Los Angeles, CA

The Strange Disappearance of Walter Collins

Herbie J Pilato

Photo byOscarRoman.pe

According to journalist Maryn Liles and Parade.com, "On March 10, 1928, nine-year-old Walter Collins donned a lumber jacket, brown corduroy trousers, black Oxfords, and a grey cap and set off to see a movie in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles. Walter never returned home."

As Liles continued to report, "His mother, Christine Collins, a telephone operator, reported her son missing 5 days later on March 15. At the time, the area was still recovering from the kidnapping and gruesome murder of a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, that had only happened three months earlier. Tips of apparent Walter sightings came from as far away as San Francisco and even Oakland, Calif. In one bizarre tip, someone reported seeing Walter at a gas station in Glendale with his body wrapped in newspaper and only his head visible. Police searched for months without any success."

"In Illinois in August 1928," Liles noted, "...state police picked up a runaway boy who matched Walter’s description. The boy told authorities he was Walter Collins and gave a hazy description [of] his abduction. He spoke to Christine over the phone and she paid $70 to have her son transported back to Los Angeles. The boy lived with Christine for three weeks when she realized that this boy wasn’t her son. Christine found that the boy who was living with her was an inch shorter than Walter, and she used dental records to show that this was a different kid. Christine told the police, 'Yes, he looks like Walter. And in some ways acts like my son. But still, I’m not certain about it. You see, Walter was quiet and well-behaved. He always called me ‘Mother.’ This child calls me ‘Ma,’ and at times, he is hard to handle. I certainly hope that he is my son—but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to believe it.'”

"Pressured by the public," Liles went on to chronicle, "...the police insisted that the child was indeed Walter. They conducted a series of tests to prove it. They had the child find his way back home from memory and brought in Walter’s pet dog who allegedly recognized the boy as its owner."

"Nevertheless," as Liles observed, "...Christine wasn’t convinced. LAPD captain, J.J. Jones accosted the grieving mother, saying, 'What are you trying to do, make fools out of us all? Or are you trying to shirk your duties as a mother and have the state provide for your son? You are the most cruel-hearted woman I have ever known. You are a fool!' On Sept. 8, 1928, the police had Christine committed to the psychiatric ward at the Los Angeles County General Hospital."

"While Christine was in the hospital," Lilies chronicled further, "... J.J. spoke again to the boy that they had picked up in Illinois. During that conversation, the boy made it known that he was, indeed, not Walter Collins, but instead Arthur Hutchins. After his mother had died, the boy ran away from his father and stepmother. He was hitchhiking around the U.S. and when inside a cafe, he was told that he resembled a missing boy from Los Angeles. When he was picked up, juvenile authorities were skeptical about his story, but the police were so desperate to close the Collins case that they insisted on its accuracy. As for why Arthur lied, he said that he wanted to go to Hollywood to meet a cowboy actor named Tom Mix."

As Liles concluded, "Christine was released from the psych ward on Sept. 13, 1928, and sued the LAPD. J.J. Jones was suspended from duty. Collins won her lawsuit against Jones and was awarded $10,800, which he never paid. She spent the rest of her life continuing to search for her missing son."

It was a mystery that influenced the 2008 feature film The Changeling, which stars Angelina Jolie.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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