April 7, 1978
From the book, “Some Gave All,” by Mike Simmons, coming soon.
In 1964, 26-year-old Buddy married Sandra Adams, the love of his life. The young couple struggled, with Buddy working wherever he could to make a living. But they were happy – Buddy, Sandra and the kids – Robert, Cynthia and Lisa.
The Escambia County Jail needed Correctional officers. It wasn’t dazzling, but it was necessary. So, in 1976, Buddy began a new career in Criminal Justice.
The work wasn’t bad, and the money was steady. Also, he was able to pick up side jobs to earn more income. One of the jobs was working security on his days off at the Winn Dixie grocery store at the intersection of Pace Boulevard and Palafox Street. That is what he was doing on the evening of April 7, 1978. On the same night, ex-inmate Thomas McCampbell and four others chose to rob the same Winn Dixie Store.
“This is a holdup!” The men went to each cash register, demanding money. Buddy felt someone grab him roughly by the collar from behind and stick a gun to his head. Then suddenly, Thomas McCampbell sent a .38 caliber bullet through Officer Buddy Ray’s head. The bad guys were now facing a murder charge. They fled.
Within minutes, deputies were swarming the area for any sight of a car with five males in it. Meanwhile, Buddy Ray was declared dead at Baptist Hospital at 9:50 pm.
On April 11, Devastated family, friends, and officers from miles around descended on Oak Lawn, one of the most prominent Funeral Homes in town. They were there in support…in support of the family, both blood and blue (or green in this case). A contingent was there from the nearby Fort Walton Beach, Florida Police Department. Buddy’s older brother, Tommy Ray, was the chief there.
The service was brief. Reverend Charles Pfeiffer gave some words of comfort. The procession followed. Then came the graveside service at Pleasant Grove Cemetery. That is where the pall bearers – Buddy’s friends – laid him to rest. He is still there.
One by one, the hard-working detectives brought them in. Then the questioning. Almost as if in a comedy show, when the question of who pulled the trigger was asked, the collective choir simultaneously sang “Thomas McCampbell!” But he couldn’t be found. A warrant was issued for his arrest for First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery.
On October 10, 1978, the police in Lansing, Michigan had raided a house. An ID check of one of the occupants showed that his name was Thomas McCampbell and he was wanted in Escambia County, Florida for First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery. The last suspect, James Hawthorne, was arrested on February 24, 1979.
On Monday, March 5, 1979, the trial started. It continued all week, and on into Saturday, March 10. That evening, the jury was sent to the jury room to deliberate. It wasn’t long. The knock came and the jury returned to the box. The clerk took the verdict form from the foreman and read it. “Guilty.” On April 24, Judge Lowery sentenced him to die in the electric chair.
Finally, in 1982, the Florida Supreme Court commuted his sentence to life in prison. He was moved from the death house at Raiford Prison to Maximum Security. Better? Yes. Great? No.
On September 17, 2020, Thomas McCampbell died in prison. That’s 15,504 days longer than he let Buddy Ray live. Rest in peace, Deputy.