Obscure laws often become weapons used selectively against people who offend prevailing social sensibilities. This was behind the case examined in A Crime Unfit To Be Named. In 1949, a local man in this small Bible belt town became the target of extraordinary police scrutiny. Despite his advanced age and the private nature of his activities, if found guilty John William Campbell would face hard time. Swept up in this vendetta, two younger women would also become entangled in the notorious Arkansas criminal justice system.
John Campbell’s grown children and their families, well known and respected around town, struggled to cope with the humiliating fallout of his arrest. His sons hired the best attorneys money could buy in hopes of mounting a successful defense. Given the precedents established twenty years earlier in an Arkansas Supreme Court appeal, only one tenuous avenue of defense could be mounted: that John William Campbell was insane.
Extensively quoted portions of the actual court transcript reveal the shocking extent of police actions in this case as well as the outrageous nature of laws that attempt to control private, consensual sexual behavior. During the sixty ensuing years, laws have changed for the better. But the story serves as a cautionary tale. What happens when laws give police powers so easily abused?
“This book chronicles his multiple arrests as well as the change in society that today makes this case a true travesty. Unlike traditional true crime books, Denele Campbell is fully aware that she is breaking the mold as this is a story where the crime really is a victimless one — at no time was Campbell accused of forcing his “victims” — and chronicles an overzealous criminal justice system intent on policing morals rather than laws.
“Although true crime enthusiasts may wince at the structure of this story, Denele Campbell constructs the story of John William Campbell with surgical precision. It is important to A Crime Unfit To Be Named to understand the family and their prominence within Fayetteville, as well as the seeming progressive thinking exhibited in the decades leading up to Campbell’s arrest and prosecution. Since no actual crime took place, this story is focused more on the zealotry of the prosecutor’s office as well as the accepted social norms of the time, which Campbell violated by engaging in (unnatural) sexual acts with a black woman. Told through court transcripts, medical documents, and the author’s own research, any reader will find the tale of John William Campbell quite intriguing, never mind the money, resources, and time put forth to convict and imprison a man, not of sodomy as we understand it today and the way medical professionals understood it in 1949, but of engaging in oral sex.”
“The unspeakable crime for which John William Campbell was arrested and convicted was oral sex. (When I post this review to Amazon and elsewhere we’ll see how far we’ve really progressed.) Seeing how far lawmen were willing to go to gather evidence and convict someone of this victimless crime was eye-opening. According to the author, putting the events chronicled here in a modern context, “at this time there seems little chance that the legal advances made to date will be reversed.” I hope (and think) that she’s right, but not due to lack of trying in some quarters. A Virginia law much like the one used to convict Campbell was recently overturned and the US Supreme Court declined a chance to reconsider that decision on appeal. But some of these archaic laws are still on the books and there are still those who would like to enforce them.”