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The body was found– either charred, or still ablaze, depending on the imagination of the local beat writer– just off the road near Cranford, New Jersey. Discovered in a snow bank, the corpse had a hole blown in its skull. The woman’s clothes had been soaked in gasoline.

No one, however, knew who she was. The morgue stored an unidentified body for six weeks.

Big Guns from Pinkerton

Pinkerton's National Detective Agency

Baffled NJ detectives needed help. They enlisted the aid of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, whose founder had foiled The Baltimore Plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and whose agents had previously been hired to hunt down Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Agent Wagner joined the investigation.

The remains were discovered on February 23, 1929, but even with Pinkerton’s on the case, they remained unidentified. On April 9th, that changed.

Police from Greenville, Pennsylvania telegrammed to Wagner that the victim might be Mildred Mowry. Wagner met with her associates. They provided him with a bundle of letters from a doctor, Richard M. Campbell whom, they said, Mowry had married. Two days later, NJ police arrested not “Richard M. Campbell,” not “Henry Colin Campbell,” but “Richard Henry Campbell,” all of which were aliases for the man born as Henry Campbell Close.

Close confessed to murder after an hour of questioning by Wagner, who then spent two months developing a case for the prosecution and uncovering the story of a truly bizarre little man responsible for one of the “most revolting murders in New Jersey annals,” one which inspired a rash of gruesome copy-cat “torch murderer” kills.

The Victim

Mildred Mowry was no “little old lady from Peoria”– she lived in PA. Other than that, Mowry, a middle-aged nurse, fit the cliché. Today, she might answer emails from would-be Nigerian Kings or continuously update her profile at eHarmony but, in those days, childless, widowed, she read “Miss Lonelyhearts” and chose a matchmaking agency.

Campbell used the same agency for years, although he still lived with his wife of over a decade, who would testify that they and their three children lived in “perfect harmony.” Henry Colin Campbell scoured bars and agency listings, hunting for his perfect prey: a widow, childless, with money. Such was Mowry, he thought.

A Killer Marriage

Debt led Close to the notion of bilking a bigamous wife for her savings. He ad been trying to lure another wife for years. After he married Mowry, the bride returned to her PA home, but first deposited money in a savings account jointly owned with the man she thought she married: Doctor Richard M. Campbell, of Baltimore.

Mowry returned to PA, presumably expecting to move to Baltimore soon thereafter. Police did, in fact, match records between a real estate transaction in Baltimore and Close’s purchase of a house in NJ.

Tit for tat: Close selected Mowry for her “small fortune” but soon found that her nest egg was but $1000.

Henry Colin Campbell, Torch Murderer, Possible Serial KillerHe picked her up in PA for a drive to Philadelphia. Their car had engine trouble. They had to drive until very late in the evening. His wife grew tired. She “kept pestering me,” he said in his confession, to “turn the car around and stop somewhere for the night. I suddenly decided to get rid of her because I could not support two homes. She was dozing in the back seat and I shot her in the head, took the body out of the car, and set fire to it.”

Character Revelations

At trial, the Court learned more about Henry Collin Campbell.

He wasn’t a doctor, although he played one in Montclair, NJ. Criminal records revealed that “Doctor” Close had operated a “private insane asylum.” A Columbia graduate, he’d been a civil engineer, a writer, an educator, and a well-paid advertising man. He adored his children, and “never used a cross word,” according to his wife Rosalee, who had no idea that police believed he had as many as three other wives, at least one of whom died under mysterious circumstances.

He loved grotesque dolls; they were strewn all around his room. For grand larceny, he served six years in Sing Sing prison. Testifying, he claimed that his “mind was wracked” from morphine abuse. He was suicidal.

Francis A. Gordon, Campbell’s attorney, mounted a defense based on his client’s drug addiction, insanity, and amnesia. Defense retained Dr. Ambrose Dowd, a psychologist from the NJ State Board of Institutions, with support from a skilled roentgenologist. Prosecution argued that Campbell was sane, sober, and his memory was fine. He had, after all, lucidly confessed.

The jury spent just four hours in deliberation. Henry Colin Campbell, the Torch Murderer, was sentenced to death.

Rosalee was the last wife to see him. She spent a tender half hour with Close on the day of his electrocution.


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Selected Sources

“Campbell Sentenced to Die on July 15.” Lewiston Daily Sun 14 June 1929: 19. Google News. Web. 6 Apr. 2010.

“Defense Prepared- Alienist Retained by Attorney for Campbell.” Pittsburgh Press 18 Apr. 1929: 2. Google News. Web.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Fit to Plead.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Scathing Prosecution Attack.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

James, Christian, Daniel Lewis, and Ariel W. Simmons. Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Bethesda, MD: UPA Collection from LexisNexis, 2007. Print.

Sanders, Bruce. Murder in Lonely Places. London: Jenkins, 1960. Print.

“Torch Slayer Is Guilty; to Die in Chair.” Daily Times [Beaver, PA] 14 June 1929: 1. Google News. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.

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From the Diary of Samuel Sewall 27 July 1676:

Sagamore John comes in, brings Mattoonus and his sonne prisoner. Mattoonus shot to death the same day by John’s men.

Sagamore John surrendered in Boston roughly two weeks before John Alderman shot Metacom, the act which effectively ended King Philip’s War, save for a few skirmishes in Maine. Sagamore John’s surrender did not end the atrocities, however.

Sagamore John was a Nipmuc Sachem from Pakachoag in Worcester County. In 1674, he witnessed the deed transferring to Daniel Gookin eight square miles of good Pakachoag land for a mere 12 pounds in New England currency. The down payment for the land consisted of two coats and four yards of cloth. Gookin promised to pay the rest in three months.

Gookin and his friend Reverend John Eliot were instrumental in establishing Pakachoag as one of the towns of Praying Indians. Matoona,  a Christian convert, thanks to Gookin,  served as a Constable at Pakachoag under the authority of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Matoonas’ son, Nehemiah, ran afoul of Massachusetts’ law in 1671. Nehemiah was accused of murdering an Englishman, Zachary Smith. The traditional narrative, here reproduced from Samuel Gardner Drake’s The Old Indian Chronicle, runs like this:

“Zachary Smith, a young Man, in travelling through Dedham, stopped for a Night at the House of Caleb Church, a Millwright, then residing there. He left, the next Morning, and, when he had been gone about half an Hour, three Indians came along, and went the same Way which Smith had gone. As they passed Church’s House they behaved insolently, throwing Stones and using insulting Language. They were known to the English, having been employed as Laborers among them in Dorchester, and had said they belonged to King Philip. These Indians, on overtaking Smith, killed him for some little Effects which he had about him, and his Body was found “near the Sawmill” in Dedham soon after.”

Matoonas’ son Nehemiah was framed for the murder, and executed. He was beheading in boston commonhanged and beheaded. His skull sat on display atop a pole next to the gallows for over five years. Let the record show that the accounts against Nehemiah agreed on neither the sex of the victim nor the town in which the act was perpetrated, let alone the identity of the killer. Matoonas naturally harbored a grudge.

Sagamore John encouraged King Philip. Allied with Nipmuc warriors from Pakachoag and elsewhere, Sagamore John fought for Metacom during Wheeler’s Ambush and the Siege of Brookfield. Matoonas, a leader among the Nipmuc forces, was instrumental during the early raid on Mendon, the initial Massachusetts Bay settlement attacked in the War (the previously attacked settlements were in Plymouth Colony).

Anticipating defeat, Sagamore John ostensibly repented his decision to fight for Metacom. Boston’s Governor and Council offered pardons to those who surrendered. Sagamore John took advantage of the offer, pledged loyalty in exchange for protection, and left Boston unharmed.

On 27 July 1676, Sagamore John returned to Boston with 180 followers and, conspicuously, Matoonas and another of Matoonas’ sons as his captives, bound with ropes.

King Phillips War

King Phillips War

 

It took several minutes for Boston authorities to condemn Matoonas to death. Sagamore John “volunteered” to perform the execution. His men allegedly helped. Matoonas was led to Boston Common, tied to a tree, and shot. Boston, still not satisfied, made sure that Matoonas was beheaded. His skull was skewered atop a pole so it could see squarely into the eye sockets of his son’s skull but a few feet away.

Sagamore John and 19 others who had surrendered later fled town for the woods and back to Pakachoag. The remainder who surrendered did not fare well at the hands of Boston officials. Three were soon executed, accused of torching a house in Framingham; later, eight more were shot in Boston Common. Slave traders bound for the West Indies shackled thirty more. The rest were condemned to life on Deer Island where, without shelter, malnourished, most sickened and slowly died.


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