Thirteen year old Sanford Clark lived through unspeakable horrors at the hand of this Uncle Gordon Stewart Northcott. Uncle Stewart raped and tortured Sanford for two years, while the two lived on Northcott’s isolated chicken ranch in southern California.
However, rape and torture were only part of the story. Anthony Flacco in his meticulously researched book The Road Out of Hell tells the rest of the story. Northcott sodimized, tortured and murdered as many as twenty boys on the ranch, known as the Winesville Chicken Coup. He forced Sanford, under threat of violence, to join in his fiendish conduct. Northcott’s mother, an enabler of her psychotic son, willingly joined in his diabolical murders.
The book’s chilling interplay between mother and child is a vivid portrait of psychopathy. Flacco describes when Northcott invited his mother, under false pretenses, to the ranch because he kidnapped a child whose mother knew Northcott. Northcott’s mother said, moments before she murdered the child, “All of that shit about sick birds. Do you know that I used up my days off for the entire month to come out here?” Flacco described the psychopath, lack of emotion, empathy and remorse, without a single clinical reference.
The Academy-Award nominated movie Changeling directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie is based in part on the Winesville killings and the haunting relationship between Sanford and Northcott.
Flacco’s story goes beyond the mind boggling deviance of Northcutt. Flacco weaves a story of redemption out of a tale of horror. Sanford Clark’s story doesn’t end at the Winesville Chicken Coup in southern California—it is just beginning.
The Road Out of Hell is riveting. The first 150 pages wherein the book details the tormented life of Sanford Clark, the rape, torture and murder of some of Northcott's many child victims and the twisted relationship between Northcott and his mother was at times difficult to comprehend. However, it was also difficult to put down.
The book is an amazing tale of how little separates the diabolical from the divine. There are countless stories of offenders who blame a childhood of abuse, lack of family support or underprivileged upbringing for their criminal ways. Yet, Flacco provides us with a portrait of a man who overcame abuse and lived, by all accounts, a model life. The Road Out of Hell tells two stories, both equally incongruent, one about evil and one about good.
The Road Out of Hell demonstrates that a victim of the unthinkable can survive and thrive. The book provides the reader with a compelling perspective on victimization, psychopathy and redemption.
Anthony Flacco with Jerry Clark