Walter Collins: The Changeling, Part 2

Walter Collins [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Walter Collins [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Nine year old Walter Collins disappeared from his Lincoln Heights neighborhood on  March 10, 1928. His mother, Christine, had spent the next five months hoping and praying for her son to return to her. On August 4, 1928 she received word that he’d been found alive on a farm in DeKalb, Illinois. What a relief! She’d be able to hold her boy in arms again.  Christine’s excitement must have been palpable as the train bearing Walter arrived at the found

Christine’s joy turned to shock and disbelief when the boy who stepped off the train didn’t look, sound, or feel like her child. The reunion that should have mended her heart, instead shattered it into a thousand jagged bits.

What a nightmare. Captain J.J. Jones of the LAPD insisted that the child was Walter — he was just a little worse for his harrowing experience. Had he really changed so much in five months? Of course not, a mother would know her own flesh and blood. All she could say was: “I do not think that is my boy”. That wasn’t what Jones had wanted to hear, and he wasn’t going to let Mrs. Collins get away with humiliating him or the LAPD. Jones strongly advised Mrs. Collins to take the boy home and “try him out for a couple of weeks.”  Try him out?

The boy who would be Walter -- Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The boy who would be Walter — Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Christine was so shaken by the public reunion and the relentless pressure being applied to her by the police that she acquiesced and took the strange boy home with her.

Of course police and doctors continued to question the boy about his kidnapping. They were anxious to identify his abductor.  How had he managed to get to Illinois, and had he escaped captivity or been released? The boy’s story wasn’t hanging together, and psychiatrists felt he was keeping a strange secret but they couldn’t pry it out of him.

For three weeks Christine made and effort to accept the boy as Walter, but how could she when she knew better?  She gathered her son’s dental records and accompanied by friends she returned the child to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Captain J.J. Jones was not pleased; in fact he was livid. He berated Christine and accused her of trying to humiliate the LAPD!  Jones knew exactly what to do with the stubborn woman, he had her committed to the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital for observation under a Code 12 internment.  Code 12 was invoked to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult.


Billy Fields was an alias used by Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Billy Fields was an alias used by Arthur Hutchins, Jr. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

While Christine was being held in the psych ward, the boy who would be Walter finally confessed to having lied about everything. The shrinks had been right, the kid had been keeping a very strange secret — his real name was Arthur Hutchins, Jr. and he was a runaway.  When he realized that he bore a resemblance to the missing Collins boy he saw an opportunity to start a new life in Los Angeles and, if he was lucky, go to Hollywood to meet with his favorite cowboy star, Tom Mix.

Christine was released from the hospital ten days following the impostor’s confession.

Arthur’s confession had taken the investigation into Walter Collins disappearance back to square one. How in the hell were the cops going to get the case back on track?

A few weeks after Arthur’s confession, and Christine’s release from the psych ward, the Walter Collins case would take a monstrous turn.

NEXT TIME: The murder farm.