A 1930s document obtained by PEOPLE solves a key mystery in the true story that became the Angelina Jolie thriller
Credit: Tony Rivetti Jr.; Los Angeles Public Library

One of the enduring questions behind Angelina Jolie‘s film Changeling is why a little boy pretended to be a distraught mother’s missing son. Now after almost 80 years, that mystery has been solved.

PEOPLE has exclusively obtained a 25-page narrative the then-15-year-old Arthur J. Hutchins wrote in 1933, detailing how and why the Iowa-born runaway – whose own mother died when he was 9 – fooled the police, the real missing boy’s closest friends, and even the missing boy’s dog and cat in 1928.

Hutchins began the masquerade primarily to get as far away as possible from his stepmother, Violet.

“A person doesn’t realize what a hell this world can be at the hands of a step-mother that doesn’t love or want you,” wrote Hutchins, who called himself “a boy adventurer,” in a document provided to PEOPLE by his family.

A Way to Get to California

Hutchins had been living on the road for a month when DeKalb, Ill., police brought him in and began asking him questions about Walter Collins, a Glendale, Calif., 9-year-old who mysteriously vanished six months earlier. (In the movie, Devon Conti plays Hutchins.)

“I said, ‘No, I didn’t know Walter’ but then I heard them say something about California,” wrote Hutchins. “So I said I was Walter Collins because I was sure that would be my best way to get to California.”

When Christine Collins, who is played by Jolie in the Clint Eastwood-directed thriller, met the boy claiming to be her son, she told police that they had been mistaken, but no one listened. Instead, police booked her into the psychiatric ward for what they called “peculiar behavior.”

An Apology to Mrs. Collins

The real Walter Collins was never found and may have been the victim of a notorious serial killer of the era, Gordon Stewart Northcott. Hutchins would finally confess to the hoax and eventually show remorse for what he had done to Christine.

“I know I owe an apology to Mrs. Collins and to the state of California,” wrote Hutchins, who spent more than two years in the Iowa State Training School for Boys in Eldora, Iowa, as a result of his actions.

Arthur Hutchins would grow up to sell concessions at carnivals and even made it back to California as a horse trainer and jockey. He died of a blood clot in 1954, leaving behind a wife and young daughter, Carol.

“My dad was full of adventure,” Carol Hutchins tells PEOPLE. “In my mind, he could do no wrong.”

For more about the real story behind Changeling, pick up PEOPLE Magazine on newsstands now

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