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'Onion Field' police officer honored with Hollywood Freeway signs

Onion field

Signs honoring LAPD Officer Ian Campbell, whose slaying by kidnappers was chronicled in the book and movie "The Onion Field," were placed alongside the Hollywood Freeway this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous case.

The signs were placed on both sides of the Gower Street overpass, a short distance from where Campbell and his partner Karl Hettinger were kidnapped.

On March 10, 1963,  Gregory Ulas Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith, both ex-convicts, kidnapped Campbell and  Hettinger at gunpoint and drove them to a remote spot between two onion fields in Kern County. There, Campbell, 31, was fatally shot, while Hettinger managed to escape and summon help.

The incident was made famous in Joseph Wambaugh’s book, “The Onion Field,” and the subsequent movie of the same name starring actor James Woods.

A replica of the Campbell sign was to be unveiled Saturday at a ceremony at the Los Angeles Police Museum. Wambaugh and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, as well as the Campbell and Hettinger families, were expected to attend.

Powell and Smith were sentenced to death for the kidnappings and murder, but both sentences were eventually commuted to life.

Smith, who was released from prison in 1982, died six years ago in a Los Angeles jail, where he was serving time for a parole violation. Powell died in state prison in August.

Hettinger's decision to surrender his pistol to the kidnappers, who were holding Campbell at gunpoint, haunted him for the rest of his life. He died in 1994. LAPD officers are now instructed never to give up their weapons under any circumstances.

Last year, city officials dedicated the intersection of Gower Street and Carlos Avenue, the site of the kidnappings, to Campbell.

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--  Cindy Chang

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, in August. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

 
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