Mother of accused tells murder trial her daughter was ‘disengaged’


BARRIE, ONT.— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Poor Faye Goodine: In shorthand, she is the mommie of Barrie’s own Mommie Dearest, that most notorious movie about motherhood.

The film was about the late actor Joan Crawford, a cruel and abusive parent as portrayed by her daughter, Christina, in an earlier autobiography of the same name; Ms. Goodine is the other side of that coin, riding to the rescue of her kid, now a 35-year-old admitted killer, as it seems she so often has before.

She was the first witness called by the defence for Elaine Campione, the youngest of her three girls, who has admitted drowning her two young children but is basically pleading not guilty by dint of mental disease. (That is not the actual plea; Ms. Campione is claiming to be “not criminally responsible,” in the language of the Criminal Code.)

On Oct. 2, 2006, as Ms. Campione has acknowledged through her lawyer, Mary Cremer, she drowned three-year-old Serena and 19-month-old Sophia in the family bathtub, then dressed them up and posed them in her bed while crowing gleefully on video to her ex-husband, Leo, with whom she was engaged in a nasty divorce and custody battle.

So it was that to Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday, from the little burg of Gaspereau Forks, N.B., came Ms. Goodine, to tell the jurors and Judge Alfred Stong what she saw in the months and weeks leading up to the girls’ deaths.

A wan and weary smile passed between mother and daughter as Ms. Goodine entered the courtroom.

It appears to have been a normal enough childhood: There was a car accident as a teenager (its mention bewildering unless, later, doctors will claim it affected Ms. Campione), a busy high school life, and a year in community college to train as a home support worker, a succession of jobs (one as a full-time babysitter for a local family, in which “she really loved the kids, and the kids loved her”), then Ms. Campione, at about 20, moved to Ontario to work as a nanny.

In the year before she left, her mother said, she spent a lot of time alone, a lot of time reading and watching TV. Gaspereau Forks is isolated, and “she didn’t mix with a lot of people … she seemed depressed.”

She met Leo Campione in about 2000, Ms. Goodine said, and even on the couple’s first visit to New Brunswick, things appeared tension-filled: Mr. Campione was allegedly very critical of her, and it seemed “she had to cater to what he wanted, to keep him happy.”

Her daughter, she said, seemed “very tired,” “on edge.” They spoke frequently, even when Ms. Campione was on her honeymoon (during which her parents had a $200 bill from her collect calls).

On later visits, Ms. Campione seemed reserved in her new husband’s presence. “She had to do what he wanted, do things the way he wanted,” her mother said. Her language was inevitably the same: Ms. Campione was stressed and tired, wasn’t eating.

It was after Serena was born, and the couple came to New Brunswick to show off the new baby, that Ms. Goodine noticed that the tension had ratcheted up: Ms. Campione’s acne was back, and even in pictures she took, “the baby’s on her lap but she’s just not interested. She’s disengaged.”

The couple and the parents had a huge, silly row – this was in the spring of 2004 – and for the next year, Ms. Campione wouldn’t take their phone calls, except once, when she berated her parents for sending only $5 in Serena’s Easter card. “Then she hung up on me,” Ms. Goodine said.

It was after Sophia that she finally called: Leo had allegedly hit her, the Children’s Aid had come to the house, she had taken the girls and left him and gone to a women’s shelter and Ms. Campione was crying on the phone.

She came to Gaspereau Forks for a three-week visit that summer, with the girls, but again, what Ms. Goodine noticed was her daughter’s lack of interest in her kids. She was on the phone all the time, talking to people in Ontario, “talking to Leo’s boss, his groomsman,” and “she didn’t seem to be engaged with the girls … she didn’t seem to be interested in taking care of them.”

Ms. Campione didn’t want to return to Ontario, and begged her mother to accompany her. “I was worried about her,” Ms. Goodine said. “About the girls too.”

Although the plan had been for her to move back into the couple’s house, Ms. Campione was too nervous, and so her mother moved into the women’s shelter with her.

There, Ms. Goodine said, she seemed fearful, and “disengaged from the girls a lot,” and kept her distance from the other women. “She felt she was better than the other people,” Ms. Goodine said. She told her they were all the same, all women beaten by their husbands.

One day, she demanded Ms. Goodine take a picture of her with the girls, “because she wanted the girls to know they’d had a mother.” In that picture, as in others, Ms. Campione looked thin, tremble-y and sad.

No one mentioned it – this trial, as with so much else, is about their mom, not them – but the little girls wore the same anxious look.