T his is a story about fathers, sons, murder - and a message received... from the dead. It's a story about horrific loss - and the amazing and confounding pursuit of justice. It's the story of Romer Troxell and his son Charlie and a bond that extended beyond the grave.
Like so many men of his generation, Romer Troxell was a World War II hero. He never would have spoken of it or admitted it, of course. Just like he rarely spoke about the Purple Heart he received while serving as an Army Staff Sergeant and fighting in places like Italy, Algeria and Morocco.
Romer enlisted in the service on February 10, 1941. He was a single man, born and raised in Kentucky. He'd completed three years of high school when he went off to serve his country. At some point during his war years he married Edna Kaufman. On November 6, 1945 the couple had a son they named Charles.
Romer was a good provider after the war. He took a job as a maintenance man with U.S. Steel. The family purchased a home in Levittown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
This was actually the second Levittown in America. The first of these planned communities was constructed on New York's Long Island. Not long after that project finished, William J. Levitt and his two sons purchased the Bucks County tract, between Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey. In 1952, building commenced.
The Levittown concept was most famous for three things: the fact that it birthed "the American suburbs," its unique assembly line method of construction, and the racist policies of the Levitts. Only members of the "caucasian race" were allowed to purchase homes there. Thankfully, both the law and a changing societal outlook eventually ended this discrimination.
The Troxells lived on Vista Road in the Bristol Township division of Levittown. Theirs was one of the more than 17,000 homes in the community.
In the mid-1960s, Romer initiated divorce proceedings against his wife Edna. Apparently the couple sorted their grievances, however, because they were still living together in late 1969 when their son, Charlie, left Pennsylvania to take a job as a lineman for the Northern Indiana Public Service Company - a huge gas and electricity supplier near Gary, Indiana.
Charlie's job must have paid a good living. Not long after starting, he purchased a sporty, yellow Corvette. Six months after moving to the industrial city of Portage, however, Charlie was planning to move back home. Sadly, he didn't leave soon enough.
In the early morning hours of Friday, May 22, 1970, the body of a young man was found on the side of a Portage road. His identification had been stolen. Cause of death was one - or more - of the four bullets in his body.
Police had no idea who this victim was. But then, a man named Donald Troxell contacted them. He thought the unidentified man might be his nephew, Charlie. Donald gave police the name and phone number of Charlie's parents. The police called Romer who immediately hurried his wife and teenage daughter into the family car.
The nearly 12-hour drive must have been unbearable. As they traveled westward through Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then Indiana - surely all they could think of was the horrific end that had befallen Charlie. And as much as they knew that what the police had told them was likely true, surely there was some small part of the Troxell family that hoped against hope that this was all some terrible mistake.
The Troxells arrived at the Porter County morgue on Friday, May 29th - coincidentally, Edna's birthday. When the sheet was drawn away, they saw the terrible truth. The murdered man was Charlie. Their son was gone. Who could have done such a thing? And why…?
Grief suddenly turned to confusion when, from somewhere in the silent morgue, Romer heard a familiar voice.
"Hi, Pop. I knew you'd come. He's got my car."
Stunned, Romer looked at the family members standing beside him. He could tell by their lack of reaction that they hadn't heard anything.
"He's got my car," Charlie said.
Now… Try to imagine Romer's state of mind. He's just traveled nearly 700 miles to identify his murdered son who was now… speaking to him…?
Still in shock, the family went to Romer's brother's house in nearby Gary. The police weren't telling them much except that they were working on the case. By Monday, June 1st, Charlie's words still fresh in his head, Romer decided to take matters into his own hands.
Once again he piled his wife and daughter into the family car. This time, they were joined by his sister-in-law.
Romer had no idea where he was driving. He didn't know the area. He had never even seen Charlie's car. But he could hear Charlie's voice telling him where to go.
Romer drove to the road Charlie directed him to find.
"Here he comes, Pop. He's got my car."
Within seconds, a yellow Corvette crested a hill. It was driving directly toward them.
The Troxells watched as the driver parked the car in front of a high school. When the small, slender young man climbed out of the Corvette, Romer walked over to him.
"Isn't that Charlie Troxell's car?" Romer asked.
"It was," high school senior Arthur Wagner replied. "I bought it from him last Thursday."
Romer must have appeared skeptical. "I've got the title in the glove box," Wagner said. "I'll get it for you."
Instantly, Charlie shouted a warning to his father. "Be careful, Pop, he's got a gun!"
"No, that's okay," Romer said. "Say… Have you seen Charlie lately?"
And this is when Arthur Wagner made his biggest mistake. "He's dead," Wagner replied. "Got shot up for the money from selling the car."
Romer knew the police hadn't publicly revealed a possible motive for the shooting. But he also knew he had to keep this murderer talking. And while he did just that, Romer's sister-in-law snuck off to call the police.
Within moments, a patrol car arrived.
"He killed my son!" Romer shouted.
The officer, understandably confused, wasn't quite sure what to do. Fortunately, though, he held Wagner while radioing headquarters. Within seconds, the officer learned that the car was wanted in a homicide investigation, and that he should arrest Arthur Wagner for suspicion of murder.
Once Wagner was cuffed and secured in the police car, the officer searched the Corvette. In the glove box he found a 32 caliber revolver. On the floor were four spent bullet casings.
Romer freely shared his story that it was Charlie who spoke to him - who led him to Arthur Wagner. The police didn't know if that was true, but they DID know they never told Romer about Arthur Wagner or any other details of the investigation. And Romer's wife, daughter and sister-in-law knew that Romer said he was being guided by Charlie.
Not long after his arrest, Arthur Wagner confessed to his crime. Charlie had sold Arthur his Corvette for $3,000 - but Wagner's check bounced. Probably on the pretense of paying in cash, Wagner asked Charlie to meet him on that Friday, May 22nd. But instead of paying for the car, Wagner shot Charlie four times, then drove away in Charlie's beloved Corvette.
Charlie never spoke to Romer again.
"I never believed such a thing could happen," Romer said afterward. "I was never a very religious man, but I am now."
Romer Troxell died in 2011. He was predeceased by his parents, his wife, a great-granddaughter, a son-in-law, and of course - Charlie. But it was only his son who spoke to Romer from the afterlife, and only that special father/son bond that led to the capture and arrest of Charlie's murderer. 💀