The Strange Disappearance of Walter Collins (2024)

On March 10, 1928, nine-year-old Walter Collins donned a lumber jacket brown corduroy trousers, black Oxford’s, a gray cap and set off to see a movie in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles. Walter never returned home. His mother Christine Collins, a telephone operator, reported her son missing five days later on March 15.

Walter Collins disappearance comes as city reels from recent kidnapping and murder of child

At that time, the city was still reeling from the kidnapping and gruesome murder of a 12 year old girl, Marion Parker. The murder had happened only three months earlier. Moreover, tips of alleged Walter sightings started coming in from as far away as San Francisco and Oakland. In one bizarre tip, someone claimed they saw the boy at a Glendale gas station, his body wrapped in newspaper with only his head visible. Police searched for months but still no Walter. Finally in August, Illinois police picked up a runaway boy who matched Walters description. The child told authorities he was Walter Collins and gave authorities a “hazy story about his abduction”. He spoke to Christine over the phone and Christine paid $70 to bring her son back to Los Angeles. For the next three weeks, the boy stayed with Christine until she realized this boy was not her son.

The Strange Disappearance of Walter Collins (1)

Police rushed to close the Collins case

Christine found it suspicious that the boy was one inch shorter than Walter, and she used dental records to prove that this was a different kid. Christine told police, “yes, he looks like Walter and in some ways he acts like my son but still I’m not certain about it. You see, Walter was quiet and well-behaved he always called me mother. This child calls me ‘ma’ and at times he is hard to handle. I certainly hope he is my son but somehow I can’t bring myself to believe it.”

The police fixated on closing the case because of public pressure insisted it was Walter. They conducted a series of “tests” to prove the boy was Walter. They had the boy find his way back home from memory and brought in Walters pet dog who allegedly recognized the boy as its owner. Still, Christine was not convinced.

Allegedly, LAPD captain JJ Jones told Christine, “what are you trying to do make fools out of us all? Are you trying to shirk your duty as a mother and have the state provide for your son? You are the most cruel hearted woman I’ve ever known you are a fool.”

Police committed Christine to the psych ward

The police then had Christine forcibly committed to the Los Angeles County General Hospital psychiatric ward on September 8. While Christine sat in the psych ward, JJ Jones again spoke to the boy police had picked up in Illinois. During that discussion, the 12 year old confirmed JJ Jones, that, he was not Walter Collins, but instead, Arthur Hutchins.

Christine had been correct the entire time. The kid the police had dumped on her was not her missing son, but instead, Arthur Hutchins. After Arthur’s mother died, the boy ran away from his father and stepmother. He was hitchhiking around the U.S. when in a DeKalb, Illinois cafe, someone told him he resembled a missing boy from Los Angeles. When he was picked up, juvenile authorities were skeptical about his story. But police were so desperate to close the Collins case that they insisted on its veracity. As for why Arthur lied, the twelve-year-old told authorities he wanted to go to Hollywood to meet cowboy actor Tom Mix.

Christine was released from the psych ward on September 13th and sued the LAPD. Captain JJ Jones was suspended from duty by the LAPD, though, he was later stated and ordered to pay Christine $10,800 for the abuse she suffered under his custody. However, JJ Jones never paid. Meanwhile, the real Walter Collins was still missing.

Walter Collins Theories

Walter J. Collins, Walter’s father, believed his former fellow inmates may have kidnapped Walter for revenge.

He was serving time in Folsom Prison on robbery charges at the time. The elder Walter worked at the prison cafeteria and his responsibilities included reporting the violations of other inmates. Because of this, he could have made many enemies.

Collins was kidnapped by a pathological liar named Gordon Stuart Northcott and murdered at Northcott’s chicken farm.

  • Days after Christine was released from the psychiatric hospital, and approximately 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, immigration officers were closing in on a three acre chicken farm in Wineville, California.
  • They’d received a tip about an illegal worker who had been smuggled across the American border with Canada. The chicken farm belonged to Gordon Stewart Northcott. After he convinced his father to buy him the land in 1926, Gordon claimed he needed help running the farm. He drove to Canada to visit his sister Winifred in Saskatoon. He talked Winifred into letting him take her fourteen-year-old son Sanford Clark with him to the farm.

Gordon abused and murdered countless children

  • There, Gordon began to physically, emotionally, and sexually abuse Sanford. Sanford story unfortunately was only the start of the horrors young men met at the hands of Gordon Northcott. Gordon had a pattern of kidnapping and murdering boys then dissolving their bodies in quicklime. In August 1928, Sanford’s 19 year old sister Jessie Clark came to visit her brother on the farm. Sanford told her everything that had happened. Jesse alerted their mother and contacted the American Consul, telling them that Gordon had smuggled Sanford from Canada. When investigators got to the chicken farm, Gordon along with his obsessive mother, Sarah Louise Northcott had fled.
  • Police found blood-soaked ground and bodily remains around the ranch and Sanford was safely taken into police custody. Items belonging to missing young boys from Southern California were found about the property, including Boy Scout badges, library books, and letters written to their parents. Nelson and Lewis Winslow, ten and twelve year old brothers missing from Pomona as well as a Mexican boy named Alvin Gothia were among those victims whose possessions or remains were found. On September 15, Sanford told investigators his story. Police showed him 30 photos, hoping to identify other victims who met their fate on the farm. One that Sanford positively identified was Walter Collins.

Northcot confessed to killing Walter Collins

  • Gordon and his mother were arrested in Calgary, Canada on September 20 and extradited back to the United States to stand trial. Gordon initially confessed to the murder of nine young boys, but was only charged for the deaths of three. There wasn’t enough evidence for him to be charged in the death of Walter Collins, but Gordon was nevertheless sentenced to death by hanging and was executed on October 2, 1930. Though Gordon wasn’t convicted for Walter Collins’s murder, his mother spent the rest of her life in prison after confessing to having killed Walter with an axe and burying him in a chicken coop. The notoriety from the gruesome murders was so bad the town of Wineville decided to separate itself from that chapter of its history, when in 1930 it renamed itself, Mira Loma.
  • As he awaited execution, Gordon sent Christine a telegram saying he would tell the truth about Walter if she came to talk to him in prison. Christine went to San Quentin on the eve of Gordon’s execution but Gordon backpedaled, saying, “I don’t want to see you, I don’t know anything about it. I’m innocent.” Gordon also left several notes in his cell, some saying he’d never met Walter, some accusing Gordon’s father of kidnapping and murdering the boy. A pathological liar, it’s impossible to know what Gordon said was true and what was fabricated.

Walter may have escaped from Gordon

  • Five years after Gordon was put to death, one of the young men thought to have been murdered on the chicken farm turned up alive and well, opening up the possibility that Walter too had escaped a fatal encounter in Wineville on that chicken farm.

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The Strange Disappearance of Walter Collins (2024)
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