In a lurid, fascinating episode of After Hours AM/The Criminal Code Radio — True Crime Wednesdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis, Eric Olsen, and secret weapon, forensic psychologist Dr. Clarissa Cole — we investigate the heinous early-20th century crimes of sexual predator and murderer Gordon Northcott with author and historian David Culczyk. We speak with David at 10pE; at 9pE Clarissa leads us through the week’s most titillating True Crime news.
Gordon 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 and 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.
In 1926, the 19-year-old Gordon 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.
What happened next? Listen to the program to find out, and click over to Clarissa’s site for more details and her psych profile of Northcott, whose tale is also told in David Kulczyk’s DEATH IN CALIFORNIA.
David Kulczyk (“Coal-check”) is a California historian who specializes in crime and odd deaths in the Golden State. He is the author four books; California Justice, Death in California, California’s Fruits, Flakes and Nuts and California’s Deadliest Women. His weekly podcast is Death In California. Kulczyk was born in Bay City, Michigan, in 1958, and grew up in nearby Linwood. He spent his twenties as a musician, his thirties as a bike messenger, his forties making money, and his fifties writing books. David was Associate Editor at Maximum Ink Music Magazine from 1999 to 2007 and his work has appeared in The SF Guardian, The East Bay Express, Madison Magazine, Pop Culture Press, the Seattle Times, and the Sacramento News and Review. He lives in Sacramento.