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Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Changeling

Does a movie ever move you so much you can't stop thinking about it? I watched The Changeling yesterday and I cannot stop thinking of what that mother went thru. It is a true story of
Christine Collins. In 1928 her son disappeared. She searched for him and finally got the police involved. They did not have a good track record in La. They were very corrupt. They did not bother with trials there at times. They just shot you if you looked guilty. They needed good press so they found this boy who looked like her son. She kept saying it was not her son but the cops would not believe her. She was sure her son was alive and they were not looking. She took her story to a radio preacher and people began questioning the cops. The cops had her committed to an asylum and would not let her out til she signed papers saying they were right. She would not do it.

It turns out her son was kidnapped by murdering pedaphiles, a man and his grandmother. He, along with severeral others where kept at a chicken farm.
If the cops had kept looking for her son they might have saved him but by the time they got around to it, several boys were murdered. Three escaped but only one of the three made it away alive, as far as anyone knows. It was not her son.

I am a bit of a history buff so I will share this about the murders...........

What is on my mind is the strong bond this woman had with her son. She loved him more than life itself and the police vilified her and said she was an unfit mother. How she must have suffered over all of this....I cannot imagine her pain. I think not knowing has to be worse then knowing.

I am a history buff of sorts and I will share this with you. It is long but.........In March of 1928, Christine Collins was raising her son, Walter, by herself in Los Angeles. Her husband, Walter JS, was serving a term in Folsom Prison for robbery. On March 10th, Christine thought Walter was playing in the neighborhood. When he did not return by the evening, Christine made a report with the police. She would never see 9 year-old Walter again.
Police worked on the theory that Walter had been kidnapped as part of a revenge plot against his father. Walter JS was a "straw boss" in the prison, and was in charge of several other inmates. Police surmised he had made enemies of those he was in charge of. They began searching for inmates who had been recently released. In addition, they followed up on reports of a gas station attendant who had seen a car with a "body wrapped in newspaper" in the back seat. A young friend of Walter's also reported that a stranger had been in the neighborhood, inquiring about the Collins residence. None of the leads went anywhere.

In August of '28, authorities in Illinois discovered a young boy working in a restaurant (also reported to have been working on a farm) near the town of DeKalb. He resembled photos of the Collins boy that had been distributed nationwide. At first, the boy denied being Walter, but following "gentle" questioning, he admitted that he was, in fact, Walter. He was then turned over to the Los Angeles police by the Illinois police.
The LAPD investigators were baffled when Christine stated that the boy was not her son. They stated that he closely resembled the photos of Walter, so they had "Walter" undergo a series of tests. He had, allegedly, directed authorities to the correct home, and knew information about other homes in the neighborhood. Christine still disagreed, and though she stated the boy did closely resemble Walter, he did not act the same as her boy. Authorities tried to convince her that his kidnappers had "altered the aisles in his brain" during his captivity, which accounted for his odd behavior. As the final point in determined that the boy was in fact Walter, the police noted that Walter's pet dog, a black spaniel, immediately took to the young boy.
When Christine still refused to accept that the boy was in fact her son, public sentiment (fueled largely by statements from LAPD Captain JJ Jones, in charge of the Juvenile Investigation Unit) turned against Christine. Based entirely on Jones' say-so, Christine was committed to a psychopathic ward. She spent ten days in the unit, until "Walter" finally recanted.
The boy was not Walter, but was in fact Arthur Hutchins, Jr. He was a young runaway from Iowa, working in Illinois at the time of Walter's disappearance. He told reporters and police he took what little he knew of the case from newspaper reports. When asked why he had perpetrated the hoax, he told authorities he had "always wanted to see Hollywood". Hutchins further stated that he had fooled the authorities by delaying his answers to certain questions until someone suggested an answer. The rest was just "wild guesses".

In mid-September, 15 year-old Sanford Clark approached police with an incredible story. He had just escaped from the chicken farm of his grandparents, Cyrus and Louise Northcott. (Other papers report that immigration officers had located Clark at the farm following inquiries as to his presence in the US). He stated he had travelled to the farm from Canada with his uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott. Gordon had "misused" him, and held him captive. During his time there, he was forced to witness and participate in the torture and murder of four boys. One of the boys, he declared, was in fact Walter Collins. Clark stated he was positive the boy was Walter.
Clark told authorities that the murders had begun with a young Mexican boy, who Nothcott had killed with an ax; in fact, the headless corpse of a young Mexican boy had been found along a highway near the town of Puente some few months prior. Next had come the week-long ordeal of Walter, who Northcott had tied to a bed and tortured for a week. Finally, Louise, Gordon's mother, killed Walter with an ax. Next came the torture and murders of 12 year-old Lewis and 10 year-old Nelson Winslow. Clark told police he had been forced to kill Nelson while Gordon hacked Lewis to death.
When police arrived at the ranch, only Cyrus was there. Louis and Gordon had fled. They found overwhelming evidence attesting to the truth of Clark's assertions. A bloody cot was located, where the tortures had taken place. Three empty graves were located, from which the police determined that the bodies had recently been removed. The bodies had been covered in quicklime. Bones, body parts (a hand was reported to have been found) and a hat which the Winslow's father later stated had belonged to one of his sons were located. In one of the chicken coops, a bloody axe was found. It was clotted with hair and "human debris".

A short time later, Louise and Gordon were located in Canada and returned to California. Louise intially confessed to all four murders, most likely in an attempt to save her son. She was convicted of the murder of Walter Collins and sentenced to life in San Quentin State Prison.
It was reported that prior to his trial, Gordon had taken authorities on a trek through the Mojave Desert in search of the boys' remains. During that time, he allegedly stated that he had killed "Walter Collins, Lewie Winslow, Alvin Gothea, a boy named Richard" and another boy whose name he did not know. Gordon hinted to police that it was possible another four boys had been murdered at the ranch (Woodland Daily Democrat, 12-4-1928. A Wikipedia article on the murders states that one of the boys Gordon claimed to kill was in fact found alive and well five years later; this may be the Gothea boy mentioned, though I have yet to confirm this. A UP story, carried in various papers in early January '29, states that Gothea was the Mexican boy; this is the only place I have seen this stated).

Northcott's trial began in January of 1929. During the trial, the jury heard the details of the torture and murder of the boys. Louise Northcott testified that she was not actually Gordon's mother, but his grandmother. Louise's daughter disputed this in newspaper reports, stating that Gordon's birth records were "readily available". Christine Collins also testified during the trial. Acording to the Modesto Daily Herald, dated 2-2-29, Christine testified that she had received a note following Walter's disappearance that read "boy bad sick, afraid to call doctor".
On February 8th, 1929, Gordon was found guilty of the murders of the unknown Mexican boy and the Winslow brothers. He was sentenced to hang.
The night prior to the execution, Christine and the mother of the Winslow boys confronted Gordon after he sent them telegrams stating he would tell her the truth of what happened to their children. Instead, Gordon proclaimed his innocence, blaming his mother and his nephew.
Northcott was executed on October 2nd, 1930.

Christine never stopped believing that Walter might still be alive, as no solid evidence of him was found at the farm. Christine's treatment at the hands of Captain Jones and his officers resulted in Jones' four-month suspension without pay. She was awarded over $10,000 in a settlement against Jones. Christine vowed to use every cent to find out what really happened to Walter.

She never did.


  1. Human cruelty at times knows no bounds...

  2. That's a very interesting post, sobering but interesting.