Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Margaret Campbell -- Mother Murder by Moonlight


In films since 1919 (Please Get Married and The Price of Innocence), Campbell (born April 24, 1883) was a second female lead and character actress in at least 24 films including Their Mutual Child (1920), Legally Dead (1923), The Lady from Hell (1926), Children of Divorce (1927), and her last documented appearance, Take the Heir, in 1930.  By 1939, the 56-year-old mother was employed as a W.P.A. elocution instructor at Los Angeles City College, and served as secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i.  On June 27, 1939, the manager of the Hollywood rooming-house at 7058 Hawthorne Avenue where the former actress lived with her 25-year-old son, Campbell McDonald, became alarmed when, after not seeing her tenant for two days, noticed a key hanging above the door of Campbell's room.  Entering, she found Campbell's half-nude body sprawled across an unmade bed, her head shattered by multiple blows from a bloody claw hammer nearby on a pillowcase.  Campbell's nightclothes were disarranged and two bloody handprints were found on her thighs.  Placed carefully near the body were a candle, a whistle, a key and a Bible tract.  A forensics team determined Campbell had been dead for two days.  A statewide manhunt for the woman's missing son, a former crossing guard and a student of spiritualism last seen on the night before the murder, led to Campbell McDonald's arrest two days later in Santa Monica.  McDonald, who spent the days since his mother's death sleeping on park benches in the area, readily admitted to murdering the woman.  However, as police continued interrogating the soft-spoken, well-mannered suspect they began to doubt his sanity.  Those who know Campbell and McDonald painted a disturbing portrait of the mother and son relationship.  A sickly child, McDonald spent only three weeks in school before his overly protective mother took over tutoring him for the rest of his education.

Taken to the still bloody scene of the crime, an unemotional McDonald informed police, "I feel soiled.  I want to shave and put on a clean shirt, if I may."  After being permitted to do so, he related how his mother had returned late from a religious meeting on the night of the murder.  She warned him that reading too much would lead to another nervous breakdown (he suffered one two years earlier) and threatened to commit him to a mental asylum if he did not obey her.  Later that night after they went to bed, McDonald could not sleep.  Looking down into the murder bed, he calmly told police:  "I stood here...I'm left-handed.  I remember it was moonlight enough so I didn't turn on any lights.  Everything seemed like a dream.  It does now, it is all hazy like, but I remember she didn't scream.  I hit her first on the forehead.  Then some more.  I know my hands were bloody and sticky so I washed them.  Then I found her pocketbook.  It had $10.00 all together.  It was just getting dawn when I left the house."  McDonald dimly remembered placing the candle, whistle, key, and Bible tract near the body, but insisted they held no symbolic significance.  Though McDonald was arraigned for the murder and insisted that he was mentally competent to stand trial, three court-appointed psychiatrists disagreed.  The judge, citing that no sane man could fail to shed a tear over the death of his own mother, ruled on September 5, 1939, that McDonald was insane, and sentenced him to the Mendocino State Hospital until such time as he was ruled psychologically fit to stand trial for the murder.  McDonald was briefly considered a suspect in the bludgeon murder of Russian dancer Anya Sosoyeva on the campus of Los Angeles City College on February 24, 1939 and the near fatal clubbing of 17-year-old actress Delia Bogard in Hollywood on March 28, 1939, but DeWitt Clinton Cook, a 20-year-old printer, was ultimately convicted of the crimes.

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