Onion Field killer's death brings closure for LAPD, chief says
Gregory Ulas Powell, the hardened, small-time criminal who became infamous for kidnapping two officers and executing one of them died Sunday at age 79. He died after a battle with prostate cancer at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
"It helps to bring to a close a significant chapter in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. "All of the principle players are now dead. [The Onion Field case] further highlights the dangers that police officers face every day. It's my goal that we continue the significant advances we've made in officer safety and that we make every effort to make sure this will never happen again. And I pray this never happens again."
On March 10, 1963, Powell and accomplice Jimmy Lee Smith kidnapped two policemen -- Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger -- in Hollywood and drove them to an onion field outside of Bakersfield.
When Campbell, a 31-year-old father, ordered Powell out of the car, Powell pulled a revolver from his pocket, spun behind the officer and stuck the gun in his back. He ordered Smith to disarm Hettinger, who hesitated to give up his gun but did so when Campbell pleaded with him. The officers were forced into the car and Campbell drove about 100 miles north to an isolated onion field near Bakersfield.
Hettinger, Campbell's partner, was left a deeply damaged man. Immediately after the killing, fellow officers questioned whether he should have done more to stop the kidnapping. And his superiors paraded him around to roll-call meetings, forcing him to recount the incident for other officers and suggest what he could have done differently.
Deeply traumatized and suffering from feelings of intense guilt about his partner's death, he eventually was forced from the department after he was caught shoplifting several times -- indiscretions that later were viewed to be the result of his psychological struggles. He died in 1994.
Hettinger's decision to surrender his pistol led to an LAPD directive admonishing officers never to surrender their weapons under any circumstances. That rigid rule evolved into the extensive training that new officers now undergo in how to prevent someone from disarming them and how to more safely approach cars during traffic stops.
"LAPD officers have never forgotten the horrific crime committed by Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "Gregory Powell was a cold-blooded murderer who avoided the death penalty, but he won't escape God's judgment."
On Friday, officials dedicated a Hollywood intersection as a memorial to Campbell. A new sign that reads "Ian Campbell Square" has been installed at Gower Street and Carlos Avenue.
"Someone's going to Google that name right here, right now and find out who Ian Campbell was and what his sacrifice was," said City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who with Councilman Eric Garcetti proposed the motion for the sign.
Campbell's daughter, Valerie Campbell-Moniz, drove down from El Dorado County to witness the unveiling. Only 3 years old when she lost her father, she has spent her life following the fates of the killers.
"It's nice after all these years in dealing with parole hearings to have a happy, honorable event, because this never goes away," she said of the dedication on Friday.
-- Andrew Blankstein and Corina Knoll
Photo: Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, left, presents a commemorative plaque to Valerie Campbell-Moniz, right, at the dedication of a Hollywood intersection in honor of her father, LAPD Officer Ian Campbell, who was killed in a Kern County onion field in 1963. The case was the basis for a bestselling book by Joseph Wambaugh. Campbell-Moniz was 3 at the time of her father's death. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times