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Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929

Fit To Plead, Scathing Prosecution Attack

Defendant: Henry Colin Campbell
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Francis A. Gordon
Chief Prosecutor: Abe J. David
Judge: Clarence E. Case
Place: Elizabeth, New Jersey
Date of Trial: June 9-13, 1929
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: A curious case in which claims of amnesia were used by a killer to demonstrate his mental instability and hopefully keep him off death row.

When the charred remains of a woman—her skull blasted by a bullet—were found beside a highway in Cranford, New Jersey, on February 23, 1929, the crime left local police baffled. For six weeks they struggled to identify the victim, until a routine circular came back from Greenville, Pennsylvania, saying that the corpse sounded very much like a local woman, Mildred Mowry, who had been missing since early February. Investigation revealed some bizarre recent developments in the life of the middle-aged widow. In August 1928, she had apparently married a 60-year-old doctor named Richard Campbell, whom she had met through a matrimonial agency. Just one day after the ceremony, Campbell had convinced Mildred to deposit her life savings of $1,000 in his bank account; then, claiming pressure of work, he took off for California.

Mildred labored to keep in touch by mail, but as the silences between letters grew longer, concern overwhelmed discretion and she set out to track down her errant husband.

And then she disappeared.

Far from being on the West Coast, Campbell had moved no farther than Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was living under his real name of Henry Colin Campbell, with his genuine wife and family, when police came knocking on his door on April 11, 1929, with an arrest warrant for murder. Campbell's claims to be a doctor were as spurious as the marriage he had entered into with Mildred Mowry, and it soon became apparent to the police that not only had they trapped a career criminal, but possibly a serial killer, as well.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940