This one had a surprise ending for me so I figured it might for you.
1990 – USA – Charlotte Campeller dropped off 18-month old Danny to his usual babysitter, Hillary Turner, then she headed to work, unaware she would never see her son alive again. A few hours later, police and paramedics arrived at the babysitter’s residence. Turner claimed she found the infant unconscious and not breathing in his playpen. She simply found the infant unconscious and had no idea how he died. Now that doesn’t sound at all right does it? The ER doctor didn’t think so. He found trauma marks, including bruises, on the child’s head and neck. The ER doc believed he was looking at a strangulation. Most definitely the marks suggest asphyxiation, including petechial of the skin on the infant’s face, meaning tiny broken capilleries were clearly visible. These are also tiny hemorrhages. Nasty. Turner was picked up on suspicion of murder but no formal charges could be made. The pathologist first had to officially declare the death to be a murder. While strangling a person, blood continues to pump from the heart into the face and head, but the strangulation prevents it from being pumped out again, rather like overfilling a balloon, hence the petechial marks. Is it possible to accidentally strangle oneself to death? Yes it is, but this situation didn’t reflect it. Three examples of this odd phenomenon:
- Infants and toddlers have been strangled by a necklace when placed in a bassinet or a crib.
- Older children have been known to accidentally strangle while wearing a garment such as a hoodie, with a string that emerges from the neck.
- Children old enough to play outdoors in the winter have accidentally hanged themselves by their scarves from fences.
Pleasant thoughts, aren’t they? Anyway. Campeller hadn’t been wearing a necklace or a hoodie. He had nothing around his neck that would suggest viable, accidental strangulation. Turner was the only adult with access to the little boy. Simply finding a dead, strangled infant in his playpen made no sense. In fact, strangulation isn’t necessary to kill infants. Most killers smother them. Wonderful.
Armed with this grim knowledge, police asked Turner to re-enact the scene. I have no idea how she went about it. Personally I would have been an emotional mess and might not have been able to finish the bizarre role-play. However, a doll was substituted for little Campeller, and it was placed inside the playpen. Turner insisted Campeller often managed to climb out of his playpen. In order to prevent Campeller from escaping, Turner placed a metal frame rather like a gate, over the top of the playpen to keep the baby inside.
She stated that mid-morning, she placed a tub filled with toys slightly above the playpen, on a table. For whatever reason, there were only a few toys in the child’s playpen. Odd. Turner claimed she left the room then returned to find Campeller’s head caught between the metal frame and the playpen, as if he had been reaching for the toy basket. The basket was overturned and lying on top of the metal gate that was crushing little Campeller’s head. That was how he died.
Did the coroner buy that one? As a matter of fact, she did. The marks on the baby’s corpse were an exact match with the story Turner told police. They were situated on the front and back of the baby’s neck, as well as the back of his head, when the gate slammed down on it. The weight of the tub of toys increased the weight of the metal frame, crushing the baby even harder. Unable to cry out, he wouldn’t have been able to alert Turner that something was wrong. When you think about it, it would have been difficult to concoct that tale in order to cover up a murder. Who would have thought about placing a gate over a playpen and a child’s head getting caught between the two? Police released Turner, who was no longer a suspect. Sadly, in spite of the excellent police interrogation and coroner’s examination, little Danny Campeller is still deceased.