Woody Harrelson’s Dad Was A Hitman

“Heirlooms we don’t have in our family. But stories we’ve got.” —Rose Cherin

In A Nutshell

For a guy who came up playing goofy characters, Woody Harrelson has proven extremely adept at portraying dark, twisted killers over the course of his career. As it turns out, that’s because it runs in the family. Woody’s dad, Charles, was a multiple murderer who assassinated a federal judge in 1979.

The Whole Bushel

Back when he was starting out as an actor, Woody Harrelson was known for playing the dopey, “aw shucks” goofball on the television show Cheers and later in the movie White Men Can’t Jump. It wasn’t until he appeared in the movie Natural Born Killers that people began to realize that something dark and twisted was hiding beneath the surface. As it turns out, that may just be a genetic thing.

That’s because Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles, was a multiple murderer. More specifically, he was a hitman believed to have been connected to organized crime in his home state of Texas. In 1960, when he was 22, he had already been convicted of armed robbery.

Charles Harrelson left his family behind in 1968, and they never heard from him until 1981 when they discovered he was suspected in the assassination of a federal judge in San Antonio. And that was not his first killing, either, as he had previously murdered a man named Sam Degelia and, after the first attempt to convict resulted in a mistrial, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1973.

However, despite being a murderer and multiple offender over the years, he was granted parole in 1976, and two years later was a free man. It was just a year later that Judge John Wood was killed outside of his courthouse, and Charles Harrelson was implicated in the murder. As it turns out, he was working at the behest of a drug dealer named Jamiel Chagra, and this was a pure murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by a man trying to take out a judge notorious for being particularly hard on the drug trade.

Upon being apprehended, Harrelson was reportedly coked up, ranting and raving about having murdered the judge as well as John F. Kennedy, before finally being taken into custody after a six-hour standoff in 1980. Obviously, his “involvement” in the JFK assassination was pretty much immediately dismissed, though conspiracy theorists have latched onto it and tried finding connections between him and Jack Ruby.

Harrelson was sentenced to two life sentences, and in 1995 attempted to escape from prison before being transferred to infamous supermax facility ADX Florence in Colorado, where he died in 2007.

Show Me The Proof

Woody Harrelson, Cheers‘ Cheery Bartender, Feels a Bit Mixed About Fame and a Strange Family Twist
Texas State Archives: Murder of Sam Degelia (entire case file)
Charles HArrelson Trial: 1982–83
Texas Monthly: “The Man Who Killed Judge Wood,” Gary Cartwright
Deseret News: Guard foils escape attempt by Woody Harrelson’s Dad