Charles Voyde Harrelson, the hired assassin of a San Antonio federal judge, professional gambler and father of movie star Woody Harrelson, died last week in the maximum-security cell where he was serving two life sentences.
The cause appeared to be natural causes but an autopsy has been ordered, Traci Billingsley, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Prosecuted four times for three separate murders, the hitman was 69 when he died Thursday in the Colorado federal prison known as Supermax, home to high-profile inmates such as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.
Although not a household name outside San Antonio, Harrelson earned notoriety and inspired hyperbole. He had reportedly claimed a dozen contract killings by 1982 when he was convicted of firing the sniper’s bullet that killed U.S. District Judge John H. Wood outside his townhome.
“Anyone whose life he touched suffered from it,’’ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Jahn, one of the federal prosecutors who convicted Harrelson in the local federal courthouse that by the time of trial already bore the name of the slain judge.
Harrelson, born in the Southeast Texas town of Lovelady in Walker County, was the youngest of six children. One brother reportedly became a FBI agent. Another became a polygraph operator.
An uncle was a prison warden, another a Houston detective. Harrelson went the other direction. After a stint in the Navy, he began a string of marriages, odd jobs and crimes.
Harrelson has declared that he was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Some think he was one of the three tramps photographed after being arrested on November 22, 1963, in a boxcar in the railyard near Dealey Plaza. Harrelson’s arresting officer, Marvin L. Wise, claims that the three men in his custody were released after a few hours of questioning. The other arresting officer, David V. Harkness, testified that there were several individuals removed from the train that day other than the three individuals in the photograph. Dallas Police Department documents presented to the public in 1992 indicate that three transients arrested by Dallas officer W.E. Chambers with no connection to the assassination were jailed for six days for vagrancy, and that one of those men was named John Gedney.
Harrelson has always been identified as the tall man in the famous photograph of the three so-called “tramps” who were arrested in the railway yard behind Dealey Plaza, shortly after President Kennedy was shot.
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