Wineville Chicken Coop murders
|Wineville Chicken Coop murders|
|Location||6330 Wineville Ave Jurupa Valley, CA 91752|
No. of participants
|Verdict||Death (Gordon Northcott) |
Life imprisonment (Sarah Louise Northcott)
The Wineville Chicken Coop murders, also known as the Wineville Chicken murders, were a series of abductions and murders of young boys that occurred in the U.S. state of California, specifically in the city of Los Angeles and in Riverside County, between 1926 and 1928. The murders were carried out by Gordon Stewart Northcott, a 19-year-old farmer who had moved to California from Canada two years prior, as well as his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, and his nephew, Sanford Clark.
Northcott was arrested while visiting his sister in Canada in November 1928. The case received national attention due to one of the assumed victims being Walter Collins, the nine-year-old son of Christine Collins, who had gone missing in March of that year. While authorities initially considered the possibility that the total number of boys killed on the farm might have been as high as twenty, this theory was eliminated as the investigation began to unfold. Northcott was found guilty of three of the murders in February 1929, and was executed at San Quentin State Prison in October 1930.
Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada, and raised in British Columbia. He moved to Los Angeles, California, with his parents in 1924. Two years later, at age 19, Northcott asked his father to purchase a plot of land in the community of Wineville, located in Riverside County, where he built a chicken ranch and a house with the help of both his father and his nephew, eleven-year-old Sanford Clark. It was this pretext that Northcott used to bring Clark from Bladworth to the U.S. Upon the boy's arrival at the Wineville ranch, Northcott began to physically and sexually abuse Clark.
In August 1928, out of concern for his welfare, Clark's 19-year-old older sister Jessie visited him at the Wineville ranch. At that time, Clark told her that he feared for his life. One night, while Northcott was asleep, Jessie learned from Clark that Northcott had murdered four boys at his ranch. Once she returned to Canada one week later, Jessie informed an American consul there of Northcott's crimes. The consul then wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detailing Jessie's sworn complaint. Because there was initially some concern over an immigration issue, the LAPD contacted the United States Immigration Service to determine facts relative to the complaint.
On August 31, 1928, two Immigration Service inspectors, Judson F. Shaw and George W. Scallorn, visited the ranch and took Clark into custody. Northcott had seen the agents driving up the long road to his ranch and, before fleeing into the treeline which lined the edge of his property, told Clark to stall them or threatened to shoot him from the treeline with a rifle. During the next two hours, while Clark stalled, Northcott kept running. Finally, when Clark felt that the agents could protect him, he told them that Northcott had fled.
Northcott and his mother, Sarah Louise, fled to Canada but were arrested near Vernon, British Columbia, on September 19, 1928. Clark testified at Sarah Louise's sentencing that Northcott had kidnapped, molested, beaten, and killed three young boys with the help of his mother and Clark himself. Clark also testified about the murder of a fourth young man, a Mexican citizen, after which Northcott had forced Clark to help dispose of the victim's head by burning it in a fire pit and then crushing the skull. Northcott stated that he "left the headless body by the side of the road near Puente because he had no other place to put it." He stated that quicklime was used to dispose of the remains and that the bodies were buried on the ranch.
Body parts found
Authorities found three shallow graves at the ranch exactly where Clark had stated they were. It was found, however, that these graves did not contain complete bodies, but only parts of bodies. During testimony from both Clark and his sister Jessie, it was learned that the bodies had been dug up by Northcott and his mother on the evening of August 4, 1928, a few weeks before Clark was taken into protective custody. They had taken the bodies out to a deserted area, where they were most likely burned in the night. The complete bodies were never recovered.
The 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 authorities to conclude that Walter Collins, two brothers named Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively), and the unidentified fourth victim had all been murdered. The body parts that were found, coupled with the testimony of Clark, resulted in a death sentence for Gordon Northcott and life imprisonment for Sarah Louise Northcott.
Wineville changed its name to Mira Loma on November 1, 1930, in large part because of the negative publicity surrounding the murders. The new cities of Eastvale and Jurupa Valley took different parts of the area of Mira Loma in 2010 and 2011. Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park, and other geographic references provide reminders of the community's former name.
Imprisonment and execution
While Sarah and her son were being held in British Columbia awaiting extradition to California, she confessed to the murders, including the murder of nine-year-old Walter Collins. But before being extradited to California, she retracted her confession, as did Northcott, who had confessed to killing more than five boys.
After Sarah and her son had been extradited from British Columbia to California, she once again confessed and pleaded guilty to killing Walter Collins. She was not put on trial; upon her plea of guilty, Superior Court Judge Morton sentenced her to life imprisonment on December 31, 1928, sparing her the death penalty because she was a woman. During her sentencing hearing, she claimed that her son was innocent and made a variety of claims about his parentage, including that he was an illegitimate son of an English nobleman, that she was Gordon's grandmother, and that he was the result of incest between her husband, Cyrus George Northcott, and their daughter. She also stated that as a child, Gordon was sexually abused by the entire family. She served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prison and was paroled after less than twelve years. She died in 1944.
Gordon Northcott was implicated in the murder of Walter Collins, but because his mother had already confessed and been sentenced for it, the state chose to not prosecute Gordon in that murder.
It was speculated that Gordon may have killed as many as 20 boys, but the State of California could not produce evidence to support that speculation. Ultimately, the state only brought an indictment against Gordon for the murders of an unidentified underage Mexican national (known as the "Headless Mexican") and the brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively). The brothers had been reported missing from Pomona on May 16, 1928.
In early 1929, Gordon Northcott's trial was held before Judge George R. Freeman in Riverside County, California. The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, and murdered the Winslow brothers and the "Headless Mexican" in 1928. On February 8, 1929, the 27-day trial ended with Gordon being convicted of those murders.
1928 Northcott Farm Site
Gordon Stewart Northcott (November 9, 1906 – October 2, 1930)
Christine Collins (December 14, 1888 – December 8, 1964)
Sanford 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. These letters assured the family that Sanford was well.
Jessie traveled to the ranch in Wineville and stayed there for several days. She became terrified of Northcott, left the ranch, and returned to Canada. There, she told the American consul about the crimes that had occurred at Wineville.
Sanford was not tried for murder because Assistant District Attorney Loyal C. Kelley believed very strongly that Sanford was innocent. He said that Sanford had been a victim of Northcott's death threats and sexual abuse and was not a willing participant in the crimes committed at the chicken ranch.
Kelley told Sanford that he had secured an entirely unique settlement of Sanford's legal situation by having him taken to the nearby Whittier State School, where an experimental program for delinquent youths was under way. He assured Sanford that the Whittier 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. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility). His sentence was later commuted to 23 months because the trustees of the school believed that he "had impressed the Trustees with his temperament, job skills and his personal desire to live a productive life during his nearly two years there."
Walter Collins (September 23, 1918 – 1928)
Initially, his mother, Christine Collins, and the police believed that enemies of Walter Collins, Sr. had abducted Walter. Walter Collins, Sr. had been convicted of eight armed robberies and was an inmate at Folsom State Prison.
Walter Collins' disappearance received nationwide attention and the Los Angeles Police Department followed up hundreds of leads without success. The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case.[unreliable source?]
Five months after Walter's disappearance, a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinois. Letters and photographs were exchanged before Walter's mother, Christine Collins, eventually 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 had received for their failure to solve this case and others. The police also hoped that the uplifting story would deflect attention from a series of corruption scandals that had sullied the department's reputation. At the reunion, Christine stated that the boy was not her son. 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". Christine hesitantly agreed to do that.[additional citation(s) needed][unreliable source?]
Three weeks later, Christine returned to see Captain Jones and persisted in her claim that the boy was not Walter. Even though she had dental records proving it, Jones had her committed to the psychiatric ward at Los Angeles County Hospital under a "Code 12", a term used to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult or inconvenient.
During Christine's incarceration, Jones questioned the boy, who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchens, Jr., a runaway originally from Iowa. A drifter at a roadside café in Illinois had told Hutchens of his resemblance to the missing Walter, so Hutchens came up with a plan to impersonate Walter. His motive was to get to Hollywood so that he could meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix.[additional citation(s) needed][unreliable source?]
On September 13, 1930, Christine won a lawsuit against Jones and was awarded $10,800 (equivalent to $155,000 in 2020), which Jones never paid. The last newspaper account of Christine is from 1941, when she attempted to collect a $15,562 judgment against then-retired Captain Jones in the Superior Court.
Christine became hopeful that her son, Walter, might still be alive after her first interview with Gordon Stewart Northcott. She asked Northcott if he had killed her son, and after listening to his repeated lies, confessions, and recantations, she concluded that Northcott was insane. Because Northcott did not seem to know whether he had even met Walter, much less killed him, she clung to the hope that Walter was still alive.
Northcott sent Christine a telegram shortly before his execution, saying he had lied when he denied that Walter was among his victims. He promised to tell the truth, if she came in person to hear it. Just a few hours before the execution, Christine visited Northcott. But upon her arrival, he balked. "I don't want to see you," he said when she confronted him. "I don't know anything about it. I'm innocent."
A news account said, "The distraught woman was outraged by Northcott's conduct. . .but was also comforted by it. Northcott's ambiguous replies and his seeming refusal to remember such details as Walter's clothing and the color of his eyes gave her continued hope that her son still lived."
Lewis and Nelson Winslow
Lewis, aged 12, and Nelson, aged 10, were the sons of Mr. Nelson Winslow, Sr. and Mrs. Winslow. The boys were abducted on May 16, 1928 from Pomona, California on their way home from a Yacht Club meeting. Northcott was convicted of kidnapping and killing them.
Mr. Winslow led a lynch mob to the Riverside County Jail, where Northcott was temporarily being held, with the intent of hanging Northcott after the completion of his trial but before his sentencing. Police convinced the mob to disband.
Arthur J. Hutchens, Jr., the imposter
In 1933, Arthur J. Hutchens, Jr. wrote about how and why he impersonated the missing boy, Walter Collins. Hutchens' biological mother had died in 1925 when he was nine years old, and he had been living with his stepmother, Violet Hutchens.
Hutchens pretended to be Walter Collins to get as far away as possible from his stepmother. After living on the road for a month, he arrived in DeKalb, Illinois. When police brought him in, they began to ask him questions about Walter Collins. Initially he stated that he did not know about Walter, but changed his story when he saw a chance of getting to California.
He died in 1954.
Rev. Gustav Briegleb
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 in retaliation for disagreeing with the Los Angeles Police Department's version of events. He died at the age of 61.
The boy who came forward
In 1935, five years after Northcott's execution, a boy and his parents came forward and spoke to authorities. Seven years earlier, the boy had gone missing, and the parents had reported his disappearance to the police. At the time of the boy's disappearance, authorities speculated that he might have been a murder victim at Wineville.
Sanford Clark, however, never told authorities that a boy had escaped from the chicken coop. The historical record and Sanford Clark's own testimony indicate that only three boys were ever held in the chicken coop. These were Walter Collins and the two Winslow brothers, all of whom were murdered.
In popular culture
- The 2008 Clint Eastwood directed film Changeling, starring John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie, is partly based on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. The film centers around Christine Collins, her struggles against the LAPD, and her search to find Walter. In the film, Northcott was portrayed by Jason Butler Harner.
- "The Big Imposter" — episode #104 of the radio series Dragnet — was based upon these events. It aired on June 7, 1951. When the series was moved to television, the radio script was made into a teleplay. It aired on December 4, 1952.
- One of the plotlines of American Horror Story: Hotel centers around the murders. Ms. Evers, maid of the Hotel Cortez, is seen in a flashback having her young son abducted by a man on Halloween. The surrounding events imply her son was one of Gordon Northcott's unidentified victims.
- "Body Farm". IMDb. 6 October 2015. — Episode 12 of Season 3 of the Investigation Discovery television show Evil Kin— focuses on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. The episode explores a variety of the case's details, including early warning signs regarding Northcott's pedophilia, Northcott's abusive relationship with Sanford, Sanford's rescue by means of Jessie, and Sarah Louise's obsessive affection for Northcott. It aired on October 6, 2015.
-  The Criminal Minds episode "Haunted" from 2009 bases the character of The Hollow Creek Killer on Gordon Stewart Northcott. The killer follows a similar pattern to Northcott's: abducting young boys using other children to make his victims feel safe, keeping them in a building on his ranch, killing and burying the bodies on the ranch, and losing at least one of his potential victims when he was able to escape.
- List of murdered American children
- List of people who disappeared
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In Riverside, Calif., Gordon Stewart Northcott, while on trial for abusing and murdering three boys, heard his mother testify that she was not his mother, but his grandmother.
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- "Hoax Discussed in Collins Suit: Hutchens Boy's Deception Subject of Argument Witnesses Tell of Seeming Truth of His Story Capt. Jones Lays Damage Action to Politics". Los Angeles Times. 1929-07-13. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
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- "Suit to Renew Old Judgment Recalls Northcott Murders: Mother of Supposed Victim Who Was Imprisoned as Insane in Imposter Mixup Tries to Collect Damages". Los Angeles Times. 1941-01-29. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
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- Northcott A collection of 121 photographs associated with the Wineville case in the Los Angeles Public Library.
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