Events at Gordon Northcott’s ‘murder farm’ were so vile, an entire town changed identity
It was 2 February 1928 when the sheriff’s deputies found the sack in a ditch. It hid a grisly secret – the headless body of a Mexican teenager.
Unidentifiable, the boy had been shot through the heart. And Los Angeles County police had no clue as to the killer.
Terrifyingly, over coming months, several young boys went missing…
In March, Walter Collins, 9, vanished on his way to the movies. Two months later, Lewis and Nelson Winslow, 12 and 10, disappered after a model-yacht club meeting.
What could have become of the missing boys?
Then, in September 1928, police received a call from Canadian Jessie Clerk, 19. She explained her younger brother Sanford, 13, had been kidnapped by their uncle Gordon Stewart Northcott, then aged 20…
Born in Canada in 1908, Gordon, his mother Sarah and father Cyrus moved to Los Angeles in 1924. Gordon convinced his father to buy him a plot of land in Wineville, California, and built a chicken ranch.
Gordon persuaded his sister Winnifred Clark to let her son Sanford visit to help out.
But, with little word from the lad, in summer 1928 Jessie visited her younger brother.
What he revealed to her was so shocking, she contacted police back home at once.
Descending on the farm, officers found Sanford alone.
When questioned that September, his tale was so disturbing, it shocked the town – and Press worldwide.
Sanford revealed his uncle Gordon had beaten and raped him.
What’s more, Gordon had forced Sanford to watch his sadistic acts against Walter Collins, the Winslow brothers, and numerous other boys.
Sanford claimed that Gordon abducted boys to rape them but, once bored, he’d axe them to death.
To destroy the evidence, Gordon had covered the boys’ bodies in quicklime.
Twisted Gordon had even forced Sanford to participate in the murders, threatening death if he didn’t comply.
Sanford said that Mexican boys would arrive, and later disappear.
It’s thought that up to 20 victims could have fallen prey to Gordon’s sickening urges.
Returning to what was later dubbed the ‘murder farm’, investigators sifted through the earth at the spot Sanford described…
There, they unearthed bones that still bore traces of human flesh and hair. Along with a toenail from the foot of a 10-year-old boy.
But the most appalling discovery was beneath the chicken coop.
Graves filled with bones, bits of blood-soaked mattress, and a rifle. The bullets matched those used to kill the unnamed Mexican teen.
Gordon and his mother fled to Canada, but were quickly arrested.
In a written confession, Northcott admitted one murder, believed to be a Mexican ranch hand, who he named as Alvin Gothea.
Gordon Northcott’s sensational murder trial began in January 1929.
Due to lack of evidence, he stood accused of three murders – the headless boy and the two little Winslow brothers.
And, at court, the Northcott family’s sickening secrets unravelled…
Sarah Louise Northcott admitted she’d joined her son in forcing Sanford to take turns hitting Walter Collins with an axe.
Then, she told how her husband had raped their daughter Winnifred – that Gordon was actually her son.
Incest apparently permeated the family, as Gordon Northcott implied he and his mother were incestuous and his father sodomised him, aged 10.
Sickeningly, Gordon’s father Cyrus, told police, ‘I knew of the killings but never saw them. My wife would go to any extreme, not excepting murder, to please her son.’
As the trial unfolded, it became a freakish spectacle.
Gordon Northcott sacked several lawyers, before the last one resigned.
Defending himself, Gordon even called himself to the stand – asking himself questions and answering them.
During the farcical display, he alleged his family were ‘liars’ coerced into testifying against him.
But it was Gordon Northcott who the prosecution claimed was a pathological liar…defiant, foulmouthed, and full of swagger and bravado.
Northcott’s bizarre conduct in court only served to underline these assertions, and he failed to convince the jury of his innocence.
Found guilty of murdering Lewis and Nelson Winslow, and the Mexican teenager, Gordon Northcott was sentenced to death by hanging.
While awaiting execution, Northcott amused himself by making lewd gestures at his jailers, sent police on wild goose chases for bogus crime- scene evidence, and taunted the mothers of his victims.
Then, on 2 October 1930, before the trap door swung open, Northcott spoke his last words, ‘Say a prayer for me.’
Unsurprisingly, the town desperately wanted to forget the horrific Wineville Chicken Coop scandal.
Soon after Northcott’s execution, it officially changed its name to Mira Loma, Spanish for ‘view of the hills’.
Meanwhile Sanford Clark, the young boy who’d witnessed so much horror, spent two years in reform school, before moving back to Canada.
He served in the Army in World War II, then married, and adopted two sons.
But he never spoke of his time with Gordon Northcott, preferring to keep ‘the memories of it to himself’.
Sanford Clark passed away in June 1991, and – as he wished – with him, the gruesome memories are dead and buried.