Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

June 5, 2011

Killer’s sister: ‘In Cold Blood’ inaccurate

50 years since killing spree shocked the nation

VALDOSTA — From May 29 to June 10, 1961, George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham cut a swath of violence that affected people from Louisiana and Valdosta to Tennessee and St. Louis.

Their killing spree left several people dead in little more than a week. It led to their deaths as the last two men executed by hanging in Kansas.

Truman Capote writes of York and Latham in his book, “In Cold Blood.” They sat on Kansas’ death row with Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the main characters of Capote’s famed book.

Fifty years later, Emile Gail York Campbell of Panama City, Fla., Ronnie York’s sister, seeks to correct misinformation regarding the case and wishes to share her and her family’s pain in the wake of her brother’s crimes.

At the time of York and Latham’s deadly travels, Campbell was only a 12-year-old girl. Though she and her parents, Horace and Malvie York, often visited Ronnie on death row, Campbell spent the following years hiding from her brother’s crimes. Years later, when she had a 12-year-old son, the boy learned of his uncle’s crimes through a friend at school, and Campbell still denied any connection with George Ronald York.

She spent years in counseling hoping to understand the feelings she carried because of her brother’s deeds. Even now, a half-century later, when she has come to terms with her brother’s past, when she can speak of him and what he did, when she’s preparing to write a book about his life and her own, Campbell still can’t describe the way she has felt about the crimes.

“I have always felt so bad about it,” Campbell says in a phone interview with The Times. She says through sobs on the phone, “It still hurts to think of all those children left behind without parents. … I remember my mom and dad praying for the victims. It always broke our hearts. … I don’t feel guilty for what happened. I don’t feel like it was my fault, or that I’m responsible. I don’t think it’s guilt. I think it’s compassion that I’m having.”

She was a child living in the shadow of a nightmare.

The Times recently received a letter from Campbell. She has been contacting newspapers and media organizations in towns and cities where people were affected by York and Latham’s crimes. Her correspondence shares a “Letter of Hope” written by York. She admits being uncertain of what she’s seeking. She seems surprised by the suggestion that one or more of the children left behind may wish to contact her once her story has been told.

“I think because this happened to me that I have compassion in my heart and soul,” Campbell says. “If this had not happened to me I wouldn’t have the compassion I have for people, but I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I have been through.”

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