Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

The Disappearance Of Walter Collins

Walter Collins
Walter Collins

9-year-old Walter Collins Jr. was last seen by a neighbor at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and North Avenue 23 in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles, around 5:00 p.m. on March 10, 1928. His mother, Christine Collins, a telephone operator, had given him a dime to go to the movies at a nearby theater. His father, Walter Collins Sr., was serving time in Folsom State Prison for robbery.

Amid sensationalistic national attention, the police made slow progress. With the Los Angeles Police Department then under fire for several corruption scandals and a grisly, still-unsolved child murder still baffling its investigators, its inability to trace a lost child was particularly embarrassing. Chief James Davis, already controversial, was under intense pressure to solve the case. Police dragged nearby Lincoln Park Lake for a body, but didn't find anything. Walter's father suspected former inmates at Folsom might have killed or kidnapped the boy for revenge; he was a prison mess hall boss, responsible for reporting other inmates' infractions in the cafeteria. Dozens of tips came in, but didn't lead to anything but more dead-end tips.

Richard Strothers, a gas station attendant in Glendale, reported seeing a boy wrapped in newspaper in the back of a car, apparently dead. He told police that the couple driving the car—"foreigners," possibly Italian—had asked him directions to the town's police station. Another man, C.V. Staley, followed them. The couple stopped the car briefly in front of police headquarters, but then they sped toward the San Fernando Valley, and Staley lost them. When police showed Staley and Strothers Walter's photo, they both said he was the boy in the car.

Soon more reports came in from across the state of a boy traveling with a "swarthy" couple and begging them to let him go. Neighbors of the Collinses also reported a mysterious "foreign" man in the neighborhood on the day Walter disappeared.

Lewis and Nelson Winslow
Lewis and Nelson Winslow

Sadly though, this proved not to be the area's only juvenile missing persons case that spring. Lewis and Nelson Winslow, aged 12 and 10, disappeared on May 16, 1928, on their way from a model yacht club meeting to their Pomona home. Their parents received a bizarre pair of letters from them. The first was postmarked Pomona and said they were headed to Mexico. Another, mailed in late May, said they were healthy and attempting to become famous by remaining missing as long as possible.

Police didn't connect the two cases right away. The perplexing discovery of an anonymous headless body of a Latino boy in nearby La Puente in a burlap bag in February couldn't be related to the other cases. Nor did neighbors' complaint that a Wineville man was mistreating a boy at his poultry farm draw any significant attention. With the case stalled, her son's mysterious double would be forced into Christine Collins's life.

 

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