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Police Museum Opens ‘Onion Field’ Exhibit

A sign alongside the Hollywood (101) Freeway erected in memory of slain Los Angeles Police Officer Ian Campbell was unveiled March 9 on the 50th anniversary of his kidnapping in the infamous “The Onion Field” case.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and best-selling authors James Ellroy and Joseph Wambaugh were among the participants in the late-morning ceremony at the Los Angeles Police Museum in Highland Park, where an exhibition titled “The Onion Field” opened Saturday.

The Campbell Memorial Sign was unveiled on March 9. The sign will be located along the 101-Freeway. (Los Angeles Police Museum)

The sign on the 101 is at the Gower Street overpass — near the intersection of Carlos Avenue and Gower — where Campbell and partner Karl Hettinger were kidnapped on March 9, 1963, after questioning two robbery suspects during a traffic stop.

The suspects disarmed and abducted the officers, driving them to a remote onion field near Bakersfield. Campbell was shot to death, but Hettinger managed to escape.

Gregory Powell was arrested on the night of the murder and his accomplice, Jimmy Lee Smith, was arrested the following day.

Powell and Smith were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after California’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in 1972. Smith was paroled in 1982, but was in and out of custody several times before dying at a Los Angeles County jail facility in April 2007.

Powell died Aug. 12 at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville at the age of 79.

Wambaugh, a former LAPD officer, detailed the crime in his bestselling book, “The Onion Field.” It was made into a movie in 1979, with a cast including Ted Danson as Campbell and James Woods as Powell.