evidence when trying to form an opinion about what happened in this case. 

Suicide Possible

Many point to the fact that since gunshot residue (GSR) was found on one of Morgan’s hands, he had to have been the one to pull the trigger himself. This is not necessarily true, though. A positive GSR test can result from coming into contact with other materials like brake pads or fireworks, or it could be the result of a contaminated sample.

It was also noted that the fatal shot entered into the back of Morgan’s head, which is admittedly a rare place for someone to shoot themselves when committing suicide. It’s not impossible, but it is very unusual. 

What happened to all the money that Charles Morgan had in his briefcase?
What happened to all the money that Charles Morgan had in his briefcase? (Alexander Schimmeck)

But Many Questions Remain

Although the PCSD has ruled Morgan’s death as a suicide (and it certainly might be), there are still a number of lingering questions about the situation that haven’t been answered:

  • Where did all the cash that Morgan was collecting go?
  • Why was one of Morgan’s teeth found wrapped in a handkerchief in his car? 
  • Whose sunglasses were left in Morgan’s car?
  • What happened to Morgan the first time he disappeared? And did those same people have something to do with his death?
  • What was the meaning behind the writing on the $2 bill found on Morgan’s body?
  • Was there a deeper connection to the witness who provided information to authorities about Morgan’s final days?
  • Why was his car broken into while in police custody?
  • Who were the two men pretending to be FBI agents who ransacked the Morgan home?

Not Convinced

Looking at the totality of the evidence, I’m personally not convinced that Morgan committed suicide. Perhaps if we got all the answers to the above questions (and they all continued to point toward him ending his own life), I might be more willing to budge. 

As it stands now, I would lean more toward his death being a homicide, although it’s hard to say who exactly might’ve carried it out. Regardless, his remaining family deserves the answers to these questions, and to learn what really happened to Charles Morgan. If someone out there has information, it’s time to come forward; almost five decades of unanswered questions is long enough. 

Case Updates

There have been few updates in the case of Charles Morgan, likely because the death was formally ruled as a suicide by the PCSD.

2006: Ruth Morgan Passes Away

Morgan’s wife, Ruth Morgan, passed away from cancer in 2006. She never learned the truth about what happened to her husband.

The gravesite of Charles and Ruth Morgan.
The gravesite of Charles and Ruth Morgan (Find a Grave).

Do You Have Information?

If you have any information about the death of Charles “Chuck” Morgan, please contact the Pima County Sheriff’s Department at (520) 351–4900, or submit an online tip here.

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to Charles Morgan?
  • Was it really a suicide, as the PCSD said, or did something more troubling happen to him?
  • Will we ever learn the truth about what happened in this case?

Comment below!

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