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Family of Slain Mickey Thompson : Tragedy-Plagued Couple Fight for Victims' Rights

March 20, 1988|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

Maybe there is a reason why the closest families shoulder some of the worst tragedy, say Collene and Gary Campbell of San Juan Capistrano.

Last Wednesday, Collene Campbell's only sibling, racing promoter Mickey Thompson, and his wife, Trudy, were killed by gunmen outside their home in the San Gabriel Valley community of Bradbury.

Six years ago, the Campbells' 27-year-old son, Scott, was strangled and his body thrown from a small airplane at 2,000 feet, a mile past Santa Catalina Island. His two killers were finally convicted five years later. Because of that experience, Collene Campbell today is an outspoken advocate of victims' rights.

"Maybe God is telling us we're just not doing enough, not working hard enough," Collene Campbell said. "I don't know. If there's a message in all this, I haven't had time to sort it out."

Her grief at yet another family loss through extreme violence has been camouflaged by a whirlwind of necessary activity.

Collene Campbell first heard the news about her brother and his wife when his son, Danny, called. A neighbor had told him that there had been shots at the house in Bradbury. Collene Campbell called a friend in law enforcement and learned that the Thompsons were dead.

Meeting 'More Important Than Ever'

After sharing the news with other relatives, the Campbells drove to Bradbury and talked with police for six hours. Then, it was on to San Diego, where they helped organize a chapter of the California Justice Committee. Collene Campbell is state coordinator for the group, which is trying to put the Victims' Rights Initiative on the November ballot.

"We told each other in the car driving back from Mickey's that it was more important than ever that we make that meeting," Gary Campbell said.

On Thursday, between funeral arrangements and meetings with estate lawyers, the pair squeezed in hospital visits to Mickey and Collene's 88-year-old mother, Geneva, who had suffered a heart attack after the news, and to their pregnant daughter, Shelly, who was devastated by the two deaths.

Finally home on Friday, at their spacious hillside home, Gary Campbell held up well until he talked about Shelly's two children, ages 5 and 7.

"Today is the day," and he cried. Later in the morning, he finally got it out. "Today is the day they (the parents) have chosen to tell the children about their Uncle Mickey and Aunt Trudy."

It has, Gary Campbell said, "taken a long time just for them to understand their Uncle Scott's murder."

Before all the violence, the Campbells could only wonder about their good fortune.

"We just had the world by the tail," Gary Campbell said. "We worked hard, but we played hard. And we just had so much love for each other it was unbelievable--Christmas took three days, we had so much love."

The Campbells, both 55, were high school sweethearts and were both close to Mickey and Trudy.

For years, Collene Campbell had worked with her brother, handling promotions and sponsors. Gary Campbell, who is in advertising and marketing, got involved too.

"She and Mickey talked on the telephone every day--I mean every single day," Gary Campbell said. "And as close as she was to Mickey, she was even closer to Trudy."

The first jolt came in 1975, when Scott Campbell was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of an acquaintance. The Campbells say it was self-defense. But Scott Campbell hid the body for two days. Although convicted, he served only a few days and went on a work-furlough program.

Then in 1982, Scott Campbell, who lived in Anaheim, suddenly disappeared.

The Campbells then began one of the most unique ventures into private investigation the county has ever seen. Prosecutors say now that Scott Campbell's two killers, Larry Cowell and Donald DiMascio, would never have been arrested had it not been for the Campbells.

It was they who gathered the evidence that led to Cowell, whose family was close friends with the Campbells.

But the Anaheim police did not have enough evidence to arrest Cowell.

To the Campbells' dismay, they learned that their son had planned a trip to North Dakota to sell cocaine the day he disappeared. They also learned that the buyer, unbeknown to Scott, was a federal drug agency informant.

It was Collene Campbell who talked by telephone to the drug informant, Greg Fox, in North Dakota and convinced him to fly to Orange County and help the police trap Cowell and DiMascio into confessing.

Through an incredible plan worked out by the police, Fox told Cowell and DiMascio that he had to answer to other drug bosses about Campbell and had to be sure he was dead. The two made detailed confessions, which the police secretly taped.

But the Campbells were troubled by what followed. The killers were granted separate trials and numerous trial delays. It wasn't until last summer that the second trial ended. DiMascio, the actual killer, was sentenced to life without parole. Cowell was sentenced to 25 years to life.

The Campbells were so angry at the criminal justice system that they joined a victims' rights group. For the next two months, they plan to help gather 600,000 signatures in a petition drive for a victims' rights initiative.

Now, named as administrator for Mickey Thompson's estate, Collene Campbell will have to somehow find the hours to do it all.

But Gary Campbell is convinced his wife can do it.

"She's tough stock," he said.

In early April, they will hold a petition drive meeting that Mickey and Trudy Thompson had planned to host.

But the one day they will take off from everything else is April 17. That's the anniversary of their son's death.

As they do every year, they will climb into their 23-foot power boat, drive a mile past Santa Catalina Island, and drop flowers in the water for Scott.

"We don't have a grave to visit," Gary Campbell said. "We just want Scott to know how much we care."

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