THE GHOSTS OF WINEVILLE

Whether you have watched the movie, THE CHANGELING or just read an article on the Chicken Ranch murders, tracking down Wineville is no small task.

Few people have ever heard of Wineville. It is not on the roadmaps and their are no signs announcing you have arrived. Yet, remnants remain of a California town, that tried to erase the memory of some of the most horrendous crimes in California history.

Locate Wineville Road near Highway 60 and head south. Here you will pass the original road, now on private property. You will pass one of the few remaining wineries that gave the town it's name.

Untended you will also see the few remaining fields of grapevines that once helped fill the winery vats.

Follow the road south past Limonite and it will bring you to the Northcott Ranch.        Site of the Chicken Coop Murders.

In 1926, ranch owner Gordon Stewart Northcott took his 14-year-old nephew, Sanford Clark, from his home in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Before a family member was able to inform the police about the situation, Northcott had beaten and sexually abused Clark.

 

In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department visited the Northcott Ranch in Wineville, Riverside County. Police found Clark at the ranch and took him into custody.

Clark claimed that Northcott had kidnapped, molested, and killed several young boys with the help of Northcott's apparent mother, Sarah Louise Northcott. He had also forced Clark to participate.

The police found no complete bodies at the site, but they discovered body parts, the personal effects of missing children, and blood-stained axes.

 

Clark said quicklime was used to dispose of the remains, and the bones had been dumped in the desert. The Northcott's had fled to Canada and they were arrested near Vernon, British Columbia

Sarah Louise Northcott initially confessed to the murders, including that of      9-year-old Walter Collins.

She later retracted her statement, as did Gordon Northcott, who had confessed to killing five boys.

Upon her return from Canada, Sarah Louise pleaded guilty to killing Walter Collins. Superior Court Judge Morton sentenced her to life imprisonment on December 31, 1928. He stated that she was spared hanging since she was a woman.

The day she was sentenced, Sarah Louise claimed that her son was innocent and that he was an illegitimate son by an English nobleman to whom she first was married and later divorced. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prison. She was paroled after serving less than 12 years of her sentence.

On February 8, 1929, a 27-day trial before Judge George R. Freeman in Riverside County, California, ended. Gordon Northcott was convicted of the murders of an unidentified Mexican boy and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (aged 12 and 10, respectively). The brothers had been reported missing from Pomona on May 16, 1928. However, it was believed Northcott may have had as many as 20 victims.

The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, killed, and dismembered these and other boys throughout 1928. On February 13, 1929, Judge Freeman sentenced Northcott to be hanged. The sentence was carried out on October 2, 1930. During Gordon Stewart's trial, Sarah Louise also claimed she was actually Gordon Northcott's grandmother rather than his mother. Sarah Louise stated that Gordon was the result of incest committed by her husband, Cyrus George Northcott, against their daughter Winifred. She also stated that as a child, Gordon was sexually abused by the entire family. None of Sarah Louise's claims of abuse were substantiated, and Winifred denied incest with her father.

 Investigators found an axe as well as bones, hair and fingers from three of the victims that were buried in lime near the chicken house at the Northcott ranch near Wineville - hence the name "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders."

Wineville changed its name to “Mira Loma” on November 1, 1930, due in large part to the negative publicity surrounding the murders.

Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park and other geographic references provide reminders of the community's former name.  

The home where Gordon Stewart Northcott and Sanford Clark lived is for sale.

The lot was subdivided, remnants of the chicken coops were not removed, and a home was built on the site.

 

Black and white photo's provided by the Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles Times and on-line sources, used with permission for educational and information purposes.

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