Unsolved: The Murder of Charles Hykes

Map of the murder scene, The Harrisburg Telegraph, March 4, 1929

In many places, it is recorded that murder cases never go cold. Despite these claims being used and repeated by authorities, the truth is many of them do go cold. As the years pass, murder cases tend to disappear from the newspapers and eventually fade from public memory.

The unsolved murder of Charles Hykes is one of those murders.

The probability of Charles Hykes’s murder being solved is almost nonexistent as it approaches the century mark. Within a month, the murder was pushed from the front page and after a year of going unsolved vanished from the newspapers altogether. Unfortunately, the case that authorities initially thought could be easily solved proved otherwise,

The afternoon of Sunday, March 3, 1929 should have been a normal day for Frank Anderson as he had his dog out for a run at Reservoir Park. Created in 1845, Reservoir Park covers eighty-five acres in the Allison Hills section of Harrisburg and was a popular place for Anderson to take his dog for exercise. As he approached the secluded Cherry Hill Pavilion, Anderson noticed a body lying in the snow about fifty feet south of the structure.

Anderson called out to two others – Edwin Jacobs and Paul Baker – to come look at what he found. When the young men approached, they realized it was a body and went to contact authorities. It was quickly determined the lifeless body was Charles Hykes, who was still clutching a yellow silk handkerchief in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Hykes, who was well liked by those who knew him, had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument.

Charles Wesley Hykes was born in 1870 to Charles and Catharine Hykes in Shippensburg. After graduation, Hykes went to China 1899, where he worked as an accountant for the American Bible Society. He would then be employed by the China Mutual Life Insurance Society until 1904. By 1929 Hykes was living with his sister and her husband at 2041 Penn Street in Harrisburg. His family described the fifty-eight year old man as keeping to himself and staying out of the affairs of others.

On March 2, 1929, Hykes set out to collect bills for Rothert and Company, which was a local furniture company. It was known that Hykes had stopped at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Brown, who lived at 1611 Park Street, around noon and collected $25 from them.

Here is the first gap in the timeline authorities put together. It is not known what he did, or where he went from noon until four that afternoon.

Around four that afternoon, Hykes arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Sloan at 136 Linden Street. Their daughter, Alberta, answered the door and said her parents were not at home. Hykes said he would be back between six and six-thirty, but he never returned.

There is also a possible sighting of Hykes with an unidentified man mentioned in the March 7, 1929 edition of The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pa). Mahlon Campbell, who was familiar with Hykes, stated he had spotted Hykes with a shabby-looking man walking along Walnut Street near 18th Street around 4:45 on March 2. The stranger was described as being five-foot four, weighed about 160 pounds and – despite the cold – the stranger wore no overcoat. The identity of the man was never determined.

Using this timeline, authorities believed Hykes had been killed late Saturday afternoon. Hykes had entered the park following a footpath from Penbrook and for reasons unknown stopped at the park’s pavilion. Authorities were able to follow two sets of tracks leading southward from the pavilion to the place where Hykes body was discovered. A set of tracks, believed to be those of the murderer, returned to the pavilion, circled it twice, then headed northward toward the Jonestown Road. The tracks crossed the footpath and it was here that authorities discovered the discarded murder weapon.

The murder weapon was an eighteen-inch-long blacksmith’s hammer. On the hammer’s head were the initials “W. H. N.” or possibly “N. H. M.” – depending on which way it was examined. Authorities were unable to discover fingerprints on the weapon.

The murder weapon with initials from The Harrisburg Telegraph, April 2, 1938. The highlighting of the initials was done by the newspaper to show the strange marks on the hammer’s head.

Mixed among the footprints of the murderer was a second set of footprints belonging to a woman. Authorities did not initially believe the woman was involved in the murder and thought she had taken refuge overnight at the pavilion. Her tracks did not appear to approach the spot where Hykes laid, but were intermixed with the killer’s and followed them toward the Jonestown Road.

Within a month, authorities changed their timeline. Without explanation, they suddenly believed the murder happened between six and midnight. With the change in the timeline, authorities now wanted to talk to this unknown woman because they believed she had the answer to what happened that day.

Authorities presented a number of theories about why Hykes was murdered. The first theory was a revenge killing. Using the yellow silk handkerchief as the basis of this theory, authorities pondered the possibility that Hykes might have been killed by an enemy he made in China. They were unable to find any evidence to support this theory.

A second theory involved the discovery of his pocketbook which had been found nearby. It had been gone through and while it still had the receipts for collected bills and fifty cents, the rest of the money he had collected on March 2 was missing. In a September 14, 1929 edition of the Harrisburg Dispatch (Harrisburg, PA) it was mentioned the state police ruled out robbery as a motive for Hykes’ murder, but did not explain what happened to the missing money. The article goes on to state that they had no clue why Hykes was murdered.

A third theory mentioned by authorities involved a possible sexual encounter gone wrong. The pavilion was a place local authorities knew young people met for sexual activity. Police looked into the theory that either 1) Hykes had been there to meet a woman and was killed by her significant other or 2) he had accidently encountered a couple already making out at the pavilion.

The final theory authorities presented stated that Hykes was struck down in anger by someone he had collected money from. Rothert and Company did not know of anyone angry at Hykes for collecting bills.

Authorities believed Hykes knew his killer. They believed he conversed with his killer as he was at the pavilion before he lit a cigarette and walked away. Hykes’ killer followed him from the pavilion, walked up behind Hykes, and struck him repeated in the head, killing him.

Hykes’ body would be transported to Shippensburg, were he was placed to rest in the same plot as his parents in Spring Hill Cemetery.

The major question asked by authorities was – “Why was Charles Hykes in Reservoir Park that afternoon?” Rothert and Company claimed that Hykes’ route was a fair distance from his route and he should not have been in it. Reservoir Park was a short distance from the Sloan residence, so it is very possible he was there to waste time until the Sloans arrived home. Rothert and Company later stated he may have passed through the park to collect a bill in the Penbrook section.

If Hykes was in the Penbrook neighborhood to collect a bill, it was never publicly released whose house he had visited to collect payment. Authorities were convinced he entered the park from the Penbrook side, which is the opposite side of the park from where he was last seen alive.

The case went cold almost immediately. By the start of April, police were stumped. In an attempt to locate the owner of the hammer, authorities used a questionable technique – they had it publicly displayed. For three weeks in April and early May, the murder weapon was displayed in the front window of a store on Market Street in hopes that someone recognized it. This attempt to find the hammer’s owner proved unsuccessful.

On the one year anniversary, the Harrisburg Telegraph ran an article about the unsolved murder. In a follow-up in their March 7, 1930, they reported that authorities had been given six new clues about the murder. The clues were not revealed in the newspapers.

By the time a decade passed, the murder was mostly forgotten. In December 1945, the unsolved murder of Charles Hykes made one last, brief appearance in the newspapers as a brief mention at the end of another unsolved murder. The unsolved murder is mentioned in “Police Check List of Unsolved Crimes” lists Hykes’ unsolved murder in a short list that included Rachel Taylor, Margaret Maron, and the Lamb’s Gap Murders of Leah Ellenberger and Harry Ganster. The article, which ran in the December 17, 1945 edition of the Shamokin News-Dispatch (Shamokin, Pa), states the murder of Charles Hykes remains unsolved, despite the police displaying the murder weapon for identification. After this mention, the unsolved murder seemingly disappears from the newspapers and the public memory.

The murder remains a mystery to this day and the questions of the time still echo to this day. Who killed Charles Hykes? Why was he in Reservoir Park that afternoon? What was the motive of the unknown man to savagely strike Hykes from behind? After all these years, the answers may not ever be answered. To quote the authorities in May 2, 1929 edition of the Harrisburg Telegraph: “We’re up against a stone wall” and that stone wall has yet to reveal who killed Charles Hykes and why.

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