An inmate known as the “Onion Field Killer” for murdering a Los Angeles police officer in an onion field near Bakersfield nearly 50 years ago has died at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced today that Gregory Powell died of natural causes on Sunday at age 79. Powell and a partner, Jimmy Lee Smith, were convicted of kidnapping two Los Angeles police officers and murdering one of them, Officer Ian Campbell, on March 9, 1963.
The two men had been pulled over by the plainclothes officers on a Hollywood street for making an illegal left turn. Powell and Smith disarmed the officers, kidnapped them and drove them to Bakersfield, where Powell shot Campbell. The other officer, Karl Hettinger, escaped to a farmhouse 4 miles away. The incident was the subject of a 1973 book and 1979 movie, both titled “The Onion Field,” by Joseph Wambaugh. Powell and Smith were initially sentenced to death for the murder, but their sentences were changed to life in prison after California’s existing death penalty law was ruled unconstitutional in 1972.
Smith was paroled in 1982, but returned to prison several times for drug violations and died of an apparent heart attack in a county jail in 2007, the corrections department said. Powell was denied parole 11 times. The state Board of Parole Hearings also refused last year to grant him compassionate release for medical reasons.
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