Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

Bait And Switch

In August of that year, police in Dekalb, Ill., picked up a boy who gave his name as Arthur Kent. He told police that his father had abandoned him, but would say little else. Authorities placed him temporarily with a farm family, and kept questioning him. Eventually he told them he was Walter Collins, from Los Angeles, and that he'd been dodging their questions to protect his father.

Christine Collins
Christine Collins

Illinois police notified California authorities, and, after notifying Mrs. Collins and sending her some photographs of the boy, sent him to Los Angeles. The reunion was highly publicized—and extremely awkward. In passages that in retrospect are appalling, the Los Angeles Times described the boy as severely affected by his ordeal, noting that his now-drawn face had made him almost unrecognizable and that the strain seemed to have left him confused and hurt his memory. The article noted, too, that Christine Collins told Captain J.J. Jones that this was not her son. But Jones and the boy insisted she was his mother, and the captain persuaded the woman to "try out" the boy for a while.

The boy told reporters that he had been playing in a lot near his house that March when a strange man came up to him and announced his mother had given him $15 to buy the boy a new suit. The boy said he had been expecting this, so he went with the man, who then took him to a house in Hollywood and explained that he was his real father. Then, the boy continued, the two of them hitchhiked east together.

Walter Collins (left) and Arthur Hutchins (aka Arthur Kent)
Walter Collins (left) and Arthur Hutchins
(aka Arthur Kent)

In early September, three weeks after their purported reunion, Christine Collins brought the boy back to the police department, along with her son's dental records and a collection of signed statements from people who'd known him, all stating that this boy was not Walter Collins. Acquaintances and coworkers would later insist that Mrs. Collins was a competent, professional woman, who always displayed a remarkable degree of responsibility and self-possession. But Capt. Jones lit into her, calling her a lunatic and accusing her of trying to make the state take care of her child and—probably more importantly to Jones—of trying to embarrass the department. He threw her into the psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles County General Hospital, on a "Code 12," a provision that let cops get rid of disruptive troublemakers by committing them to mental hospitals.

Meanwhile, in the nearby farming town of Wineville, her son's true fate was being unearthed.

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