This reads like a novel, but is in fact a true story. The tragedy of this account is that justice was never really served to the perpetrators.
It happened on a Saturday night shift, in Los Angeles, California, March 9, 1963. Two cops, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, during routine patrol, pull over two career criminals for what was a minor traffic violation.
The criminals: psychopath, Gregory Powell and his side-kick, Jimmy Smith, had a lot to be on edge about – they’d just pulled a robbery.
They kidnapped the cops and, held them both at gunpoint, and forced Campbell to drive them to an isolated, moonlit onion field.
Powell had his facts wrong about the state law on kidnapping. He mistakenly believed that all kidnapping cases, not only the ones where the hostages were killed, were classed as capital crimes.
Powell forced the two cops to stand side-by-side with their hands in the air and asked Campbell: “We told you we were going to let you go … but have you ever heard of the Little Lindbergh Law?”
When Campbell replied: “Yes.” Powell shot him dead.
Hettinger managed to scramble to safety, but in the weeks, months and years that followed, he suffered survivor’s guilt, which led to shop-lifting and a descent into alcoholism.
Powell didn’t just kill a police officer that night, the consequences of his crime led to the destruction of several others lives.
One of the stand-out elements of this account is the potential life-threatening risk that every police officer takes when they go out on duty. They put themselves on the line for the safety of others, which makes them, like those in the military and emergency services, the true heroes in this world.
The Onion Field is a stark, tragic example of crime and its ramifications, which will have readers enraged against the injustice of the system that allowed the perpetrators to play it for their own gain.
When a crime is committed, those who suffer longest are the victims who survivor the ordeal, and their families.
There is no such thing as victimless crime.