In the spring of 1928, a boy by the name of Walter Collins went missing from his home in Los Angeles. His frantic mother, Christine, soon after contacted the police who treated the whole thing as a rather humdrum affair and barely gave Christine the time of day, a reaction likely due to the fact that the boy's father was in prison having been convicted of eight armed robberies. Unfortunately for the police, but most definitely fortunately for Christine, the story was soon after picked up by a police reform supporting reverend who just so happened to have his own radio show. What started as a little known missing persons case turned into a nationwide extravaganza, forcing the LA police to get off their asses and actually do their jobs. Facing increasing negative publicity the police put their best foot forward, following up on hundreds of leads.
After five months of these shenanigans the police finally announced that Walter had been found alive and well in Illinois. The boy was brought back to LA for a public reunion at which point Christine flatly stated that he most definitely not Walter. Really wanting to close the case, the police convinced Christine that the boy totally was her son and that she should just take him home to try him out for a couple of weeks. Upon getting home Christine's suspicions were further heightened by the fact that not only was the so-called Walter suddenly three inches shorter, but that he had also magically become circumcised. When Christine pointed out these little facts to the police, they provided a doctor who politely told her that trauma could shrink the spine and that whomever took Walter must have just had him circumcised. Amazingly still unconvinced, Christine got a letter from her dentist stating that the boy's teeth didn't match Walter's dental records. However, when she showed it to the police they had her locked in a mental ward, something the police could just do at the time if they decided you were difficult or inconvenient, and started leaking stories to the papers suggesting she was an unfit mother.
Four months after all this took place police made a grisly discovery at a chicken farm owned by a man named George Northcott near the town of Wineville, just outside of LA. George was of Canadian birth, and had come south to build the chicken farm with his teenage nephew Sanford Clark. As you can probably already guess, George had been the one to kidnap Walter, along with two other boys, all of which he kept locked up in a chicken coop for reasons we don't really need to go into. Five days after the kidnapping George was visited by his mother, who growing suspicious, discovered the boys in the coop. However, instead of calling the police as one would expect, she instead convinced her son that the best course of action would be to murder the shit out of them. As one can imagine, this chain of events did not sit too well with Sanford, who told his sister about it when she visited that summer. The sister then contacted the authorities after safely getting back to Canada, kicking off a chain of events that led to the arrest of everyone involved.
By the time everything got settled out Christine Collins had been in the mental ward for about three months. Forced into a bit of a corner by the fact that Walter was being named one of Northcott's victims, the police finally got around to questioning the boy who also claimed to be Walter, who quickly admitted that his actual name was Arthur Hutchins. Arthur was a runaway who had lied because he wanted a free trip to LA in hopes of meeting Tom Mix, the most famous cowboy actor of the time. The police quickly admitted their mistake and released Christine, by which I mean they sat on their hands for ten days before getting around to it.
George Northcott was convicted of murder and hung less than a year later, but only after several rounds of screwing with Christine over whether or not Walter might still be alive. Christine of course sued the police, and won, but never got paid a cent. However, the resulting scandal did result in the dismissal of a number of corrupt officials and it becoming illegal for the police to lock whomever they felt like up in the mental ward. For her part, Christine never stopped believing that her son might still be alive. She spent the rest of her life looking for him, dying in 1964. Oh yeah, the town of Wineville also changed its name to Mira Loma, you know, because nobody wants to be known as that murder town.