Ten-year-old Walter Collins disappeared on March 10, 1928, on his way to see a movie. At first, his mother, Christine, believed his father must have kidnapped him after being released from jail. This was not the case.
Unbeknownst to investigators, Walter Collins had been thrown into the Northcott's car and taken to the ranch. Witnesses alerted the police that a young boy was screaming to be let out of the back of a car. It was not until years later that these witnesses confirmed that the boy was Walter Collins with a photograph.
Gordon's mother, Sarah Louise, would later own up to Walter Collins' murder on the ranch.
The Los Angeles Police Department was failing miserably at finding the kid. Naturally, when a glimmer of hope caught their eye, they clung to it. In Illinois, police picked up a young boy who initially said his name was Arthur Kent.
Shortly after, he changed his story to match a question one of the officers had asked him earlier. He told them that his name was Walter Collins. He looked similar enough to the missing boy for them to believe it. Police showed his photograph to Christine Collins.
"Is this your son?"
Captain J.J. Jones' response came from embarrassment and doubt of a mother's instinct. He said she should "try out" the boy for a while.
However, mother knows best. After three weeks, she showed up at the police station with signed dental records to confirm that the boy in her home was not her son.
Captain J.J. Jones, mortified, took the more straightforward route for a man in the 1920s. He called Christine "crazy" and utilized "Code 12." This allowed him to throw Christine into the psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles County General Hospital, no questions asked, just because she was a nuisance to the police.
It wasn't until the truth came out about the Wineville Chicken Coop that Walter Collins' murder was proven, and Christine was able to leave the hospital.
The boy that claimed to be Walter was Arthur J. Hutchens Jr. He had been trying to get as far from his stepmother as possible, and he had his sights set on California. So, when police asked if he was Walter Collins, he figured that he bore enough resemblance to the missing boy to pass as him.
This would give him a roof over his head and food in his belly in the Golden State.
Clint Eastwood fans may recognize this series of events as the plot of The Changeling. This is because Walter Collins' story inspired the 1980 film.
If it weren't for the strength of one teenage boy to look past years of brainwashing and abuse, the story would have never been told.