The gentler side of killer mom's estranged husband
November 15th 2010
Leo Campione. (TRACY McLAUGHLIN PHOTO)
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 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
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 e merges.
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
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.
&qu ot;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
"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
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
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
The scene was like something out of Twilight
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."
Although she was not drowsy, Elaine said she
swallowed 56 clo nazepam 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
But by the time she was brought to the
police interview room for questioning, she claimed she couldn't remember how her
"I woke up beside them and their lips were
purple,& quot; 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
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.
< span style="font-size:10.0pt;">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
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
"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."