Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders

The Double's Fate

Desperate to maintain an image of competence, Capt. Jones continued to claim that the boy from Illinois was Christine Collins's son, even as more evidence linking Northcott to the murders came out. Even when Clark told police his uncle had killed the boy, police insisted the foundling was the Collins boy. Why? When shown a watch that had belonged to Walter, the boy—who'd already shown himself to be grasping and impetuous—claimed it was his.

Arthur Hutchens submits a writing sample
Arthur Hutchens submits a writing sample

A handwriting expert concluded that the boy's handwriting was not possibly a match to Walter Collins's, based on samples from him over the years. Among other points: the unusual "R" the boy used was not something taught in California schools, but was common in parts of Illinois.

The boy eventually cracked. He offered cops a few more aliases, but he finally admitted that he had decided to try to pass himself off as Walter after a customer in an Illinois diner mentioned he looked like the famously missing lad. The truth was that Arthur Hutchens, 12, had assumed Walter Collins's identity to run away from his Illinois home and his stepmother—all in the wild hope of traveling to Hollywood to meet his matinee cowboy hero, Tom Mix.

Arthur and his stepmother Violet Hutchens
Arthur and his stepmother Violet Hutchens

His detested stepmother soon picked Arthur up in Los Angeles and brought him back to Illinois, where he'd been on juvenile probation prior to his flight. He showed no remorse for his masquerade, and told reporters that Christine Collins must have known he wasn't her boy, and that it had been just a big game for them both. When one of his police handlers told him to tell his mother how he'd "made a wreck" of the LAPD, Arthur grinned and responded: "You've made a wreck of me."

Christine Cooper was released from her institutionalization, and young Arthur was gone, but his glib handling of the press and the police was to prove remarkably similar to Gordon Stewart Northcott's.

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