Changeling movie synopsis: Los Angeles, 1928. A single mother returns from work to find her nine-year-old son gone. She calls the LAPD to initiate a search. Five months later, a boy is found in Illinois who fits the description; he says he's her son. To fanfare and photos, the LAPD reunite mother and son, but she insists he's not her boy. The cops dismiss her as either a liar or hysterical. When she joins a minister in his public criticism of the police, they in turn use government power to silence and intimidate her. Meanwhile, a cop goes to a dilapidated ranch to find a Canadian lad who's without legal status; the youth tells a grisly tale. There's redress for murder; is there redress for abuse of power?
The true story: In 1926, 13-year-old Sanford Clark was taken from his home in Saskatchewan, Canada (with the permission of his mother and reluctant father) by his uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott. Northcott took Clark to a ranch in Wineville, California, where he regularly beat and sexually abused the boy—until August 1928, when the police took Clark into custody after a family member informed them of the situation. Clark revealed that he was forced to help Northcott and his mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, in killing several young boys after Northcott had kidnapped and sexually molested them. The police found no bodies at the ranch—Clark said they were dumped in the desert—but discovered body parts, blood-stained axes, and personal effects belonging to missing children. The Northcotts fled to Canada, but were arrested and extradited to the United States. Sarah Louise initially confessed to the murders, including that of Walter Collins. She later retracted her statement; Gordon, who had confessed to killing five boys, did likewise.
After Christine Collins was released from Los Angeles County Hospital, she sued the police department twice, winning the second lawsuit. Although police captain Jones was ordered to pay Collins $10,800, he never did. A city council welfare hearing recommended that Jones and Chief of Police James E. Davis leave their posts, but both were later reinstated. The California State Legislature later made it illegal for the police to commit someone to a psychiatric facility without a warrant. Northcott was convicted of the murders of Lewis Winslow , Nelson Winslow and an unidentified Mexican boy; after his conviction, Northcott was reported to have admitted to up to 20 murders, though he later denied the claim. Northcott was executed by hanging in 1930. Sarah Louise was convicted of Walter Collins's murder and served almost 12 years in prison. In 1930, the residents of Wineville changed the town's name to Mira Loma to escape the notoriety brought by the case.
Box Office: Changeling performed modestly at the box office, grossing more internationally than in North America. The total worldwide gross was $113 million.