The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders were a series of kidnappings and murders of young boys occurring in California. The film Changeling is based in part upon events related to this case.
Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in Canada and moved to Los Angeles with his parents in 1924. His mother claimed 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.
In March of 1928, Christine Collins was raising her son, Walter, by herself in Los Angeles. On March 10th, Christine thought Walter was playing in the neighborhood. When he did not return by the evening, Christine made a report with the police. She would never see 9 year-old Walter again.
In August of ‘28, authorities in Illinois discovered a young boy working in a restaurant (also reported to have been working on a farm). He resembled photos of the Collins boy that had been distributed nationwide. At first, the boy denied being Walter, but following “gentle” questioning, he admitted that he was, in fact, Walter. He was then turned over to the Los Angeles police by the Illinois police.
The LAPD investigators were baffled when Christine stated that the boy was not her son. They stated that he closely resembled the photos of Walter, so they had “Walter” undergo a series of tests.
He had, allegedly, directed authorities to the correct home, and knew information about other homes in the neighbourhood. Christine still disagreed, and though she stated the boy did closely resemble Walter, he did not act the same as her boy. Authorities tried to convince her that his kidnappers had “altered the aisles in his brain” during his captivity, which accounted for his odd behaviour.
As the final point in determined that the boy was in fact Walter, the police noted that Walter’s pet dog, a black spaniel, immediately took to the young boy.
When Christine still refused to accept that the boy was in fact her son, the public turned against Christine. Christine was committed to a psychopathic ward. She spent ten days in the unit, until “Walter” finally recanted.
The boy was not Walter, but was in fact Arthur Hutchins, Jr. He was a young runaway from Iowa, working in Illinois at the time of Walter’s disappearance. He told reporters and police he took what little he knew of the case from newspaper reports. When asked why he had perpetrated the hoax, he told authorities he had “always wanted to see Hollywood”.
In mid-September, 15 year-old Sanford Clark approached police with an incredible story. He had just escaped from the chicken farm of his grandparents. He claimed that with help from his Uncle, he had kidnapped, molested, beaten, and killed three young boys, including Walter, along with the help of Northcott’s mother, Sarah Louise Northcott. Sanford said quicklime was used to dispose of the remains, and that the bodies were buried at the Wineville ranch.
Authorities found shallow graves exactly where Sanford had stated that they could be found at Wineville. Upon the discovery of the graves, it was discovered that the graves were empty of complete bodies, however, there were partial body parts that remained. They discovered personal effects of the three missing children, a blood-stained axe, and partial body parts, including bones, hair and fingers, from the three victims buried in lime near the chicken house at the Northcott ranch near Wineville – hence the name “Wineville Chicken Coop Murders”
In addition to the three young boys murdered, Sanford stated that Northcott had also killed a Mexican youth (never identified, but referred to in the case as the “Headless Mexican”), without the involvement of his mother or Sanford. Gordon Northcott had forced Sanford to help dispose of the “head” by burning it in a firepit and then crushing the skull into pieces with a fence post. Gordon stated that “he had left the headless body by the side of the road "because he had no other place to put it.”
On February 13, 1929, Gordon Northcott was sentenced to death, and he was hanged on October 2, 1930.
Christine never stopped believing that Walter might still be alive, as no solid evidence of him was found at the farm. She was awarded over $10,000 in a settlement against her treatment and vowed to use every cent to find out what really happened to Walter.
She never did.