Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in Bladworth, Saskatchewan and raised in British Columbia. In 1924, the family moved to Los Angeles and two years later, at the age of 19, Northcott asks his father to purchase some land in Wineville, California so he could run a chicken ranch. He wanted to bring his nephew, Sanford Clark, to the US from Canada and under the pretence of working for him at the ranch, Clark moved to assist.
When Sanford arrived at the ranch however, Northcott used this as an opportunity to beat and sexually abuse him. Clark’s older sister, Jessie, grew suspicious of the arrangement and was concerned for his welfare. She was receiving letters from Clark that didn’t sound right or like him at all. So, in August 1928, Jessie goes to check on him. At this point Clark told his sister that he feared for his life, that Northcott had murdered four boys at the ranch and abducted and sexually abused a number of other boys. He would typically molest his victims, then drive them home and let them go.
Jessie leaves the ranch and one week after her return to Canada, she informs the US consul about the crimes. The consul wrote to the LAPD, using Jessie’s sworn complaint and statement. The LAPD interpret the matter to be an immigration issue because Northcott is Canadian and Clark was brought to the US from Canada also.
The US immigration service therefore attend the property at the end of that month. Two inspectors go to the ranch and they take Clark in custody. Northcott had seen them come up the road to the ranch and had told Clark that he needed to stall them or he would shoot him from the treeline. Northcott runs into the woods.
When Clark feels safe enough to tell the inspectors what is going on, he tells them that Northcott is in the woods, with a rifle.
A couple of weeks later, Northcott, together with his mother, Sarah Louise, then try to flee back to Canada but were arrested in British Columbia. Clark testified in Sarah Louise’s sentencing that he had witnessed Northcott kidnapping, molesting, beating and killing three young boys – with the aid of his mother. Further that Northcott had forced Clark to help dispose of the head of an unidentified fourth victim.
Three shallow graves were found on the ranch in the locations Clark had stated. The graves didn’t contain whole sets of remains, only parts of bodies. During testimony from Clark and his older sister, Jessie, it was revealed that the bodies had been dug up by Northcott and his mother, around the time Clark had been taken into custody, and removed to another location where they were most likely burnt. Complete remains were never recovered. The graves at the ranch contained “51 parts of the human anatomy”. This allows investigators to determine that four victims, Walter Collins, the two Winslow brothers, and the unidentified fourth victim, had all been murdered.
Clark was not tried for murder because it was believed that he had been a victim of Northcott and had he not complied with him, he would have also been murdered.
Northcott and his mother were extradited back to LA and whilst they were waiting, the mother confessed to the murder of Walter Collins but before the extradition took place, she recanted her confession – as did Northcott who had originally confessed to killing five boys.
When they arrived in LA, the mother again confesses to specifically murdering Walter Collins. She didn’t go to trial, instead on her guilty plea, they sentenced her to life in prison, sparing her the death penalty simply because she was a woman.
Northcott’s mother vehemently claimed that her son was innocent and made a number of bizarre claims about him – such as him being the illegitimate son of an English nobleman, she was actually his grandmother, that he was the product of incest etc. She goes to prison to serve her sentence and is paroled after less than 12 years incarcerated.
Moving back to Northcott – Whilst there was a concern that Northcott had killed as many as 20 boys, the state could not produce evidence to support this and he indicted for the murders of Lewis and Nelson Winslow and the fourth unidentified victim. He was implicated in the murder of Walter Collins but as his mother had already confessed to the murder and had been sentenced for it, it was decide that the state would not pursue him for this murder.
Northcott’s trial was a circus. He represented himself in court after firing a number of defence attorneys. He puts himself on the stand and took turns grilling himself with questions then responding to them. The trial lasted 27 days and he was found guilty of the three murders. He was sintered to death and hung on 2 October 1930 at San Quentin State Prison. He was 23 years old.
The reasons this story comes up and is brought up on different podcasts is because of Walter Collins and the movie, The Changeling.
Walter Collins was nine years old when he was abducted in March 1928. His disappearance received nation-wide attention and the police face a huge amount of pressure and negative publicity so were anxious to get this one solved to help restore their reputation. A boy claiming to be Walter was found in Illinois five months later and there was a huge reunion of sorts, organised by the Police, to assist them in their attempt to gain their standing back.
Walter’s mother, Christine, immediately recognises that this was not her child and tells the police in charge that this is so. They respond that she should take the boy home to “try him out for a couple of weeks” although sources on this point are sketchy. Three weeks later, Christine comes back to the police and reaffirms that this boys in not her son. She starts to raise the alarm that the LAPD have made a mistake so they admit her to a psychiatrist hospital under a “Code 12” which is a terms used to hold someone who is deemed difficult or inconvenient.
Whilst Christine is being held in a psychiatric hospital, the fake Walter Collins is interviewed and he admits to being Arthur Hutchens Jr, a 12 year old runaway boy from Iowa. Whilst at a roadside cafe, someone told him that he looked like Walter Collins and he decided that he would impersonate him and get to go to Hollywood.
Even after Hutchen’s admits to not being Walter, Christine is held for a further ten days in the hospital. She files for a lawsuit against the LAPD and wins. She also files a lawsuit against the Police chief and is awarded $10,800 (USD)($150,000 in 2014) which he never pays.
Christine believed that her son could still be alive after she speaks with Northcott. She asks him whether he had killed Walter and she ends up concluding that Northcott is insane as he spews a barrage of lies, confessions, recantation, etc. After coming to this conclusion, she clings to the hope that as Northcott didn’t seem to know whether he had ever even met Walter, that he son could still be alive.
Shortly before his execution, Northcott sent Christine a telegram which stated that he had lied when he saw that Walter wasn’t one of his victims and if she came to the prison, he would tell her the truth. She duly goes to visit him, hours before he is due to be executed. He says he doesn’t want to see her and when she confronts him about it, he states “I don’t know anything about it. I’m innocent”.
Ranker – https://www.ranker.com/list/wineville-chicken-coop-murders/amandasedlakhevener
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wineville_Chicken_Coop_murders
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Stewart_Northcott