Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

  (Redirected from Gordon Stewart Northcott)

Gordon Northcott

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders[1] — also known as the Wineville Chicken Murders[2] — was a series of kidnappings and murders of young boys occurring in Los Angeles and Riverside County, California in 1928. The case received national attention and events related to it exposed corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department.[2] The 2008 film Changeling is based upon events related to this case.[3]


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The murders

In 1926, Saskatchewan-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 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Before his sister, Jessie Clark, told the police about the situation, Northcott had beaten and sexually abused Clark.[4] In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department visited the Northcott Ranch in Wineville. 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. Clark said quicklime was used to dispose of the remains, and the bones had been dumped in the desert.

In addition to the 3 young boys murdered, Clark 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 near Puente, (California), because he had no other place to put it.”[5] The Northcotts had fled to Canada and they were arrested near Vernon, British Columbia.[6]


Police found no complete bodies, but they discovered personal effects of the 3 missing children, a blood-stained axe, and 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”. [2] Wineville changed its name to Mira Loma on November 1, 1930, due in large part to the negative publicity surrounding the murders.[7][8] Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park and other geographic references provide reminders of the community’s former name.[1] Sanford Clark returned to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. City of Saskatoon records indicate that Sanford Wesley Clark died on June 20, 1991 and was interred in the Saskatoon Woodlawn Cemetery on August 26, 1993.


Sarah Louise Northcott initially confessed to the murders,[6][9] including that of 9-year-old Walter Collins. She later retracted her statement, as did Gordon Northcott, who had confessed to killing more than five boys.[10]

Upon her return from Canada, Sarah Louise pleaded guilt
y 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 Louise Northcott served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prison,[11] and was paroled after fewer than 12 years.[12][13] During her sentencing, Sarah Louise 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,[9] that she was Gordon’s grandmother,[14] and that he was the result of incest between her husband, George Cyrus Northcott, and their daughter.[8] She also stated that as a child, Gordon was sexually abused by the entire family. Sarah Louise Northcott died in 1944.

Gordon Northcott was implicated in the murder of Walter Collins, but because his mother had already confessed and been sentenced for the murder, the state could not bring any additional charges against Gordon in the death of Walter Collins.[15] 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 only brought an indictment against Gordon in the murder of an unidentified Mexican boy[6] known as the “Headless Mexican” and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively);[16] the brothers had been reported missing from Pomona on May 16, 1928.[17]

In early 1929, Gordon Northcotts trial was held before Judge George R. Freeman in Riverside County, California. The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, killed, and dismembered the Winslow brothers and the “Headless Mexican” in 1928. On February 8, 1929, the 27-day trial ended with Gordon Northcott convicted of the murders.

On February 13, 1929, Judge Freeman sentenced Gordon Northcott to be hanged.[18] The sentence was carried out on October 2, 1930 at San Quentin State Prison.[2][19]

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, Canada. 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 with the help of his father (whom was in the construction business) and his nephew Sanford. It was under this guise that Gordon brought Sanford from Canada, to Southern California, to help Gordon build the ranch and improve on Sanford’s character with hard work and discipline. Gordon’s real motive was that he was attracted to Sanford and viewed Sanford as a nephew he could take advantage of in every way possible. Northcott was a malevolent sociopath pedophile who abducted an undetermined number of boys and molested them on the chicken ranch. Typically he would drive those children home to their neighborhoods and let them go after the molestation. There was a rumor that Gordon had “rented” his victims to wealthy southern Californian pedophiles, but there was no evidence to prove that speculation. Ultimately, Gordon Northcott 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.[20]

Sanford Clark

Sanford Wesley Clark (March 1, 1913 – June 20, 1991)[21]

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.[22]

Sanford Clark was never tried for murder, because the Assistant District Attorney, Loyal C. Kelley, believed very strongly that Sanford was innocent[23], 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.[24]” 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 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.[25]” 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.[26]” 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.”[27] 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.[28]” 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.[22] 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)[29]
Christine Ida Dunne Collins (c. 1891 –October 11, 1985)[30]
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.[31] His disappearance received nationwide attention and the Los Angeles Police Department followed up on hundreds of leads without success.[10] The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case,[32] until five months after Walter’s disappearance,[10] when a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinois. 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 Angeles. 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.[32]

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 Hospital 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,[10] who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchins Jr., a runaway from Illinois, but who was originally from Iowa.[33][34] 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.[32] Collins was released ten days after Hutchins admitted that he was not her son,[35] and filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department.[10] This aspect of the case is depicted in the 2008 film Changeling[6], 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.[10] 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.[36] 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.[37]

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 DeKalb. 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.”[38]

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.[39][40]

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, California. On May 26, 1928, H. Gordon Moore, a local Scoutmaster, reported that they ran away to Imperial, California to pick cantaloupes and helped with the search for the two boys.[41] 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.[42]

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.


  1. ^ a b Johnson, Kim Jarrell (2006). Jurupa. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 67. ISBN 0-7385-3082-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d Kurz, John (1988-12-15). “Mira Loma History, Riverside County, California: Wineville Chicken Murders“. Rubidoux Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  3. ^ Foundas, Scott (2007-12-19). “Clint Eastwood: The Set Whisperer – Shooting quietly on the Changeling set“. LA Weekly. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  4. ^ Saskatoon man’s tragic past brought to life in Cannes film“. CBC News. 2008-05-19. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  5. ^ Paul, James Jeffrey, ‘Nothing is Strange With You, pg. 43
  6. ^ a b c d Sandra Stokley (2008-10-30).
    Riverside County ‘chicken coop murders’ inspire Clint Eastwood movie, new book“. The Press-Enterprise (A. H. Belo Corporation). Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  7. ^ Jurupa Valley History: Mira Loma History“. Riverside County Planning Department. 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  8. ^ a b Rasmussen, Cecilia (2004-10-31). “During the 1920s, Boys Became the Prey of a Brutal Killer“. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-09-13. 
  9. ^ a b Boy Slaying Admitted: Life Term Given Mrs. Northcott“. Los Angeles Times. 1929-01-01. Retrieved 2009-02-08.  Reprinted in Los Angeles Times Daily Mirror, Changeling stories — Part III, October 28, 2008, page 1page 2
  10. ^ a b c d e f Sacha Howells (2008-11-07). “Spoilers: Changeling – The Real Story Behind Eastwood’s Movie“. RealNetworks. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  11. ^ San Joaquin Valley; Northcott Plea in Vain. No Hope for Woman’s Parole for Many Years to Come, Chairman Says“. Los Angeles Times. 1936-02-14. p. 9. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  12. ^ “Mother of Gordon Northcott, Wineville Boy Slayer, Paroled”. Los Angeles Times. 1940-05-22. p. A1. 
  13. ^ “Mrs. Northcott Reported in East; Whereabouts of Ax Murderess Under Parole Disclosed”. Los Angeles Times. 1941-01-09. p. 1A. 
  14. ^ Ring“. Time magazine. February 11, 1929.,9171,737335,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-03. “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.” 
  15. ^ Rachel Abramowitz (2008-10-18). “‘Changeling’ revisits a crime that riveted L.A.“. Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company).,0,7763296.story. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  16. ^ Northcott Convicted of Slaying Three Boys; His Last Dramatic Plea Fails to Move Jury“. New York Times. 1929-02-07. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  17. ^ Wetsch, Elisabeth (1995). “Chicken Murders“. Serial Killer Crime Index. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  18. ^ Northc
    ott put in Doomed Row: Slayer Becomes No. 46,597 at San Quentin Meeting With “Mother” May be Arranged Later Youth “Wisecracks” About Forthcoming Hanging
    “. Los Angeles Times. 1929-02-13. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  19. ^ Gribben, Mark (2007-02-27). “Poetic Justice“. The Malefactor’s Register. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  20. ^ Boswell, Randy (2008-05-07). “Serial killer was born in Saskatchewan“. Leader-Post. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  21. ^ Paul, James Jeffrey (September 2008). Nothing is Strange with You: The Life and Crimes of Gordon Stewart Northcott. Xlibris. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-4363-6627-4.  Grave marker for Sanford Clark and his wife June, veteran’s section of Woodlawn Cemetery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
  22. ^ a b Gonzales, Ruby (2008-12-21). “Clark, chief witness in `20s child murders led exemplary life“. Whittier Daily News. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  23. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 208
  24. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 221
  25. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pgs. 226,228
  26. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 227
  27. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pg. 227
  28. ^ Anthony Flacco, The Road Out of Hell, pgs. 229,230
  29. ^ Harnisch, Larry (2009-01-30). “Changeling — Finding Christine Collins“. Los Angeles Times.—-ch-23.html. Retrieved 2009-05-11.  Death certificate from California archives.
  30. ^ Harnisch, Larry (2008-11-10). “Changeling — Finding Christine Collins“. Lo
    s Angeles Times.—ch.html. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  31. ^ New Kidnapping Clew Furnished in Hunt for Missing Collins Boy: Glendale Man Helps Police“. Los Angeles Times (Times-Mirror Company). 1928-04-04. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  32. ^ a b c ‘Changeling’ production notes“. Universal Pictures. Retrieved October 18, 2008.  (Microsoft Word document)
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Hutchens’ confession“. photograph: b&w (Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection). 1928. Retrieved 2008-09-14.  “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.”
  35. ^ Enigma Boy Identified:Youth Impersonating Walter Collins Now Declared to be Arthur Hutchens, Jr., of lowa“. Los Angeles Times. 1928-09-21. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  36. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (1999-02-07). “The Boy Who Vanished–and His Impostor“. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ Jones, Oliver (2008-11-14). “Inside Story: How a Boy Became the Changeling Impostor“. People (magazine).,,20239857,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  39. ^ Walker, Joe (2008-11-15). “Rev Gustav Briegleb“. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  40. ^ Harnisch, Larry (2008-12-27). “Voices — Christine Collins, November 6, 1930: The Christine Collins letters“. Los Angeles Times.—-ch-10.html. Retrieved 2009-05-07.  Republished letter dated 1930-11-06 from Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb to Mr. Charles L. Neumiler, President, State Prison Board, Represa, California.
  41. ^ Boys Trailed to Valley: Scoutmaster Reports Pomona Lads Ran Away Into Imperial to Pick Cantaloupes“. Los Angeles Times. 1928-05-26. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  42. ^ Northcott in Terror: Mob’s Jail Visit Arouses Fear“. Los Angeles Times. 1929-02-11. Retrieved 2009-07-13.  Reprinted in The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Mirror: Changeling — Part IX, 2008-11-05.

Further reading

  • Duffy, Clinton T. (1962). 88 Men and 2 Women. Doubleday. 
  • Flacco, Anthony; Jerry Clark (November 2009). The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders. Union Square Press. ISBN 978-1-4027-68699. 
  • Jenkins, Philip (2004). Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. Yale University Press. p. 221. ISBN 0300109636. 
  • Jenkins, Philip (1994). Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide. Aldine Transaction. p. 184. ISBN 0202305252. 
  • Leon, Chrysanthi (Spring 2011). Continuity and Change in American Sex Crime Policy. New York University Press. 
  • Paul, James Jeffrey (September 2008). Nothing is Strange with You: The Life and Crimes of Gordon Stewart Northcott. Xlibris. ISBN 978-1-4363-6627-4. 
  • Rasmussen, Cecilia (October 1998). L. A. Unconventional: The Men & Women Who Did L. A. Their Way. Los Angeles Times. ISBN 978-1883792237. 

External links

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