A Crime Unfit to be Named: The Prosecution of John William Campbell

In fact, this was a crime soon to be named and ruled not a crime. But obscure laws often become weapons used selectively against people who offend prevailing social sensibilities. This mindset was behind the case examined in A Crime Unfit To Be Named. In 1949, a local man in this small Bible belt town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, became the target of extraordinary police scrutiny. Despite his advanced age and the private, intimate 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 Arkansas’ notorious 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. But given the precedents established twenty years earlier in an Arkansas Supreme Court appeal, only one tenuous avenue of defense offered any hope: that John William Campbell was insane.

This true account tracks indictments, court records, family history, and newspaper articles to tell an outrageous story of zealous lawmen, personal tragedy and a small Southern town hell bent on moral order.

“The two-story rock house constructed by John William and his hired men included a western wall embraced by a high earthen embankment. This feature made it possible for a person standing there to look into the upper floor bedroom windows. And it is this unfortunate feature of the house that led to the discovery of his “unnatural sexual activity.”

25 South Locust, Fayetteville, Arkansas, south and east facades. The downstairs space housed a café at the time of John’s arrest. The bedrooms where John’s illegal activity occurred were at the back of the house, not visible in this photograph. Since the time of this photograph in 2015, this structure has been town down and new townhouses built in its place.

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