Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 1

3_16_1928_walter collins

From L.A. Police Daily Bulletin dated March 16, 1928.

On March 15, 1928, the L.A. Times reported that Mrs. Christine Collins’ nine year old son Walter had gone missing five days earlier. Christine said that she feared that her son was the victim of a kidnapping.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion's murder.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion’s murder.

Angelenos were still reeling from the December 1927 kidnapping and mutilation murder of twelve year old Marion Parker by William Edward Hickman, “The Fox”. In fact Hickman had been convicted of Marion’s kidnapping and murder only weeks prior to Walter Collins’ disappearance. [Hickman would be hanged on October 19, 1928].

Marion was the daughter of Perry Parker, a prominent banker. Christine was a telephone operator and her husband was doing time in Folsom prison, it seemed unlikely that kidnappers would choose Walter to kidnap for ransom. Because there was no money motive the cops were investigating anyone who may have had a beef with the kid’s dad — they figured that revenge could be as powerful a motive as money.

The investigation into ex-cons with a grudge wasn’t productive — although Christine continued to believe that revenge was the only possible reason for Walter having been taken off their quiet Lincoln Heights street.

Of course the police, in addition to rounding up thugs, were combing the Collin’s neighborhood for possible witnesses. Mrs. A. Baker of 219 North Avenue 23 said that she’d seen the Collins boy in an automobile with two “foreign-looking people” and that the boy was pleading to be released.

Other of the Collins’ neighbors said that on several days prior to Walter’s disappearance a
man, who may have been Italian, (another “foreigner”) had been in the neighborhood asking for directions to Walter’s home. According to witnesses, the strange man was accompanied by a woman, but nobody had seen her well enough to provide a description

If the witnesses were to be believed there were mysterious “foreign looking” strangers skulking around Los Angeles; all of them, apparently, up to no good.

03_15_1928_walter collins

From L.A. Police Daily Bulletin dated March 15, 1928.

There were so few clues in the kidnapping that the police were frustrated. Sightings of the boy had led to dead ends, and even Walter’s convict father could shed scant light on a motive.

Led by LAPD Capt. Jones, a former deep sea diver, dozens of LAPD officers dragged Lincoln Park Lake for Walter’s body. The search failed.

Captain Jones and Lieutenant Hanson interviewed some of Walter Collins’ school chums, and one of the kids, twelve year old Lloyd Tutor, partially identified a mugshot of an ex-con as the man who had asked for directions to the Collins home. But once again the lead didn’t pan out.

Under the command of Captain J.J. Jones, two hundred LAPD officers began a thorough search of the northeastern section of the city. The cops didn’t find a trace of the boy. Walter had been missing for a month.

Christine Collins

Christine Collins

Christine couldn’t afford the luxury of staying at home and aiding in the search for Walter. She had to go to work each day — she was sleep deprived and near the breaking point.

For five agonizing months Christine waited for news of Walter. Finally in early August, Christine was notified that Walter had been found in De Kalb, Illinois. The how and why of Walter’s trek east was hazy at best. It appeared that an ex-con named J.S. Hutchison, who had a record of statutory offenses against boys, may have taken him. Strangely, cops had word that Hutchison was supposedly still incarcerated in San Quentin. Unless Hutchison could be in two places at once there was something hinky about the story.

Illinois authorities put Walter on a train to Los Angeles. Christine was ecstatic at the prospect of being reunited with her son. Mother and son were brought together in Juvenile Hall.  The first words uttered by Christine were:

“I do not think that is my boy.”

Perhaps Walter’s time away from home had changed him mentally and physically — but to such an extent that his own mother couldn’t recognize him?  Maybe the cops were right and Walter would return to normal after some time in the company of his loving mother. But what if the cops were wrong?

NEXT TIME:  A faux Walter Collins?

Aggie and The Fox, Part Four: The Fox Must Hang!

scientific_evidenceOn December 26, 1927 on a train taking him from Pendleton, Oregon to Los Angeles William Edward Hickman confessed to the senseless slaughter of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker. He told District Attorney Keyes, Chief of Detectives Cline, and Chief of Police Davis that “I am ready to talk. I want to tell the whole story.” The cops said later that Hickman seemed to enjoy recounting details of the kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment.

Hickman admitted that he’d had no accomplice. He said that his motive for the kidnapping was to get $1500 to go to college, he claimed he wanted to go to bible school. And his motive for killing Marion? Hickman said : “I was afraid she would make a noise.” He had murdered her the day following the kidnapping.

The story Hickman told was beyond comprehension.  He said that he had killed Marion by strangling her with a towel. He had knotted it around her throat and pulled it tightly for two minutes before she became unconscious. Once Marion was out, Hickman took his pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat to draw blood. He took her to the bathtub and drained her body of blood.

He cut each arm off at the elbow, and her legs at the knees. Her put her limbs in a cabinet. He removed Marion’s clothing and cut through her body at the waist. At some point during the mutilations he realized that he would lose the ransom he’d demanded if he wasn’t able to produce the kidnapped girl when he arrived at the rendezvous with her father. He wrapped the exposed ends of her arms and waist with paper. He combed her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle and thread he sewed open her eyelids. He wanted to give Perry Parker the illusion that his little girl was still alive.

Local newspapers became obsessed with youthful perpetrators — Hickman was only nineteen. The Record (where Aggie Underwood was watching the case against The Fox unfold) published a photo of Hickman alongside one of Riichard Loeb under the headline: “Why Youths Commit Most Brutal Murders”.

Hickman1-2The photos of Hickman and Loeb compared their features in an attempt to reveal the outward signs of a homicidal youth.  The two young men look nothing alike to me, but that didn’t keep The Record from stating that their “sheik-like hair cuts with side burns, prominent foreheads, deep-set yes, straight and regular noses, and full lips with similar chins” were signs of a killer.  In particular the eyebrows of the young men were described as “one being straighter and lower placed than the other” which, said The Record, was known as a “stigmata of moral degeneracy”!

Richard Loeb was one of a pair of teenage wanna be Nietzschean supermen (his accomplice was Nathan Leopold) who, in 1924, kidnapped and murdered fourteen year old Robert “Bobby” Franks in Chicago. People around the country were horrified that two young men, both of whom came from wealthy families, could commit murder based on their belief that they were superior beings and, as Leopold had written to Loeb: “…exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men.”

The teenagers must have been shocked to discover that they were not exempted from ordinary laws.  In fact,  the two killers would have paid for the crime with their lives if not for their attorney Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s only mandate was to save them from execution, and in that he was successful.

While Hickman was being tried for Marion Parker’s murder, he was also being investigated for a series of pharmacy robberies, one of which had ended in the cold-blooded killing of druggist Ivy Thoms on December 24, 1926. Sixteen year old Welby Hunt was eventually identified as Hickman’s accomplice and he promptly confessed to his part in the fatal drugstore robbery. His confession saved him from hanging. Nothing would save The Fox.

Welby Hunt and William Hickman [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Welby Hunt and William Hickman [Photo is courtesy of LAPL.]

Hickman didn’t have the same advantages as Leopold and Loeb, and he wasn’t represented by Clarence Darrow. He was, according to the district attorney, “…certain to hang”. Hickman was one of the first in the state to try the newly established plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury didn’t buy it. They knew he was evil, but that wasn’t the same thing as being insane.

On February 14, 1928 The Record put out an extra edition with the headline ‘Fox to Hang on April 27″. Hickman and Hunt were each found guilty for the robbery/homicide and each was given a life sentence. The robbery/homicide trial and the inevitable appeals on his death sentence for Marion Parker’s murder delayed Hickman’s date with the hangman, but only for a few months.

HICMAN_HANGSOn October 19, 1928 at San Quentin, William Edward Hickman was taken to the gallows where he fainted as the black hood was placed over his head. According to reports his body sagged and fell sideways  He was unconscious when the hangman raised his hand and three men with poised knives behind a screen on the gallows platform drew the blades simultaneously across three strings. One of the strings released the trap and Hickman slipped through. It took fifteen minutes for him to die. There was a dispute over whether his shortened plunge caused his neck to break, or if he had strangled to death — as Marion Parker had done less than a year before.

Aggie and the Fox, Part Three: The Capture and the Confession

The news of the kidnapping and brutal mutilation murder of twelve year old school girl, Marion Parker, had shocked Los Angeles residents more than any crime in recent memory.

Everyone in the city was following the hunt for Hickman. Aggie Underwood watched the case unfold from the special vantage point of the newsroom at the Los Angeles Daily Record. She read the copy as it was transformed into the headlines that kept Angelenos on the pins and needles awaiting word of Hickman’s capture.

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William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The citizens’ outrage manifested itself in the near lynching of a young man who had the misfortune of resembling William Edward Hickman. Other Hickman-look-a-likes were tracked, taunted, and threatened all over the city. More than 7,000 police officers, augmented by 12,000 members of the American Legion, and cops from neighboring cities were out hunting the killer.

Because Hickman’s photo was on the front page of every newspaper from L.A. to San Francisco and beyond, cops were beginning to get a picture of him not only as Marion Parker’s killer, but as a bandit.  People were coming forward who were able to I.D. Hickman as a drugstore robber; and it seemed that when he hadn’t  been sticking up pharmacies he had been cashing bad checks.

Reporters were digging into every corner of Hickman’s life, including the inevitable interviews with neighbors, who described him as a “mild boy”, and his mother who predictably sobbed and referred to him as a “good, clean boy”.

Eva HIckman, mother of "The Fox".

Eva HIckman, mother of “The Fox”. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Mrs. Hickman’s good, clean boy had managed to elude the law from Los Angeles all the way up to Pendleton, Oregon where, on December 22, 1927, he was captured following a car chase on the Columbia River Highway.

Aggie was in the newsroom when the wire came in reporting the capture of William Edward Hickman.  In her excitement she decided to phone her husband with the headline that everyone in Los Angeles was waiting for. Aggie’s friend and mentor Gertrude Price overheard the conversation, and when Aggie was finished Gertrude took her aside and told her that she must never tell anyone, even a family member, about a story until it appeared in print.  At first Aggie was crushed, she’d never have done anything to disappoint Price.  It didn’t take Aggie long to realize that Price wasn’t upset, angry, or disappointed, she was teaching her a fundamental lesson about the newspaper business. It was a lesson that Aggie would never forget.

Hickman's hands.

Hickman’s hands. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

It took Hickman only a few minutes in captivity to begin to shift the blame for Marion Parker’s atrocious murder onto the shoulders of an accomplice he named as Andrew Cramer. He began to weave a story that absolved him from everything that had happened to Marion except for the initial kidnapping.

Hickman said: “Marion and I were like brother and sister.  She liked me but she did not like Cramer, and she said she would like to stay with me all the time.”  He went on to say that he had been gentle with Marion and had even taken her to see a movie on the night before she was killed.

As long as he was in a confessing frame of mind, Hickman admitted to several of the drugstore robberies that he’d been suspected of committing. He claimed to have had an accomplice for those crimes as well.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion's murder.

Hickman smiles as he reads a transcript describing Marion’s murder.  [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Cops had to follow up on Hickman’s assertion that his accomplice, Cramer, had been the one to murder and mutilate Marion Parker. What they discovered was that there really was a Cramer, three of them actually — and it was Kramer, with a “K”.  The Kramer in question had an unbreakable alibi; he’d been in jail since mid-August. The other two Kramer brothers were also exonerated, which left no one but William Edward Hickman as the sole perpetrator of the unspeakable child murder.

Prior to being returned to Los Angeles, Hickman was examined by Dr. W. D. McNary, superintendent of the Eastern Oregon Asylum for the Insane. Dr. McNary said that Hickman’s mind “…seemed clear. He told a straight, coherent story and never was at a loss for words. There was nothing about him to indicate insanity. He did not differ a bit from hundreds of thousands of other young men”.

Hickman revealed to Dr. McNary that “…he does not like girls, that he is deeply religious and that his ambition was to become a minister. Several times he made mention of God and in discussing his capture took the attitude that since God willed it, that it had to be.”

While awaiting extradition from Oregon to California, Hickman attempted suicide by strangling himself with a handkerchief. He was subdued by a guard. When the first try failed, he immediately tried again to end his life, this time by diving heard first from his bunk to the concrete floor – he was caught around the waist by one of the guards.

Hickman and his captors, Chief Davis, Chief of Detectives Cline, and District Attorney Keyes, all of Los Angeles, were soon to be headed south on Southern Pacific train No. 16.

Hickman would be finally be held to answer for his crimes.

 NEXT TIME: JUSTICE PREVAILS.

Aggie and the Fox, Part Two:The Hunt is On!

Mariion, Mrs. Parker, Marjorie. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Mariion, Mrs. Parker, Marjorie. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

On December 15, 1927, twelve year old school girl Marion Parker was unwittingly handed over to a monster by the school registrar at Mt. Vernon Junior High School. Her abductor had come to the school that day and said that Perry Parker, the girl’s father, had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter.  But Marion was a twin – which girl was the man talking about? Both Marion and her sister Marjorie were at school that day.

It was determined that Marion would be brought to the office for the simple reason that she was in class and Marjorie was on an errand on the school grounds, and so she was not immediately available. Marjorie was returning to the school office just as Marion was getting into a car with a dark haired stranger. Marjorie watched her sister and the man drive away.

Parker family home.

Parker family home.  [Photo is courtesy of LAPL]

The Parker family waited in agony for Marion’s return, or at the very least for a communication from her kidnapper. They didn’t have long to wait. The day following Marion’s abduction the first of four ransom letters was received. The kidnapper demanded $1500 in cash for the girl’s release with the threat of death if the demand was not met. The first of the ransom notes was signed “George Fox”, the last of them were signed “The Fox”.

On the morning of December 17, 1927, Perry Parker received a telegram reiterating the earlier demand for $1500 in exchange for his daughter’s life. That evening Parker took a call from the kidnapper.  The man instructed Parker to drive to the corner of Fifth Street and Manhattan Place in Los Angeles, and told him not to inform the cops or Marion would die. The plan was for Parker to sit in his car and wait for the kidnapper to pull up next to him and show him that Marion was alive. The kidnapper would then collect the ransom money and drop Marion off a block down the street.

Photo is courtesy of LAPL.

Instructions from “The Fox”.  Photo is courtesy of LAPL.

Parker followed the kidnapper’s instructions to the letter. He waited briefly at the designated meeting place for a few minutes before a Chrysler coupe pulled up beside him. He looked over and caught a glimpse of Marion sitting in the front seat. Parker sensed that something was wrong with the girl — maybe she was bound or drugged. Nothing could have prepared Mr. Parker for the reality.

The driver of the Chrysler had a white handkerchief over his face and pointed a large caliber weapon at Parker. The man said: “You know what I’m here for.  Here’s your child. She’s asleep. Give me the money and follow instructions.”  Parker did as he was told. He was too close to getting his little girl back to make any move that would spook the man with the gun. The money was exchanged and Parker followed the coupe to 432 South Manhattan Place. The passenger door of the car opened and Marion was pushed out onto the lawn.  Parker tried to get the license number of the car, but the kidnapper had bent the plate so that only a few numbers were visible.

The Chrysler roared off and Parker ran over to Marion. He felt a few moments of relief, his girl was going to go home with him and everything would be as it was. Except when Parker got to Marion and took her in his arms he saw that not only was she dead, but she had been savagely mutilated. His screams made an unholy sound that reverberated throughout the neighborhood. Someone phoned the police.

Marion Parker’s body was wrapped in towels. Her legs and arms had been hacked off and she had been disemboweled, the cavity stuffed with rags. A wire was wrapped tightly around her neck and then drawn up and wrapped around her forehead. Her eyelids had been sewn open so that she would appear alive when Perry saw her from a car length away.

Bundles of Marion’s body parts had been scattered around town. A woman who lived about a block away from where Marion had been dumped discovered a suitcase that contained blood soaked papers and a spool of thread. The thread was a match for that used to sew Marion’s eyelids open.

A reward of $1,000 was offered, but contributions from people all over the city brought the final total to $50,000 (over $600k in current U.S. dollars).

Artifacts from Marion Parker case are on display at L.A. Police Museum.

Artifacts from Marion Parker case are on display at L.A. Police Museum.

The first break in the case came when the towels that had been wrapped around Marion’s torso were identified as coming from the Bellevue Arms Apartments. A man named Donald Evans, who matched the description of the kidnapper, had rented a room in the building.  Evans was soon discovered to be an alias used by nineteen year old William Edward Hickman. Hickman had been a messenger at the same bank where Perry Parker worked, but lost his job after pleading guilty to forgery. He had had the audacity to return to the bank later and ask for his old job back, but Parker showed him the door. Parker also refused to supply a reference for Hickman when he applied for a job with another company.   The cops were beginning to glimpse a motive.

When the police arrived at the Bellevue Arms to search the apartment they discovered that Hickman had fled; but they picked up a couple of solid bits of evidence. A piece of a Brazil nut was found in a trash can in Hickman’s apartment, and it fit perfectly with another piece that had been found in the pocket of  Marion’s dress. The Chrysler coupe had been discovered and prints from the car matched prints on the ransom notes.  At least that’s what they thought; the prints on the car were later discovered to belong to someone other than Hickman

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Fingerprints or not, the rest of the evidence was compelling enough to formally charge William Edward Hickman with the murder of Marion Parker.

Life was getting scary for men who had the misfortune to resemble Hickman. One poor fellow was arrested five times before he was given a “get out of jail free” letter from the police.  Another man who resembled Hickman was chased down and surrounded by a mob at Sixth and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles. The police arrived just in time to save the man from being strung up on a light pole.

The real Hickman had left town the day after collecting the ransom from Parker. He’d carjacked a 1928 Hudson sedan on Hollywood Blvd, taken $15 from the driver, and headed north.

The hunt for “The Fox” was on.

NEXT TIME, THE CAPTURE AND THE CONFESSION.

Aggie and the Fox

Marion Parker

Marion Parker [LAPL photo]

It had taken less than two years for Aggie Underwood to work her way up from switchboard operator at the Los Angeles Daily Record, to part-time assistant for one of the paper’s columnists, Gertrude Price (who wrote the Cynthia Grey column).

On December 15, 1927, just a couple of days away from Aggie’s twenty-fifth birthday, she was working in the newsroom when reporters learned that twelve year old Marion Parker, the daughter of Perry Parker a prominent banker, had been abducted from her school.  Marion’s twin sister Marjorie had not been taken.

The kidnapper had arrived at Mount Vernon Junior High School where the twins were students and gone directly to the office of Mary Holt, the school’s registrar.  The young man told her that Perry Parker had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and was calling for his youngest daughter. Times were different then. Holt never even asked the man for his identification, nor did she ask him what he meant by youngest daughter since Marion and Marjorie were twins and presumably separated in age by mere minutes.

Any moment of doubt that Mary Holt may have had before releasing Marion into the custody of a maniac (who didn’t look maniacal at all) was overcome when the man insisted that he was an employee at Parker’s bank. When she was questioned later, Holt said the man had seemed sincere. He had been quick to suggest that if Holt doubted his word, she should phone the bank. If only she had.

Mt. Vernon Junior High School

Mt. Vernon Junior High School [LAPL photo]

Instead of phoning the bank for verification of the stranger’s story, Holt dispatched an office assistant to fetch Marion from class. The children were in the midst of a Christmas party when the assistant delivered the news of Perry Parker’s accident.  Marion didn’t hesitate; she accompanied the assistant to the registrar’s office where she was led away by the stranger.

Witnesses would later recall that the man helped Marion into his coupe and “…patted her reassuringly on the shoulder”. As Marion’s friends watched the coupe drive away they had no idea that they were witnessing a kidnapping, or that the abduction would result in one of the most heinous murders in the city’s history.

Once it had been determined that Marion had been kidnapped, terror and helplessness replaced calm and security in the Parker family home. They could not name a single enemy. The Parkers were prepared to meet any ransom demand, they simply longed for word that Marion was unharmed.

parkerheadline

LAPD, the LA County Sheriff, and the District Attorney’s office put all available men into the search for Marion. At that time it was the largest single manhunt in the city’s history. The scope of the search would not be eclipsed until 1947 when LAPD conducted a massive search for the killer of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

NEXT TIME, THE HUNT FOR THE FOX.