The gentler side of killer mom's estranged husband
By Tracy Mclauchlin
November 15th 2010
BARRIE, Ont. — "Daddy, daddy!" cried little Serena Campione, her chubby little arms raised in the air, running with glee when she spotted her father.
Leo Campione. (TRACY McLAUGHLIN PHOTO)
Leo Campione quickly wiped the telltale tears from his eyes and smiled broadly as he raised his little daughter in the air and then hugged her tightly. "My goodness, you're getting bigger!" Leo is quoted as saying in family court records. "You're so beautiful." It was the first time in over a month since the 33-year-old Toronto father had seen his children. And it was the last time he would see them alive. Two weeks later they would be dead, drowned by their mother, Elaine Campione.
The jury is now deciding the mother's fate on two charges of first-degree murder. While the jurors heard Elaine's allegations that her husband was a wife-beater, they never heard of his warmer side and his desperate attempts to get his children back.
In family court records, court affidavits and interviews a kinder softer Leo emerges. He hated to have to visit Serena, 3, and her sister Sophia, 1, at the Simcoe/Muskoka Supervised Access Centre in Barrie. But it was the only place his estranged wife would allow him to visit them.
Ever since he was charged with punching her and slapping Serena a year earlier, Leo despondently submitted to supervised visits. He pleaded with her to allow them to take place in the loving surroundings of his parents' home in Woodbridge where the girls' "nona" and "papa" would be nearby, but Elaine flatly refused.
Weeks earlier, she had filed an affidavit with the court seeking sole custody and a ban on unsupervised visits.
"It is in the best interests of the children that they remain in my care," the affidavit states not long before she killed the girls. Instead, the one hour visits took place in this stark setting under the watchful eye of a supervisor who sat at her desk jotting notes about everything she saw - even following Leo to watch him take the girls to the toilet. Leo brought a jar of bubbles and started blowing them while his tiny daughters squealed with delight as they chased them.
Next he made them wash their hands and unpacked a lunch of homemade pasta that his mother made. Sometimes, his parents would visit, too, and play Sicilian folk music while they danced with the little girls, but the good-byes always made his mom so sad. After lunch Serena snuggled on his lap while she colored a picture. All too soon the bittersweet visit was over, and tears blurred Leo's vision as he hugged them.
"I love you both so much," he said, as his ex-wife, Elaine, showed up to take the girls away.
The petite, overly thin woman rarely smiled. Elaine handed Leo an outfit he had given to Serena on their last visit at the facility. "She doesn't want it," Elaine said coolly. "Can you come, too, daddy?" Serena asked. "No, not today, but I'll see you soon," he said, discreetly wiping away tears again. "Mr. Campione is very attentive to his children's needs," wrote staff supervisor Shelley St. Amant.
"Several times he is heard telling them that he loves them ... he sets age appropriate limits with respect to play, safety and hygiene." Two weeks later, police officers showed up at his door at 7 a.m. to tell him and his parents the children were dead. In disbelief, they broke down in tears. But their anguish mixed with anger and horror seconds later, when they learned the girls had been murdered by their mother.
As they wept, white-clad forensic officers swarmed through the mother's apartment in Barrie, searching for clues to how the children died. Officers took the coroner down a hallway to the mother's bedroom where he was greeted with a macabre scene - two little girls, looking tiny in their mother's big bed, are propped on the pillow and posed holding hands with a blue rosary draped over their fingers.
"Hello!" yelled Sgt. Tom Sinclair with a faint hope that it would jar the children awake.
But their ashen color, darkened purple lips and the cloudy colour of their eyes made it obvious that they had been dead for a long time.
The smell of decomposition wafted in the air. "It's a smell I won't ever forget," Sinclair said later. The scene was like something out of Twilight Zone.
Their hair was neatly combed and curled. Baby Sophia was dressed in her Tinker Bell pajamas, Serena in a mauve princess nightgown. They were adorned with gold necklaces and earrings and neatly tucked under the covers with a big stuffed bunny next to them. A coroner wearing blue gloves gently lifted the blankets off to reveal their chubby legs curled froggy-style. He lifted their pajamas to reveal round little tummies, now purplish from death.
In the living room, the mother was cool and composed after calling police to tell them, "my children are dead in my bed." She sat curled up on a love seat as a bewildered female officer interviewed her.
"I was in shock," said Const. Linda Young. "I thought the mother would be in hysterics - but she was calm. She kept talking, she kept blaming her husband. She was saying he beat her and that it was all his fault." Although she was not drowsy, Elaine said she swallowed 56 clonazepam tablets, so out of caution she was brought to hospital. In the hospital she dozed a bit in the bed while waiting for doctors to examine her.
They found nothing wrong and released her back into police custody and she was charged with the first-degree murders of her toddlers. But by the time she was brought to the police interview room for questioning, she claimed she couldn't remember how her children died. "I woke up beside them and their lips were purple," she said calmly. "They were stiff ... I don't know why." She said she remembered bathing Sophia first and that Serena didn't want her bath and started running from her.
Perhaps Elaine never expected that police would find the home video that she created and left in her bedroom for her husband to find. But they did.
The video, like a horror movie without music, pans down her apartment hallway toward a doorway and the sound of water running in a bathtub. The camera moves in, showing Sophia, chubby and naked as she slaps at the bubbles in her bath. Mother's voice can be heard singing "twinkle twinkle little star" and baby smiles, her big, trusting blue eyes look up at her mama.
Click, the camera shuts off, then on again to a scene of Serena, coloring as she sits on the bedroom floor. "Serena, who luvs ya?" asks mom. "How much do you love me?" she asks. Click. The camera shuts off again. Forty-seven minutes later, the camera was turned on again. By then, the children were dead, prettily dressed after their bath, and propped in mom's bed. Elaine was in front of the camera, alone.
"There, are you happy now? ... The children are gone ... How does that make you feel, Leo?" She was teary, but there was no hint of desperation in her voice. The tone is angry, vindictive, spiteful. Her rant continued as she told her husband that she was "a perfect wife," that he ignored and abused her and refused to allow her to take the children and move to her hometown in New Brunswick. The video shuts off, and was turned on again at 8:19 a.m. the next morning, with Elaine in front of the camera again.
"I took a bunch of pills but they didn't work," she says with a sniff, then continues on with the same rant. "You beat me ... I hate you ... you can take your engagement ring and stick it where the sun don't shine." As a 12-member jury watched the video, a dead silence filled the courtroom.
Troubled as the jurors clearly were, nothing could have prepared them for the police video that played next, showing the two tiny girls propped on the pillow like dolls. A close-up of Sophia's face shows four lines on her forehead that match the pattern of the rubber mat in the bath.
The police video pans to the girls' bedroom, where pretty clothes and tiny buckle shoes are laid out with a handwritten note stating this is what they should be buried in.
In court, Elaine broke down, whaling (sic) loudly as she looked at the large screen that showed her decomposing children. Jurors watched the screen through blurred eyes. It was enough. It was too much, and the judge sent everyone home for the day.
Elaine's lawyer pleaded with the jury to find that she was so mentally distressed out of fear and terror of her abusive husband, that she became delusional, and believed the only place where she and the children would be safe was in heaven.
While Crown Enno Meijers accepted that Elaine was "probably" abused at the hands of her husband, the jury never heard from Leo. Never heard about the bittersweet visits at the access centre
Never heard how he and his parents pined night and day for his little girls. The jury never heard how he went into debt, hiring lawyers to try to convince the judge, the CAS, and anybody else who would listen, that the children were not safe with their mother. And the jury never heard how Leo eagerly participated in counselling at the Vitanova Foundation in Woodbridge after he was charged with domestic assault.
"The counselling sessions have focused on Mr. Campione being better able to control and manage his emotions, in particular as they revolve around his frustration over his wife's alleged obsessive jealousy and her mistrust of him," stated one report by Vitanova executive director Franca Carella, months before the children were murdered.
"Mr. Campione is a caring and loving husband and father ... being separated from his family has been very difficult for him and he longs for the day he will be reunited with them." After Elaine was charged with murder, the charges against Leo were dropped, and since that day he never returned to court to watch the trial unfold.
"I don't want to see her face. I don't want to hear her voice. Not ever again." He said he feels no relief that the trial is finally over.
"I'm trapped in pain," he said in an earlier interview. He said he feels bitter toward the Children's Aid Society and the courts that prevented him from protecting his children.
"I can't forget that last visit," he said, almost in a whisper. "My little Serena was begging me to come home. She was saying 'daddy, daddy' come home.'
"But I couldn't come home. It broke my heart."
Killer mom awaiting jury's decision