The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders
The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders – were a series of kidnappings and murders of young boys occurring in Los Angeles and Riverside County, California, in 1928. The case received national attention. The 2008 film Changeling is based in part upon events related to this case.
In 1926, Saskatchewan-born ranch owner Gordon Stewart Northcott took his 13-year-old nephew, Sanford Clark (with the permission of Sanford’s parents), from his home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Once in California, Northcott beat and sexually abused his nephew.
Sanford’s sister, Jessie Clark, visited Sanford in Wineville concerned for his welfare. Once in Wineville, Sanford told her that he feared for his own life and one night while Gordon Northcott slept, Jessie learned from Sanford about the horrors and murders that had taken place at Wineville. Jessie returned to Canada in the next week or so.
Once in Canada, she informed the American Consul in Canada about the horrors in Wineville. The American consul then wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department, detailing Jessie Clark’s sworn complaint. As initially there was some concern over an immigration issue, the Los Angeles Police Department contacted the United States Immigration Service to determine the extent of the complaint from Jessie. On August 31, 1928, the United States Immigration Service (inspectors; Judson F. Shaw and Inspector Scallorn) visited the Northcott Ranch in Wineville. The Immigration Service found 15-year-old Sanford Clark at the ranch and took him into custody. Gordon Northcott had fled through the fields when he saw the agents driving up the long road to his ranch. Gordon told Sanford to stall the agents, or he would shoot Sanford from the treeline with a rifle. In the 2 hours that Sanford stalled for Gordon, Gordon had kept running, and finally when Sanford felt that the agents could protect him, he told them that Gordon had fled into the trees that lined the edge of Gordon’s chicken-ranch property.
Sanford Clark testified at the sentencing of Sarah Louise Northcott (his grandmother) that Gordon Northcott (his uncle) had kidnapped, molested, beaten, and killed three young boys with the help of Northcott’s mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, and Sanford himself. In addition to the three young boys murdered, Sanford stated that Northcott had also killed a Mexican youth (never identified, but referred to in the case as the “Headless Mexican”), without the involvement of his mother or Sanford. Gordon Northcott had forced Sanford to help dispose of the “head” (of the Mexican youth) by burning it in a firepit and then crushing the skull into pieces with a fence post. Gordon stated that “he had left the headless body by the side of the road near Puente (La Puente, California), because he had no other place to put it.”
Police found no complete bodies, but they discovered personal effects of the three children reported missing, a blood-stained axe, and partial body parts, including bones, hair and fingers, from the three victims buried in lime near the chicken house at the Northcott ranch near Wineville – hence the name “Wineville Chicken Coop Murders”. Wineville changed its name to Mira Loma on November 1, 1930, due in large part to the negative publicity surrounding the murders. The new City of Eastvale, California took parts of the area of Mira Loma in 2010 and the new city of Jurupa Valley took parts of Mira Loma in 2011. Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park and other geographic references provide reminders of the community’s former name. Sanford Clark returned to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. City of Saskatoon records indicate that Sanford Wesley Clark died on June 20, 1991 and was buried in the Saskatoon Woodlawn Cemetery on August 26, 1993.
Canadian police arrested Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother on September 19, 1928. Due to errors in the extradition paperwork, they were not returned to Los Angeles until November 30, 1928. During the time period that Sarah and Gordon Northcott were being held in Canada, awaiting extradition back to California, Sarah Louise Northcott confessed to the murders, including that of nine-year-old Walter Collins. Prior to being extradited to California, Sarah Northcott retracted her statement, as did Gordon Northcott, who had confessed to killing more than five boys.
Once Sarah Louise Northcott and her son, Gordon Northcott, were extradited from Canada to California, Sarah Louise Northcott, once again, pled guilty to killing Walter Collins. There was no trial. Upon her plea of guilty, Superior Court Judge Morton sentenced her to life imprisonment on December 31, 1928, sparing her the death penalty because she was a woman. Sarah Louise Northcott served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prison, and was paroled after fewer than 12 years. During her sentencing, Sarah Louise claimed her son was innocent and made a variety of bizarre claims about his parentage, including that he was an illegitimate son by an English nobleman, that she was Gordon’s grandmother, and that he was the result of incest between her husband, George Cyrus Northcott, and their daughter. She also stated that as a child, Gordon was sexually abused by the entire family. Sarah Louise Northcott died in 1944.
Gordon Northcott was implicated and participated in the murder of Walter Collins, but because his mother had already confessed and been sentenced for the murder of Walter, the state chose not to bring any charges against Gordon in the death of Walter Collins. It was speculated that Gordon may have had as many as 20 victims, but the State of California could not produce evidence to support that speculation, and ultimately only brought an indictment against Gordon in the murder of an unidentified Mexican boy known as the “Headless Mexican” and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively). The brothers had been reported missing from Pomona on May 16, 1928.
In early 1929, Gordon Northcott’s trial was held before Judge George R. Freeman in Riverside County, California. The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, and murdered the Winslow brothers and the “Headless Mexican” in 1928. On February 8, 1929, the 27-day trial ended with Gordon Northcott convicted of the murders.
On February 13, 1929, Freeman sentenced Gordon Northcott to death, and he was hanged on October 2, 1930, at San Quentin State Prison.