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The Changeling Movie Has A
DeKalb County Connection

by Sheri Baker for the Joiner History Room
November 2008


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Changeling is a 2008 movie directed by Clint Eastwood and written by J. Michael Straczynski.  The film is set in 1928 Los Angeles and tells the true story of a woman who recognizes that the boy returned to her after a kidnapping is not her missing son. After confronting the city authorities, she is vilified as an unfit mother and branded delusional. The events were related to the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders,  an infamous kidnapping and murder case that was uncovered in 1928.

DeKalb County played an important part in the actual case.  It was on June 19, 1928, in the Delux Restaurant on Lincoln Highway in the city of DeKalb that a boy known as Arthur Kent first appeared.

The  June 21, 1928 DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported that Arthur was left at the restaurant by his father who said he was going out to find work at the canning factory.  When the father did not return, Arthur was taken in by Phillip Palmer, the proprietor of the restaurant.  Arthur’s story was that he and his father, “have roamed the country as long as he can remember.”  He does not remember his mother.  He does not remember towns in which he and his father have stayed for any length of time, with the exception of New York City, where they lived long enough for Arthur to enter school.  He does not even know his father’s first name.  He always called him ‘Dad’.”  At noon, Arthur went to the canning factory and returned to the restaurant with news that his father had not been there.  A police search for the father began.  Arthur became very comfortable with Mr. Palmer and told police, “he would just as soon stay with Phil if he only knew where his dad is.”  Arthur later went to live with the Elmer Shoop family in Malta. 

An article in the June 23, 1928 DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported that the boy had made many friends, was given many presents by local individuals, and had become a waiter at the restaurant.  Nothing had been learned about the father. 

 Sidney Rowe of the DeKalb Police Department read a bulletin issued by the Los Angeles Police Department that a Walter Collins was kidnapped from a Catholic school in Los Angeles by a man who was not the boy’s father.   Mr. Rowe took Arthur to the county jail for questioning.  Arthur was asked to write his correct name on a piece of paper and wrote “Walter Arthur Collins”.

He further stated he had never been to New York.  He claimed that he was in the St. Gabriel school but did not know how long he had attended because he had been taken there as a young boy.

The August 4, 1928 DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported Arthur’s new version of what happened.  “A man, whom he thought to be his father, came to the school one day while Walter was playing in the yard.  The man asked him to come with him and he did, the man taking him to the home of some Mexicans, living but a short distance from Los Angeles.  He was kept in the home for about a week, the Mexican woman placing him in an upstairs room every time someone came to the house.  He was then taken to Hollywood where he stayed several days.  A woman, driving a big car, then came and the man and Walter got in the car, and were taken about 150 miles from Hollywood.  It was then that the trip east started, the trip ending in this city where the man deserted the boy.”

In the August 6, 1928 issue of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle it was reported, “Although Walter Arthur Collins, 9, who was kidnapped March 10 from Los Angeles, Calif., is no doubt now telling a true version of his kidnapping and subsequent experiences, there is still an air of mystery surrounding the youth’s case.”  The boy was in the custody of Sheriff Helena Dolder and didn’t like being in the jail; but, his pending return to Los Angeles was even more disliked.  Although Walter said his mother was dead, Los Angeles Police confirmed that his mother was living and working as a telephone operator.  The article reports speculation that the boy was kidnapped by enemies of his father, W. J. Collins, who is an inmate trustee in the Folsom prison in California.

The article further states that Los Angeles authorities were notified and would come to Sycamore to get the boy.  The following day the newspaper reported that the file on young Arthur was air mailed to California and local authorities were waiting for a response.

By August 7, 1928 the newspaper was reporting that Walter had received a telegram from his mother sent to the DeKalb Police Department.  When shown the telegram the boy claimed he had never heard of his mother or the names she mentioned in the telegram.  “The boy then started to tell his story again and before he had completed it had told police that he wasn’t Walter Collins and that he wasn’t kidnapped.  From the police officer’s version of the story he told this morning, he really doesn’t know who he is.”  Officer Sid Rowe once again questioned the boy.  “He now states that his name is Kent and that the man who brought him here was his uncle.”

Two days later the Chronicle reported that Walter had “broke down” and told Sheriff Helena Dolder that all of his stories were lies.  He claimed that he had lied because the man who kidnapped him had threatened to kill him if he gave his correct name.  It was also reported that Walter Collins had been kidnapped from near his home, not from a school and this part of the boy’s story was puzzling to the Los Angeles authorities.


















 

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Walter Collins (left) and Arthur Hutchins

The August 13, 1928 edition of the newspaper reported that a policewoman, Mrs. Mable L. White, “had arrived in DeKalb for the purpose of identifying Walter Collins, alias Arthur Kent.”  She recognized him immediately as the youth kidnapped from Los Angeles. The following day, Arthur left for Los Angeles with Mrs. White and her husband, L. G. White, who was also a police officer.  Upon leaving, Sheriff Dolder and others gave the boy some spending money for his trip home. 

Young Kent’s adventure continued.  Before leaving Sycamore, Mrs. Christine Collins had identified photographs of the boy.  However, after his return she became skeptical and she returned him to authorities declaring that he was not her son.  The September 21,  1928 Los Angeles Times reported that a “Sanford Clark told police that his uncle, Stewart Gordon Northcott, had killed Walter Collins on the so-called Riverside murder farm.” 

Under questioning, the boy (initially known as Arthur Kent and then Walter Collins in DeKalb County) first declared his name to be Billy Fields of Decatur, IL, then Tommy Danny Ozburn of Cedar Rapids, IA, and then revealed his true name was Arthur Hutchins, Jr., age 12, from Marion, IA.


 


His parents had divorced and he was living with his mother.  Upon her death, she requested he be returned to his biological father.  However Arthur did not get along with his step-mother and decided to leave.  Relatives searched but were unable to find him.  The Times also reported that “On reaching DeKalb, Ill. where he was taken into custody as Collins, the idea to assume the Collins boy’s identity was born from the chance remark of a diner in a café there, who told the lad he believed he was the kidnapped Walter Collins.  ‘You see, it was the only way I could get to California so I took a chance.  Mrs. Collins wrote to me and I got much of my information from her.’ ”

The real story of Walter Collins was reported in the September 26, 1928 True Republican newspaper:

“Sanford Clark, 19, after an all night police grilling, finally stated that he, Gordon Stewart Northcott and Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Louise Northcott grouped around Collins bed and butchered the boy with an axe. 
He said he and Northcott struck the boy with the blunt side of the instrument, and then Mrs. Northcott used the sharp side to complete the slaughter. 
Clark said Mrs. Northcott at first opposed the slaying of Collins and favored turning him free on the desert some place, but her son finally prevailed upon her and she decided that all three should participate in the murder so that ‘none would tell.’ 
The slaying took place on the Northcott chicken ranch near Corona where two other youths were done to death and where the head of a fourth was brought for burial, according to Clark.”

 

Walter Collins was never found.  If alive he would be 80 years old.  Arthur Hutchins, Jr. also disappeared.  According to an October 2008 article written by Mike Kilen of the DesMoines Register, what happened to him is unknown.  Kilen writes, “A North Carolina author, who took 15 years to research the case and this month published a book on the Northcott murders, ‘Nothing is Strange With You,’ also tried to track what happened to Hutchins after the hoax but was unsuccessful.  ‘I never found out what happened to him nor did the people who did the film,’ James Jeffrey Paul said.’”

A review of the 1930 Federal Census for District 42, Cedar Rapids, Linn County, IA, lists the family living on Oakland Avenue.  The family includes Arthur, 35; Violet, 28; Willie, 4 and Douglas 2.  The same year, the census record for Eldora, Hardin County, Iowa lists a 13-year-old Arthur J. Hutchins as a resident of the Iowa Training School for Boys.

The same year, the census record for Eldora, Hardin County, Iowa lists a 13-year-old Arthur J. Hutchins as a resident of the Iowa Training School for Boys.   This has been verified in a November 14, 2008 online story byPeople Magazine in which it is told that Arthur spent more than two years in the school.  People interviewed Arthur’s daughter, Carol Hutchins, and she provided them with a 25-page narative Arthur wrote in 1933 that detailed the event.  He admitted, “I know I owe an apology to Mrs. Collins and to the state of California.”  The report concludes, “Arthur Hutchins would grow up to sell concessions at carnivals and even made it back to California as a horse trainer and jockey.  He died of a blood clot in 1954, leaving behind a wife and young daughter, Carol.  ‘My dad was full of adventure,’ Carol Hutchins tells PEOPLE.  ‘In my mind, he could do no wrong.’”


 

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Arthur Jacob Hutchins and his stepmother, Mrs. Violet Hutchins, who came to take him back home.

Sources

  1. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle Newspaper, DeKalb, IL
  2. The True Republican Newspaper, Sycamore, IL
  3. The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, found online.
  4. The DesMoines Register, DesMoines, IA, found online.
  5. People Magazine, found online at http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20239857,00.html
  6. Photos from the Los Angeles Public Library archives, found online. Photo of Walter and Arthur from People Magazine article.
  7. Wikipedia