A Death on Mulholland Drive, Conclusion

slaying deniedBefore they even had a positive ID on the coyote ravaged body of a woman found on Mulholland Drive police were certain that it was Barbara Mauger, a young waitress who had run away from Philadelphia with her married lover, Russell Beitzel.  There was a wedding ring found on the corpse and numbers inside the ring led police to a pawn shop where they confirmed that a woman calling herself Mrs. Burnholme had signed the ticket; and there was a broken string of beads found near the body that matched a necklace known to have been worn by Barbara on the last day she was seen by her neighbors.

Russell’s denials were having little effect on the cops; he was behaving like a guilty man. He told conflicting stories about Barbara’s whereabouts and he’d given away some of their household items, and had mailed a package of her clothing to a fictitious address in Arizona. Why on Earth would an innocent man do something like that? Beitzel appeared to be on the verge of a move—in fact he seemed to have developed an interest in learning the Spanish and Chinese languages because several books on both were found in his bedroom.

A break in the case came when Rex Welch, the police chemist, tested a hair sample found on some of the Mauger girl’s clothing, the clothing that had been sent to Arizona, and it appeared to be a match for the hair on the body of the young woman in the brush on Mulholland Drive. The chemist was willing to testify that based on the hair analysis the body he had examined was that of Barbara Mauger.beitzel science

The coroner also issued an appeal to all local dentists to check their files from September 1927 to June 24, 1928 for a record of dental work for Mrs. Barbara Burnholme, the name under which Mauger had been living with Beitzel. The body had three teeth which contained temporary fillings and others that had cavities which indicated further dental work was needed.

The evidence against Russell was stacking up, and LAPD detectives continued to probe their chief suspect with questions regarding Barbara’s whereabouts.

Beitzel stuck to his story that he and Barbara had gone out for a Sunday drive and that they’d had a squabble. He said Barbara got out of the car in a huff and refused to ride home with him so he left her and never looked back. What sort of person drives off and leaves a pregnant woman on a lonely stretch of road at dusk?  He could have given her a while to cool off and then returned to fetch her, but he never did; and when the cops questioned him he didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about her welfare.

mauger pixInvestigators located B.T. Redell, the driver of a private rental limousine, who identified Beitzel as the passenger he took to Mulholland Drive on July 1, only one week after the murder; but even when he was confronted with the chauffeur’s story Russell remained a cool customer, he vehemently denied ever meeting Redell and he met every accusation with a denial.

For his part, Redell recalled every minute of the ride out to the hills. He said that Beitzel had hired him shortly after noon on July 1st at the intersection of Fifth and Broadway.

According to Redell:

“He (Beitzel) was nervous when he first got the car and told me that he had a cache of liquor in the hills. He said he wanted to check it over.”

On the face of it, it was a plausible story. Prohibition was still in effect in 1928 so the notion that a man might have a few cases of illegal hooch hidden in a remote spot wasn’t enough to make the limo driver bat an eye.

Beitzel directed Redell to a brush covered spot along Mulholland and told him to pull over; then he exited the car then walked away from the road into some underbrush.

Redell said:

“He came hurrying back in about twenty minutes and was more nervous than ever. He told me to drive away as fast as possible and while we were driving he smoked cigarette after cigarette and kept looking back over his shoulder. He said someone had found his liquor and was after him.”

Following the odd drive out to the alleged booze cache, Beitzel directed Redell back to Fifth and Figueroa where he paid the driver $9, and then walked north.

It didn’t seem to matter how many details Redell recalled about his his interaction with Beitzel, the suspect never blinked.

In the long run it wouldn’t matter whether Russell blinked or not because the D.A. was confident that he had enough to successfully prosecute him for Barbara’s murder. In fact the D.A. briefly considered charging him with the death of Barbara’s unborn child, whose tiny bones had been found near its mother, but decided that the additional charge might result in a legal tangle.

The Grand Jury agreed with the D.A. and after hearing only a few witnesses they handed down an indictment for first degree murder—a charge which carried a possible death penalty.

While in jail awaiting trial Russel wrote to Barbara’s father, Henry Mauger, Russell expressed his belief that  she was still alive:

“Dear Harry:  I don’t know how you feel toward me for what has happened but I know you do not believe I killed Barbara.  I loved Barbara too much—too much to hurt her, anyway.  I still love her and I do not believe she is dead.”

Beitzel’s letter arrived in the post at almost the same moment as the Mauger’s received a telegram from the LAPD requesting that they come out to identify their daughter’s remains.

Upon their arrival in L.A. the Mauger’s were taken to the place where the body presumed to be Barbara’s was found—the couple wisely refused to look at photos of the woman’s   body and of the baby bones found nearby.

Mr. Mauger said:

“Our only hope is that justice will be done.  If Beitzel did this awful crime, then he should be punished.   If the evidence proves that he did not do it, I still will believe that he was indirectly responsible for her death. If justice is done, that is all I can ask.”

Local wildlife is brutally efficient in reducing  the flesh and blood of a human body to bones, and there were so few bits of flesh left clinging to the corpse that the Mauger’s made the identification of their daughter through their knowledge of her dental work and from the general shape and structure of her skull.

Beitzel’s trial began with a fight over whether or not a large photo of the victim’s remains would be displayed in the courtroom—the D.A. won the skirmish and everyone in the courtroom was privy to the revolting photo.

Another black mark against Beitzel was his attorney’s badgering of Barbara’s father over his identification of her remains.  Mr. Mauger was visibly shaken during his testimony saying: “This is a terrible ordeal for me.”

After deliberating for less than one hour the jury of five women and seven men returned to the courtroom to deliver their verdict. They found Russell Beitzel guilty of first degree murder and offered no recommendation for leniency, which meant that the convicted man would hang.

Beitzel was sentenced to die on the gallows on November 30, 1928; however, the condemned man appealed his sentence which resulted in a delay while the California Supreme Court decided whether or not to grant a new trial.  On April 17, 1929 the Supreme Court denied Beitzel’s appeal and he was re-sentenced to hang—his new date with the gallows was August 2, 1929.

In a desperate eleventh hour attempt to save himself from the noose, Russell Beitzel stated that he had obtained new evidence which suggested that Barbara Mauger was alive and had returned to the east coast.  He also contended that the body found in the Hollywood Hills was not that of his former lover. Beitzel’s plea was sufficient to motivate L.A.’s District Attorney, Buron Fitts, to re-examine the case on the slight chance that someone else had murdered Barbara after Russell had left her–or that the body wasn’t hers at all.

According to Beitzel the reason that Barbara was in hiding and would not come forward had to do with pending charges against her for embezzlement for money she had stolen from the Philadelphia department store where she and Russell had been co-workers.  Barbara’s father disputed the claim of embezzlement and, in fact, the department store had only filed charges against Beitzel.

Governor Young reviewed the findings in Beitzel’s case and was convinced that the man was guilty of murder and that his execution should go forward.

Convicted murderer, Russell Beitzel getting a shave in prison as other inmates look on, Los Angeles, Calif., 1928. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Convicted murderer, Russell Beitzel getting a shave in prison as other inmates look on, Los Angeles, Calif., 1928. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Described as cheerful, Russell St. Clair Beitzel spent his last hours on death row listening to his phonograph and studying Spanish and ancient history through the University of California extension courses he had been taking.  The L.A. Times slyly noted that the condemned man would be unable to complete the advanced courses for which he had recently registered.

As he ascended to the gallows Russell smiled at the crowd of approximately 30 people who had come to watch him die. He joked with the hangman and asked him if he wanted to make “a couple of practice drops” before going through with the actual execution–the hangman declined.  A black hood was placed over Beitzel’s head and a rope was tightened around his neck.  The trap was sprung at 10:04 a.m. and he was pronounced dead fourteen minutes later.

Among Beitzel’s bequests was a letter to his former death row cell mate, Antone Negra. The letter said.

“Dear Tony–Love and kisses from the next world.  It won’t be long now.  Had telegram from Polly yesterday.  My smile is still with me and can’t be wiped off. My best wishes for your success.  Good-by Old Pal.”

In three postscripts Beitzel added:

“Tell the boys hello for me.

“Has Northcott** moved yet?

“Nice place here.  Plenty big enough for my handsprings, croquet, fox trotting or spin-the-plate”.

Despite his assertion that his smile couldn’t be wiped off, I’ll bet that when the trap opened up and sucked him into hell his grin was replaced by a tortured grimace.

**Gordon Stewart Northcott was tried and convicted for the torture murders of young boys in the infamous Wineville murder case. The case formed the basis for the 2008 film “The Changeling”.  Northcott was hanged at San Quentin on October 2, 1930.

Walter Collins: The Changeling, Conclusion

Gordon Stewart Northcott and his mother, Sarah Jane, fled to Canada to avoid arrest. But they weren’t on the run for long — they were busted in British Columbia. They unsuccessfully fought extradition to the U.S.

Northcott, center, is shown shackled to Constable F. R. Rigby of the Canadian police. At the right is Corporal Walker Cruickshank, also a member of the Canadian police force. Northcott arrived in Los Angeles November 30, 1928, and was placed in the cell Hickman occupied at the County Jail.  [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Northcott, center, is shown shackled to Constable F. R. Rigby of the Canadian police. At the right is Corporal Walker Cruickshank, also a member of the Canadian police force. Northcott arrived in Los Angeles November 30, 1928, and was placed in the cell Hickman occupied at the County Jail. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Prior to being extradited to the U.S. to face murder changes Gordon gave his copyrighted story to the Vancouver Daily Sun, and it was a beaut.

Northcott said:

“There have been a lot of stories circulated about me. They are all untrue. What awful things to say about a man. Some people have been suffering from too much imagination, and a lot of people will be sorry when this case is cleared up.”

"Poor little mother." Sarah Louise Northcott. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

No, it’s not Gordon in drag, it is his “Poor little mother”, Sarah Louise Northcott. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Northcott went on to explain that his disappearance was only meant to shield his “poor little mother”:

“I had to protect poor little mother from this. I simply could not tell her of this. I simply could not tell her of what they were accusing me. If poor little mother had known of these charges it would have killed her.”

Poor little mother?  Visualize for a moment the poor little mother wielding an axe and using the blunt end to bash in Walter Collins’ skull. THAT is the poor little mother to whom Northcott referred.

J. Clark Sellers, criminologist, examines an axe which Sanford Clark says Mrs. Louise Northcott used in Walter Collins' murder. Rex Welsh, police chemist, declares the axe is stained with human blood. It was found in a chicken coop on the ranch. Northcott said he killed the boys with a gun. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

J. Clark Sellers, criminologist, examines an axe which Sanford Clark said Mrs. Louise Northcott used in Walter Collins’ murder.  [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Northcott continued:

“So I kept it all from her, newspapers and everything I was forced to hide them. I wanted to get her away to a safe place. Then I intended to go back alone and fight this thing.”

Northcott’s statements to the press were as self-serving as one might expect, but what was interesting, and rather creepy, was the newspapers physical description of the child-slayer:

“Northcott is a good-looking youth, and has a disarming manner. His fair hair sweeps back in an easy wave from the parting on the left and there is a ready smile on his lips beneath his well-modeled nose. His eyes alone are peculiar. They are deep blue, but possess a fixed, staring quality, as if their owner is in a thrall.”

The papers even gave a description of Northcott’s traveling clothes. What was the well-dressed child serial killer wearing in 1928?

“On the train he wore a smartly cut brown tween suit with a dark brown stripe. His tie was brown with cream colored spots, and there was a thin brown strip in his shirt.”

The reporter failed to note Northcott’s primary accessory, shackles. He was firmly chained to the coach seat of the train that was returning him to California.

Dressed to the nines, and thoroughly enjoying his infamy, Northcott opined to the press on a variety of topics. He was particularly incensed about newspapers and pre-trial publicity:

Northcott sitting in his cell at the Los Angeles County Jail on December 1, 1928, the cell which was occupied by William Edward Hickman, the "Fox". Here he was relentlessly questioned. He said, "I'm a misfit, and once a misfit always a misfit."  [Photo courtesy LAPL]

“I’m a misfit, and once a misfit always a misfit.” [Photo courtesy LAPL]

“The newspapers, especially those in the South, convict a man before he comes to trial. I do not think there should be so much publicity about crimes before the man charged with them goes into court.

I don’t blame the newspapers so much. They are in a competitive business.  But I do blame the administration that permits the practice.”

The Hickman case was cited to him as an example of his contention.

“Oh, that was different,” he said, “Hickman deserved all he got.”

Once Gordon and his poor little mother were back in Los Angeles on U.S. soil, the pair promptly confessed to murder. But, no surprise, each quickly recanted their confessions.

Ironically, upon his return to the L.A. County Jail, Northcott would find himself in Cell No. 1 in Tank 10-B2 — the same cell that had been occupied for several weeks by William Edward Hickman, aka “The Fox”.

The most bizarre twist in the case had to have been when Christine Collins met Gordon Stewart Northcott in the County Jail to confront him about the murder of her son. Christine’s desire to believe that Walter was still alive was apparently so strong that she emerged from her conference with Northcott convinced that his denial to her that he had murdered her 9 year old son was the truth.

Christine would be Northcott’s most unlikely supporter.

...a fool for a client.

A fool for a client.

Arrogance and stupidity ruled the day when Northcott discharged his counsel and chose to represent himself. As with most proverbs it’s difficult to find a precise attribution, but at some point in history a person, certainly an attorney, said: “I hesitate not to pronounce, that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.”

Jessie Clark. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Jessie Clark. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Northcott’s inept cross-examination of Sanford Clark was so detrimental to his own case that the prosecution never once offered any objections. Despite his abysmal peformance Northcott was supremely pleased with himself:

“I am not such a bad attorney after all, am I?” he asked reporters.


Gordon’s mother, Sarah Louise, surprised everyone when she suddenly decided to plead guilty to slaying Walter Collins! She seemed ready and willing to take responsibility for all of the atrocities committed in the Wineville chicken coop — but nobody ever believed that she was the sole villain behind the crimes; she was clearly attempting to save her son. Sarah was sentenced to life in San Quentin for Walter’s murder.

Sarah Northcott on her way to prison. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Sarah Northcott on her way to prison. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Gordon’s trial continued but the outcome was a foregone conclusion; Gordon Stewart Northcott was found guilty of the murders of Lewis and Nelson Winslow and the so-called “headless Mexican” boy, and was sentenced to the gallows.

Northcott was hanged on October 2, 1930 at San Quentin. It’s said that he had to be supported during his climb up the thirteen steps, and then collapsed on the gallows.  He was more or less rolled through the trapdoor where he strangled to death at the end of the noose. If that’s true it was no less than he deserved.


Gordon Stewart Northcott was convicted of three murders, but was suspected of as many as twenty. The children he kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered were killed in a chicken coop on his Wineville, California farm — which is why the slayings are often referred to as The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Chicken coops on the murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Chicken coops on the murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Christine Collins won a judgement of $10,800 [equivalent to $150,535.83 in current USD] against Captain J.J. Jones as a result of his having sent her to the psych ward when she refused to accept an impostor as her son. Collins would try more than once to collect from Jones — he would never pay her.

In fact, Captain Jones got off easy — the LAPD suspended him for four months without pay, and that was the extent of his punishment for what he’d done to Christine Collins.

Christine  never stopped searching for Walter.

Arthur Hutchins, Jr., the faux Walter Collins, spent part of his adulthood selling concessions at carnivals. He eventually moved 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. According to Carol Hutchins, “My dad was full of adventure. In my mind, he could do no wrong.

Sanford Clark.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Sanford Clark. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Sarah Louise Northcott, Gordon’s mother, was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in  May 1940.  She died in 1944.

Sanford Clark, Northcott’s nephew, was never tried for any of the crimes at the farm.  If he participated in any of the killings it was under the extreme coercion of his  uncle.

Sanford was sent to Whittier Boy’s School for about two years. He impressed the staff with his desire to lead a productive life upon his release — which he did. He served in WWII, worked for the Canadian Postal Service, married and had children. He died in 1991 at the age of 78.

Wineville was so traumatized by the connection to Northcott that the city changed its name to Mira Loma on November 1, 1930, only a month after Northcott’s execution. However as recently as 2009 the house in which Gordon Stewart Northcott had lived was still there.

Northcott home.http://www.americanghosttowns.us/Wineville.htm

Northcott home.

POSTSCRIPT: This story of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders is so twisted and  complex that it is impossible to tell it all in just a few blog posts. I’ve covered it as well as I could given my constraints.

For Sanford Clark’s harrowing tale you may want to read THE ROAD OUT OF HELL. Another book on Gordon Stewart Northcott is NOTHING IS STRANGE WITH YOU. Be forewarned, any book that relates the full story is going to be a very tough read. The details are horrendous. A friend of mine is currently working on a book about the Northcott case, so there is more to come.

Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 3


Christine Collins [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

By mid-May 1928, Christine Collins had been going through the motions of living for weeks as she waited for word of her missing son Walter. Her job as a telephone operator kept her busy during the day, but at night all she could do was lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

If Christine read the newspapers she may have seen a story about two boys who had gone missing from Pomona. The boys, Nelson and Lewis Winslow, had vanished after attending a meeting of the Pomona Model Yacht Club.

Nelson was described as: 10 years of age, light hair, blue eyes, 4 feet in height, dressed in a blue shirt and knickers. Lewis was described as: 12 years of age, 4 feet 3 inches in height, light hair, blue eyes, dressed in a regulation Boy Scout uniform — it was also noted that Lewis had a nervous temperament.

According to their family the boys had not been in any trouble and there was no reason for them to have run away from home.

Lewis and Nelson Winslow [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Lewis and Nelson Winslow [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Nelson and Lewis had been gone for a couple of weeks before the Winslows finally received a note from them written on a flyleaf torn from a book issued by the Pomona Public Library. The note said that they’d left Pomona and were off to Mexico to find gold. Pomona cops sent telegrams to border authorities asking them to detain the boys if they were found attempting to cross into Mexico.

winslow mexicoThere were no sightings of Nelson and Lewis at the border, and no further clues to their whereabouts surfaced. Mr. and Mrs. Winslow found themselves consigned to the same purgatory inhabited by Christine Collins.  They were all fearful of hope and ashamed of doubt, and each dawn brought renewed heartache.

Because the Winslow home was thirty miles east of the Collins’ Lincoln Heights bungalow, cops didn’t make a connection between Walter and the Winslow boys. The authorities also had no reason to connect the disappearances to the discovery of the headless body of a Latino boy found on a roadside in La Puente.

The seemingly unrelated cases would come together in a perfect storm of horror in September 1928. It began when a young Canadian woman, Jessie Clark, decided to check up on her younger brother, 15 year old Sanford. She’d been worried about Sanford ever since he’d left with their uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, two years earlier. Jessie was concerned enough about her brother’s welfare to travel to Northcott’s ranch in Wineville, California to see for herself exactly what was going on.


Gordon Stewart Northcott [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Photo Collection]

Jessie spent a short time at the Wineville ranch, but it was long enough for her to confirm that her uncle was terrorizing and abusing Sanford — and it was just enough time for her uncle to assault her too. When she returned to Canada she told her mother, Winnefred, all about her terrifying visit to Wineville.  Her mother immediately dropped a dime on Gordon to U.S. authorities.

Northcott saw agents driving up the road to his ranch, so he told Sanford to stall them or he would shoot him. Sanford had had two years of reasons to believe that his uncle was capable of murder, so he did as he was told.

Gordon and his mother, Sarah Louise, fled to Canada, but were quickly busted in British Columbia. While extradition of the two fugitives was being sought, Sanford Clark was relcounting a tale of  sexual depravity and unimaginable brutality to the police. It was Clark’s statement that would connect his uncle to Walter Collins, and then to the Winslow boys, and finally to the unidentified headless boy who had been found in La Puente. Clark was also able to lead detectives to physical evidence of the sadistic slayings.

Among the evidence found at the farm was an aviation magazine, the paper from which matched that upon which a note from the Winslow boys had been written. Sanford led police to grave sites on the farm in the hunt for human remains.  The graves had been disturbed, and they had likely been emptied by Gordon and his mother Sarah and the contents burned in the desert sometime during the month of August.

Northcott's murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Northcott’s murder farm. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The extradition of the fugitive mother and son was successful, and in December the pair arrived in Los Angeles to stand trial.

On December 3rd, Gordon Stewart Northcott confessed to the slayings of Nelson and Lewis Winslow and the headless Mexican boy. Sarah Louise Northcott confessed to the murder of Walter Collins.

NEXT TIME:  A fool for a client, a city changes it name, and the Wineville Chicken Coop murder case ends.