When I heard the title of the movie “Changeling” I thought Clint Eastwood deviated from his usual genres of Westerns and gritty dramas, and thought he was going to direct a Sci-fi movie but I could not have been further from the truth. Although the story sounded so incredible it was true. It is like they say ‘sometimes truth is stranger then fiction’.
On March 10, 1928, Christine Collins gave her nine-year-old son Walter money for the cinema. He never returned from the show. His mother reported him missing, but, despite the police’s best efforts, they turned up no trace of him.
People from Los Angeles rallied behind the grieving mother and her missing boy while the police dragged Lincoln Park lake and launched a national campaign to find Walter.
His apparent kidnapping struck a chord in a city still traumatized by a vicious crime only three months earlier. In that case, 12-year-old Marion Parker was kidnapped for ransom by a psychopath named William “the Fox” Hickman, who shoved her dismembered body from his car just before being captured.
The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case, until five months after Walter’s disappearance,when a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinois. Letters and photographs were exchanged before Christine Collins paid for the boy to be brought to Los Angeles.
When he arrived, however, Collins said that although he resembled Walter, the boy was not her son.
(Walter Collins, left, and his imposter )
However, the Los Angeles Police Department–under terrific pressure to declare the case happily closed–refused to believe that the boy wasn’t Walter, whatever the mother said.
Emotionally drained, Collins caved in to the cops’ suggestion that she “try the boy out,” and took him into her home.
But after three weeks of attempting to reconcile herself to the convenient fiction, Collins returned him to the police.
Armed with proof in the form of her son’s dental records and a troop of friends who agreed that the boy wasn’t Walter, Collins still failed to convince LAPD Capt. J.J. Jones, who investigated the kidnapping, that the boy was an impostor.
Jones, rather than face the negative publicity, refused to take Collin’s insistence seriously. Instead, Jones had Collins committed to the Los Angeles County General Hospital’s psychiatric ward, under “Code 12” internment – a code to commit someone who is “deemed difficult or an inconvenience.”
Christine Collins was kept under evaluation for ten days, but in that time, the boy admitted to not being the real Walter Collins. The impostor was actually Arthur Hutchins Jr, a twelve-year-old boy from Iowa who was running away from an unhappy home life. After hearing from others how much he resembled Walter Collins, he decided to pose as the missing boy in an attempt to get a free trip from Iowa to California. he was only identified as Arthur Hutchins at a later stage, he actually had written a confession using the alias Billy Fields.
For Collins, however, there was more heartache and trouble to come.
Released from the hospital, she filed a false-imprisonment complaint against the city, Police Chief James Davis and Jones.
With the heat on the department, Jones, who also was being pressured to help solve a grisly murder mystery, insisted that Walter had been one of the victims of Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother, who had recently been charged with beheading a youth, one of 11 children they sexually assaulted and murdered in Riverside County. The murders were known as the Wineville Chicken Coop murders.
But Collins refused to believe it, especially because her son’s body was never found on the Northcotts’ chicken ranch in Wineville, now Mira Loma.
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