Disappearance of Walter Collins

(Redirected from Christine Collins)

Walter B Collins was a nine-year-old boy who went missing in 1928. The state of California concluded that Collins had been murdered by Gordon Stewart Northcott as part of the Wineville Chicken Coop murders.

Background edit

Christine Collins, circa 1928

Walter's parents were Christine Collins (born in 1888 as Christine Ida Dunne) and Walter J. Collins (an ex-convict born Walter Joseph Anson). He was born in September 1918.[citation needed]

Disappearance edit

Walter Collins disappeared on March 10, 1928,[1] after Christine gave him money to go to the cinema. Walter's disappearance received nationwide attention, and the Los Angeles Police Department followed up on hundreds of leads without success.[2] The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case.[3] Then, five months after Walter's disappearance,[2] a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinois. Letters and photographs were exchanged before Christine Collins paid for the boy to be brought to Los Angeles.[4]

Impostor and abusive internment edit

At the reunion, Christine Collins said that the boy was not Walter. Under pressure to resolve the case, the officer in charge, Captain J. J. Jones, convinced her to "try the boy out" by taking him home. She returned three weeks later, again saying that he was not her son. Although she had dental records and backing from friends to prove her case, Collins said Jones accused her of being a bad mother and bringing ridicule to the police.[5] Jones had Collins committed to the psychiatric ward at Los Angeles County Hospital under a "Code 12" internment – a term used to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult or an inconvenience.[4][6]

Jones questioned the boy,[2] who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchens Jr., a runaway from Iowa.[7][8] Hutchens was picked up by police in Illinois, and when asked if he was Walter Collins, he first said no, but then said yes. His motive for posing as Collins was to get to Hollywood so he could meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix.[3] Collins was released ten days after Hutchens admitted that he was not her son[9] and filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department.[2] Collins won a lawsuit against Jones and was awarded $10,800 (equivalent to $200,000 in 2023), which Jones never paid.[2] The actions of the LAPD outraged the public, and were "particularly embarrassing" for chief James Davis.[10]

Aftermath edit

In 1929, Gordon Stewart Northcott was found guilty of abducting, molesting, and killing three young boys in what became known as the Wineville Chicken Coop murders. Northcott's mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, confessed in late 1928 to her participation in the murder of Walter Collins as being amongst her son's victims. Following her confession, she was sentenced without trial to life imprisonment for her role in Walter's death. The state chose not to prosecute Gordon Northcott for Walter's murder and instead brought him to trial for the murders of three other young boys for which there was also forensic evidence. On February 13, 1929, he was found guilty for all three murders and sentenced to death. Despite these convictions, Gordon Northcott denied killing Walter Collins, and Sarah Northcott later attempted to rescind her confession and gave other scattered and inconsistent statements.

Christine Collins, who chose to believe her son was still alive (in spite of the guilty plea entered by Sarah Northcott to a judge, and corroborating testimony by Sanford Clark, in the murder of Walter Collins), corresponded with Gordon Northcott and received permission to interview him shortly before his execution. Northcott pledged to explain the true account of her son's fate, but he recanted at the last minute and professed his innocence of any involvement. Collins was further encouraged by the appearance of another boy that Northcott had abducted and probably molested. The police initially thought the boy might have been a murder victim of Northcott's. Collins continued to search for her son for the rest of her life. Collins attempted several times to collect the money owed her by Jones,[5] including a 1941 court case, in which she attempted to collect a $15,562 judgment (equivalent to $320,000 in 2023) in the Superior Court.[11]

Christine died on December 8, 1964, at the age of 75.[12][13]

Portrayal in media edit

Angelina Jolie in character as Christine Collins, while filming on the set of Changeling in 2007
  • Changeling, a 2008 film directed by Clint Eastwood, depicts the events from the disappearance of Walter Collins in 1928 until the reappearance of one of Northcott's other victims in 1935. Christine Collins was portrayed by Angelina Jolie, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.[14] Eastwood stated Jolie was cast because she was a mother and had the physical look that would fit the time period, and Jolie said of her role, "The character reminded me a lot of my mom, so it was nice to play somebody who had the nuances of somebody I loved."[14]
  • The Big Imposter, the June 7, 1951, episode of the radio program Dragnet where a boy disappears in Los Angeles and is seemingly found about 9 months later in Dayton, Ohio when a runaway is caught by police and claims to be the missing boy. The impostor is brought to Los Angeles and "reunited" with the missing boys' grandfather, but eventually the grandfather realizes the boy is not his grandson and the imposter admits the ruse under questioning by the police. Four months later the body of the actual missing boy is found buried at a farm on the outskirts of Riverside, California, the victim of murder.[citation needed]

See also edit

Further reading edit

  • Nothing Is Strange with You, James Jeffrey Paul ISBN 1436366267
  • The Road Out of Hell, Flacco, Clark, ISBN 1402768699

References edit

  1. ^ "New Kidnapping Clew Furnished in Hunt for Missing Collins Boy: Glendale Man Helps Police". Los Angeles Times. 4 April 1928. Archived from the original on 9 October 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e Howells, Sacha (7 November 2008). "Spoilers: Changeling – The Real Story Behind Eastwood's Movie". Film News. RealNetworks. Archived from the original on 10 November 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b "'Changeling' production notes". Universal Pictures Awards. Universal Pictures. Archived from the original on February 25, 2009. Retrieved October 18, 2008. (Microsoft Word document)
  4. ^ a b "Changeling stories – Part I". Los Angeles Times. October 26, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Rasmussen, Cecilia (February 7, 1999). "The Boy Who Vanished – and His Impostor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders". Crime Museum. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  7. ^ "Hoax Discussed in Collins Suit: Hutchens Boy's Deception Subject of Argument Witnesses Tell of Seeming Truth of His Story Capt. Jones Lays Damage Action to Politics". Los Angeles Times. 13 July 1929. Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  8. ^ "Hutchens' confession". photograph: b&w. Los Angeles Public Library. 1928. Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2008. The written confession of the boy who finally revealed he was Arthur Hutchens, Jr., not Walter Collins, then later told juvenile authorities he was not Billy Fields. He was later identified as Arthur Hutchens.
  9. ^ "Enigma Boy Identified:Youth Impersonating Walter Collins Now Declared to be Arthur Hutchens, Jr., of lowa". Los Angeles Times. 21 September 1928. Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2008.
  10. ^ Domanick, Joe (1994). To protect and to serve: the LAPD's century of war in the city of dreams. New York: Pocket Books. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-671-75111-1.
  11. ^ "Suit to Renew Old Judgment Recalls Northcott Murders: Mother of Supposed Victim Who Was Imprisoned as Insane in Imposter Mixup Tries to Collect Damages". Los Angeles Times. 29 January 1941. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
  12. ^ "Personal details for Christine Collins". FamilySearch. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Morgan, Michelle (2013). "Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders". The Mammoth Book of Hollywood Scandals. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4721-0034-4.
  14. ^ a b Dave Karger, "Best Actress," Entertainment Weekly 1032/1033 (Jan. 30/Feb. 6, 2009): 45.