John J. Campbell | Homicide w/ a Firearm

Photo courtesy of Tom Campbell

Photo courtesy of Tom Campbell

My story doesn’t quite fit today’s narrative as it’s a mix of inner city and old style ‘mass’ murder. Inner City in that my dad, John J. Campbell, was shot to death in NYC on Dec 23 1965 by a neighborhood punk who went on to kill 15 to 30 more people over the next 25 yrs, ie a serial killer. I was 17 at the time, second oldest of 7, the youngest being 2. It happened Christmas Eve in a local bar where dad stopped on his way home from the second shift (4-12). The shooter lived around the corner from us and the bar was around another corner so there was no more than a few hundred yards separating everything. Back then, the shooter was described as a JD – Juvenile Delinquent – and had already spent some time in detention centers for various offenses. That night he picked up his father’s police service revolver, left unlocked and loaded in a bureau drawer and walked out of his house. At 1AM, he entered the same bar and while the owner was shooting pool with another patron, Dad was shot.

Nobody witnessed the shooting or what preceded it but the shooter then announced it was a stick-up. He left with a little money and went on the run where he killed another guy in a car-jacking. He was soon arrested, tried and found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 yrs. About 5 yrs into his sentence, he escaped only to be recaptured shortly thereafter. During the investigation into the escape, stories started coming out about how abusive his alcoholic parents were, some from his own siblings who were still at home. Then came results of earlier tests showing lifelong untreated psychological problems and the like. So his case was reviewed and the sentence reduced for these mitigating circumstances and his book perfect behavior while in prison. He was back on the streets in about 12 yrs. Then his psychopathic personality really came to the fore. While he married, had kids, and held down a job, looking like a truly rehabilitated soul after finally getting a square deal, he actually had also become a gun for hire for a local mafia family which was engaged in a running battles with other families and crews over turf and product. It worked like a charm. He was Irish with fair skin and reddish hair so while his targets were looking over their shoulders for Italian hoods, they never saw him coming. Since it was bad guys killing bad guys, cops and DA’s didn’t work the murders that hard. Someone finally ratted him out and very strong cases were made in a number of killings. In a strange negotiation dance he also admitted to others raising the count to 15. The cops let it be known that they ‘Liked’ him in an additional 15 but didn’t see the need to pursue those cases using scarce resources etc. He’s been in for life since then and was actually profiled on the TV show Biography where he described some of the more intricate murders. So, it happened, then the trial, then the escape, then the case review, then the release, then quiet, then arrest again, trial again, sentence again, and a TV show – all rather relentless triggers of dark memories and profound sadness.

With a wife and 7 children his murder turned the family’s life upside down. My older brother returned home and I left school in order to help support the household. My younger siblings were somewhat unaware of the ups and downs of the saga but still had to live without a father and through the emotional and financial consequences of his death. As for my mom and my older siblings, the never ending news about the killer kept the sores raw and painful.

For me there was relative quiet over the past 20-25 years after the killer was put away for life and I was focused on my own family and career. We moved into Ridgefield Ct and then to Danbury but the scabs and scars were ripped open again by what happened in near-by Sandy Hook. Shocked and angry I was forced to open my eyes to the continuing level of gun violence in our country. I decided I had to fight it as hard as possible and co-founded a local chapter of the Brady Campaign in early 2013. About a year later I was invited onto the board of the Newtown Action Alliance and The Newtown Foundation. My only regret is that I did not become an activist much earlier.

Dad was a true member of The Greatest Generation. He grew up during the Depression in a working class family that was often without work. He got himself through high school and a bit of college before getting married. But then he got drafted. He was part of the Allied landings in Africa and the campaigns in Sicily, Italy and eventually Germany. When it was over he had accrued enough points to be on the same transport home as the most decorated American soldier in the war, Audie Murphy.
It should be mentioned that this information was not easy to come by. Bits and pieces were revealed here and there as often as not by uncles and aunts rather than by Dad himself. He spent the next 20 years working the late shifts (more money) and teaching us by example what he takes to be a responsible adult.

Calls to action:

  • The Sodina Project shares stories to foster connection and save lives. This grass-roots movement needs your help in connecting with others. Please share the stories and blog posts with your friends and social networks if they have moved you or made you reflective. You will find sharing options at the end of each post.
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Sodina | Voices to Stop Violence

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