Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

Northcott's Trial

The trial began in January, 1929. The prosecution alleged that Northcott had cut the bodies of Walter Collins and the Winslow brothers into pieces and scattered them around the ranch—and that he'd also killed and decapitated Alvin Gothea and brought his head back to the ranch.

Northcott Chicken Ranch
Northcott Chicken Ranch

Northcott fired three successive defense attorneys and flamboyantly insisted on defending himself. Deputy District Attorney Earl Redwine painted Northcott as a sadistic degenerate and a pathological liar. Northcott's over-the-top grandstanding only buttressed Redwine's portrait. Trial observers described the accused young man as smart and confident, but no lawyer. And his desire for notoriety and his joy in toying with the jury and press seemed to overshadow his survival instincts.

Sara Louise Northcott
Sara Louise Northcott

Northcott told the court that he'd abused young boys—and that he loved them. He had his mother testify. She told the jury that she was not in fact his mother but his grandmother; her husband, she said, had raped their daughter Winnefred, and Northcott was the product of that union. Northcott even hinted that he'd had an incestuous relationship with Sarah Louise and that his meek father had molested him. Whether any of that—or anything in Northcott's bizarre defense—is true is unclear: throughout the trial Northcott seemed more interested in being provocative than in revealing the truth. Nor was Sarah Louise a credible witness. She was unable to tell Redwine how many husbands she'd had, or the names of her children. Her only consistent point was that she would do anything for Gordon.

An all-male Riverside jury (prosecutors had argued that the details of the case were too gruesome for female jurors) convicted Northcott of the first-degree murders of the Winslow brothers and of the anonymous victim on February 8, 1929. Judge George R. Freeman sentenced him to death.

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