Charles Ray Hatcher: One Man Crime Wave

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“…he was able to fool the authorities by feigning mental illness.”

May 27th 1978 is seen as a notorious date in St. Joseph’s history. It was the day that four-year-old Eric Christgen was raped and killed by one of the worst killers to ever live in the United States, Charles Ray Hatcher. Hatcher was a one-man crime wave who was born in 1929 and started killing when he was 40-years-old.

Over a 13 year period, he would go on to kill 16 people. He was born into a family with an abusive alcoholic father and was bullied at school. His oldest brother died when he was 16-years-old. After that moment, his parents split and his father left the family home. When Hatcher was 26-years-old, he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, with his mother and her third husband. It was there that his life of darkness began.

Hatcher lived a life of crime before he first killed and he was able to fool the authorities by feigning mental illness. He is one of the world’s worst criminals and his murders of many children were seen as some of the most horrific of all time. When Hatcher was six-years-old he witnessed an incident that some psychologists say would have affected him more deeply than people knew at the time.

In 1935, he was flying copper-wire kites with his older brothers. Just as his oldest brother was about to hand him the kite, it hit a high-voltage overhead line and electrocuted him. Arthur Allen Hatcher was killed instantly. Their father, Jesse, never got over the pain of losing his eldest son and turned to drink for solace. This downward spiral of grief and anguish finally led to his father leaving home and divorcing his mother. Hatcher’s father was an ex-convict who had a violent streak within him. Whenever he drank, he became abusive towards his wife and children.

Hatcher became a prolific petty criminal after leaving school and was twice sent to the infamous The Walls prison in Missouri. After six convictions and served sentences, he was finally released back into the world on March 18th, 1959.

He tried to abduct him whilst waving a butcher’s knife maniacally

Only a few months after being out of Jail, Hatcher turned from a life of petty crime to those of a more serious nature. For most criminals, an escalation in what they do or perceive to love can sometimes be inevitable. The same can be said for most serial killers. Each kill is normally within a smaller time scale than the previous and usually more brutal or apparent.

In the Summer of 1959, again only a few months after being released, he attempted to abduct a 16-year-old newspaper boy, Steven Pellham. He tried to abduct him whilst waving a butcher’s knife maniacally. It was unclear how Pellham managed to get away but he called the police and Hatcher was subsequently arrested yet again after being caught in a stolen vehicle.

Hatcher was sentenced to five years for the attempted abduction, along with the car theft. He was moved to maximum security after having spent most of his life behind bars. For the next two years, he would thrive on his criminal status within the prison until his release. One month after mankind landed on the Moon, hailing in a new era of technological and human marvels, Charles Ray Hatcher was strangling a young boy to death in a creek.

On August 27th 1969, he asked a 12-year-old boy to take a ride with him in his car. He drove to a local creek and strangled him until he died. He would later confess this at his trial. Only two days had passed when a six-year-old boy was reported missing. Hatcher had offered the little boy an ice cream to lure him away from his friends, who later spoke of the incident.

A passer-by walking his dog came across the horrific scene. Hatcher was caught red-handed sexually abusing and violently beating the young boy. He was arrested within a few minutes and fortunately, the boy survived the attack. It marked the beginning of Hatcher’s game of multiple identities that he had most likely planned for a long time. He seemed to know, having spent most of his time in jail, how to game the system and the authorities. He refused to answer any questions and gave multiple names when asked who he was.

Before a judge in a Californian court, he would give the name of Albert Ralph Price. Because of this steadfast belief in another personality, the judge ordered Hatcher to be taken away for psychiatric evaluation. In 1970, Hatcher was diagnosed as unfit to stand trial with tendencies of insanity and notions of paedophilia. Although not one psychiatrist could actually agree on Hatcher’s condition.  Hospital staff felt that Hatcher was fabricating a lot of his mental suffering in order to stay out of prison and to make himself a more special case.

St. Joseph, Missouri River

A parole board hearing stated that Hatcher was no longer a danger to the public. How wrong they were.

In the Winter of 1972 he was finally convicted of the murder and rape of Gilbert Martinez and was committed to the Californian State Hospital for the mentally insane. He was classed as a mentally disordered sex offender. In May of 1977, Hatcher was shockingly released to a halfway-house in San Francisco. This was because of the findings at a parole board hearing that stated Hatcher had improved dramatically during his time in prison. It stated that he was no longer a danger to the public. How wrong they were.

Almost immediately after release, he tried to stab a seven-year-old boy but the charges were dropped. His record of arrests, evaluations and sentences read like a horror book that surpassed even the worst criminals at the time. Hatcher was then considered a parolee at large and was not seen for an entire year. Until he returned to Saint Joseph, Missouri.

On May 27th 1978, four-year-old Eric Christgen was raped and killed by Hatcher. A search party found Eric’s body in an area of weeds and marsh on the banks of the Missouri River. He had been molested and smothered to death. Eric’s funeral was the largest ever held in the city and the public wanted an arrest. The police were all too happy to oblige and only one suspect came to the forefront of their investigations. It was not Charles Ray Hatcher but a man named Melvin Lee Reynolds, who was subsequently charged with the boy’s murder.

The police had forced the arrest of Reynolds and he was sentenced to life in prison after nine months of intense interrogation where he signed a false confession. It was going to be another four years until the truth would come out. In September of 1978, Hatcher was arrested for sexually attacking another 16-year-old boy. Hatcher was placed into the Douglas County Mental Institution, in Omaha, Nebraska but again was released only a few months later.

Bizarrely, due to police procedures at the time, no one actually knew it was Hatcher. He had given a fake name to his arresting officers. Hatcher was subsequently released to continue his pattern of sexually abusing and killing young boys. On June 20th 1981, James Churchill was stabbed to death on the banks of the Missouri River, in Illinois. Hatcher would later confess to the murder stating that his desire to kill had gotten ahead of him. He said that he and Churchill had been drinking together and he snapped and then stabbed him ten times. He had left the knife sticking out of his chest near the heart.

On July 29th 1982, when Hatcher was 51-years-old, he killed an 11-year-old girl. Michelle Steele disappeared after a dentist appointment. A day later, under the name of Richard Clark, he checked himself into the Saint Joseph State Hospital. This was in an attempt to deflect attention from him or to rid himself of another prison sentence. At the same moment, a group of hikers stumbled across Michelle Steele’s abused and broken body.

A few days later on August 3rd 1982, after matching his description to a man seen on the river bank the day of Michelle’s disappearance, Hatcher was charged with murder in the first degree. But he was charged under the name of Richard Clark.

It would not be until April of 1983 when Hatcher was declared fit to stand at trial in the case of Michelle Steele. He was sent back to the Buchanan County Jail to await trial, whilst there, he gave a note to a young deputy.

“Please call the FBI and tell them I would like to see them today. Very important case.”

Hatcher’s hand-written note.

When the FBI agents arrived, Hatcher told them everything and confessed to the murders of 16 people including many children. Apart from Michelle Steele, all of them were male. He drew a map to the body of Churchill and described burial grounds and positions of each corpse. In return for the information he was handing out, Hatcher pleaded for the death penalty.

On October 13th 1983, Hatcher was finally sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Eric Christgen. This was on the same day that Melvin Lee Reynolds was released from prison after being wrongfully convicted of the crime. A year later Hatcher was sentenced to another 50 years for the murder of Michelle Steele. Before the rest of his crimes could be brought to trial in separate cases, Hatcher hung himself in his cell.

It has been suggested that Chucky from the Child’s Play films was based on Charles Ray Hatcher and his murders. The name of the killer doll in the film is Charles Lee ‘Chucky’ Ray and the doll would attempt to kill children. Hatcher would sometimes wear a horizontally striped top, just like the character from the films.

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