Wineville (Mira Loma) Chicken Coop Murders
Backstory and Context
The events of this gruesome tale began in 1926, when Gordon Stewart Northcott took his nephew Sanford, with permission (though some sources claim Sanford was abducted), from Saskatchewan, Canada, to Gordon's home in Wineville, now Mira Loma, California (Riverside County, the city changed its name from Wineville to Mira Loma following the murders). Upon arriving at the home, Sanford was abused sexually and mistreated by his uncle. Two years later, Sanford's older sister, Jessie, came to Wineville concerned for Sanford's safety. That night Sanford related a series of events that took place at the farm the last two years alongside confessing to Jessie what had been done to Sanford. Jessie returned to Canada a week later (apparently she too was abused by Gordon), where she informed the American Consul, who relayed the information to the Los Angeles Police Department.
What happened next revealed what has been called the area's "dirty little secret" that scarred a community, a state and was splashed across national headlines, while causing a 'cleaning of the house' of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The police, acting upon the tip from the American Consul via Jessie, checked out the ranch. Sanford related that many Mexican boys would arrive to the farm with Gordon with intention to work on the farm, only Sanford noticed they soon disappeared. Sanford also related that two brothers, the Winslow brothers, had been taken to the farm, raped, imprisoned and later killed by Gordon. Soon. Walter Collins was taken, and he, too, was sexually abused and later killed (spoiler: his body was never found). Gordon would proceeded to destroy the bodies by placing them in quicklime and burying them. It was the discovery that Walter Collins was at the farm that turned the police force upside down.
For the past many years, the police department of Los Angeles had been under investigation for many corruption charges. With Los Angeles and the Riverside County areas booming economically and population-wise, it became evident that most of the police had fallen under the spell of bribes, working with mobs and so on to take in the wealth coming from the area. Wineville, called so for the grapes it grew, was growing due to its agriculture. Already suffering under embarrassment, the police force wanted a quick conclusion to any high profile case to save face. One such opportunity came when on March 10, 1928, Walter Collins went missing. His mother, whom had given him money to go to the cinema reported him missing (his father was in Folsom prison for robbery). However, finding Walter was not working out and police chief James Davis was pushed to hurry and find the boy.
During the next few months, it was reported a dead body of a boy was in the back of a car at a gas station, but the car was able to lose the cars following it. The man who first saw the body was given a picture of Walter and said they were the same. Yet with the mystery car gone, nothing further happened. Soon the body of a headless Hispanic boy was found near Wineville and it was reported that Nelson and Lewis Winslow were missing and that their parents had received odd letters talking about running away to be famous. No connection was made by the police.
In August of the same year, a boy was found alone in Illinois. He originally stated he was Arthur Hutchins, but then changed his story saying he was Walter Collins, he had been taken by his father and lied about his name to protect his dad. Hutchins's photo was show to Christie Collins, Walter's mom, who said that was not Walter. The boy was taken to California anyways and a public press conference was held with the police reuniting 'mother and son' claiming victory in the disappearance of the boy. However, Mrs. Collins persisted that this was not her son. Embarrassed, police captain J.J. Jones, claimed that Mrs. Collins did not want her son for she would have had to take care of him and was making up insane stories to get rid of him. Jones swiftly ordered Collins into a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles County General Hospital on a “Code 12″ which allowed police to get rid of troublemakers by throwing them into psychiatric hospitals. She would suffer from harsh treatment for a few months; the while the police force and the psych ward (in cahoots) kept her situation covered up.
On September 15, 1928, after police showed up following the call from the American Consul in Canada, Sanford told investigators that his uncle kidnapped him and had physically and sexually abused him. He also said Northcott had forced him to watch the abuse and murders of Walter Collins, Nelson and Lewis Winslow, and other boys. Sometimes he even made him participate in these acts. Northcott abducted boys to rape them and when he got bored, he would lead them into the incubator room to see hatching chicks and kill them with an ax. To destroy the evidence, Northcott covered their bodies in quicklime.
Sanford also said Northcott had killed a Latino boy in La Puente, the one found headless. They both killed Walter Collins because he had seen Northcott help another man kill his mining partner. Sanford told the police that they could find graves near the chicken coop for the Winslow brothers and Walter Collins. Two graves were found but the full bodies were not there, only pieces of bone. Axes found among other farm equipment had human hair and blood on them. Several bones were scattered across the ranch, which pathologists later determined to be from male children. Inside the house, a book checked out to one of the Winslow boys was found. Also more letters to their parents were written. A child’s whistle and several Boy Scout badges were found. Nothing that could be directly attributed to Walter Collins was found.
Northcott’s father, Cyrus George Northcott, told police two days later that his son had admitted the murders to him. But by that time, Northcott and his mother, Louise, had left town. The Los Angeles Police Department initially continued to insist that Christine Collins had her son. They only discontinued this belief when a handwriting expert came in to analyze their writing styles. The expert concluded that this boy’s handwriting was definitely not a match to the samples collected from previous years. The strange “R’s” the boy used was commonly taught in Illinois but not found in California.
The boy eventually told the truth. He admitted several other aliases as well. He said he had decided to try to pass off as Walter Collins when someone had mentioned he looked like the missing boy. Arthur Hutchins, 12 years-old, has assumed Collins’ identity in an attempt to go to Hollywood to meet his cowboy hero, Tom Mix. His stepmother picked him up in Los Angeles and took him back to their Illinois home. He didn’t appear to have any remorse for his actions. Shortly after Arthur Hutchins went home, Christine Collins was released from the institution. However, the police and the psych ward waited 10 days to release her. By this time, Gordon Northcott was with family in Canada.
Rev. Gustav 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 disagreeing with the LAPD's version of events.
On September 20, 1928, Northcott was arrested in British Columbia. They arrested his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, in Alberta. In December, the police took Northcott back to his ranch in an attempt to get more information. While there, he verbally confessed to five murders, including the Winslow brothers, Walter Collins, and a Mexican boy named Alvin Gothea. However later that day, Northcott only admitted one homicide in a written confession and that was the murder on Alvin Gothea.
Also in December, Northcott’s mother confessed to the murder of Walter Collins. She said she delivered the final blow to the boy and then buried him in a hole near the chicken coop. Sanford Clark said his grandmother had told them that if they each hit the boy then they will be equally guilty if caught. Sarah Louise Northcott was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Walter Collins.
Northcott’s trial began in January 1929. Northcott fired several defense attorneys and proceeded to defend himself. He admitted to abusing young boys because he loved them. He even had his mother testify for him. She claimed she was actually his grandmother because her husband had raped her daughter Winnefred and Northcott was Winnefred’s son. Northcott also claimed to have an incestuous relationship with Sarah Louise and that his father had molested him. Northcott’s defense was rather odd and it was obvious that he was no lawyer. Along with the strange defense, Sarah Louise didn’t prove to be a very credible witness since the only continuous statement she made was that she would do anything for Gordon.
On February 8, 1929, an all-male jury convicted Northcott for the first-degree murders of the Winslow brothers and an anonymous victim. Judge George R. Freeman sentenced him to death. Although he was convicted and sentenced to death, the families of his victims didn’t have closure due to the inability to find intact bodies. Northcott was hanged on October 2, 1930. Shortly after his execution, the Wineville Chicken Coop murders were finally put to rest after the citizens decided to change the town’s name. They changed it to Mira Loma, which means “view from the hill” in Spanish. This name change helped the town to disassociate from the horrific acts on that poultry farm.
Christie Collins went on to the sue the police department, specifically Capt. Jones. She was awarded $10,800 (approximately $154,078 in 2014 dollars), which Jones never paid.The last newspaper account of Christine Collins is from 1941, when she attempted to collect a $15,562 judgment against Captain Jones (who was by then retired) in the Superior Court. Though Jones stayed on the force for a short time afterwards, he became the face of an embarrassed and despised police force. Chief Davis retired and many other officers were kicked off the force once the reformation of the Los Angeles Police Department commenced.
The murders, Christie Collins, and the actions of the corrupt police force were subjects for Clint Eastwood's 2008 film Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie (Collins. Nominated for Best Actress), Jeffery Donovan (Capt. Jones), John Malkovich (Rev. Breigleb), Colm Feore (Chief Davis), Geoff Pierson (Atony. Sammy Hahn) and Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Northcott). The film brought back to the spotlight the murders, which has since been the subject of many article, websites and books.
There is a theory that Walter was never really killed, but escaped. And having escaped, the theories go, he was too ashamed for whatever reasons to return home. It is believed by some he is either still alive or died recently of advanced age. The most common conclusion for most is that Walter was indeed murdered but his body was too destroyed to be discovered to this day or hidden out there waiting to be found.
When the film was made, there was a couple living in the home (the farm had since then been dismantled). Upon hearing what took place, they left the home and nearby area. The house is currently for sale and abandoned. It has also been reported that the home is haunted.
Do Not Trespass.