Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders


Los Angeles in 1928
Los Angeles in 1928

In 1928, the Jazz Age was at its peak, and southern California was booming, transformed by agriculture and the movie and aeronautics industries from a knot of sleepy desert towns on the nation's western frontier to a bustling and glamorous metropolis. But Los Angeles, the City of Angels, and the surrounding area also had their demons, which the justice system struggled to tame.

A series of child abductions and murders that year turned the area on its ear—not only because of the crimes' brutality and horror, but because of the web of lies and insanity surrounding them, and because of what both the crimes and the investigation of them revealed about power and justice in the city. A cruel and deviant young man, Gordon Stewart Northcott, kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered at least three and possibly as many as twenty boys, possibly with the help of his mother and his Canadian nephew. Stranger still—as depicted in Clint Eastwood's 2008 film The Changeling—when a cocky and imaginative young Midwestern runaway attempted to masquerade as one of the murdered boys, the Los Angeles Police Department committed the victim's mother, who had attempted to expose the impostor, to an insane asylum rather than acknowledge that they had been fooled.


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