Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

Poultry And Perversity

Gordon Northcott
Gordon Northcott

In early September 1928, a Canadian woman named Winnefred Clark told U.S. federal authorities that her nephew had kidnapped her son, Sanford Wesley Clark, and was holding him in California. Her daughter, Jessie Clark, had been worried about her 15-year-old brother, who'd left their Saskatoon home two years earlier with their uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, just 21 himself. Jessie had thought something in Sanford's letters home had seemed suspicious, so she had traveled to the Northcott poultry ranch outside of Wineville, Calif., just southeast of Los Angeles, to check things out on her own. She stayed just a few days. It was just long enough to know that her uncle was abusing her brother and involved in something strange and terrible—and just long enough for him to attack her too.

Questioned on September 15, 1928, in juvenile detention on immigration charges, Sanford told investigators that his uncle had kidnapped and sexually and physically abused him—and that he'd forced him to watch the murders and abuse of Walter Collins, the Winslow brothers and other boys, and even to participate. Sanford said his uncle repeatedly abducted boys to rape them. When they became inconvenient or he got bored, Northcott would lure the kids into the incubator room to see the hatching chicks, kill them with an ax and then cover their bodies in quicklime to destroy the evidence.

Sanford Clark
Sanford Clark

Sanford said his uncle had also killed a teenage Mexican ranch hand in La Puente, and that they'd killed Walter Collins because the boy had seen Northcott help another man kill his mining partner. He also told police they could find two graves some fifty yards from the chicken coop on the ranch, one for Walter and one for the Winslow boys.

What the Riverside County Sheriff found at the gruesome ranch backed up Sanford's story. There were indeed two blood-drenched graves near the chicken coop—but the full bodies weren't there, just a few bits of bone. Two bloody axes among the farm equipment still had strands of human hair on their blades. Scattered across the ranch were ankle, finger, leg and skull bones that pathologists later identified as belonging to male children. In the house, they found more letters from the Winslow boys to their parents; one was written on a flyleaf from a book one of the boys had checked out of the Pomona Public Library. Their Boy Scout badges and a child's whistle were also in the room. Investigators didn't find anything that they could positively attribute to Walter Collins, though.

Two days later the suspect's father, Cyrus George Northcott told police that his son admitted the murders to him.

By that time, Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother, Louisa Northcott, were on the run. When investigators couldn't find Winnefred Northcott, they assumed she'd joined the list of victims, but she soon turned up.

The LAPD, though, initially still insisted that Christine Collins had her son.

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