Photo Of The Day

From left, prosecutor Earl (sometimes spelled Earle) Redwine, Loyal Kelley, A.H. de Tremaudan (sometimes spelled Tremandon), J. McKinley Cameron, David Sokol, Gordon Northcott and Norbert Savay. (Los Angeles Times file photo).

From left, prosecutor Earl (sometimes spelled Earle) Redwine, Loyal Kelley, A.H. de Tremaudan (sometimes spelled Tremandon), J. McKinley Cameron, David Sokol, Gordon Northcott and Norbert Savay. (Los Angeles Times file photo).

Road Out of Hell

And you wonder: How the hell did this guy go on to be a loving father and grandfather? How did he bury all that crap?

That’s a story in itself.

As a child of thirteen, Sanford Clark was sent from his home in Canada to live with his uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, on a chicken ranch in Wineville, California. It was there that Sanford discovered that his uncle was evil and a rapist and murderer.

During the two years that Sanford was held captive at the murder ranch in the late 1920s, he endured psychological and sexual torture and terrible beatings. Kept in a battered and dazed condition, Sanford was forced to participate in the murders of three young boys and to dispose of the other victims’ bodies according to Northcott’s instructions.

Ultimately, this is a story of redemption. Sanford Clark was exonerated of responsibility for his forced role in the crimes due to what is now known as Stockholm syndrome. This was just a regular young boy who had the misfortune of being captured by an evil being. That evil rained down upon him day and night for two years, in what was for him nothing less than a personal holocaust.

The thing that captured my utter fascination was the question of how young Sanford was able to live with the horrors in his memory for the next sixty-three years. And then there is the fact that in spite of his inner life, he won over everyone who got to know him, including people who knew him intimately over many years.

From 1926 to 1928, Gordon Stewart Northcott committed at least 20 murders on a chicken ranch outside of Los Angeles. His thirteen- year-old nephew, Sanford Clark, was the sole surviving victim of the killing spree. Forced to take part in the murders, Sanford carried tremendous guilt all his life. Yet despite his youth and the trauma, he helped gain some justice for the dead and their families by testifying at Northcott’s trial-which led to his conviction and execution. It was a shocking story, but perhaps the most shocking part of all is the extraordinarily ordinary life Sanford went on to live as a decorated WWII vet, a devoted husband of 55 years, a loving father, and a productive citizen.

Jerry Clark, (Sanford’s son) 17, was on his way to a hockey game when his father, Sanford, pulled the car over and revealed a shocking past.

There was once a California town that was named Wineville, in honor of its primary crop, the grape. But in 1928, something so awful happened there that it wiped the name off the map. It was a series of child killings that will forever be known as the “Wineville chicken coop murders.” As many as 20 boys may have died there at the hands of sadistic sex maniac Gordon Stewart Northcott, 21. Newspapers dubbed him the “ape man” because of the thick black hair all over his body.

When Sanford was 15, he became the main witness against his uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, who kidnapped boys from the Southland in the 1920s then molested and killed them at a chicken ranch. Not only did his uncle rape and beat him, Sanford told authorities he was made to help dispose of the bodies and, at gunpoint, ordered to shoot one of the boys.

Sanford Clark, 15, who asserted four boys were slain on a "murder farm" by Stewart Northcott, 24. He is shown looking over photos of missing boys. He claimed Walter Collins was a victim and picked his photo out of 30 but could not identify a boy found and returned as Walter Collins.

Sanford Clark, 15, who asserted four boys were slain on a “murder farm” by Gordon Stewart Northcott, 24. He is shown looking over photos of missing boys. He claimed Walter Collins was a victim and picked his photo out of 30 but could not identify a boy found and returned as Walter Collins.

Sanford was small for his age during the years he lived with Northcott. He was young, alone, and so dominated by his abusive uncle, he lost all sense of the outside world and fully believed he would become Northcott’s next victim. Daily, Northcott abused Sanford with beatings and humiliation, demeaning his intellect, satisfying his own sexual needs, and enlisting the boy to carry out his perverted atrocities on the young boys he lured to his ranch with promises of horseback riding, baby rabbit hutches, or a day’s work. This constant terror forced Sanford to subsume his individuality to suit his uncle’s appetites for sex and control.

On Feb. 2, 1928, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies found a burlap bag containing a headless body in a La Puente ditch. A male teenager had been shot through the heart with a .22-caliber rifle. In the next few months, three more boys vanished: Walter Collins, 9, of Mount Washington disappeared in March on his way to the movies; two Pomona brothers, Nelson and Louis Winslow, 10 and 12, went missing in May while walking home from a model yacht club meeting.

When Walter Collins disappeared from his home in Los Angeles, California, his believed abduction triggered a massive manhunt – yet police were unable to find the boy. That is, until a mysterious child appeared five months later in DeKalb, Illinois, claiming to be Walter. Elated, Walter’s mother, Christine Collins, arranged for her long lost son’s return trip home. The case seemed to have a happy ending. Except for one thing – when Walter arrived, it wasn’t Walter at all.

Deputy Sheriffs Abe Mendoza, left, and Joseph Sepulveda, right, question Sanford Clark about a grain sack found on Stewart Northcott's ranch. The brand is said to be similar to that of the sack in which a headless Mexican boy was found.

Deputy Sheriffs Abe Mendoza, left, and Joseph Sepulveda, right, question Sanford Clark about a grain sack found on Gordon Stewart Northcott’s ranch. The brand is said to be similar to that of the sack in which a headless Mexican boy was found.

Christine knew immediately that she was staring into the eyes of an imposter. Nevertheless, authorities told her to take the boy home and “try him out for a couple of weeks.” Christine reluctantly agreed, only to return to the station soon thereafter, refusing to accept the boy as her own. She even brought dental records with her to prove the validity of her claim.

Bizarrely, the police ignored the mother’s plea. Instead, they believed Christine had suffered a nervous breakdown and committed her to a psychiatric hospital.

After locking Christine away, authorities interviewed little “Walter.” The boy soon confessed to his stunt. He told officers his name was Arthur Hutchins, Jr. and that he had run away from his home in Iowa. A drifter picked him up and remarked on his resemblance to the missing child from California. So Arthur decided to impersonate Walter and make his way to Hollywood.

Upon his confession, authorities released Christine from the mental hospital. She would eventually file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department, and be awarded a hefty sum . But the mother had far greater concerns on her mind – what happened to Walter? Where was her boy?

Tragically, the answer came in the form of a brutal young man named Gordon Northcott.

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders was a series of abductions and murders of young boys in Los Angeles, California. The crimes began in the year of 1928 and lasted 2 years. The man responsible for these murders was Gordon Stewart Northcott. As many as 20 boys may have been sexually abused and murdered. Gordon gained the name the “ape man” because of the black hair all over his body. Northcott would kidnap the boys and sexual abuse them. When he became bored with them he would take them to the chicken coop and kill them with an ax. Northcott hired his nephew to feed the chickens at the farm. Sanford Clark, the nephew, became an unwilling accomplish to the murders. Sanford was 13 years old.

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders was a series of abductions and murders of young boys in Los Angeles, California. The crimes began in the year of 1928 and lasted 2 years. Gordon gained the name the “ape man” because of the black hair all over his body. 

Northcott, a Saskatchewan native, had relocated to Wineville, California in 1926, just outside Los Angeles. There, he built a chicken ranch with the help of his young nephew, Sanford Clark. Gordon was far from a caring provider for Sanford. The deranged chicken farmer repeatedly abused his nephew behind the closed doors of his ranch for nearly two years.

It wasn’t until 1928 when Sanford’s older sister Jessie Clark came to visit Wineville that the darkness unraveled.

Jessie arrived already concerned for the welfare of Sanford, who soon told her of the horrors uncle Gordon had committed. Upon Jessie’s return to Canada, she reported the story to a representative at the American consulate, who dispatched the Los Angeles police to the chicken ranch in Wineville.

There, authorities found Sanford – but no Gordon. The man had spotted the squad cars coming up the drive and fled. With the help of his mother, he made it all the way to Vernon, British Columbia, until the two were finally apprehended.

Now safely in the hands of the law, Sanford felt he could finally recount the atrocities he had suffered and seen. Not only had Gordon molested and beaten him, but the brutal man forced Sanford to help kill three young boys whom Gordon had kidnapped. One of those boys was little Walter Collins.

The "murder farm" of Gordon Stewart Northcott near Wineville in Riverside County. The panorama shows in detail the exact places where dark deeds transpired, according to Deputy District Attorney Earl Redwine and Sanford Clark, Stanton accused Northcott of mistreating, murdering and burying boys in quicklime. Two boys were murdered and three buried in the chicken houses in the background. Arrow at right shows a coop where Clark asserted Northcott imprisoned Walter Collins, kidnapped Los Angeles boy, and finally killed him with an axe. Collins was held captive in the coop, slept there on a rude cot, and could only look into the pens at right. Slaying and burial sites of the Winslow brothers are noted.[Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The “murder farm” of Gordon Stewart Northcott near Wineville in Riverside County. The panorama shows in detail the exact places where dark deeds transpired, according to Deputy District Attorney Earl Redwine and Sanford Clark. Sanford accused Northcott of mistreating, murdering and burying boys in quicklime. Two boys were murdered and three buried in the chicken houses in the background. Arrow at right shows a coop where Clark asserted Northcott imprisoned Walter Collins, kidnapped Los Angeles boy, and finally killed him with an axe. Collins was held captive in the coop, slept there on a rude cot, and could only look into the pens at right. Slaying and burial sites of the Winslow brothers are noted.[Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Sanford Clark told authorities that Northcott had kidnapped little boys and, after molesting them, killed them with an ax, poured quicklime over their remains and disposed of them on the ranch. As for the body in La Puente, he said Northcott had killed a young Mexican ranch hand, dumped the body there, brought the head back to the ranch and smashed the skull.

At the ranch house, authorities also found a Pomona Public Library book checked out to one of the Winslow brothers, clothing identified as theirs and a note one of them had written to their parents. Don’t worry, the note said, “we are fine.”

Sanford Clark eventually admitted to participating in the murder of one of the Winslow brothers, saying Gordon Northcott had forced him.

Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother, Sarah Louise, fled to Canada to avoid arrest. But they weren’t on the run for long — they were busted in British Columbia. They unsuccessfully fought extradition to the U.S.

Prior to being extradited to the U.S. to face murder changes Gordon gave his story to the Vancouver Daily Sun, and it was a beaut.

Northcott said:

“There have been a lot of stories circulated about me. They are all untrue. What awful things to say about a man. Some people have been suffering from too much imagination, and a lot of people will be sorry when this case is cleared up.”

Northcott went on to explain that his disappearance was only meant to shield his “poor little mother”:

“I had to protect poor little mother from this. I simply could not tell her of this. I simply could not tell her of what they were accusing me. If poor little mother had known of these charges it would have killed her.”

No, it’s not Gordon in drag, it is his “Poor little mother”, Sarah Louise Northcott.Mrs. Louise Northcott, Gordon's mother, holding a pet rooster on the ranch near Wineville. Murder charges were issued at Riverside September 18, 1928, against her and her son, who are reported under surveillance in Canada. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

No, it’s not Gordon in drag, it is his “Poor little mother”, Sarah Louise Northcott. Mrs. Sarah Louise Northcott, Gordon’s mother, holding a pet rooster on the ranch near Wineville. Murder charges were issued at Riverside September 18, 1928, against her and her son, who are reported under surveillance in Canada. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Poor little mother? Visualize for a moment the poor little mother wielding an axe and using the blunt end to bash in Walter Collins’ skull. THAT is the poor little mother to whom Northcott referred.

Northcott continued:

“So I kept it all from her, newspapers and everything I was forced to hide them. I wanted to get her away to a safe place. Then I intended to go back alone and fight this thing.”

Northcott’s statements to the press were as self-serving as one might expect, but what was interesting, and rather creepy, was the newspapers physical description of the child-slayer:

“Northcott is a good-looking youth, and has a disarming manner. His fair hair sweeps back in an easy wave from the parting on the left and there is a ready smile on his lips beneath his well-modeled nose. His eyes alone are peculiar. They are deep blue, but possess a fixed, staring quality, as if their owner is in a thrall.”

The papers even gave a description of Northcott’s traveling clothes. What was the well-dressed child serial killer wearing in 1928?

“On the train he wore a smartly cut brown tween suit with a dark brown stripe. His tie was brown with cream colored spots, and there was a thin brown strip in his shirt.”

 The reporter failed to note Northcott’s primary accessory, shackles. He was firmly chained to the coach seat of the train that was returning him to California.

Dressed to the nines, and thoroughly enjoying his infamy, Northcott opined to the press on a variety of topics.

A fool for a client. Gordon Northcott ignores his attorneys and argues with the judge. December 5, 1928.

A fool for a client. Gordon Northcott ignores his attorneys and argues with the judge. December 5, 1928.

Once Gordon and his poor little mother were back in Los Angeles on U.S. soil, the pair promptly confessed to murder. But, no surprise, each quickly recanted their confessions.

Sanford led investigators on a hunt from the Riverside farm to the Northcott family home in Boyle Heights and to a cabin Gordon Northcott rented in Saugus. Officers found traces of human blood and bloodstained axes with strands of human hair. But the most appalling discovery was beneath the chicken coop: graves filled with bones, quicklime, bits of blood-soaked mattress and a .22-caliber rifle and bullets of the type used to kill the Mexican teenager.

In December 1928, three months after his arrest, Northcott was taken to the chicken ranch in handcuffs. Police reported that he initially said nine boys had been killed there, but admitted killing only five. In a written confession that day, he owned up to just one, believed to be the Mexican ranch hand: “I killed Alvin Gothea on the ranch on Feb. 2, 1928. No self-defense. Gordon Stewart Northcott will plead guilty to the above charge in Riverside County tomorrow.”

Northcott’s mother, who said she would “do anything” to protect her son, confessed to killing Walter Collins with an ax. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Northcott was charged with killing Walter, along with the Winslow brothers and the Mexican youth. His trial began in January 1929 amid heavy security. Women were excluded from the jury because the judge believed the crimes were too heinous for the fairer sex to be exposed to. (They were admitted as spectators, however.)

Retired Superior Court and appellate court judge John Gabbert, was then a student at Riverside City College. “I waited around the courthouse a long time to get a seat,” he said in a interview. Northcott “was a very self-possessed guy, not overawed by the trial at all. During breaks, he kidded around with the prosecutors. He was as much at home in the courtroom as any attorney but didn’t know what he was doing [legally]. He was a conniving, smart guy, in a limited way.”

Northcott toyed with investigators, sending them on wild goose chases for bodies with hand-drawn maps that never led to anything. He fired three attorneys in succession, took over his own defense, growled obscenities at the prosecutor, Deputy D.A. Earl Redwine, and even put himself and the prosecutor on the stand. Playing attorney and witness at the same time, he asked himself questions and answered them.

Arrogance and stupidity ruled the day when Northcott discharged his counsel and chose to represent himself. As with most proverbs it’s difficult to find a precise attribution, but at some point in history a person, certainly an attorney, said: 

“I hesitate not to pronounce, that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.”

 Northcott’s inept cross-examination of Sanford Clark was so detrimental to his own case that the prosecution never once offered any objections. Despite his abysmal performance Northcott was supremely pleased with himself:

“I am not such a bad attorney after all, am I?” he asked reporters.

Redwine portrayed Northcott as a pathological liar and a sadistic degenerate — fearless, defiant, foulmouthed and full of bravado. Northcott’s conduct underscored Redwine’s case.

At one point, smiling benignly at the jury, Northcott accused the sheriff of plotting to kill him and of stealing his legal papers. He alleged that his family members were “liars” coerced into testifying against him. Moreover, he said, the judge wasn’t giving him a “square deal.” At times he hinted that there were more than four victims.

Northcott had his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, brought from Tehachapi State Prison to testify on his behalf. When Redwine asked the haggard, gray-haired Sarah Louise Northcott questions she shrieked at the prosecutor, “The next time I get married, it won’t be to a man like you.”

Louisa Northcott with one of her attorneys (she was represented by Norbert Savay, A.H. De Tremaudan and J. McKinley Cameron). (Los Angeles Times file photo)

Sarah Louise Northcott with one of her attorneys (she was represented by Norbert Savay, A.H. De Tremaudan and J. McKinley Cameron). (Los Angeles Times file photo)

Sarah Louise Northcott told the court that he’d abused young boys—and that he loved them. She told the jury that she was not in fact his mother but his grandmother; her husband, she said, had raped their daughter Winnefred, and Northcott was the product of that union. Northcott even hinted that he’d had an incestuous relationship with Sarah Louise and that his meek father had molested him. Whether any of that—or anything in Northcott’s bizarre defense—is true is unclear: throughout the trial Northcott seemed more interested in being provocative than in revealing the truth. Nor was Sarah Louise a credible witness. She was unable to tell Redwine how many husbands she’d had, or the names of her children. Her only consistent point was that she would do anything for Gordon.

Northcott’s father testified that his son had bragged of killing many boys and that he had seen evidence of the carnage before much of it was destroyed with lye and fire. He even testified that he had bought the lye.

After a 27-day trial and two hours’ deliberation, jurors convicted Northcott of three slayings — all but young Walter Collins. Northcott was sentenced to death.

On Oct. 2, 1930, the date fixed for Northcott’s execution, he began screaming and trembling. His hands shook as San Quentin guards strapped his hands together. “Will it hurt?” he asked.

He requested a blindfold so he wouldn’t have to see the gallows. He had to be dragged up 13 stairs to the noose, pleading with guards, “Please — don’t make me walk so fast.”

Just before the trap was sprung, Northcott hollered, “A prayer — please, say a prayer for me.”

Prison Warden Clinton T. Duffy later wrote that Northcott told him he’d killed “18 or 19, maybe 20” young men and boys.

After Northcott’s execution, in his cell Duffy found a crudely drawn map of the ranch, which had acquired the newspaper nickname “murder farm.” In one margin, Northcott had written, “I am not guilty,” but he had drawn coffin-shaped boxes and written, “If you will look here you will find what you want.”

Duffy mailed the map to Riverside investigators, but they found nothing. Apparently the map was Northcott’s last hoax.

But six weeks after Northcott was hanged, a Hesperia trapper found the remains of a youth in the desert near the ranch. The body was male, from 12 to 15 years old, and was believed to be another Northcott victim. It was never identified.

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.

Gordon Stewart Northcott, And here, he looks demonic. (Los Angeles Times file photo).

Gordon Stewart Northcott, And here, he looks demonic. (Los Angeles Times file photo).

Sanford said he never planned to tell his son Jerry the story, but he said, he was worried reporters working on an unrelated killing near their town would unearth his past. His concern was that his children would hear about it from others. His fear didn’t materialize.

Sanford wasn’t tried but was sentenced to five years at the Whittier State School, which was later renamed the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility. Sanford Clark was there for 23 months and, after his release, deported back to Canada.

Sanford emerged from total dysfunction and chaos, and went on to live an exemplary life. What followed was a story of evil replaced by love and devotion and a life reclaimed. He served in World War II, married and worked 28 years for the Canadian postal service. He and his wife, June, adopted and raised two sons. The couples were married for 55 years and were involved in different organizations. Clark died in 1991.

June Clark, Clark’s sister, Jessie, associate prosecution counsel Loyal C. Kelley and the Whittier State School have been credited for helping save Sanford Clark.

Kelley recognized Clark was a victim and the Whittier State School emphasized rehabilitation, and help which is what Sanford needed and their powerful interventions kept him alive and balanced.

Jessie Clark, sister of "murder farm" resident Sanford Clark, went to the farm to rescue her brother. Fearing for her life, she would tiptoe in the middle of the night to Sanford's bedside, where he whispered his story of the murders of several boys, according to her sworn statement.

Jessie Clark, sister of “murder farm” resident Sanford Clark, went to the farm to rescue her brother. Fearing for her life, she would tiptoe in the middle of the night to Sanford’s bedside, where he whispered his story of the murders of several boys, according to her sworn statement.

The process was a combination of the deep impression that the compassion shown by Prosecutor Kelley made upon Sanford—along with the particular way that Sanford’s sister Jessie and his wife June worked together to manage his state of mind over a period of many years. These two women were phenomenally strong, and developed a specific method for keeping Sanford away from his own despair.

Sanford had recurring bouts of extreme survivor’s guilt on one hand, and his general kindness and decency on the other. I love what it demonstrates about human nature in general. Sanford was an ordinary person involuntarily thrust into an extraordinarily brutal situation, and he could have been any one of us.

It seems the judge quietly sent him to Nelles. … I don’t think anybody knew in Whittier he was here, said Myra Hilliard, executive director at the Whittier Museum. At the Whittier State School, she said the boys were placed in cottages with a house mother or father or both. They learned skills like tailoring, cooking, gardening and woodworking so they could earn their keep as adults.

The whole idea was rehabilitation. Not all the boys at the place had criminal records. She said some were too old to be adopted or their parents could not take care of them.

“This was such a unique facility,” she said.

It was there he found the love and acceptance so necessary at a critical time in his life. It would not be a careless assumption to suggest that without the Whittier school, Sanford’s remaining years would have been a lot more painful for him and the world around him.

Hilliard said bragging about past criminal behaviour was not allowed.

“I know boys were told that was your life before. They were now part of a family. That’s what Fred C. Nelles brought,” she said.

Nelles served as superintendent at the Whittier State School from 1912 to 1927. The place which later bore his name was closed by the state in 2004.

Instead of having his own children, Sanford Clark chose to adopt because he didn’t want to spread what he viewed as his family’s sickness.

“This was the most dysfunctional family,” he said. Sanford’s mother was a sociopath who told her son to go with his uncle in 1926, his father was ineffectual, his uncle a psychotic killer and his grandmother a killer. The two years at the ranch affected Sanford. The man was plagued with thoughts of suicide all his life. One time when Sanford wasn’t at the dinner table, June Clark found him in a room with a gun in his hand, she took the gun, smacked her husband and told him to go down and have dinner.

And when Jerry Clark told his dying father he loved him, Sanford last words were, “Why would you?” What he could still feel was his own guilt and pain.

Throughout Sanford’s two years on the ranch, his uncle Gordon Stewart Northcott forced him to write letters home, but Northcott dictated every word and made it all up himself, all about how fine Sanford’s life was at Uncle Gordon’s place. Sanford’s parents effectively enabled the ruse by accepting the idea that these letters were actually from their son. But Sanford’s older sister Jessie grew suspicious. Finally, enough of these odd-sounding letters arrived that Jessie became frustrated over her parents’ lack of concern.

She raised the money to make the long journey from Saskatchewan down to Los Angeles by herself. When she arrived and confronted Gordon Stewart Northcott with her concerns and suspicions about what was happening with her brother, he attacked her and drove her to the floor. He had his hands around her neck in a strangle hold when Northcott’s mother ran in and pulled him off of her. Jessie fled the farm and contacted authorities. Sanford’s rescue, the end of Northcott’s murder ranch–it all came from his sister Jessie Clark.

The real Walter Collins on left, Walter Collins imposter Arthur Hutchins Jr. on right. As the Los Angeles City Council investigated police treatment of Mrs. Christine Collins, who refused to accept Arthur Hutchens as her kidnapped son, Walter, young Hutchens stood admitted to the strange company of famous impostors of history.

The real Walter Collins on left, Walter Collins imposter Arthur Hutchins Jr. on right. As the Los Angeles City Council investigated police treatment of Mrs. Christine Collins, who refused to accept Arthur Hutchins as her kidnapped son, Walter, young Hutchins stood admitted to the strange company of famous impostors of history.

Picture a small-boned nineteen year-old female, back in 1928, who makes that journey from Canada down to southern California by herself, then tops it off by facing down a serial killer about what he is doing. After she fled, she alerted authorities—who initially didn’t even believe her. She contacted the Canadian Immigration authorities and got them to cable the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, who then sent that first police car out to the murder ranch.

The convictions didn’t grant closure the families of the three boys: there were no intact bodies—the technology to match the recovered remnants to any of the missing boys was decades away.

The father of the Winslow brothers, though, had no doubt that Northcott killed his boys. The night before Northcott’s sentencing, Winslow stormed the jail with an angry mob, demanding that Northcott reveal the location of his sons’ bodies—but law enforcement officials were able to keep the vigilantes at bay.

Arthur Jacob Hutchens and his stepmother, Mrs. Violet Hutchens, who came to take him back home. He had previously posed as Walter Collins and then as Billy Fields.

Arthur Jacob Hutchins and his stepmother, Mrs. Violet Hutchins, who came to take him back home. He had previously posed as Walter Collins and then as Billy Fields.

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.”

Walter Collins' mother, Mrs. Christine Collins, who confronted Gordon Northcott in jail concerning her son. "I did not kill Walter," he told her. "I believe you," she replied. Later, when Arthur Hutchens claimed to be her son and she did not accept him, she was sent to a psychopathic ward. She later filed suit against the police for this action.

Walter Collins’ mother, Mrs. Christine Collins, who confronted Gordon Northcott in jail concerning her son. “I did not kill Walter,” he told her. “I believe you,” she replied. 

Christine Collins won a judgement of $10,800 against Captain J.J. Jones as a result of his having sent her to the psych ward when she refused to accept an impostor as her son. Collins would try more than once to collect from Jones — he would never pay her. In fact, Captain Jones got off easy — the LAPD suspended him for four months without pay, and that was the extent of his punishment for what he’d done to Christine Collins. Courts repeatedly ordered Jones to pay Collins restitution, but he never did. Christine Collins met with Northcott before the trial and again two days before his hanging. He insisted both times that he didn’t know anything about her son and did not kill him. She believed him, and spent the rest of her life searching and hoping in vain for Walter to return

Although Sanford Clark led a productive life, served during the Second World War and returned to work,  his depression and sense of guilt never completely left him, Jerry Clark (son) has said.

“He kept saying to me, ‘I should have done something'”

This story is inspired by Sanford Clark’s son, Jerry Clark. Jerry wanted to honour his father by telling his story. It is his tribute to his father’s amazing resolve and strength of will to go on and live a full and loving life in spite of his endless fight to exorcise Northcott’s demons embedded within him.

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders is so twisted and  complex that it is impossible to tell it all in just a post. For Sanford Clark’s harrowing tale you may want to read THE ROAD OUT OF HELL. Another book on Gordon Stewart Northcott is NOTHING IS STRANGE WITH YOU. Be forewarned, any book that relates the full story is going to be a very tough read.

Wineville Chicken Coop Murders Explained

Northcott Murders: James Jeffrey Paul’s Research Materials

Clark, chief witness in `20s child murders led exemplary life

Gordon Stewart Northcott in the late 1920s

Gordon Stewart NORTHCOTT

Behind ‘Changeling,’ A Tale Too Strange For Fiction : NPR


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