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Cynthia Campbell Ray: The Cold-Blooded Murder of James and Virginia Campbell

Kim Bryan has experience as a waitress in a diner. She's sharing her tips (that will hopefully result in big tips!).

Cynthia Campbell Ray was immediately one of the prime suspects in the 1982 murder of her parents, James and Virginia Campbell.

Cynthia Campbell Ray was immediately one of the prime suspects in the 1982 murder of her parents, James and Virginia Campbell.

Murder Most Foul: The Cynthia Campbell Story

During the quiet, predawn hours of June 10, 1982, attorney James “Snake” Campbell and his wife Virginia Campbell lay soundly sleeping in their Houston home when intruders slipped quietly through a window, slithered into the master bedroom, and fired six rounds, killing them both.

Incredibly, the couple's young grandsons, who were camped out at the foot of the bed, survived and were physically unharmed. They were, however, terribly frightened and mentally traumatized for the rest of their lives.

Who could have committed such a heinous act? For the Campbell family, the answer was obvious, but it took many years for the full story to unravel.

A Troublesome Daughter

Cynthia “Cindy” Campbell had always been different from her three siblings, and it’s no surprise that her version of growing up in the Campbell household is vastly different than theirs.

According to Cindy, she was physically and sexually abused at the hands of her parents who, she said, also locked her in a closet for days on end without food or water. She continued to claim these abuses well into adulthood.

Her siblings, however, say that no abuse ever occurred. They recall that Cindy was a problematic young girl and an even more difficult teenager, though their parents tried everything they could think of to help their daughter, including counseling and overindulgence.

Despite their efforts, Cindy continued down a troubled path, spreading lies everywhere she went.

Cynthia Campbell Ray

Cynthia Campbell Ray

Cindy's Failed Marriage and Neglected Children

When Cindy was 18 years old, she left home and wound up living on the streets of Denver, Colorado. It was there, in 1972, that she met Michael Ray, who she would later marry. She told Michael her sad stories of abuse, adding a sexually abusive stepfather to the mix. The marriage lasted long enough to bear two children.

The couple separated in Houston, where Cindy went on to make a half-hearted attempt at motherhood and housekeeping.

Friends and family say that Cindy had a truly exceptional talent when it came to art and could be fun and lively when she wasn’t withdrawn into her house, blinds drawn, and neglecting herself and the children.

Today, some psychologists might recognize Cindy’s behavior as indicative of an underlying personality or mood disorder, but in the 1970s and 1980s, it was perceived as merely peculiar.

Eventually, the Campbells took custody of their grandchildren and left their daughter to her own life.

David Duval West

David West had grown up in a home with an overbearing mother who was a persistent negative influence in her son’s life. David’s father, Duvall West, didn’t care much for his wife or her holier-than-thou attitude, but instead of saving his son from the clutches of his mother, he opted for emotional absenteeism.

David was ripe for the picking by the likes of Cindy and her conniving personality. Despite being in his late 20s and a former marine, David was weak in her presence and readily bought into her apocryphal stories of abuse. He believed Cindy when she told him her oldest son was the result of incestuous rape.

When Cindy said she wanted her parents to pay for what they’d done to her, David joined her in plotting a cold-blooded crime.

Prime Suspects

If the children and other family members of James and Virginia Campbell didn’t already suspect Cindy was behind her parents’ murder, they would have when—just days following the crime—she began removing valuable items from the couple's home. While the family scurried to make financial arrangements for Virginia’s ailing mother and two young boys under the age of nine, Cindy was demanding she receive her monetary portion of the estate.

Her siblings were horrified, and her uncle, J.W. Campbell, was outraged. He immediately sought the services of an estate attorney to establish trusts—a move he hoped would block the now-suspect Cindy from having access to the family's assets.

When asked what she wanted to do about her young boys, without skipping a beat, Cindy told her family to take them to a Houston orphanage.

The family wasn’t keeping their opinions to themselves and were more than willing to share them with police. Well aware of the questionable behavior of the murdered couple's third-born child, the police listened.

But while suspicion makes for good gossip, it doesn't hold up as criminal evidence.

Investigating Cindy and David

Three years after the Campbells’ murder, police seemed no closer to making an arrest. Cindy’s siblings wanted nothing to do with her, and her children were being raised by their uncle. Cindy and David's relationship was on-again, off-again—mostly off.

Six weeks after the murder, Cindy cut David loose and moved in with a new boyfriend, Rory Lettvin, who later testified that he felt sorry for her. Cindy's stories of childhood abuse had manipulated yet another man, who saw an unhealthy woman with no driver's license and a smelly, unkempt apartment and wanted to help. A promise of $20,000 worth of tools and equipment once she received her inheritance also served as a strong enticement. But then Cindy called David to come home, and Rory found himself homeless and without the promised goodies.

Cindy had hired a slew of attorneys trying to force payouts from her parents’ estate. Reluctantly, she settled for $25,000 cash and the title to the fourplex apartment house where she and her invalid grandmother lived together in squalor.

The family couldn’t wait around for police any longer, so they hired the services of a local private investigator, Clyde Wilson, who had a reputation for acquiring useful information and credible evidence from unsuspecting targets.

Clyde recognized David as the weaker of the two and knew he should be the primary subject. He immediately dispatched his attractive new staff member, Kim Paris, on a special assignment.

Kim Paris

Kim Paris

How David Was Tricked Into Confessing

Using the name Teresa Neele, Kim began frequenting the bars where David was known to hang around. It didn’t take long until they were introduced, and David fell head over heels in love. He was so smitten, in fact, that he proposed marriage to Kim after only two months of courtship.

David shared only snippets of his personal life, but one anecdote he told to Kim was about an ex-girlfriend, Cindy, whose parents had died together in a tragic accident. Though she knew the story was a lie, Kim continued to play the role and pushed a little further by asking David if he was holding back. Before she could marry him, she said, she needed his complete honesty.

David wanted to spend the rest of his life with the women he knew as Teresa, and finally he blurted out that he’d murdered Cindy’s parents after she promised to financially back one of his business ideas.

Kim, who had concealed a microphone and transmitter in her purse, captured his confession on audio cassette.

Justice Delayed but Not Denied

The next day, prosecutors secured an indictment, and David was arrested. His confession, and the method used to obtain it, quickly came under fierce criticism, but it was ultimately ruled admissible. However, under Texas law, Cindy couldn’t be charged on uncorroborated testimony by an accomplice.

Although he initially decided to take his chances with a jury, David changed his plea to guilty halfway through his trial. He received two life sentences.

With David’s confession revealing the pair's blueprint for murder, Cindy was eventually arrested on two counts of homicide. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury, but the retrial secured a conviction.

Inside the Mind of Cynthia Campbell Ray

It's impossible to truly understand the mind of any killer, but there are ways to assess their thought processes. Columbia University professor and forensic psychologist Michael Stone is an expert on the mental state of murderers. His testimony has been used in court to determine the believability of insanity claims.

Stone developed a 22-point "Gradations of Evil" scale based on 20th century murderers—assessing everything from justifiable homicide to psychopathic torture.

He divides the scale into three basic tiers:

  1. Impulsive killers: Those who commit a single murder during a moment of rage.
  2. Clinically delusional killers: Those who are not necessarily psychopathic, but potentially psychotic.
  3. Profoundly psychopathic killers: The William Gacys and Ted Bundys of the world, who use their skills and/or charm to manipulate people and commit unspeakable acts of cruelty.

Stone placed Cynthia Campbell in a sub-category called "Willing Companions Of Killers," saying she represents a kind of murderer who is not psychopathic and probably not even psychotic, but rather impulse-driven and guided by "antisocial" and "aberrant" personality traits.

In other words, Cynthia wasn't "insane" or delusional, according to this psychologist. She was more of a destructive sociopath who used others and was willing to do anything to get what she wanted. This tracks with author Jack Olsen's characterization of Cynthia in the book he wrote about the case, which portrayed her as manipulative and chaotic.

Where Are Cindy and David Now?

In the years following her conviction, Cynthia Campbell applied for parole three times and each one was denied. She served her sentence at the Mountain View Women’s Prison in Gatesville, Texas, where she died of natural causes in 2021 at the age of 65.

In 2005, David became eligible for parole but either did not apply or was denied, as he is currently an inmate at the Ramsey Correctional Facility in Rosharon, Texas.

Read More About This Case

Two books have been written about the murders of James and Virginia Campbell:

  • Cold Kill: The True Story of a Murderous Love by Jack Olsen (1987)
  • Daddy's Girl: The Campbell Murder Case by Clifford Irving (1990)

I've read both books and found Jack Olsen's recounting much more interesting because of his attention to detail and biographical history. Irving's book was largely a repeat of the information provided in Olsen's with a dash of sympathy for Cindy Ray, which gets a tad annoying at times.

© 2016 Kim Bryan


jerk32 on February 12, 2020:

I was in the same dorm with Cindy a few years back. She was a bit on the insane side. She tells a different story about what happened. Took no responsibility for anything. Believes she will get paroled out on the two murder convictions. Delusional.

Gloria Smith-Matthews on June 04, 2019:

Life can really take on a lit of criminal behavior, and get out of control.

martina Beauchamp on February 27, 2019:

I read Olsen's book first and Irving's book after. IMHO Olsen was excellent at reporting this tragic tale. He took no sides. I thought he was, as a reporter should be, as unbiased not pointing fingers. It was a fascinating read. When I saw that Irving had also written a book, I immediately read it. This, again my opinion, a story about a terrible crime but also a way to involve himself into the story. I was unimpressed, a true crime book is the relating of events. I was astounded at how Mr. Irving inserted himself into this tragedy. If I remember correctly he had some involvement with the young female P.I. and it seemed to include her attractiveness and towards the end he leaves the reader with an unanswered question that he had heard from a source that there was a witness who knew the 'real story'. Well, why not share with the readers? To many interpersonal relationships (real or not) just left me shaking my head. A crime writer shares all information and doesn't try to be coy as Irving appeared to be. He was so involved with the young attractive PI and other non relevant content that I just simply wondered what this writer was up to. One does not leave the reader with "I know what happened but I am not going to reveal it" was just ridiculous. Was he planning a 'part two' of this? Grasping at straws to keep the reader left wondering, etc. It, to me, was way to much and his involvement (or want to involved) with Kim the PI was just literally not about the case. I again read Olsen's book and it was simply a statement of events, whether true or not, he did not make it a story of murder and himself. I have been very interested in this story for over 25 years. Olsen let's the reader draw their own conclusions based on factual, unbiased reporting. Having said that, my take on Cindy was always to invoke some sort of sympathy or understanding what an abusive live she had grown up in. I have never bought that theory, she 'let' men rescue her from past demons and with David West, who got her to some care of her hygiene and wanted to help her, had invested so much time trying to help her improve herself and not with emphasis on sexuality with her, was told over and over how abused and neglected her family was. It's one of the oldest tricks in history: be my white knight, slay the dragons who continued to try and harm her. She wanted an inheritance and as with her children, she didn't care who she blamed. This young man was so smitten by her and wanting to rescue her did a terrible act of violence. Something he clearly did not enjoy or get anything other than confused help for her. Inevitably that was what she wanted the whole time. I don't think this young, naive boy was way out of his league with a pathological liar and manipulator.I am not condoning what he did but it seems to have come down to rescuing her against putting these terrible parents out of her life. I am sorry that he ever reached out to help her and got caught up in lies, where other men had just left when asked/implied the parents needed to die. It is a heartbreaking story of a very naive, probably his first sexual encounter. How sad that he will die in prison for this emotional manipulator and greedy pig of a woman. I, for one, do not believe she was sexually molested or abused, she was a selfish, greedy monster that played on the emotions of men to obtain what she really wanted: money. I hope he is considered for some parole as I do strongly believe he is not a happy killer of any thing or anyone. Just a man/boy helping what must have been drilled in his head, that these parents were out to hurt her. In all it is a sad tale of master manipulation using sex and made up despondency. To me this is a terrible price to pay to for wanting to keep people from hurting her. Very sad. But given with no prejudice by the writer Olsen. I am so sad these people were killed by a demanding sociopath. Again, this is just my opinion. Throw the Irving book into the trash, he obviously had several agendas and not interested in the overall picture. Whether or not I am right or wrong 4 people's lives were irreparably destroyed.

Bk on February 16, 2018:

Its all true. Very true

Lissa on July 16, 2017:

Too many grammatical errors in your writing devalues the credibility of your research. I stopped reading the article after the second or third paragraph.

Victoria on June 20, 2017:

While the articles are very, very interesting, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LEARN TO EDIT YOUR WORK!!!!!!! All the grammatical errors make the article very difficult to enjoy.