- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Delta; Reprint edition (August 28, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385341598
- ISBN-13: 978-0385341592
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 149 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Onion Field Paperback – August 28, 2007
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"A complex story of tragic proportions... more ambitious than In Cold Blood and equally compelling!"—The New York Times
About the Author
Joseph Wambaugh is the hard-hitting best-selling writer who conveys the passionate immediacy of a special world. A master storyteller…authenticity oozes from his books.
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It is the story of the murder of LA police officer Ian Campbell by a pair of small time losers, Gregory Powell and Jimmy Smith. Campbell's partner Karl Hettinger helplessly witnessed the murder and managed to escape a similar fate.
The fateful night on March 9, 1963, started when Campbell and Hettinger spotted Powell and Smith making a U-turn and had no light over their license plate. The officers pulled the two over and Powell managed to get the draw on Campbell. Hettinger surrendered his weapon and Powell and Smith drove the officers out to an onion field, where the murder occurred.
Powell was described as "boastful, an egomaniac and a cold-blooded killer."
Smith was described as "con-wise, cunning, more impetuous and cowardly."
Both were sociopaths.
Hettinger was second-guessed by the LAPD for surrendering his weapon and he was essentially blamed for Campbell's death. Racked with guilt, Hettinger suffered severe depression, impotence, nightmares and crying jags. Meanwhile, Powell and Smith experienced no guilt.
The trials of Powell and Smith lasted for seven years, subjecting Hettinger to even more suffering, humiliation and guilt. The ridiculousness of the justice system is highlighted. By the time the trials had ended (45,000 pages of transcript), Campbell had long been forgotten and Hettinger had suppressed many memories.
Author Joseph Wambaugh tells a riveting story of small-time losers, the psychological demise of a LAPD officer and a court system that seemingly favors criminals over victims.
This is a book that should be on your must-read list.
It is especially sad that Karl Hettinger was outlived by both killers. I can't help but believe that all the stress he went through beginning with the victimization at the hands of Powell and Smith that night in the onion field and acerbated by the subsequent trials and treatment by the justice system and the LAPD. It was unconscionable for the LAPD to make Karl a whipping boy for what happened. At least he and Helen were able to rebuild their lives as a family.
Ian Campbell never got to see his daughters grow up. He never got to hear Valerie play the pipes.
Jimmy Smith never made a serious attempt to do anything useful with his life. He remained a career criminal and a sniveling coward who was too obtuse to see the three fingers pointing back every time he pointed the finger at the rest of the world as the source of his troubles in his stupidly wasted life.
Greg Powell got his wish to live behind bars, which is best for the rest the population. He never did anything to justify the luck of his existence even within the walls of prison.
The excuse of the institutionalized man is no valid rationale for either Powell or Smith. Others have gone from rough childhoods and even prison as adults and still managed to become productive human beings. It seems from both of their backgrounds that these two sociopaths were made and not genetic anomalies.
It also shows the warts of the justice system that doesn't have a Hollywood ending. It is not wrapped up with a nice prescribed verdict and everyone goes back to normal like movies or television. Cases can drag interminably eating up attorneys and prosecutors, details get lost or forgotten as witnesses disappear or die, crazy motions redirect the focus of trials from the crimes and perpetrators, and the real victims and the crimes against them are lost in the shuffle and human wreckage is strewn in the wake.
As a nation we are still trying to adjust the delicate balance to the scales of justice because we are still far short of the ideal as recent events have revealed.
In the final chapters, Wambaugh speaks of Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger and their suffering being forgotten. Thanks to this book, they will not be forgotten and hopefully the courts, attorneys, and administrators in police departments will continue to learn from it.