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Gordon Northcott
The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders — also known as the Wineville Chicken Murders — was a series of kidnappings and murders of young boys occurring in Los Angelesmarker and Riverside County, Californiamarker in 1928. The case received national attention and events related to it exposed corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. The 2008 film Changeling is based upon events related to this case.

The murders

In 1926, Saskatchewanmarker-born ranch owner Gordon Stewart Northcott took his 13-year-old nephew, Sanford Clark (with the permission of Sanford's mother and reluctant father), from his home in Saskatoonmarker, Saskatchewan, Canadamarker. Before his sister, Jessie Clark, told the police about the situation, Northcott had beaten and sexually abused Clark. In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department visited the Northcott Ranch in Winevillemarker. Police found Clark at the ranch and took him into custody.

Clark claimed that Northcott had kidnapped, molested, beaten, and killed three young boys with the apparent help of Northcott's mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, in addition to killing the Headless Mexican by himself.He had also forced Sanford to participate. Clark said quicklime was used to dispose of the remains, and the bones had been dumped in the desert.The Northcotts had fled to Canada and they were arrested near Vernon, British Columbiamarker.

Aftermath

Police found no complete bodies, but they discovered the personal effects of missing children, a blood-stained axe, and body parts, including bones, hair, and fingers, from three of the victims buried in lime near the chicken house at the Northcott ranch near Wineville – hence the name "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders". Wineville changed its name to Mira Lomamarker on November 1, 1930, due in large part to the negative publicity surrounding the murders. Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park and other geographic references provide reminders of the community's former name. Sanford Clark returned to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Trial

Sarah Louise Northcott initially confessed to the murders, including that of 9-year-old Walter Collins. She later retracted her statement, as did Gordon Northcott, who had confessed to killing five boys.

Upon her return from Canada, Sarah Louise pleaded guilty to killing Walter Collins. Superior Court Judge Morton sentenced her to life imprisonment on December 31, 1928, sparing her from execution because she was a woman. Sarah Northcott served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prisonmarker, and was paroled after fewer than 12 years. During her sentencing, Northcott claimed her son was innocent and made a variety of bizarre claims about his parentage, including that he was an illegitimate son by an English nobleman, that she was Gordon's grandmother, and that he was the result of incest between her husband, George Cyrus Northcott, and their daughter. She also stated that as a child, Gordon was sexually abused by the entire family. Sarah Louise died in 1944.

On February 8, 1929, a 27-day trial before Judge George R. Freeman in Riverside County, California, ended. Gordon Northcott was convicted of the murders of an unidentified Mexican boy and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively). The brothers had been reported missing from Pomonamarker on May 16, 1928; however, it was speculated that Gordon may have had as many as 20 victims, but the State of California never produced a single shred of evidence to support that speculation, and ultimately the State of California only brought an indictment against Gordon in the murder of the Headless Mexican and the 2 Winslow brothers. As stated earlier, Gordon was implicated in the murder of Walter Collins, but because his mother had confessed and was sentenced, the state could not bring any additional charges against Gordon in the death of Walter Collins. The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, killed, and dismembered the Winslow brothers as well as the Headless Mexican in 1928. On February 13, 1929, Judge Freeman sentenced Gordon to be hanged. The sentence was carried out on October 2, 1930 at San Quentin State Prisonmarker.

Involved parties

Gordon Stewart Northcott

Gordon Northcott (c. 1906 – October 2, 1930)

Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in Saskatchewan, Canada and raised in British Columbia, Canadamarker. He moved to the Los Angeles area with his parents in 1924. Northcott later purchased a plot of land in Wineville, California and built a chicken ranch and home. Northcott was a malevolent sociopath pedophile who abducted an undetermined number of boys and molested them on the chicken ranch. Typically he would release these boys, but was convicted of the murder of the Winslow boys and an unidentified Mexican teenage boy. He was also implicated in the death of Walter Collins.

Sanford Clark

Sanford Wesley Clark (March 1, 1913 – June 20, 1991)

Sanford's older sister, Jessie, became suspicious of the letters Sanford was forced to send home from Northcott's ranch that assured the family he was well. She went to the ranch and stayed several days. However, she became terrified of Northcott, left and told authorities her brother was in the country illegally.

Sanford Clark was never tried for murder, because the Assistant District Attorney, Loyal C. Kelley, believed very strongly that Sanford was innocent, a victim of Gordon's death threats and sexual abuse, and that he was not a willing participant in the crimes, nor was he a criminal. Mr. Kelley told Sanford that he had "secured an entirely unique settlement to Sanford's legal situation by having Sanford signed into the nearby Whittier Boys School, where an experimental program for delinquent youths was under way. Mr. Kelley assured Sanford that Whittier Boys School was unique because of its compassionate mission of genuine rehabilitation." Sanford was sentenced to five years at the Whittier State School (later renamed the Fred C.marker Nelles Youth Correctional Facilitymarker). His sentence was later commuted to 23 months, because the trustees of the Whittier School for Boys felt that "Sanford had impressed the Trustees with his temperament, job skills and his personal desire to live a productive life during his nearly two years there." Upon Sanford's release from Whittier Boys School, Mr. Kelley's "punishment" of Sanford, ("that Mr. Kelley had single-handedly pushed through the Justice system for Sanford), was now complete." As Sanford boarded a ship to be deported back to his native Canada (by American Authorities) he was requested by Mr. Kelley to: "Use your life to prove that Rehabilitation works ... go prove that I am right about you Sanford." Upon Sanford's arrival in Canada, and for the remainder of his life, Sanford kept to his heart Mr. Kelley's request. "He threw his body and soul into fulfilling Mr. Kelley's request, the only thing that he had been asked to do for the best man he had ever met, a man who believed in him. The thought of failing Mr. Kelley was intolerable. Sanford left the Whittier Boys School resolved to go after a normal life the way that a passenger who falls off a ship will swim to land." Clark's son, Jerry Clark, credits Clark's wife June, his sister Jessie, associate prosecution counsel Loyal C. Kelley, and the Whittier State School for helping save Sanford from the emotional and physical horrors of Gordon Northcott.

Clark served in World War II, and then worked for 28 years for the Canadian postal service. He married, and he and his wife, June, adopted and raised two sons. They were married for 55 years and were involved in many different organizations. Sanford Clark died in 1991 at age 78. Sanford's mission to honor Mr. Kelley's request had been fullfilled, with a lifetime of good deeds and acts with his fellow citizens.

Christine and Walter Collins

Walter James Collins, Sr. (February 1, 1890 – August 18, 1932)

Christine Ida Dunne Collins (c. 1891 – December 8, 1964)

Walter James Collins, Jr. (September 23, 1918 – March 1928) presumed murdered at age nine.

Nine-year-old Walter Collins disappeared from his home in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles on March 10, 1928. His disappearance received nationwide attention and the Los Angeles Police Department followed up on hundreds of leads without success. The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case, until five months after Walter's disappearance, when a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinoismarker. Letters and photographs were exchanged before Walter's mother, Christine Collins, who worked as a telephone operator, paid for the boy to be brought to Los Angelesmarker. A public reunion was organized by the police, who hoped to negate the bad publicity they had received for their inability to solve this case and others. They also hoped the uplifting human interest story would deflect attention from a series of corruption scandals that had sullied the department's reputation. At the reunion, Christine Collins claimed that the boy was not Walter. She was told by the officer in charge of the case, police Captain J.J. Jones, to take the boy home to "try him out for a couple of weeks", and Collins agreed.

Three weeks later, Christine Collins returned to see Captain Jones and persisted in her claim that the boy was not Walter. Even though she was armed with dental records proving her case, Jones had Collins committed to the psychiatric ward at Los Angeles County Hospitalmarker under a "Code 12" internment—a term used to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult or an inconvenience. During Collins' incarceration, Jones questioned the boy, who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchins Jr., a runaway from Illinois, but who was originally from Iowa. A drifter at a roadside café in Illinois had told Hutchins of his resemblance to the missing Walter, so Hutchins came up with the plan to impersonate him. His motive was to get to Hollywood so he could meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix. Collins was released ten days after Hutchins admitted that he was not her son, and filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. This aspect of the case is depicted in the 2008 film Changeling, although in the film Hutchins does not confess until after Mrs. Collins has been released.

Collins went on to win a lawsuit against Jones and was awarded $10,800, which Jones never paid. As Walter Collins' body had not been found, Christine Collins still hoped that Walter had survived. She continued to search for him for the rest of her life, but she died without ever knowing her son's fate. The last public record of Christine Collins is from 1941, when she attempted to collect a $15,562 judgment against Captain Jones (by then a retired police officer) in the Superior Court.

Arthur J. Hutchins, Jr.

Arthur J. Hutchins Jr (c.1916 – c.1954)

In 1933 Arthur J. Hutchins, Jr. wrote about how and why he impersonated the missing boy. Hutchins' biological mother had died when he was 9 years old, and he had been living with his stepmother, Violet Hutchins. He pretended to be Walter Collins to get as far away as possible from her. After living on the road for a month he arrived in DeKalbmarker. When police brought him in, they began to ask him questions about Walter Collins. Originally, Hutchins stated that he did not know about Walter, but changed his story when he saw the possibility of getting to California.

After Arthur Hutchins reached adulthood, he sold concessions at carnivals. He eventually moved back to California as a horse trainer and jockey. He died of a blood clot in 1954, leaving behind a wife and young daughter, Carol. According to Carol Hutchins, "My dad was full of adventure. In my mind, he could do no wrong."

Rev. Gustav Briegleb

Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb (September 26, 1881 – May 20, 1943)

Briegleb was a Presbyterian minister and pioneer radio evangelist. He was the pastor of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, Jefferson Boulevard at Third Avenue, Los Angeles, California. He took up many important causes in the City of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s, most notably the poor handling of the Walter Collins kidnapping case in 1928. He fought to have Christine Collins released from a mental hospital after she was committed there as retaliation for not going along with the LAPD's version of events.

Lewis and Nelson Winslow

Lewis Winslow (c.1916 – c.1928)

Nelson Winslow, Jr (c.1918 – c.1928)

Lewis, age 12, and Nelson, age 10, were the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Nelson H. Winslow, Sr. They went missing on May 16, 1928 from Pomona, Californiamarker. On May 26, 1928, H. Gordon Moore, a local Scoutmaster, reported that they ran away to Imperial, Californiamarker to pick cantaloupes and helped with the search for the two boys. Gordon Northcott was convicted of kidnapping and killing the Winslow brothers. Nelson Winslow, Sr. led a lynch mob with the intent of hanging Gordon Stewart Northcott after completion of the trial but before sentencing. The police convinced the group to disband before seeing Northcott.

Popular culture

  • "The Big Imposter", an episode of the radio series Dragnet, which aired on June 7, 1951, was based on these events. When the show moved to television, the radio script was adapted into a teleplay and broadcast on December 4, 1952. The plot focuses primarily on the story of Arthur Hutchins' impersonation of Walter Collins. In this version, the parental figure who reports the disappearance of the character based on Walter Collins is a widowed grandfather, raising the child on his own after the deaths of the boy's parents, rather than a single mother.


  • Changeling, a 2008 film written by J. Michael Straczynski and directed by Clint Eastwood, is also based in part on the Gordon Stewart Northcott case. The film primarily depicts the plight of Christine Collins (played by Angelina Jolie), the mother of Walter Collins, and her search for her real son. The film depicts all the major figures in the case except for Gordon Northcott's mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, who committed the crimes with Gordon, and was convicted for killing Walter. The film suggests that at least one boy, and perhaps even Walter Collins himself, escaped the farm. This element of the film's story, however, is not supported by any substantiating evidence.


  • "Haunted", an episode of Criminal Minds, which aired on September 30, 2009, used details from the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, such as the serial killer using a younger relative to trick the children.


References

  1. Reprinted in Los Angeles Times Daily Mirror, Changeling stories -- Part III, October 28, 2008, page 1 page 2
  2. Grave marker for Sanford Clark and his wife June, veteran's section of Woodlawn Cemetery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
  3. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 208
  4. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 221
  5. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pgs. 226,228
  6. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 227
  7. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 227
  8. Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pgs. 229,230
  9. Death certificate from California archives.
  10. (Microsoft Word document)
  11. "The written confession of the boy who finally revealed he was Arthur Hutchens, Jr., not Walter Collins, then later told juvenile authorities he was not Billy Fields. He was later identified as Arthur Hutchens."
  12. Republished letter dated 1930-11-06 from Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb to Mr. Charles L. Neumiler, President, State Prison Board, Represa, California.
  13. Reprinted in The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Mirror: Changeling -- Part IX, 2008-11-05.


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