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?

8 thoughts on “Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 1

  1. This was such a strange case and LAPD made it even worse. Is Hanson, Harry? Who was the police chief during this time?

    • It was a very strange case. In particular Capt. J.J. Jones of the LAPD made things worse, but he probably couldn’t have done it all
      on his own. The chief then was Ed “Two Gun” Davis (he was chief twice).

  2. Did Chief Davis carry two guns? LAPD really had some characters, don’t ya think? Det. Harry (the hat) Hanson! “The Hat Squad” and “The Gangster Squad”. Were there others?

    • You bet! Two Gun Davis was quite impressive with a pistol and frequently competed in shooting events. One of the things that’s so
      great about L.A.’s history is that some of the cops in our past seem to have been sent from Central Casting. I think that the Gangster
      and Hat squads are the best known, but I’ll have to delve into LAPD history to see if there are any others squads of note.

  3. OK, this is driving me nuts … from the newspaper story at the top … “It is barely possible that the boy may be found on the streets selling papers.” Were the newspapers of the day in the habit of kidnapping their street venders, or was this something peculiar to this particular case? The possibilities here are intriguing.

    • Bill, many of the newspaper boys of the day were orphans, and I presume that a fair number of them may have been runaways as well. I think that during that time whenever a young lad went missing the cops assumed that he may have started selling newspapers to support himself. As far as I know the newspapers didn’t really hire the boys, the kids were more like independent contractors. Among the boys who sold newspapers on the streets of L.A. in the early days was future gangster Mickey Cohen. Many intriguing possibilities.

  4. I was listening to a strange Dragnet story once on an old time radio channel and made a note of it. Then after The Changeling had come and gone I heard the same story again and realized it was this case! The exception was that it was a grandfather and a missing grandson. Proof that Dragnet did indeed take their cases from the files of the LAPD.

    • The Dragnet tales were often altered in small ways (as in the one you mention) but Jack Webb had unprecedented access to the
      LAPD crime files and made good use of them. An earlier radio crime show (which may have provided some inspiration for Dragnet) was
      Calling All Cars — they covered lots of LAPD and Sheriff’s cases too.

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