Details of Disappearance
Francis was last seen in Santa Ana, California on April 9, 1979. He had gone to work that day with his father, Dennis, who delivered water tanks to businesses and private homes.
After Dennis finished work, he left Charles at the corner of Chestnut Avenue and Lyon Street while he went to unload his truck. He didn't want his boss to find out he'd taken Charles along with him, because children were not allowed to ride in the trucks. Dennis told his son to walk to an address in the 300 block of south Lyon Street and wait to be picked up.
When Dennis went to the designated location ten minutes later, Charles was gone. His father searched the neighborhood for half an hour, then notified the police.
Charles's parents were fighting over custody of him at the time of his disappearance. His mother had legal custody, but he had lived with Dennis for most of his life. He and his father had traveled from Colorado to California three weeks beforehand, in order for Dennis to attend a custody hearing scheduled for April 26. Authorities looked into the possibility that one of the child's parents was hiding him, but found no evidence to support this theory.
Convicted child killer James Crummel is the prime suspect in Charles's disappearance, as well as in the 1995 disappearance of 9-year-old Jack Phillips from Big Bear Lake, California. He was a violent serial sexual abuser a record of child molestation dating back to the 1960s. All but one of his known victims were boys in roughly the same age group as Charles and Jack.
A photo of Crummel is posted with this case summary. In August 1967, he abducted a fourteen-year-old Wisconsin boy, molested him and beat him almost to death. He served five years of a thirty-year sentence for the crime. In 1983, he was convicted of the February 1967 murder of an Arizona boy and sentenced to life in prison, but the conviction was overturned in 1987 because of ineffective counsel. He ended up pleading guilty to kidnapping in the Arizona case and was released later that year.
In 1997, Crummel was charged with the murder of a thirteen-year-old neighbor boy, James Wilfred "Jamey" Trotter. Jamey disappeared in 1979. In 1990, Crummel "discovered" the teen's skull, but it wasn't identified until 1996. After his murder arrest, investigators approached Crummel about Jack's case and he offered to confess to Jack's murder if prosecutors would not seek the death penalty for the Trotter murder.
The deal was turned down and Crummel was convicted of Jamey Trotter's murder in 2004 and sentenced to death. In June 2012, he committed suicide on death row by hanging himself with an electric cord. He didn't leave a note.
Charles is missing under suspicious circumstances and investigators believe he may have met with foul play. His case remains unsolved.