The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders And The Story Of Christine Collins

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(PCM) We always love an odd crime story and this one certainly had enough people talking! Mother Christine Collins was committed to a psych ward in 1928 after her young son went missing. She was committed after the LAPD claimed they had “found” her son five months later, however Collins denied the boy the police delivered to her was actually her son.

The boy eventually confessed to being a runaway and was indeed not the son of Collins. It turned out that Collin’s son was actually killed during the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders which were led by a man named Gordon Stewart Northcott.

The Winevillle Chicken Coop Murders are notorious in their own right, as they consisted of a series of abductions and murders of young boys by Northcott in both Los Angeles and Riverside, California between the years of 1926 and 1928.

The case received national publicity and gave the town of Wineville so much negative publicity that they eventually ended up changing the town name to Mira Loma in 1930 and then the towns of Eastvale and Jurupa Valley sprang up in the area each taking parts of Mira Loma. There are still several references to Wineville in the area however with streets names such as Wineville Avenue, Wineville Rd and the Wineville State Park.

According to Wikipedia, in 1926, Gordon Stewart Northcott, a 19-year-old Canadian chicken ranch owner, took his 13-year-old nephew Sanford Clark (with the permission of the boy’s parents) from the boy’s home in Canada. After arriving at his Wineville, California farm (located in present-day Jurupa Valley), Northcott beat and sexually abused him.

In August 1928, Sanford’s older sister, 19-year-old Jessie Clark, visited Sanford, who was 15 at the time, in Wineville. She was concerned about his welfare. At that time, Sanford told her that he feared for his life. One night while Northcott was asleep, Jessie learned from Sanford that Northcott had killed four boys at his ranch.

Once in Canada, Jessie informed the American consul there about Northcott’s crimes. The American consul then wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department, detailing Jessie Clark’s sworn complaint.  On August 31, 1928, two United States Immigration Service inspectors, Judson F. Shaw and George W. Scallorn, visited Northcott’s chicken ranch in Wineville. They found 15-year-old Sanford Clark at the ranch and took him into custody.

Northcott had seen the agents driving up the long road to his ranch. Before fleeing into the treeline, he told Clark to stall the agents, or else he would shoot him from the treeline with a rifle. During the next two hours while Clark stalled, Northcott kept on running. Finally, when Clark felt that the agents could protect him, he told them that Northcott had fled into the trees which lined the edge of his chicken ranch property.

Northcott and his mother, Sarah Louise, fled to Canada but were arrested near Vernon, British Columbia on September 19, 1928. Sanford Clark testified at the sentencing of Sarah Louise Northcott that his uncle, Gordon Northcott, had kidnapped, molested, beaten, and killed three young boys with help from his mother and Clark himself. Sanford Clark also testified about the murder of a fourth boy, a Mexican, where Northcott had forced Clark to help dispose of the head by burning it in a fire pit and then crushing the skull.

Sanford Clark said that quicklime was used to dispose of the remains and that the bodies (of Lewis and Nelson Winslow and of Walter Collins) were buried on the Wineville chicken ranch.

Authorities found three shallow graves exactly where Clark had stated they were at Wineville. It was found, however, that these graves did not contain complete bodies but only parts of bodies. During testimony from both Sanford Clark and his sister Jessie, it was learned that the bodies had been dug up by Gordon Northcott and his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, on the evening of August 4, 1928, a few weeks before Sanford was taken into protective custody. Northcott and his mother had taken the bodies out to a desert area, where they were most likely burned in the night. The complete bodies were never recovered.

This evidence found in the graves consisted of “51 parts of human anatomy … those silent bits of evidence, of human bones and blood, have spoken and corroborated the testimony of living witnesses”. This evidence enabled the State of California to conclude that Walter Collins, the two Winslow brothers, and the Mexican boy had all been murdered.

The body parts that were found, coupled with the testimony of Sanford Clark, resulted in a death sentence for Gordon Northcott and a life sentence for his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott.

The son of Christine Collins, Walter Collins went missing on March 10, 1928,after having been given money by his mother to go to the movies. 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, Illinois. Letters and photographs were exchanged before Christine Collins paid for the boy to be brought to Los Angeles.

A public reunion was organized by the police, who hoped to negate the bad publicity they 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.

Christine Collins 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 Hospital under a “Code 12” internment — a term used to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult or an inconvenience.

Jones questioned the boy, who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchins Jr., a runaway from Iowa. Hutchens was picked up by police in Illinois and when asked if he was Walter Collins, he first said no, but then said yes. His motive for posing as Collins 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.

Collins went on to win a lawsuit against Jones and was awarded $10,800, which Jones sadly never paid. The case was eventually made into a 2008 film directed by Clint Eastwood, where actress Angelina Jolie took on the role of distraught mother Christine Collins called “The Changling”. The role earned Jolie a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

Despite the fact that Sarah Northcott confessed to the murder of Walter Collins, Christine Collins never accepted the verdict from the trial and still continued to insist that her son was still alive, as his entire body was never recovered. The state evidence presented were pieces of Walters bone, hair and clothing fragments, however Collins never gave up hope. She continued to search for her son for the rest of her life.

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. She used aliases to stay out of the media, and lived alone through the 1950s. She died in Los Angeles on December 8, 1964, at the age of 75 and was then hopefully finally reunited with her son.

Such a sad story!

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