The Trail Went Cold – Episode 20 – Chuck Morgan and Doug Johnston

June 18, 1977. Tucson, Arizona. After disappearing from his family for eleven days, the body of escrow company owner Charles “Chuck” Morgan is found outside his vehicle in the desert. He has been shot in the back of the head and is carrying a two-dollar bill which appears to have a coded message written on it. Even though Chuck had allegedly survived a kidnapping ordeal three months earlier and there are of lot suspicious things surrounding his death, the official police ruling is suicide. Thirteen years later, a Phoenix man named Doug Johnston is shot to death… but was his murder actually intended for a journalist investigating Chuck Morgan’s case? On this week’s episode of “The Trail Went Cold”, we examine two cases featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” which may be linked together by a frightening conspiracy.

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The Trail Went Cold is produced and edited by Magill Foote.

All music is composed by Vince Nitro.

6 thoughts on “The Trail Went Cold – Episode 20 – Chuck Morgan and Doug Johnston

  • Very interesting case! One thing I found interesting about the $2 bill is that the Treasury Department discontinued production of it in 1966. Then in April 1976 they reintroduced it, including a redesign of the bill (the bills prior to this had Monticello on the back). As for what is written on it, I wonder if he wasn’t just keeping important notes on it. He may not have had note paper handy when he started writing on it (if he was in hiding), or wanted to keep notes that would be easy to hide. Bills are small and if stored in a wallet wouldn’t be easily spotted as a note. I think the bible verse was noted, since he wanted “Green Eyes” to tell that to his wife. Since the verse is about remembering God during difficult times, it sounds like he knew that he was in a lot of trouble (the verse does later go on to mention that “every work” and “every secret thing” will be brought into judgement). I think the Spanish names are either individuals, places, or accounts that may be involved or related to some of the illegal activity. Those are popular names in Arizona, especially around Tucson, you can find people, businesses and locations (like streets) with those names. The ordering of the names is because he’s probably pulling these from files or other paperwork, and names are usually listed in alphabetical order. The map was likely an important place for him to either meet someone or get something, and he drew it on there to have a reference. The numbers on the signers of the Declaration on the back of the bill, may just correspond to the map that he’s made. I can only find a partial photo, so it’s hard to say for sure. I could be completely wrong though.
    I do have some questions about the kidnapping. Doesn’t the whole thing seem odd? The hallucinogenic drug painted on his throat seems like an odd way to keep someone from talking (there are many cruder methods that could be employed), not to mention that this wouldn’t be something that would be easily available. I suppose if he was a gullible person, the kidnappers could just make the whole thing up to scare him. The other thing is the use of plastic handcuffs. Were these like the flexicuffs that law enforcement use? How easy would it be for those outside law enforcement to get in the pre-Internet days of the late 1970’s?

    • Great questions. I did a search on flexicuffs and they were invented in 1965, but I don’t know how easy they would be to obtain during that period of the 1970s. I’m not sure a civilian like Chuck would have been able to obtain them if he staged the kidnapping himself. During my Internet searches, I couldn’t really turn up anything about hallucinogenic drugs which matched that description, so I am inclined to think that part might have been made up by the kidnappers, but Chuck wouldn’t have known any better.

      Thanks for the info about the $2 bill, I didn’t know it had just recently been reintroduced into circulation during that time period. I wonder if there’s any significance to that since Chuck implied he was working for the Treasury department. But I’m intriguing by your theory that he used the $2 bill instead of paper so that his coded message wouldn’t be as easy to find. For all we know, his killer searched him, but didn’t notice the message because they didn’t think to look that carefully at a $2 bill.

  • The last several weeks or so I have thought, at each episode, that it’s the best case you’ve covered yet. And every time I think that, you surpass yourself the following week with something even cooler than the last one! You’re really on a roll here. Keep it up!

    I am still trying to sort out all those strange details, and I may have some more thoughts soon, but for now I wanted to talk about the Bible verse. I think it actually deserves a lot more attention than you gave it, since it’s basically the only message we have gotten from either the deceased or the mystery woman about what was going on. And they both gave the same message, i.e., Eccles. 12:1-8, so there must be something there.

    Reading the passage, it starts out with the words, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come.” There follows a highly poetic and metaphorical description of the process of old age, and finally death. The last verse is the one you quoted, which in my translation reads: “Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes, and all things are vanity.” Chuck obviously knew his days were numbered, and very soon he would probably be killed, and maybe he wanted to leave some sort of parting message for his family. I don’t know if he was a religious man, but if he were, it makes perfect sense. Here he was, in the prime of life, being hunted down by organized crime because he had gotten involved with them a few years before in an attempt to make a few bucks on the side. He would see that it had been a terrible mistake and hadn’t been worth it, and would want to warn his family not to make the same mistakes he had made. So he would leave them with “Remember thy creator in the days of thy youth,” and would conclude with the words, “all things are vanity” because the money he had made was now useless, and had truly been in vain.

    This is all highly speculative, but I do think that passage should be the focus of more research.

    It’s a little surprising to me that Chuck only had one copy of his dealings with these criminals, and they apparently got it back from him. If I had a document that was my protection against being killed by the mafia, I would be churning out thousands of copies of it all day long and hiding it everywhere I could think of. I assume they had photocopy machines in those days? Maybe a photocopy wouldn’t have worked, though, as maybe only an original document with an original signature on it would have served the purpose.

    The business of the hallucinogenic drug really had me scratching my head too. I’ve never heard of such a thing, either in fiction or real life. I agree with you that they most likely had lied to him about its effects and made that up, and he just believed it to play it safe. I’m tempted to think I would never believe something so absurd if someone had done that to me, but maybe it was more a matter of being cautious and not speaking.

    I’m curious about the plastic handcuffs, too. The only plastic handcuffs I’ve ever seen are toys. And why would his captors use something relatively expensive which could possibly be traced in some way, when a simple piece of rope would have worked much better?

    I have mixed feelings on his decision not to tell his family what was going on or go to the police. I can see how it would protect them, but why wouldn’t he go to the police? And if he really felt he was in so much danger that even the police couldn’t help him, why not just blow town completely with his family and never come back? It seems like a few other people involved in this situation did something like that.

    I think I’m going to listen to this episode again and see if I can connect any more dots. Again, you really hit another home run here!

    • Hey, thank you very much for the kind words. Greatly appreciate them. You actually make a great point about the Ecclesiastes/Ecclesiastics thing. When you watch the Unsolved Mysteries interview with Ruth Morgan, it actually sounds like she says “Ecclesiastics” when she’s referring to her phone call with Green Eyes. The word written on the bill is clearly “Ecclesiastes”, so maybe Chuck legitimately did mean to write “Ecclesiastics” and they’ve been checking the wrong Bible passage. I’ve heard it suggested that Chuck may have hidden that “letter” he referred to near the Ecclesiastes passage in his family Bible, but if true, I’m sure they would have found it by now.

      In regards to the duplicate documents, I’m not sure there’s any hard evidence those documents existed. I think Don Devereux found out about them from tips which were phoned in to the Unsolved Mysteries hotline, but it’s all just speculation that the mafia recovered them from Chuck. On the surface, it almost looks like Chuck escaped from his kidnapping ordeal, as it is strange that his captors would leave the plastic handcuffs on him and that he’d drive home in his own car. But if that was the case, I don’t know why’d he go back living his normal life again for the next few months rather than getting the hell outta town. You could analyze this case forever and not be able to make sense out of certain things!

  • Is there any possibility that when Chuck wrote “Ecclesiastes”, that he really meant “Ecclesiasticus”? The book of Ecclesiasticus is another book of the Bible very similar in content to Ecclesiastes, and occurs very near the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. However, it’s only in Catholic Bibles, since protestants don’t accept it as an authentic part of the Bible, and don’t include it.

    But if you read *Ecclesiasticus* chapter 12, verses 1 through 8, you get an interesting passage:

    “If thou do good, know to whom thou dost it, and there shall be much thanks for thy good deeds. Do good to the just, and thou shalt find great recompense: and if not of him, assuredly of the Lord. For there is no good for him that is always occupied in evil, and that giveth no alms: for the Highest hateth sinners, and hath mercy on the penitent. Give to the merciful and uphold not the sinner: God will repay vengeance to the ungodly and to sinners, and keep them against the day of vengeance. Give to the good, and receive not a sinner. Do good to the humble, and give not to the ungodly: hold back thy bread, and give it not to him, lest thereby he overmaster thee. For thou shalt receive twice as much evil for all the good thou shalt have done to him: for the Highest also hateth sinners, and will repay vengeance to the ungodly. A friend shall not be known in prosperity, and an enemy shall not be hidden in adversity.”

    The point is that one should give help to good people but not to bad. What is particularly interesting is that it says that if you give alms to a sinner he will “overmaster thee”, and you’ll receive “twice as much evil for all the good thou shalt have done to him.” Maybe this is Chuck’s way of saying he was trying to help someone who turned out to be evil, and it came back to bite him. This would be the case if he were helping the government investigate these organized crime families, and they didn’t give him the protection he expected.

    All of this seems highly unlikely, but I myself have trouble keeping those two books straight, and I’m sure it would be easy for anyone to get the two names confused.

  • Chuck’s family should look through their stuff and see if they can find a family Bible among their father’s possessions. If so, they should look at Ecclesiastes chapter 12. Maybe that’s where Chuck wrote his message, in the margin of the page. Writing a secret in the margin of a family Bible would be a great hiding place, because no one would ever look there.

    Did this guy read the Bible and quote from it, or is this unusual behavior for him to reference it? That would help a lot to know that.

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