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.


The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders 

In September 1928 the Los Angeles police department visited the Northcott Chicken Ranch in Wineville, California, to investigate claims that the owner, Gordon Stewart Northcott, was physically and sexually abusing his nephew, Sanford Clark. After taking Clark into custody, they heard a stream of horrific accounts of how Northcott had kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed several young boys on the ranch. Clark claimed that Northcott was aided by his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, and they both forced Clark to participate and help dispose of the bodies. He said that the bodies were decomposed with quicklime and the bones buried in various areas of the farm and the nearby desert.

Police went back to the ranch to excavate areas pinpointed by Clark and unearthed ankle and finger bones within the soil, and a blood stained axe and hatchet that Clark claimed to have been used in the murders. Clothing and personal effects from the victims were also found.

It transpired that Northcott had kidnapped and molested an undetermined amount of young boys at the ranch, usually driving them back home after their ordeal. However, it seemed that Northcott developed a taste for torture and murder after he killed and decapitated a Mexican boy at the ranch. The murders of  two brothers, Lewis and Nelson Winslow, were also attributed to Northcott and his mother by the court, although Northcott originally confessed to more than five. 51 body parts were found in total on the ranch, but no complete remains were recovered for any of the victims. It is claimed that Northcott may have killed up to twenty boys at the farm but it was impossible for the authorities to confirm this number with the evidence found.

Sarah Louise Northcott was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 31, 1928. She did not get the death penalty due to her being female.

Gordon Stewart Northcott was sentenced to death, and was hanged on October 2, 1930, when he was only 23.

Sanford Clark carried out 23 months in a state reform school in a program to rehabilitate delinquent youths. He died aged 78 in 1991.


Serial killer, Gordon Stewart Northcott, is classified as a ‘homosexual sadist’ by many criminologists. He claimed that he was sodomized by his father when he was 10 years old, and that this drove him to carry out his sadistic urges. For years, Northcott actually made money off these urges, kidnapping young boys and hiding them out on his ranch, and then renting his victims out to wealthy Southern California pedophiles. 


It is believed that as many as 20 young boys lost their lives at the hands of Gordon Stewart Northcott on the infamous ‘Murder Farm’ in Riverside County, South Carolina.
From 1926, Northcott, with the assistance of his mother and nephew, would abduct boys, hide them on his farm and then rent them out to local pedophiles. When Northcott was done with his victims they were murdered and their flesh was then dissolved in quick lime. Northcott’s sadistic crimes went on until he was arrested in 1928.

Gordon Stewart Northcott was a Canadian born, sadistic serial killer, who murdered several young boys between 1926 and 1929.

Known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, Northcott kidnapped, sexualy abused, and bludgeoned at least three young boys at his Ranch. He was only caught after taking his nephew there, sodomizing him and beating him over the head until he lost consciousness. Northcott confessed to his nephew that he had done the same thing to his victims. His nephew ran home to tell his older sister about his ordeal, and she immediately called the police. 

Northcott was set to be hanged in 1930. His last words were “A prayer! Please say a prayer for me!

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders: Poultry And Perversity

In early September 1928, a Canadian woman named Winnefred Clark told U.S. federal authorities that her nephew had kidnapped her son, Sanford Wesley Clark, and was holding him in California. Her daughter, Jessie Clark, had been worried about her 15-year-old brother, who’d left their Saskatoon home two years earlier with their uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, just 21 himself. Jessie had thought something in Sanford’s letters home had seemed suspicious, so she had traveled to the Northcott poultry ranch outside of Wineville, Calif., just southeast of Los Angeles, to check things out on her own. She stayed just a few days. It was just long enough to know that her uncle was abusing her brother and involved in something strange and terrible—and just long enough for him to attack her too.

Questioned on September 15, 1928, in juvenile detention on immigration charges, Sanford told investigators that his uncle had kidnapped and sexually and physically abused him—and that he’d forced him to watch the murders and abuse of Walter Collins, the Winslow brothers and other boys, and even to participate. Sanford said his uncle repeatedly abducted boys to rape them. When they became inconvenient or he got bored, Northcott would lure the kids into the incubator room to see the hatching chicks, kill them with an ax and then cover their bodies in quicklime to destroy the evidence.


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Sanford ClarkSanford said his uncle had also killed a teenage Mexican ranch hand in La Puente, and that they’d killed Walter Collins because the boy had seen Northcott help another man kill his mining partner. He also told police they could find two graves some fifty yards from the chicken coop on the ranch, one for Walter and one for the Winslow boys.

What the Riverside County Sheriff found at the gruesome ranch backed up Sanford’s story. There were indeed two blood-drenched graves near the chicken coop—but the full bodies weren’t there, just a few bits of bone. Two bloody axes among the farm equipment still had strands of human hair on their blades. Scattered across the ranch were ankle, finger, leg and skull bones that pathologists later identified as belonging to male children. In the house, they found more letters from the Winslow boys to their parents; one was written on a flyleaf from a book one of the boys had checked out of the Pomona Public Library. Their Boy Scout badges and a child’s whistle were also in the room. Investigators didn’t find anything that they could positively attribute to Walter Collins, though.

Two days later the suspect’s father, Cyrus George Northcott told police that his son admitted the murders to him.

By that time, Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother, Louisa Northcott, were on the run. When investigators couldn’t find Winnefred Northcott, they assumed she’d joined the list of victims, but she soon turned up.

The LAPD, though, initially still insisted that Christine Collins had her son.

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders



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Los Angeles in 1928In 1928, the Jazz Age was at its peak, and southern California was booming, transformed by agriculture and the movie and aeronautics industries from a knot of sleepy desert towns on the nation’s western frontier to a bustling and glamorous metropolis. But Los Angeles, the City of Angels, and the surrounding area also had their demons, which the justice system struggled to tame.

A series of child abductions and murders that year turned the area on its ear—not only because of the crimes’ brutality and horror, but because of the web of lies and insanity surrounding them, and because of what both the crimes and the investigation of them revealed about power and justice in the city. A cruel and deviant young man, Gordon Stewart Northcott, kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered at least three and possibly as many as twenty boys, possibly with the help of his mother and his Canadian nephew. Stranger still—as depicted in Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film The Changeling—when a cocky and imaginative young Midwestern runaway attempted to masquerade as one of the murdered boys, the Los Angeles Police Department committed the victim’s mother, who had attempted to expose the imposture, to an insane asylum rather than acknowledge that they had been fooled.