The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders

The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders

by Anthony Flacco, Jerry Clark


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"And you wonder: How the hell did this guy go on to be a loving father and grandfather? How did he bury all that crap? That's a story in itself." —Clint Eastwood, director of THE CHANGELING

The film story of young Sanford Clark and his forced participation in the Wineville Murders was covered in Clint Eastwood's movie, THE CHANGELING, but for answers to the questions Eastwood posed after completing the project, turn to the true story of the Wineville murders: Anthony Flacco's THE ROAD OUT OF HELL. The hell part isn't what makes the story important; it's the road out that does.

From 1926 to 1928, Gordon Stewart Northcott committed at least 20 murders on a chicken ranch outside of Los Angeles. His nephew, Sanford Clark, was held captive there from the age of 13 to 15, and was the sole surviving victim of the killing spree. Here, acclaimed crime writer Anthony Flacco—using never-before-heard information from Sanford's son, Jerry Clark—tells the real story behind the case that riveted the nation.

Forced by Northcott to take part in the murders, Sanford carried tremendous guilt all his life. Yet despite his youth and the trauma, he helped gain some justice for the dead and their families by testifying at Northcott's trial—which led to his conviction and execution. It was a shocking story, but perhaps the most shocking part of all is the extraordinarily ordinary life Clark went on to live as a decorated WWII vet, a devoted husband of 55 years, a loving father, and a productive citizen.

In dramatizing one of the darkest cases in American crime, Flacco constructs a riveting psychological drama about how Sanford was able to detoxify himself from the evil he'd encountered, offering the ultimately redemptive story of one man's remarkable ability to survive a nightmare and emerge intact.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626811843
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 11/28/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 294
Sales rank: 131,948
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Anthony Flacco was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of four brothers. Their father was an Air Force pilot and mother was a talented artist and painter.

His background as a trained stage actor with over 2,000 performances under his Actors Equity membership provides the primary basis for his critically acclaimed ability to empathize with a wide cross-section of personalities. He moved into screenwriting when he was selected for the prestigious American Film Institute fellowship in Screenwriting. He received his MFA in screenwriting after winning AFI's Paramount Studios Fellowship Award and was then selected out of 2,000 entrants for the Walt Disney Studios Screenwriting Fellowship, where he spent a year writing for the Touchstone Pictures division. His screenwriting experience drives narrative stories that are visually compelling, whether for a movie theater or the screen of a reader's imagination.

He previous works include A Checklist for Murder , which was adapted into an NBC movie of the week, The Last Nightengale , The Hidden Man , and The Road Out Of Hell: The True Story of Sanford Clark and the Wineville Murders. Tiny Dancer , originally published in 2005, received international acclaim, being names "one of the 100 Most Noteworthy Books of 2005." It is being released for the first time in eBook format in January 2013.

He is an experienced public speaker and frequently gives seminars on crime writing, and is a featured speaker on writing for writers' conferences and clubs and serves as Editorial Consultant to Martin Literary Management in Seattle, WA.

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Read an Excerpt


Thirteen-year-old Sanford Clark felt his stomach lurch when he realized that his mother was really going to send him away. He stared down at the floor and fought to control his breathing while his brain reeled from the news. Everything about it felt wrong. The atmosphere in the room took on a poisonous feel, as if a thin mist of acid had just rolled in through the window. He knew that his mother and uncle were telling him a pack of lies. It was all so off-kilter and strange that the moment belonged in a bad dream.

There was his mother, Winnie, doing more of that wink-and-grin whispering that she and her younger brother Stewart always fell into whenever they thought nobody was around. Today, for some reason, she didn't appear to care that Sanford was standing right there — or even that her husband was in the room. She seemed determined to end Uncle Stewart's visit with all the closeness that she could get from him. Sanford wondered how his father could fail to see it. But when John Clark was at home, he just kind of floated around in their lives. He had gotten himself bitched into silence at some point in the distant past, back when Sanford was too small to remember. Now he only knew his father's ghost.

He strained for a way to get his father involved, even though that was generally not productive. While John did have enough strength to explode for a minute or so when life's stresses became too much for him, he also burned out as quick as a match head. Nowadays, he seldom bothered with anything enough to lose his temper over it. On the rare occasions when he did slip, Winnie made sure he paid for it, sometimes for weeks.

But today their whispering — it almost seemed more like flirting — had the terrifying purpose of giving Sanford away to Uncle Stewart. It was clear that no one could stop her. Their story was that Uncle Stewart would be taking Sanford on a road trip in his big Buick roadster to visit the city of Regina, about 150 miles southeast, the capital of Saskatchewan. "It will be a grand trip, Sanford!" Uncle Stewart enthused. "And I know you'd love to see the Regina Pats on their home field, right?"

"They're junior league."

"Sanford," Winnie added, "Regina is our capital city and you need to know about it. It's a beautiful place and you're going to let Uncle Stewart show you around."

"We'll make a game out of it!" Uncle Stewart chimed in, lying like a crooked salesman. "We'll drive around town, looking for any leftover signs of the Regina Hurricane."

"Wasn't that before I was born?"

"Not that far. It's been fourteen years — so if they haven't fixed everything back up by now, we'll write to the newspapers! An exposé! Think of it: two hicks from Saskatoon criticizing the capital. It'll be a scandal, ha-ha!"

Sanford figured that the only scandal here was that his mother was going to give him away while she and her brother lied to him with such conviction. Sanford was no stranger to his mother's skills at deception — he had spent much of his life in listening to her lie to anybody who had anything to give up.

He had forgotten how much his mother and her brother shared the trait. Prior to this two-week visit from Uncle Stewart, Sanford had not seen him or his family since they had left Canada in a hurry two years before. Nobody ever told Sanford why the Northcott family wanted to leave the country, but their whole family knew that Uncle Stewart had managed to infuriate certain neighbors with his treatment of their children. No doubt he could lie well about that too. But Sanford had sneaked up on his mother and uncle earlier that day while they were giggling in the corner, making their plans for him. Now he knew full well that nothing about this Regina story was true.

He sneaked another glance at his mother. Winnie was in one of her detached moods, not really recognizing anything that was going on around her. The only time she looked anybody in the eye while she was in this mood was to rage at them. He figured that was why she could discuss shipping him away like it was nothing. He struggled for his voice.

"This is a bunch of baloney!" he finally blurted. "I know we're not going to Regina! He's taking me all the way down to the States! I heard you talking about that stupid chicken ranch!"

Winnie aimed that stare of hers directly into his eyes. He saw it then: she would sooner take a bite out of his skull than acknowledge the truth of anything he said. Her eyebrows pulled inward. "Why, you selfish, self-centered son of a bitch! What about momma? Huh? What about me?"

"... About you?"

"Do not answer my question with a question, you little shit!"

"Hell, Sissie — go ahead and tell him."

"Oh, now you want me to tell him?"

"Might as well."

"You want to listen to his whining?"

"He's not gonna whine." Uncle Stewart now directed a menacing gaze at Sanford. "Are you, sport?"

Sanford tried to ignore the question. "I don't want to go to —"

"He's not gonna whine!" Uncle Stewart barked. Then he continued in a menacing, overly soft voice: "Are you, sport?"

"I wasn't whining."

Winnie snorted with disgust. "God damn it, you spoiled bastard! You don't know what work is. You don't know What struggle is."

"That's something every boy should learn, Sanford," Uncle Stewart added.

"It's not fair to just —" Sanford began, but Winnie cut him off.

"All right!" she shouted. After a pause to stare into space and slowly shake her head, she took a deep breath and spoke, giving the appearance of weighing every word while she delivered her considered thoughts. "Son. There is truly — and Imean this — truly something wrong with you. I think that you are missing something that a normal boy is supposed to have. It's this selfishness of yours, the way that you only think about yourself. There are words for people like that. Bad words. So all right, then, you want to know what's up? Fine and dandy: here it is! You're going down to California with Stewart. I was trying to make it easier for you, but no, you won't have it.

"Any normal boy loves adventure. Once any real boy gets out onto the road, you know, with the wind in his hair, it's only natural for that boy to want to keep on traveling as far as he can, as long as he's got plenty of sandwiches. A mother knows these things."

"Why would I want to keep on trav —"

"But it's a waste of time to think about you. A show of courtesy is lost on you!"

Winnie ticked her way through the old list of his sins, one finger at a time. She could take two or three minutes per finger, use up every one of them and add in a few of her toes before she got it all out of her system. He took a deep breath while the familiar damnations began trundling before him: A foolish daydreamer too misty-headed for his own good. A loafer who devoured popular fiction but who could barely sit through a class and seldom passed an exam. A dolt who responded too slowly, got her orders ass-backwards, or just went about everything wrong. He had always been more trouble than he was worth.

"That's why you need this new life," she summed up. "You can go to school down there and help take care of Uncle Stewart's place the rest of the time."

But to Sanford, this "real story" sounded every bit as ridiculous as their lie. Breeding livestock with Uncle Stewart out in the desert? Sanford's Uncle Stewart was a delicate, twenty-year- old aspiring pianist. He had lived all of his life in Canada until two years ago, when he and his parents had left for the States. The would- be chicken rancher had always been tremendously proud of the fact that he played the piano with enough skill to appear professionally with local orchestras and silent film houses. Uncle Stewart had played up here in the province and supposedly down in the States as well. The whole damned family knew about his dreams of becoming a concert pianist. And as for living in the desert, Sanford had never thought about it before, but why would anybody move from a city like Los Angeles to live in the middle of nowhere unless they had to?

He chewed his lip in consternation and pushed his brain for an answer: what could there be about such an isolated location that would hold Uncle Stewart's interest? Nobody was mentioning anything about that. But it stood to reason that a bunch of cooped-up fowl would be filthy and have an overpowering smell in that heat. Taking care of them was a guaranteed grind of disgusting work that went against everything Sanford knew about his uncle.

A stinking chicken ranch.

He threw a sideways glance at Uncle Stewart, who was staring at him with a mixture of impatience to get going and disappointment with his cargo. Uncle Stewart had made it clear for the entire two weeks of his visit that he really wanted Sanford's younger brother Kenneth. He had raved like a trial lawyer, trying to persuade Winnie to let go of that boy. It was a surprise to everybody when Winnie flatly refused. She had always been willing to give her brother anything he wanted, so much so that Sanford fully expected that he and his brother would both have to go. Young Kenneth was Winnie's favorite son, however. She never made a secret of that. So to Sanford's amazement, she actually told her brother that he was asking too much of her. She stopped his objections before he could even get started by holding up her hand and announcing that she would "only say it once." All talk of taking her favorite boy was over. Stewart would just have to make do with Sanford.

"But all my friends are here," Sanford began again.

"You'll make new ones," Winnie replied with a shrug. "You're a kid."

"And you need to get away from your trouble-maker friends," jeered Uncle Stewart.

"They're not —"

"Sanford!" Winnie's voice shot through the room like a gun blast.

After a pause, Uncle Stewart began to console him with talk of enrolling in a local Scouting program down there "to offer you some boyhood adventure and also to help with your character development." Winnie added that it might be just what he needed.

Sanford desperately wanted to produce an argument in the strongest possible terms against going, but he had no idea how to stand up for himself against these two adults. He had no available examples. The most that he could do was to stuff his outrage back down out of sight. After that, all he could do was to grit his teeth and look for the chance to jump in on the conversation like a kid who has to pee. Meanwhile, two of the adults planned his future while his father studied the daily paper.

Now that the pose about going to Regina was over, Winnie and her brother dropped it as if it had never existed. Neither of them displayed any trace of embarrassment over being discovered. Ordinarily this shared trait was the only thing that Sanford liked about dealing with either of them, because when they decided to bury something, it just disappeared. The pattern was that they got mad, flew into a rage, then got over it and moved on. Sanford noticed how easily they meshed that way; they didn't even have to check with each other first. There was a degree of certainty in that. Winnie's fires flashed quickly and burned hot; smoldering was something left to her husband. This time, however, Sanford found that the topic of his forced trip was disappearing much too quickly. He felt himself being flushed away with it.

Uncle Stewart noticed Sanford's distress and broke into a broad grin. "Winnie! I get the feeling Sanford doesn't appreciate how the ranching experience is going to mold his character. I'm really going to toughen him up!" He laughed out loud at that, then winked at Winnie like a guy who has just made a very fine joke indeed.

This one time, Sanford's mother did not laugh along with him the way she always did. That struck Sanford as very odd, combined with the way her expression changed when her brother spoke of toughening him up. Even though Winnie was in that detached mood of hers, she looked away from Sanford as if she could not meet his eyes. That was so out of character for her that it instilled a sense of dread in him. Restrained silence was the domain of the male in that house.

"Ahem!" John Clark surprised everyone by speaking out this time.

For one flashing moment, Sanford's hopes soared. His father came to life like a man snapping out of a nap. His gangly form rose from the chair and stood tall with an angry set to his jaw and determination in his eyes. He nodded to his son, then stared back and forth between the other two. "Might as well say it right now — I don't care for the sound of this plan at all. I have not heard one single solitary thing about it that shows me any common sense!" He glared at Uncle Stewart to emphasize that he didn't trust him one little bit. It was glorious.

"Oh, my!" Winnie replied at the very top of her voice, acting like she truly was impressed. "Aren't you the smart one, John! Aren't you the manly parent! So tell us: what is your new job that's going to bring home the extra money to make up for what it would cost us to keep him here? Knock-knock, anybody home? Oh, what's that? No answer? Bastard! Figure out that one, if you get to feeling cocky — instead of just standing there with your cock in your hand!" She and Uncle Stewart both snorted like horses.

That was all it took for Winnie Clark to beat John Clark back into his silence and his newspaper. Sanford could almost see the puncture marks in his father's face. The machinery of their relationship groaned into action while his father clenched his jaw and blushed an angry color, then sat back down without looking at his son. He shook his head and stared into space. Sanford could hear him grinding his teeth.

Sanford would have bolted from the house if he had had any idea of somewhere safe to go. He tried to think of a workable destination, but it was no good. At his age, what could he tell people that would keep them from sending him right back? And then how angry would Winnie be?

The only real glimmer of hope left to him was his older sister Jessie. She was already seventeen and would be able to leave home soon. Then he might be able to run off and live with her. Somehow improvise a new life. He would be willing to try almost anything else besides living out in the desert, just him and Uncle Stewart and hundreds of caged birds.

A stinking chicken ranch.

Uncle Stewart gripped him by the back of his neck and announced that it was time to get going. It would take days to drive all the way through the States to southern California. Uncle Stewart announced that their first stop in California was going to be a visit to his parents in Los Angeles. Sanford remembered his grandparents well enough from when they had lived up here nearby, but he barely knew them. His naturally shy nature gave him no comfort in the idea of their home.

Uncle Stewart snatched up Sanford's small duffel bag with one hand and kept the other on the back of his neck while he walked him out of the house. The hurried good-byes passed in a blur. Sanford noticed that his father's handshake felt extra firm. He figured that it meant his father was sorry that he couldn't do more to help. The thought felt good.

He felt better for a moment when Jessie hugged him. The hardest thing was to leave Jessie behind. She had been his protector often enough, but there was nothing she could do in a situation like this. It struck him then, getting back to his previous thought, that she could hardly be expected to take him with her and support them both. And Jessie was far too protective of him to ever agree that he could quit school and work, just to escape their family home.

"You'd better write to me," she whispered into his ear.

"Don't let 'em do this, Jessie!" he blurted out and immediately regretted it.

"What? Come on now, Sang."

The nickname always got his attention. Nobody else called him that. Her voice was so soft that she practically breathed the words to him.

"I know you'll make the best of everything. Why, I'll come and get you myself if I have to, soon as I'm able to do it."

Then she let go of him. He hated the feeling of helplessness and could not imagine how grownups managed to get used to it.

By the time they hit the United States border at Montana, they had been driving for nearly twelve hours over some pretty poor roadbed. Sanford was glad for the chance to stretch his legs at the border, so he hardly bothered to pay attention when Uncle Stewart told him what to do next.

"All right, now: no matter what, you keep quiet. I do the talking. It's legal for me to cross back over, but to get you into the States we have to claim you have dual citizenship."


Excerpted from "The Road Out of Hell"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Anthony Flacco.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
The Wineville murders were mentioned in the film "The Changeling" and that what got me interested in learning more. Anthony Flacco's book "The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders" is an in-depth account of What Sanford Clark endured at the hands of his uncle Gordon Stewart Northcott. It is quite explicit and one must be prepared when reading this book. These murders and the treatment of Sanford are not for the faint of heart. A truly incredible non-fiction crime story.
iamwillvail More than 1 year ago
I wound up reading this book in one sitting. It is stunning! Written more in the style of a novel than a true crime paperback, it recreates the crimes of Norcott against his victims, chiefly those perpetrated against his nephew Sanford Clark, in vivid and terrifying detail.The story is not for the faint of heart. Having read a couple of books and articles about G.S.Northcott I was already aware of the crimes and resulting court case. I wish that some of that were included in this book. Even if it had been a timeline of the crimes and trials I would have found it helpful. Since this is based on and about the life and recollections of Sanford Clark I can understand why the author chose to omit Northcott's side of the story. If I have two complaints they are these: The original publication had photos included in it. The Nook version of this book does not. As an avid reader of memoir and true crime, I honestly missed the photo insert that has become so ubiquitous in crime novels. Secondly, all of the dry, turn-of-the-century references to sodomy and homosexuality as, "The most infamous of crimes against nature", or "The unspeakable act of sodomy" kept drawing me out of the narrative. If it were shared as a direct quote it was understandable, but as it often is said in the midst of the authors descriptions of the crimes committed I found it an annoyance. Just say it, don't dress it up in film-noir esque quips. All-in-all, a great read. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of a boy who could not be destroyed and grew up to have a good life. There aren't many people who could go through what he did and come out of it still a good, decent human being.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book -- I would highly recommend it -- definitely the best true crime novel I have read...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Utterly moving! Very well written. Thank you for sharing the life of someone so decent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The true story is so heart breaking that it keeps u turning turning the pages. Although the writer puts in much detail,... life tells u that much is missing in unspoken events. Details that only the monster and his victoms know. Be warned... keep the tissues close by, it is heart breaking. Tje imdite to such a killer should be placed inall our iives when meating a stranger. Stranger to us anyway
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unbelievably sad story. It broke my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OMG!!! What a story--couldn't put it down!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unbelievable story! Couldn't put it down.
acboothby More than 1 year ago
Devastating story! Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one day...I couldn't put it down!! Very well written. When I was done reading this book I looked for more books by Mr. Flacco and found another true crime book, which was also very very good!! I will definately be watching for more of his "True Crime" books!!
Kaitlyn_Ross More than 1 year ago
The Road Out of Hell is a non-fiction account of the Wineville Murders written from the perspective of Sanford Clark, the fifteen year old boy that was given to the murderous pedophile, twenty one year old Gordon Stewart Wescott, by his own (Brown's) mother. Brown was kept at the chicken ranch by Wescott during the two years of Wescott's murder spree. The story is well-written by Falco and Jerry Clark, the son of Sanford Clark. The experiences of Sanford while at the ranch are published with much detail and only the insight one could gain from experience. A true story of an evil of epic proportion, one does not leave the pages unscathed. In this writer's opinion, the story of a boy who paid a price his entire life for a debt he did not owe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Very well written. Anthony Flacco tells this story in a way that it grabs you from the beginning and you won't want to put it down. It is hard for me to comprehend such an evil uncle and the horrendous things he did to this child. How he survived all this was nothing short of a miracle & the grace of God. I am looking forward to more of his books.
MartinLiteraryManagement More than 1 year ago
Anthony Flacco would like to personally thank any positive reviewers who take the time to enter a review here by sending them an autographed bookplate for The Road Out of Hell. To do so, just send him an email with your mailing address.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wescott was pure evil ! How Clark survived and became the wonderful man that he was is incomprehensible
ClassicBookReader More than 1 year ago
This was a good read in getting the information from a personal style of understanding the pain and suffering Sanford Clark went through. The writing on this horrible subject in criminal history is done in a matter of fact and personal way. I do feel that a lot of the book was repetitive in nature and seems to linger to long in spots. Overlooking the repetitive nature, the book is very brutal in description and very educational in the department of this sick and twisted man. This serial killer used his adult hood and his sexual depravity upon children. Truly a deranged psycho that should not be forgotten. The children that perished and lived should not be forgotten. Their memories of innocence and the ultimate destruction at the hands of a beast must be remembered. The innocent victim should never be forgotten. The Clint Eastwood movie, The Changeling pushed my interest in seeking out the truths and reality of the story about the murders of these children. I was excited to find this book. This book sheds light on the subject and all its brutality. If you liked the movie and want to learn more, then this book displays the truths of the subject and the history of the ordeal. For crime buffs I recommend. For the casual reader, maybe not, because it is disturbing in many of its descriptions. I do think it's a worthy book to recommend and own and display on any persons shelf that studies or enjoys reading about criminal history. It has its flaws, but one reading, can overlook the repetitive nature.
donnasreview More than 1 year ago
Some very hard parts to read but generally was able to read it all. It is well written. Much better then any other story out there about what happened. Very detailed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have ever read! I wish I could have met Stanford Clark, he is now my hero!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book. Kept me wanting to read more
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