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Charles Harrelson Was a Hitman and Woody Harrelson's Father — Facts about Him

Edduin Carvajal
Jun 06, 2021
06:40 A.M.
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Charles V. Harrelson, the father of Hollywood star Woody Harrelson, was described as a “murderer-for-hire,” “drug mover and user,” and “debt collector.” Charles died in jail in 2007.


Woody Harrelson’s childhood was very uncommon, especially because he barely saw his dad growing up as he was in and out of prison. Born in 1938, Charles Harrelson worked as a sonar man in the Navy. 

At the end of his military career, he worked as a salesman and could repair dental equipment. As years went by, Charles became a professional gambler who could put “any hand” at “any position” just by shuffling a new deck of cards.

Woody Harrelson on October 15, 2017 in London, England | Photo: Getty Images



Jason Cavanagh, a journalist who investigated Charles for his podcast, pointed out that people labeled him as an incredibly smart and charming man. According to a Texas Ranger, Charles was a “con man with personality.”

Jim Kershaw, a retired Houston jailer, once said he developed such a good relationship with Charles that they even had nicknames for each other. Charles was “Deacon,” as he could quote the Bible like one. 


Charles Harrelson was labeled a hitman for the first time in 1968 when he reportedly killed carpet salesman Alan Berg. Frank DiMaria, a rival carpet seller, allegedly hired Woody Harrelson’s dad to kill Berg. 

Surprisingly, Charles managed to hire celebrity defense attorney Percy Foreman – who represented organized crime figures – and was found not guilty. However, it wouldn’t be the only time Charles faced justice.


When the police investigated the death of grain dealer Sam Degelia, they learned that his business partner wanted his life insurance payout, so he reportedly hired Charles to kill him.

After spending three years in jail waiting for trial, Charles Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. He only served five, though.



The crime that put Woody Harrelson’s father in jail for good was the assassination of John Wood, the judge in the trial of drug kingpin Jimmy Chagra.

Chagra, one of the most significant marijuana traffickers in the States during the 70s, reportedly paid Charles $250,000 to kill Wood as he was afraid of the sentence that the judge could impose. 


Charles Harrelson’s trial was uncommon, especially because prosecutors included a witness testimony under hypnosis (which would never be admissible in court nowadays).

Apart from that, the modus operandi didn’t fit the way Charles killed his victims, but “admissibility was stretched to its absolute limits” so that Charles was convicted


Although Chagra was eventually acquitted of the murder, Charles Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences. In March 2007, Charles was found dead in his cell at the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado. 

An autopsy revealed he had severe coronary artery disease and died of a heart attack “probably in his sleep.” He spent over two decades in jail and passed away at 69 years old.



In an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, Woody Harrelson said his dad didn’t face a fair trial, especially considering that Chagra was acquitted. The “Cheers” actor said

"I'm not saying my father is a saint, but I think he's innocent of that [judge's killing]. […] I haven’t given up hope.”


The actor revealed he learned his dad was a killer when he was 11 or 12 as he heard a radio host talking about “Charles V. Harrelson and his trial for murder.” When Woody was old enough, he tried to get his dad a new trial to get him out of jail. 

While Woody spent “a couple of million” in lawyers, it was impossible. The silver lining is that Woody and Charles Harrelson had already worked things out and were friends when the latter passed away.

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