Crime is not an uncommon thing. There is so much crime going around us all the time that we are not even aware of. But, ever so often, a crime so heinous is committed that it leaves a big impact on us. Take for example the mysterious Ted Bundy case, the Zodiac killer, and Jack the Ripper. All these had a big impact on our lives.
Some of these crimes have even been the inspiration for many movies and TV shows. While it may seem like glorifying these tragedies by creating movies based on them, it is important as well. Many among us (myself included) have a curiosity to know more about these cases, others may not.
Therefore, making movies and TV shows about them provides a platform where information about these cases can be spread. One of the more popular cases that were an inspiration for a movie was the Chicken Coop murders Case. Also known as The Wineville Chicken Coop Case, this case inspired the movie Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie.
In this article, I will shed some light on this tragic case. So, without further ado, let’s go ahead and learn more about this case.
The Background of Chicken Coop Murders
The setting for this crime was around the area of Los Angeles and Riverside County, California. The crime included murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse of young boys during the period of 1926 to 1928. Southern California was booming during the time as the agriculture and movie industry was in full swing.
It was during this time that many people from different areas moved to the state with the hopes of using this boom to their advantage. It was during this time in 1924 that a certain family from British Columbia, Canada also moved to Los Angeles. That family was of none other than, Gordon Stewart Northcott.
Gordon convinced his father to buy a piece of land in Wineville with the promise of starting a chicken ranch and a house. Gordon told her sister, still living in Canada that he needed help on the farm and asked her if he could take his son Sandford Clark to help out. Her sister said yes and Gordon brought Sandford to the US.
Although there were a lot of rumours about the crimes and the number of victims, there was conviction only for a few of the initial rumoured numbers. The full picture started to come to the surface around August 1928. Due to her concern for Sandford’s well-being, his sister, Jessie came to check up on him at the chicken ranch.
Sandford then told Jessie that he was scared for his life at the ranch and the letters he used to send her were ent under pressure. As Gordon was asleep, Sandford told Jessie that Gordon has killed four young boys at the ranch. However, Gordon was not alone in this as his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott was also involved in the killings.
Once Jessie came back to Canada and had no fear of being the victim herself, she notified the American embassy of the crimes committed by Gordon and Sarah.
On the 31st of August 1928, having seen the immigration agents approaching, Gordon escape into the forest and told Sandford to stall the agents. After being stalled for nearly 2 hours, the agents were finally able to convince Sandford that they will protect him. Sandford then told them that Gordon had fled.
Then he gave his testimony that Gordon and Sarah had abducted, molested and then murdered three young boys at the ranch. Further, Sandford admitted to disposing of a decapitated head of a Mexican young boy that was murdered by Gordon.
Sandford Clark also told the authorities that Gordon and Sarah dissolved the bodies of boys in quicklime and then buried them in the ranch. The authorities then checked the ranch and were able to find body parts at the exact locations given by Sandford. The police did not find the whole bodies as parts of them were exhumed by Gordon and Sarah.
As I said above, there were rumours of more than 20 victims but that was not the case. In fact, the police were only able to find the body parts of 3 young boys. The victims of the chicken coop murders were, Leslie Winslow, Nelson Winslow and Walter Collins.
Leslie and Nelson Winslow were 12 and 10 years old respectively and went missing on the 16th of May 1928 from Pomona, California. They were on their way to a miniature yacht club meeting when they were abducted by Gordon Northcott. Although it is not confirmed, the Nelson brothers are believed to be the first victims of the chicken coop murders.
The Curious Case of Walter Collins
Walter Collins went missing while on his way to the movies. Initially, it was believed that prison enemies of Watler’s father had abducted him in revenge but that theory was quickly debunked.
The Los Angeles police were criticised for not having any solid leads and Walter’s missing got nationwide attention. The police had hundreds of leads but none of them panned out to be anything solid.
About 5 months after the disappearance, a boy who claimed to be Walter was found in Illinois. After exchanging photos of the boy, Walter’s mother Christine paid to bring the boy to Los Angeles. Once the boy arrived, Christina was suspicious that this was not Walter but she took him home to spend some time with him.
However, in a couple of weeks, she was convinced that he is not Walter. She even had their dental records checked and took the results to the police. The police captain at the time, J. J. Jones dismissed her and accused her of avoiding her duties as a mother. He then put her in a psychiatric ward.
During her incarceration, Jones asked the boy if he was Walter and the boy told the truth that he was not Walter but Arthur Hutchens. After this, Christine was released and Jones was suspended and ordered to pay Christine $10800.
This story of Walter’s abduction and unfair treatment of Christine was the inspiration behind the movie Changeling.
Gordon and Sarah Northcott were arrested in Canada on the 19th of September 1928 but were not extradited to the USA until the 30th of November 1928. Once they arrived in California, Sarah confessed and plead guilty to the murder of Walter Collins.
She insisted that Gordon was innocent and made statements implicating that Gordon was a victim of sexual abuse in his childhood. This was mainly done to get some sympathy from the jury and try to avoid the death penalty for her son. Sarah was given the punishment of life imprisonment.
As Sarah had already confessed to the murder of Walter Collins, Gordon was not tried for that. He was tried for the murder of the Nelson brothers and the unnamed Mexican boy. Gordon was tried for 27 days and then was given the death penalty.
Before being hanged, he sent telegrams to Christine saying that he did not kill Walter and will tell her the truth if she came to meet him. When Christine visited him, he retracted that and started shouting at her.
Gordon Northcott was hanged to death on the 2nd of October 1930 while his mother Sarah was released on parole after 14 years of imprisonment. Thus the convicts of the chicken coop murders were punished and the case was closed.
In The End
The trauma left by these incidents lasts a lifetime. Not only the people affected but also the whole community is shaken by this and fear is built deep inside everyone around them. This was the same case in the chicken coop murders as well. In fact, the Wineville community was so shaken that they decided to change their name.
They decided to change the name so that they will not be forever linked to this tragedy. Wineville is now known as, Mira Loma.