The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders may sound like something out of a crime novel, yet the acts that caused a nationwide sensation in 1928 are true. Gordon Stewart Northcott, a chicken farmer turned serial killer, lived and worked in the small town of Wineville, CA. From 1926 to 1928, he abducted, assaulted, and murdered young boys with the help of his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, and his nephew, Sanford Clark. Northcott claimed the lives of at least three victims, though he may have been responsible for many more. The Northcotts fled the country to escape the police but were caught in Canada. The state of California found Northcott guilty and executed him via hanging in 1930 at the age of 23.
The case led to widespread media coverage across the country. And then there was a twist in the case: the police claimed to have found one of the missing boys, Walter Collins, and returned him to his mother. However, the child wasn’t actually the woman’s son, and authorities refused to believe her. The incident inspired the 2008 thriller Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie.
Gordon Stewart Northcott was a chicken farmer in his late teens. From 1926 to 1928, he abducted young boys. He kept his captives in his chicken coop, located on the Northcott family farm in Wineville, California. Northcott sexually assaulted the boys before killing them. He then buried their bodies in and around the coop.
Authorities reportedly found graves underneath the structure, filled with quicklime, bones, and boys’ clothing.
Before Northcott axed the young boys that he picked up locally, he molested them. He reportedly continued a cycle of abuse his father, Cyrus George Northcott, had started. Northcott claimed his father had sodomized him when he was 10 years old.
Northcott also maintained that his mother dressed him in girls’ clothing until the age of 16.
The woman that Gordon Northcott called "mother," Sarah Louise Northcott, may not have been his biological mother. The courts brought Sarah Louise from prison in order to testify at Northcott’s trial about his unknown family origins.
Sarah Louise contended that Northcott was the result of an inbred union between his sister, Winifred Clark, and his father.
9-year-old Walter Collins disappeared from his Los Angeles home on March 10, 1928. His mother, Christine Collins, launched a manhunt for her son, and five months later, he seemed to be found in DeKalb, IL. Collins knew immediately that the boy was not her son. The police, however, told her to take him home and "try him out."
When she protested - and even brought her son's dental records to prove that the boy was an imposter - the authorities had her institutionalized for a nervous breakdown. The imposter was 12-year-old Arthur Hutchins, Jr., a runaway. Walter Collins’s body was never found.
The 2008 film Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, is based the Collins story.