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A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.
Christine Collins: I used to tell Walter, "Never start a fight... but always finish it." I didn't start this fight... but by God, I'm going to finish it.
[last lines] Christine Collins: Three boys made a run for it that night, detective, and if one got out, then maybe either or both of the other two did too. Maybe Walter's out there having the same fears that he did. Afraid to come home and identify himself, or afraid to get in trouble. But either way, it gives me something I didn't have before today. Detective Lester Ybarra: What's that? Christine Collins: Hope.
Capt. J.J. Jones: The boy, Walter Collins, was reported as missing March 10th, 1928. We then instituted a nationwide search. On August 18th, we received a cable indicating that a boy matching his description was found in DeKalb, Illinois. Upon questioning, he admitted to being Walter Collins. We then made arrangements for him to be transported back to California. S.S. Hahn: Where Mrs. Collins told you the boy was not her son. Capt. J.J. Jones: Yes. She denied his identity in spite of all of the evidence pointing to the contrary. S.S. Hahn: But, as subsequent events have demonstrated, she was correct. So, what prompted you to send her for psychological evaluation? Capt. J.J. Jones: Whether or not this was in fact the correct boy was not relevant to my decision. Throughout this period, she acted strangely. She was often cool and aloof and unemotional, especially when confronted with the boy we found in DeKalb and in our subsequent conversation. It was because of her disturbing behavior that I submitted her for observation to the psychopathic ward of Los Angeles County General Hospital. S.S. Hahn: [snaps his fingers] Just like that. You snap your fingers and an innocent woman is thrown into the psycho ward. Capt. J.J. Jones: She wasn't thrown. S.S. Hahn: Every family in this state is in grave danger when a police captain can take a woman into his office and five minutes later have her thrown into the psychopathic ward on his own authority! [the courtroom erupts with applause] Capt. J.J. Jones: She wasn't thrown. She wasn't thrown! SHE WASN'T THROWN! S.S. Hahn: What was that, Captain? Capt. J.J. Jones: [the courtroom stops clapping] She wasn't thrown. She was escorted. [the courtroom fills with laughter] S.S. Hahn: Escorted, thrown, the verb doesn't matter, Captain. What does matter is that her incarceration was ordered without a warrant. I am holding a carbon copy of the affidavit of insanity that was issued in the case of the State of California v. Christine Collins. Who signed the affidavit? Capt. J.J. Jones: I did. S.S. Hahn: Well now, let me see if I have this correct. A woman was thrown into the psychopathic ward without a warrant, because no warrant existed. And when it was finally written several days later, there was no need to sign it or to go to a judge because she was already in the asylum! Is this correct, Captain? Capt. J.J. Jones: Technically, yes. Extraordinary steps were necessary because we were dealing - we were dealing with an extraordinary situation. Now, is it our fault that we were being deceived by a boy who claimed to be Walter Collins? No. In light of his claims and her - her disturbing behavior, who wouldn't begin to think that there was something the matter with her? S.S. Hahn: Because she questioned you? Capt. J.J. Jones: No, because she wouldn't listen! Because she insisted on being obstinate! Because she - because she tried to take matters into her own hand best left to qualified officers! Because once civil disobedience starts... S.S. Hahn: Because she was fighting for the life of her son! A boy who may have still been alive while you were wasting valuable time, denying you had done anything wrong! And in the end, that's what happened, isn't it? At some point, while all this was going on, Walter Collins was brutally murdered, along with as many as nineteen other boys at the Northcott Ranch in Wineville. Is that correct, Captain? Capt. J.J. Jones: Yes, it is. S.S. Hahn: [pause] No further questions.
Christine Collins: Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
Detective Lester Ybarra: It's raining cats, dogs, and Democrats out there, this better be worth it.
Carol Dexter: Everybody knows women are fragile. I mean, they're all emotions, no logic, there's nothing going on upstairs. Every once in a while, they say something that's a little inconvenient, they just go fucking nuts. Pardon my French. If we're insane, nobody has to listen to us. I mean, who are you going to believe, some crazy woman trying to destroy the integrity of the force, or a police officer?
Christine Collins: Why would they do this? Rev. Gustav Briegleb: To avoid admitting they made a mistake when they brought back the wrong boy. Of course, anyone reading the newspaper with half a brain would see through it instantly. Sadly, that would exclude about half the readership of the Times. Mrs. Collins, I have made it my mission in life to bring to light all the things the LAPD wish none of us ever knew about. A department ruled by violence, abuse, murder, corruption and intimidation. When Chief Davis took over the force two years ago, he said... Chief James E. Davis: We will hold court against gunmen in the streets of Los Angeles. I want them brought in dead, not alive, and I will reprimand any officer who shows the least mercy to a criminal. Rev. Gustav Briegleb: He picked fifty of the most violent cops on the force, gave them machine guns and permission to shoot anyone who got in their way. He called them the Gun Squad. No lawyers, no trials, no questions, no suspensions, no investigations, just piles of bodies. Bodies in the morgues, bodies in the hospitals, bodies by the side of the road, and not because the LAPD wanted to wipe out crime. No. The LAPD wanted to wipe out the competition. Mayor Cryer and half the force are on the take: gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, you name it. Because once you give people the freedom to do whatever they want, as the Lord found in the Garden of Eden, they will do exactly that. This police department does not tolerate dissent or contradiction or even embarrassment. And you are in a position to embarrass them and they do not like it. They will do anything in their power to discredit you. I've seen it happen too many times to start going blind now. That's why I wanted to meet you, to let you know what you're getting yourself into and to help you fight it, if you choose to. Christine Collins: Reverend, I appreciate everything that you're doing and everything that you said, but I'm not on a mission. I just want my son home.
Detective Lester Ybarra: Nobody can just up and kill 20 kids, okay? Sanford Clark: We did.
Mrs. Fox: Mrs. Collins, if that boy's your son I'll eat my yard stick.
Christine Collins: He's not my son! Capt. J.J. Jones: Why are you doing this, Mrs. Collins? Why are you doing this? You seem perfectly capable of taking care of the boy. Your job pays you enough to attend to his personal needs, so I don't understand why you're running away from your responsibilities as a mother. Christine Collins: I am not running away from anything! Least of all my responsibilities! I am even taking care of that boy right now, because I am all he has! What worries me is that you have stopped looking for my son! Capt. J.J. Jones: Why should we be looking for someone we've already found? Christine Collins: Because you have not found him.
Arthur Hutchins: Night, Mommy. Christine Collins: [yelling] Stop calling me that! I'm not your mother! I want my son back! Damn you!
[first lines] Christine Collins: Walter, honey. Time to wake up. Walter Collins: Just ten more minutes... Christine Collins: Sorry, sport. You can sleep in tomorrow, that's what Saturdays are for.
Christine Collins: He's not my son. Capt. J.J. Jones: Mrs. Collins... Christine Collins: No, I don't know why he's saying that he is, but he's not Walter and there's been a mistake. Capt. J.J. Jones: I thought we agreed to give him time to adjust. Christine Collins: He's three inches shorter; I measured him on the chart. Capt. J.J. Jones: Well, maybe your measurements are off. Look, I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for all of this. Christine Collins: He's circumcised and Walter isn't. Capt. J.J. Jones: Mrs. Collins, your son was missing for five months, for at least part of that time in the company of an unidentified drifter. Who knows what such a disturbed individual might have done. He could have had him circumcised. He could have... Christine Collins: ...made him shorter?
Dr. Jonathan Steele: According to your file, you believe that the police substituted a fake boy for your son. Christine Collins: No, I didn't say he was a fake boy. He's not *my* boy. They brought home the wrong boy. My son is still missing. Dr. Jonathan Steele: Well, that's strange, because I have here a newspaper article with a photo of you at the train station, welcoming home your son. [shows her the article] Dr. Jonathan Steele: That is you in the photo, isn't it? Christine Collins: Yes. Dr. Jonathan Steele: So, at first, he was your son and now he's not your son. Has this been going on for a long time? People changing, becoming something other than what they are? Christine Collins: People don't change. Dr. Jonathan Steele: You don't think people change? Christine Collins: No, that's not what I... Dr. Jonathan Steele: Shh! The police, they're not out to persecute you? Christine Collins: No, they're not. Dr. Jonathan Steele: No, they're not. The police are here to protect you. Christine Collins: Yes. Dr. Jonathan Steele: Really? Christine Collins: Yes. Dr. Jonathan Steele: Well, that's odd, because when you were admitted, you told the head nurse that the police were conspiring *deliberately* to punish you. So, either the head nurse and the interns are also conspiring to punish you or you're changing your story. [pause] Dr. Jonathan Steele: Do you often have trouble telling reality from fantasy, Mrs. Collins? Christine Collins: No...
Reporter at Precinct: [as Northcott is being taken into custody] How did you avoid capture? Gordon Northcott: Well, I didn't, did I?
Dr. Jonathan Steele: By signing this, you certify that you were wrong when you stated the boy returned to you by the police was not your son. It further stipulates that the police were right in sending you here for observation and it absolves them of all responsibility. Christine Collins: I won't sign that.
Detective Lester Ybarra: If that's how you want it, then I guess we're done here. Tell county jail we're remanding him for trial. Arthur Hutchins: Wait. I didn't do anything. I wasn't even here when it happened. Detective Lester Ybarra: By pretending to be Walter Collins, you're interfering in a police investigation of a kidnapping and murder. We can try you as accomplice to that murder after the fact. That's too bad. County jail is a lot worse than a juvenile hall or a foster home. It's a lot worse. Arthur Hutchins: You can't do that. I'm just a kid. Detective Lester Ybarra: Mm. Sanford Clark's a kid, too. Fifteen. He's going to jail. All murderers and their accomplices go to jail. Everybody knows that. Get him out of here. It's out of my hands now. Arthur Hutchins: Wait. I don't want to go to jail. Detective Lester Ybarra: [pause] Prove it. Arthur Hutchins: I... I knew Los Angeles is where they make the Tom Mix movies. I figured if I could meet Tom Mix, maybe he would let me ride on his horse. His horse is named Tony. Did you know that?
Detective Lester Ybarra: Dig. You put them in the ground, now you can take them out. You heard me. Dig.
Judge: Does the defendant wish to make a statement before judgement is passed? Gordon Northcott: I want to make it real clear that I never once got a fair shake from you, Your Honor, or from this court. The only one in here worth a good goddamn is her. [points to Christine Collins] Gordon Northcott: 'Cause she's the only one who never badmouthed me to the press. She's the only one who understands what it is to be framed by the police for something you didn't do. Judge: All right, that's enough. Gordon Northcott: And then to just be thrown in the hole to just rot and to fester and to be forgotten and fade away, isn't that right? [runs over to Christine] Judge: Counsel! Gordon Northcott: I never killed your boy, Mrs. Collins. Judge: Counsel, that's enough! Gordon Northcott: I would never do that! I would never hurt Walter! Judge: Counsel, get control of your client or I'll have him bound and gagged! Gordon Northcott: He's an angel! [to his lawyer] Gordon Northcott: Get off of me!
Judge: Gordon Stewart Northcott, you've been charged with three counts of murder in the first degree with an additional seventeen counts under review by the district attorney's office. How do you plea? Gordon Northcott: Oh, not guilty, Your Honor.
Dr. John Montgomery: He had two cavities that needed filling. He put up a fight, but I took care of it. Christine Collins: And? Dr. John Montgomery: Your son's upper front teeth were separated by a small tissue, a diastema. It made them sit about an eighth of an inch apart. The boy in that room has no such gap. Christine Collins: Can that change with age? Because that's what they're going to say. Dr. John Montgomery: In some cases, yes, it's possible. But the tissue between Walter's teeth prevents that from happening. You see, they can never come together without an operation to sever the tissue, and I can tell you right now that he has never had such an operation. Christine Collins: Would you be willing to put that officially in writing? Dr. John Montgomery: Pardon my language, but hell yes.
Chief James E. Davis: Captain, your handling of the Christine Collins case has exposed this department to public ridicule. There is even the possibility of civil and criminal liability. Capt. J.J. Jones: Sir, nobody could've known what was happening up at that ranch. Not us, the sheriff's department, or the marshal's office, and as for the Collins woman, I'm still not convinced that her boy is among the victims up in Wineville. Chief James E. Davis: No? Capt. J.J. Jones: No. There were four other photos of missing boys that looked a lot like him. The Clark kid could've been mistaken. Chief James E. Davis: Maybe he was, which begs the obvious question: Who cares? Capt. J.J. Jones: Sir? Chief James E. Davis: The mayor wants this to go away. I want this to go away! The way you do that is stop insisting that Walter Collins is not among those boys killed up at that goddamn ranch! Because if the boy you brought back is not Walter Collins and he's not dead up at that ranch, then where the hell is he? People are going to want to know why we haven't found him, why we're not doing our job! But if, on the other hand, he is, or could be, among those poor boys killed up in Wineville, then the inquiries stop. [pause] Chief James E. Davis: It's a momentary embarrassment you're just going to have to live with. Better a short inconvenience than a lingering problem, wouldn't you say, Captain? Capt. J.J. Jones: Yes, sir. Chief James E. Davis: The boy's been gone nearly a year. If he was going to be found, it would have happened by now. Whether he was up at that ranch or not, the truth is he probably is dead somewhere. Better his mother accept that now than later, don't you think? Capt. J.J. Jones: Yes, sir. Chief James E. Davis: Good. That'll be all, Captain.