Charles Rodman Campbell is a killer that the authorities let reach his full potential. If it had not been for their actions, three innocent people would still have their lives, one as young as nine.
Campbell was a man who stood at six foot five; he had red afro hair and bushy eyebrows. Friends, prison officers and fellow inmates were scared of him.
It was a persona he held until he was finally executed on 27th May 1994. The authorities have never been held accountable for their part in the slaying of three innocent women.
Renae Ahlers Wickhund
Renae Ahlers was beautiful with her dark hair, big eyes and symmetrically shaped face. When she was nineteen, she met thirty-three-year-old Jack Wicklund whilst working in a beauty parlour.
In 1992, she married Jack and they had their first child, a girl named Shannah. She was the image of her mother.
The couple moved to the quiet rural location of Clearwater. Her nearest neighbour was a quarter a mile away, Barbara and Don Hendrikson. With Jack travelling continually, the Henrikson’s became very friendly with his young wife.
When Renae went into labour, Jack was away. The Henrikson’s daughter drove her to the hospital. The relationship was good and so was life, until Campbell entered into it.
Shannah was eighteen months old, when she witnessed the first attack on her mother. It is possible that she was too young to remember it, though it would have haunted her dreams.
On 11th December 1974, Renae decided to clean her windows. It was an unusually warm December day, so she placed Shannah on the grass in the sun whilst she collected rags and cleaning fluid.
It wasn’t long before she realised someone was walking toward her up her long drive. She turned and stared; he walked back the other way. Thinking he was a lost traveller, she quickly returned to her house to get some more rags, rushing back out to check on Shannah.
As she stepped out the front door, she saw the stranger from before running for her house. She rushed out to pick Shannah up, thinking that was the intruder’s intention, rushing back to the house with her child in her arms.
Renae tried to shut the front door on the attacker, but he was too strong. Forcing his way into the house, the intruder held a knife to the toddler’s throat and demanded that Renae do what he said or he would kill her child.
With courage, only a mother knows she complied with all his demands, including stripping naked and performing oral sex on him. When the ordeal was over, he uttered the word thanks and left.
Gathering Shannah and running to the Henriksons, she fell into Barbara’s arms. Barbara loaded a shotgun, locked the doors and waited for the police to arrive.
Renae could give such a clear description to the Snohomish police they identified Campbell quickly. But unfortunately, it would take them another year to find and arrest him.
Charles Rodman Campbell
Campbell was born on 21st October 1954 in Hawaii. Shortly after birth, his family moved to Snohomish County. With his distinctive looks and Hawaiian accent, he was teased endlessly by those at school.
This was not made easier by the fact that the Campbell had a disabled sister. As a result, he constantly felt he had to defend himself and her. He was an angry child with a chip on his shoulder, continually fighting and running away.
His parents decided parenting was not for them and left both children with their grandparents.
Police first arrested Campbell, at the age of sixteen for car theft. By nineteen, he was married and divorced in the same year. Although the couple had one child, Campbell was deemed to pose a threat to the infant; it was this investigation that led the Snohomish police to identify Campbell for the attack on Renae.
On 1st March 1976, Campbell was arrested and charged with the attack. She was a rare statistic who had brought her attacker to court.
Trial and punishment
Campbell was found guilty of assault and sodomy, along with his prior record, this led the judge to state he was not fit to walk the streets.
Already serving a sentence of fifteen years for second-degree burglary, the judge sentenced him to another thirty years, with a minimum sentence of seven and a half years.
Renae was determined to get on with her life. But unfortunately, her marriage would not survive the assault. So the couple split up; bad luck seemed to follow Jack in a bizarre twist.
In December 1977, he was discovered in his house tied to a chair; he had been doused with petrol and set light to.
Jack’s body was covered in horrific burns, but somehow he survived. So horribly scarred was he that he had to wear a rubber suit to minimise the scarring.
Then in April 1978, he went to visit his parents. As he left his parents he drove back home, his car came off the road, hitting a tree-killing him. The attack on his house was never solved; police could not establish whether the accident had been just that or suicide.
Despite her ex-husband’s death, Renae was determined to live her life. She started several businesses to support herself and her daughter.
She had little to worry about; she reasoned that Campbell would be in prison for at least forty-five years. She would be an old woman when he was released, but Renae did not know that the two sentences were to run concurrently.
Release and murder
In January 1982, Don Henrikson and Renae discovered strange footprints in the snow near their houses.
Hilda Ahlers, Renae’s mother, had been staying with them. Renae had never told her mother about her attack, but the older woman could still sense her daughter’s anxiety. She said she would often find her staring out of the window out at the road as if she was waiting for someone.
That same weekend in January, Campbell was released; he had served less than six years with good behaviour. However, Renae was never informed that Campbell had been released and got on with her life.
Easter the same year, Renae was struck down with a bad case of strep throat, and she took to her bed. Barbara Henrikson spent the week running food over to her neighbour.
By 14th April, Renae had started to recover and feel better. That afternoon Barbara informed her husband she would pop over and see how her neighbour was.
After Barbara had been gone for over an hour, Don started to worry. Thinking that Barbara must have gotten carried away gossiping, he went to check that she was okay.
When he got to Renae’s house, he stated the first thing that hit him was how quiet everything was. He went into the house and all but fell over the body of his wife of thirty-four years. Her throat had been slashed.
On investigation upstairs, he found Renae, naked and bruised with her throat cut. Laying near her was the body of her nine-year-old daughter, also dead from a throat wound.
Release of a madman
During the initial investigation, police were lost as to who could have murdered these three women. That was until Don mentioned the only person he could think of with a vendetta towards Renae was Campbell, but he was locked away.
It didn’t take the police long to find out that Campbell had been released.
In October 1981, Campbell was moved to a minimum-security prison for good behaviour. He had worked as a chef in the cafe and even been allowed leave away from the prison.
Then on 24th February, he was released and transferred to a work-release program. Campbell was free to spend his time how he wished as long as he returned at night and abstained from drink and drugs.
However, he could not keep to this last rule and had returned drunk the night of the attack; he had been transferred back to minimum security when the police inquired about his whereabouts.
The police also spoke to Campbell’s drug counsellor and received a good report on his behaviour. However, they would later find out that the counsellor had been sacked from her job for an inappropriate relationship with an inmate, Campbell. Whilst on leave, he had visited her several times and fathered a son.
Campbell was taken in and charged with three counts of aggravated murder. Women throughout the country thought twice about confronting their attacker if this was the revenge that could happen.
However, a bloody palm print on a glass at the Wicklund home was identified as Campbell’s. This helped secure his conviction on 16th November 1982 for all three murders.
On the 19th April 1982, a petition won its appeal to have the death penalty for Campbell. Although Campbell was sentenced to die, he could choose whether this would be through hanging or lethal injection.
Had Campbell been behaving all this time in prison, waiting for his opportunity for revenge? The answer was even more terrifying. Campbell had not behaved well, but records had been lost and not passed onto the parole board.
Not such good behaviour
On Christmas 1981, Campbell’s ex-wife had been raped by him while on furlough. He returned twice to abuse her again. Gathering her courage, she went to the police on 16th March to report the rape.
The police advised her the case was too weak to prosecute and that she should drop the charges. If they had arrested Campbell, Renae, her daughter and Barbara would have lived.
March 8th, reports surfaced that whilst on work release, Campbell had been found in possession of alcohol. A meeting was held about this and his poor abusive attitude towards the female staff.
Despite this, his place continued on the work release program, as he had such an exemplary prison record.
When Campbell went to his parole hearing, the prison cited three minor infractions, mutilating a curtain, possessing prison hooch and refusing a body search. The parole board granted his release. He had been an exemplary inmate; he deserved a chance.
The reports that the parole didn’t receive told a different story. Campbell had been using drugs continually up to a year before his release. During his time in prison, he had threatened a nurse, fought violently with another inmate and broke a prison tray to use as a weapon.
It was widely known that prison officers and fellow inmates were petrified by his size and temper. Yet, these reports never made the parole board.
Campbell was not the only inmate released due to these mistakes; it is estimated hundreds of prisoners gained early release because the paperwork was inadequate.
Justice at last
Campbell, after his sentencing, tried several appeals. On one occasion, he was lucky enough to get a stay of execution. However, whilst he remained on death row, he was regularly visited by his drug counsellor mistress and their son.
Finally, on 27th May 1994, Campbell ran out of appeals. However, he still refused to choose his execution, so he was hanged, the default killing method of the time.
On the day of his execution, Campbell refused to cooperate, he was removed from his cell using pepper spray. He was hanged strapped to a board. It had taken prison officials ninety seconds just to get the hood over his head. He died instantly as the trap door opened.
Although many investigations were carried out on the part that the state paid in the murder of three innocent lives, no one was ultimately held responsible for releasing a madman back to a neighbourhood to seek revenge on his victim.
Originally published at https://www.murdermayhem.uk on July 3, 2022.