On May 29th, 1979, federal judge John H. Wood Jr. left his condo to head for a long day at court. He notices that his wife’s car has a flat tire, and as he leans down to check the tire, a shot rings out from 100 yards away. He’s found dead, in the driveway, with a single bullet in his back. It was the first killing of a federal judge in the 20th century, and it led to one of the FBI’s largest manhunts in its history. Two years later, the FBI believed they had caught their killer in Charles Voyde Harrelson. “Son of a Hitman” is his story.
Released in April of 2020, “Son of a Hitman” is a 10-part series about host and journalist Jason Cavanagh’s real time investigation in the crimes and conspiracies of Charles Harrelson. Episodes range from 40 to 50 minutes a piece, and it’s so good, we don’t doubt you’ll have it done in a day.
What would you do if you found out that your father was a hitman?
A serious question: what would you do if you found out that your father was a hitman? Well, actors Brett and Woody Harrelson have an idea of what they would do. Yes, Woody Harrelson of Cheers, True Detective, The Hunger Games and much, much more, along with his brothers, including actor Brett, are all the “Son of a Hitman.” When their father left them in 1968, they didn’t hear of him again until 1981 when news broke of Harrelson’s arrest for the murder of Judge Wood. But the strange story of Charles Harrelson was only just starting to unravel.
After Harrelson was caught, $12 million after the manhunt began, he was convicted of murder after drug dealer Jamiel Chagra, of El Paso, Texas, hired him to take out Judge Wood. According to all those who bore witness to his gavel hitting the block, Judge Wood was ruthless when it came to drug offenses – earning the nickname “Maximum John” for his reputation of handing out the maximum sentences to drug dealers and traffickers. And on May 30th, 1979, he was scheduled to have Chagra on trial in his courtroom.
The secret life of Charles Harrelson
This was not the first time Harrelson had been hired to kill, though. In 1968, he was tried for the murders Alan Berg and Sam Degelia. He was acquitted for the Berg murder but sentenced to 15 years for the murder of Degelia, a grain dealer and father of four. He was released in 1978 for good behavior. But even those don’t come close to what happened when he was finally cornered by police for the murder of Judge Wood. In a six-hour standoff, during which Harrelson was reportedly high on cocaine, he claimed to have murdered both Wood and President John F Kennedy. While many don’t believe him, some do. Harrelson himself has claimed innocence for both murders, stating that the cocaine in his system is what made him say both of those things.
As any great podcast does, Cavanagh is in the business of uncovering new, never-before-shared evidence. In “Son of a Hitman,” he has conversations with Brett and Jordan Harrelson, prosecutor Ray Jahn, criminal defense attorney Danny Sheehan, relatives of victims, those alleged to have hired Harrelson, and many more to find out Harrelson’s many secrets. With professionals, we learn about the three murders Harrelson was charged with and convicted of. Cavanagh seeks out drug smuggling kingpin Chagra’s eldest son to hear what he had to say in the final years of his life when he was released from prison. Woody Harrelson actually attempted to have his father’s conviction overturned in 2003, to no avail, but Cavanagh looks at the possibility that Harrelson did not kill Judge Wood. He, of course, looks at the conspiracy of Harrelson’s involvement in Kennedy’s assassination.
“Son of a Hitman” is what serialized podcasts aspire to. With a new wealth of information discovered throughout the creation of this podcast, Cavanagh has to determine for himself whether pursuing Harrelson’s secrets, his potential innocence and potential guilt, is worth it. There may well be people out there determined to keep the hitman’s secrets. So, check out “Son of a Hitman,” and see if you can resist binging it all in one sitting.