Gordon Stewart Northcott was born in November of 1906 in Saskatchewan, Canada to parents Sarah Louise and Cyrus George, and raised in British Columbia. Not much is popularly known about the young Gordon Northcott, but it was said that he had “three-inch long hair all over his body” – thus earning him the nickname “The Ape Man/Boy” in the press years later.
Regardless of this claim, it was clear that Northcott had a troubled youth. His nephew Sanford Clark later recalled that Gordon had been censured for a string of dubious behavior/unemployment in Canada, which eventually led to his parents purchasing a chicken ranch for him near Riverside, California – ostensibly to keep him out of trouble and give him something worthwhile to do.
Little did they know that the chicken ranch in Wineville would become the site of unimaginable horror.
In 1926, the 19-year-old Northcott moved permanently to the ranch, and invited his 13-year-old nephew (who was small for his age), to come with him for a time. Sanford was excited to go at first, and Northcott’s sister and husband agreed to the arrangement. It was thought that Sanford would gain some valuable life experience working on the ranch, and that he would attend school in the US.
This, however, was not to be.
Almost immediately after arriving, Sanford was brutally raped and beaten by his uncle. And, this pattern continued every few nights for months. The only time it would let up was when Northcott had found himself another victim.
At first Northcott merely coaxed boys out to the ranch with the promise of a day’s wage for helping out. Once he got them there, he assaulted them, and then drove them back toward town. Northcott reportedly also offered these victims to “wealthy pedophiles” from nearby Los Angeles to prey on from time to time.
All of this was horrible enough, but things took an even more diabolical twist when Northcott showed up with an unknown Hispanic teen one day. Northcott then proceeded to lock the boy up in the chicken coop (as he often did with Sanford), letting him out only to rape him, for a full week. After that, he murdered the teen with an axe and decapitated him. Poor Sanford was forced to help conceal the crime by burning the skull in an outdoor oven while Northcott poured quicklime over the rest of the body and spread the bones.
To make matters far worse, Northcott’s deranged mother, Sarah Louise, saw no ill in her son. Everything he did was perfect to her – despite any and all evidence to the contrary.
By 1928, Sarah had even committed murder for Gordon.
Luckily, Sanford’s mother (Northcott’s sister) became suspicious of the letters she was getting from him telling her that everything was wonderful at the ranch. After two years, she simply had to see for herself what was happening. She traveled to Wineville and it was then that Sanford told her of his uncle’s crimes. Sarah reported Northcott, and after a convoluted series of events, he was finally detained and tried.
Sarah Louise Northcott was convicted of the murder of victim Walter Collins. Sanford testified that he’d seen her plunge an axe into his skull after Collins had been held and brutalized for over a week. She was sentenced to life in prison, and paroled after 12 years (in 1944).
Gordon Northcott was convicted of the murders of the Hispanic boy, and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow – – – though he was suspected of around 20 murders in total. The jury sentenced him to death. He was hanged at San Quentin on October 2nd, 1930.
Sanford Clark – though he reluctantly participated in some of the horrors at the ranch – was known to be a victim who was terrified of his captors. He was sentenced to five years at the Whittier State School (later renamed Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility) and released after 23 months. Clark’s family credits the school with saving his life. He later went on to be a long-time postal worker, husband, father and all around good man. His book, The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders was one of the rawest victim’s accounts I’ve ever read…and one of the best.
When trying to categorize Gordon Northcott for this blog, I had a tough time. Is he a Pedophile, a Psychopath, a Sexual Sadist – or all of the above? Eventually I decided on the last category because it seemed to be the sexually sadistic component to Northcott’s personality that drove him. Even though he was most certainly a pedophile and psychopathic, neither one of those features would necessarily have led to torture and murder.
Molesting children? Yes. Having no conscience about it? Yes to that too. But torture and murder? Not likely.
The sadistic side of Northcott – the part that liked to control, demean, humiliate, and hurt…those were the traits that pushed him over the edge, and ended up causing so much pain to so many people. He was a sadist to his core, and he had no compunction about victimizing even his own family members to satiate his own deviant desires.
Thankfully the rest of the Northcott family was nothing like Gordon or Sarah Louise. They were good, caring people whose concern finally resulted in the capture of a dangerous and twisted man.
For another good read on this, and other CA crimes, check out David Kulczyk’s book, Death in California – The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State.