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Cynthia Campbell Ray: The Cold Blooded Murder of James & Virginia Campbell

I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

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 to the master bedroom, and fired six rounds into their bodies; their young grandsons camped out at the foot of the grandparents bed. Although frightening and mentally traumatized for a lifetime, the Campbells’ grandsons were otherwise unharmed.

A Psychotic Daughter: Cynthia Campbell Ray

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

According to Cindy, she was physically and sexually abused at the hands of parents, including being locked in a closet for days on end without food or water; abuse she claims continued on into adulthood.

Her siblings, however, say that no abuse ever occurred. They recall a Cindy who was a troublesome young girl and an even more difficult teenager with parents that tried everything they could think of to help their daughter – including counseling and overindulgence. Despite their efforts, Cindy continued down a troubled path, spreading her lies everywhere she went.

Cynthia Campbell Ray

Cynthia Campbell Ray

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, whom she would later marry. She told Michael her sad stories of abuse, adding a sexually abusive stepfather to the mix. The marriage last only long enough to bear two children.

The couple separated in Houston and it was there Cindy only half-heartedly made an attempt at mother – and housekeeping.

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family say that Cindy had a truly exceptional talent when it came to art and could be so fun and lively when she wasn’t withdrawn into her house, blinds drawn, gaining weight, and overall just neglecting herself and the children.

Today even armchair psychologists would recognize Cindy’s behavior as classic Bi-polar symptoms, but in the 1970s and 1980s it was seen as just weird and crazy.

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

David Duval West

David West had grown up in a home with an overbearing mother who had no friends and filled the void by being a (too) constant in her son’s life. David’s father Duvall West didn’t care much for his wife or her holier-than-thou attitude but opted for mental absenteeism rather than save his son from the clutches of his mother.

David was ripe for the picking by the likes of Cindy’s personality. Despite being in his late 20s and a former marine, David was weak when it came to women. He readily bought into Cindy’s stories of abuse. He believed her 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 believed he could save the damsel in distress. David didn’t realize Cindy was to he as Eve was to Adam – more like the serpent in the tree, truth be told.

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 wanted items from the couples’ home. While the family was scurrying to make financial arrangements for the Virginia’s ailing mother and two young boys under the age of 9, 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 more-than-suspicious Cindy from getting one red cent.

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

The family wasn’t keeping their opinions to themselves, they were more than willing to share them with police. Police were listen, well aware of the questionable behaviors of the murdered couples’ third-born child.

While suspicion makes for good gossip, it fails miserably as evidence.

Three years had passed since the Campbells’ murder and police seemed no closer to making an arrest. Cindy’s siblings wanted nothing to do with her. Her children were being raised by their uncle. And she and David had been on again, off again. Mostly off. Six weeks after the murder, Cindy had rid herself entirely of David and moved in a new boyfriend: Rory Lettvin, who later testified, despite Cindy’s gross obesity, an apartment that smelled of urine and feces, and a very dependent woman who didn’t work nor had a driver’s license, he stayed because he felt sorry for Cindy; who he says told him the stories of childhood abuse at the hands of stepmother and stepsisters. A promise of $20,000 of tools and equipment once she received her inheritance was a strong enticement as well. 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 pay-outs from her parents’ estates. She’d reluctantly settled for $25,000 cash and the title to the four-plex apartment house where she and her invalid grandmother lived on Kingston in the Montrose area of Houston; the grandmother often living in squalor because Cindy provided no better care Grandma than she did herself.

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 getting the goods on unsuspecting targets.

Clyde recognized David as the weaker of the two and knew he should be their primary subject. He immediately assigned his sexy new staff member, Kim Paris.

Kim Paris

Kim Paris

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 was head over heels in love. He was so smitten, in fact, that he proposed marriage after only two months of “courtship.”

David had shared only snippets of his personal life, in part of which he spoke about his ex-girlfriend Cindy whose parents had died together in a tragic accident. Knowing the untruthfulness of the story, it was difficult not to speak up but Kim continued to play the role; even pushed a little further by telling David she felt like he was holding back. Before she could marry him, she said, she need his complete honesty.

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

His confession was captured on audio cassette over the microphone and transmitter Kim was carrying in her purse – for the first time since they began “dating.”

Justice Delayed but Not Denied

The next day an indictment was secured by prosecutors and David was arrested. Under Texas law, Cindy couldn’t be charged on uncorroborated testimony by an accomplice.

David’s confession and the method obtain rapidly came under fierce criticism, but was ruled admissible in the end. Although he first decided to take his chances with a jury, halfway through his trial he changed his plea to guilty. He was sentenced to two life sentences with a possibility of parole. He became eligible for parole in 2005, but either did not apply or was denied as he is currently an inmate at the Wynne Prison Unit in Huntsville, Texas.

With David’s confession revealing the blueprint for murder, Cindy was arrested on two counts of murder. Although her first trial resulted in a hung jury, a retrial secured a conviction. On at least three occasions she has applied for parole, which she was denied. Cindy is currently an inmate at the Mountain View Women’s Prison in Gatesville, Texas.

Read More About Cynthia Campbell Ray and David West

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 in 1987 and Daddy's Girl: The Campbell Murder Case by Clifford Irving in 1990.

I've read both books and found Jack Olsen's recounting much more interesting as the details were many, complete with thorough histories of all major players in this drama; whereas Irving's book was simply a repeat of the information provided in the aforementioned book with a dash of sympathy for Cindy Ray that 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.

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