Accused in girls’ deaths described as a model mother


Barrie, Ont.— From Tuesday's Globe and Mail




hey were drowned by their mother, but it appears that in life those two little girls were also swimming in treacle.

That mother, Elaine Campione, who dressed them as princesses and trained the older one to say how much she loved her, is now on trial for first-degree murder in Ontario Superior Court.

Through her lawyer, Mary Cremer, Ms. Campione has admitted that on Oct. 2, 2006, she killed Serena and Sophia, respectively aged three and 19 months, but claims that she isn’t criminally responsible by dint of an as yet undescribed mental illness.

Now 35, Ms. Campione, slender and pale, is a wraith in the prisoner’s box, frequently pulling tissues from a box and weeping.

She did so again Monday, most noticeably when an aged witness, her former confidante, described the garden planted at the apartment building in this city about an hour north of Toronto where she and the Campiones lived.

Ruth Robinson, who will turn 71 next month and is deaf in one ear, is the gardener at the Coulter Street building.

She was describing the memorial residents have built for the two girls, complete with a monument, angel and pink and white impatiens. “Everyone knows that’s for the two little ones we lost in our building,” she said as Ms. Campione sobbed.

Though called by prosecutor Enno Meijers, Ms. Robinson was and remains friendly to Ms. Campione. She described her as a model mother, who always supervised the girls, kept an impeccable flat, and dressed her daughters beautifully.

Yet she testified about several odd remarks Ms. Campione made before the girls’ deaths, not to mention what she told her afterwards on the phone from jail.

One morning in May of 2006 – Ms. Robinson marked its timing by a fire at the local Dollarama store – she asked her how she was.

“Pretty good for my last day on Earth,” Ms. Campione replied.

And the very day of the girls’ deaths, Ms. Campione was in Ms. Robinson’s apartment to do a letter for court – she was in a nasty battle for custody of the girls with her ex-husband Leo – and asked if she knew anyone in the building who might want an expensive child’s coat in size 6X (“Serena will never get big enough to wear a 6X,” Ms. Campione told her) or Dora the Explorer sheets (“They were in toddler beds and would never be in twin beds,” Ms. Robinson said, paraphrasing Ms. Campione, “so those sheets would never be of use to her”).

That was early on the Monday the girls were killed. She saw the three again early that evening, after Ms. Campione’s trip to her lawyer – she was “nervous” about the impending custody hearing just a few days away, Ms. Robinson said.

They were then outside the building, Ms. Campione on the bench, the girls feeding a pet squirrel acorns. They gave her a hug and kiss “and that’s the last I saw of the girls,” Ms. Robinson said.

On Oct. 4, she heard the sirens and phoned the building superintendent.

“Is Elaine okay?” she asked, “and he said yes.”

“The girls?” she asked, and the super told her to come to the office, where “he told me of their demise.”

Ms. Robinson went straight back to her own apartment, shut the door and burst into tears.

The building was soon surrounded by reporters and Ms. Robinson finally snapped at one of them, “She [Ms. Campione] was one of the best mums we ever had in the building!”

It was but one of several spontaneous outbursts where her sympathy for Ms. Campione was clear.

“Those children were well-nourished, well-looked after. I never heard her [Ms. Campione] raise her voice to them,” she told Mr. Meijers once. Another time, she said, “She [Ms. Campione] loved her girls! She didn’t want to give them up to their dad.”

Some short time after Ms. Campione was arrested, Ms. Robinson agreed to take her calls from prison. At first, she told her she’d taken some pills and woken up to find the girls cold, with purple lips.

But when Ms. Robinson asked her directly, she told her “She drowned them. In the bathtub, blowing bubbles. She drowned them by holding their heads down. Then she dried them off, she dried their hair and dressed them and put them in her bed.”

Mr. Meijers asked how Ms. Campione seemed as she described this scene.

“I think she had accepted it,” Ms. Robinson said.

“She wasn’t crying. She felt they were in a better place.”

Ms. Robinson said she told her, “Elaine, anyone in the building would have taken the girls, me or anyone, if you were having a bad night.”

In cross-examination by Ms. Cremer, Ms. Robinson agreed she had given police a slightly different – and more ghastly – version of events in a statement.

In this, she reportedly asked Ms. Campione “Elaine, how could you drown them?” and Ms. Campione apparently replied, “Easy, you just play a game with them: Put your heads underwater and see who can hold their breath the longest.”

Ms. Robinson didn’t have the benefit of hearing Ms. Campione’s vicious screed against her ex, which she recorded on videotape for Mr. Campione’s pleasure. In this, she pronounced herself a perfect wife and mother and said, “There, are you happy?”

As she frequently asked Serena, even on the last day of her life, “How much does mommy love you?” The little girl dutifully answered, “This much!”

“Ohhh, I love you more than that,” Ms. Campione said. “I love you to the …?”

And Serena, so well-practiced by now, replied, “Moon and back.”

Not so much, it turned out.