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THE CHANGELING

Before The Production
The history of Los Angeles is marked by sensational tales of corruption, cover-ups and murder during the city's formative years. From the Roscoe "Fatty” Arbuckle rape and murder trial of young starlet Virginia Rappe in 1921 and the kidnapping of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in 1926 to the Black Dahlia murder in 1947, scandal has long permeated the city and shone unfavorable light upon her political operatives.

But it was the little-remembered story of one working-class woman's struggle— amidst insurmountable odds—to find her missing son that would, almost 80 years later, forge a partnership between several of Hollywood's most highly regarded filmmakers. The incredible tale of Christine Collins was one that almost vanished to obscurity before a former journalist stumbled upon her sensational, poignant story.

Within the subterranean halls of Los Angeles City Hall, the dusty archives of city business dating back almost 100 years are housed. Among these tens of thousands of pages of documents lies the public record of Christine Collins and the City Council welfare hearings from the late 1920s. They tell a patchwork tale of the disappearance of her young nine-year-old son, Walter, and the corrupt machinations of the Los Angeles Police Department during and after the flawed investigation of the case.

Several years ago, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, a former journalist who has written for Los Angeles Times, The Herald Examiner and Time, among other publications, stumbled across this astonishing story of a working-class woman who brought down a political machine. As the adage is written, a reporter is only as good as his sources, and Straczynski knew he had a lead when a longtime contact phoned him up. Recalls the screenwriter: "A source I had at City Hall called one day and said they were burning old records and that there was something I should take a look at before they put it into the incinerator. So I zoomed down to City Hall, and they had a transcript of a City Council welfare hearing in the case of Christine Collins. I began reading the testimony and thought, ‘This can't actually have happened. This has got to be a mistake.' But it was enough for me to get hooked before the book went into the fire.”

Los Angeles in 1928 was in the grips of a despotic political infrastructure, led by Mayor George E. Cryer and enforced by Police Chief James E. "Two Guns” Davis (often photographed in a gunslinger pose with his weapons) and his sanctioned gun squad that terrorized the city at will. That despotic rule began to unravel when Collins, a single mother raising a son in a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, reported her nine-year- old missing. Months of fruitless searching followed, and the police had nothing to show, save an onslaught of negative publicity and mounting public pressure to find a solid lead in the kidnapping.

When a boy claiming to be Walter was discovered in DeKalb, Illinois, Christine Collins—and all involved in the search—waited with bated breath. Letters and photos were exchanged, and the authorities believed the missing persons case had been solved. Collins scraped together the money to bring the boy home, and LAPD organized a very public photo-op reunion with the found child and anxious mother. Hoping to put a stop to the scrutiny surrounding their inability to solve this case and others—and desperate for uplift from human-interest success to counter the string of corruption scandals—members of the department felt the reunion could spell public redemption for LAPD's top brass. The only problem was that the child who arrived home was not Walter.

Despite her immediate and repeated declarations that the boy returned was not hers, Collins was rebuffed by the officer in charge of her case, Captain J.J. Jones. She was told—as recounted from the City Council<

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