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Motive in Avila murder-suicide remains mystery

TAMPA — Nearly a week after authorities found a family of four dead in a burning Avila mansion from an apparent murder-suicide, investigators are still trying to answer the key question: Why did Darrin Campbell do it?

As medical investigators released the remains of Campbell, 49, his wife, Kimberly, 51, son, Colin, 18, and daughter, Megan, 15, to a cremation service, authorities faced what could be a lengthy task of finding a motive for an alleged killer who had no criminal record nor history of mental illness.

"A case like this, you're not going to just quickly close without supreme confidence you've got the right guy," said private investigator Todd McCurdy, a former homicide detective with the Tallahassee Police Department. "It's only been a week. There's a lot of work involved with a case of that magnitude."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said it will conduct an audit of Darrin Campbell's finances — a task complicated by there being little available in the public record to show a serious money problem.

"They're looking at financials, and there's no telling how long that will take," sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

Campbell was the longtime treasurer of the Carrollwood Day School, but a former headmaster said he had no access to school funds. And his most recent employer, a Tampa digital records company, said it has no reason to suspect any financial impropriety while he served as its chief operating officer.

Besides poring over financial records, investigators are also likely to examine computer records and interview friends and associates to find a motive.

Early Wednesday, callers to 911 reported that the home at 16223 Sierra de Avila in the exclusive community north of Tampa was on fire. Crews arriving to fight the fire discovered four bodies inside.

The Sheriff's Office revealed what it believes happened:

Darrin Campbell bought a large quantity of fireworks and gas cans. He used a .40-caliber Sig Sauer he purchased last year to shoot his wife and children in the head. He set the house ablaze with gas and fireworks. Then he shot himself in the head.

The bodies of the Campbells were released over the weekend by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office to Affinity Direct Cremation Service, a Brandon company. Relatives have no plans for a local service, an Affinity employee said.

Campbell had been an executive at major corporations including Pabst Brewing in Texas and Anchor Glass Container in Tampa. His LinkedIn profiles show he also served as an executive with PODS Inc. of Clearwater and then IVANS Insurance Solutions in Tampa.

About six months ago, he joined VASTEC, a records company based in the Channel District.

A VASTEC spokesman said Monday the company is cooperating with the investigation but has not received any "court orders" in connection with the case. He said the company had no reason to suspect financial improprieties.

Campbell was a volunteer treasurer for nine years at Carrollwood Day School, the expensive private school his children attended. School officials have declined to return calls and messages from the Tampa Bay Times.

Mary Kanter, Carrollwood's former head of school, said Campbell helped with budgeting but did not have access to school money.

Kanter said she never saw signs of strife within the Campbell family or indications of financial strain — or anything else that could explain the sudden and horrific acts of violence.

"Just a wonderful, normal family," said Kanter, who retired last year. "It's a tragedy."

Investigators looking for signs of financial duress will analyze Campbell's bank statements and other records for the obvious, experts said, like late or unpaid bills, overdrawn bank accounts, ballooning debt. They'll also talk to neighbors, close friends and relatives, looking for any unusual behavior leading up to the crime.

Mary Jo Werner, a financial forensic analyst from La Crosse, Wis., said cases like this are commonly unexplainable at first glance, until investigators get a closer look at personal finances.

"It's usually hard to figure out, until you start digging into things," she said.

Detectives will also scan computers and other documents found in the burnt remains of the house, which the Campbells leased from retired professional tennis player James Blake.

Whatever the Sheriff's Office ultimately concludes, people like Marc Eskew will always have trouble understanding how the man they knew did what law enforcement says he did.

"This is literally the last type of person you'd ever expect to see this from," said Eskew, vice president of baseball for Keystone Little League, whose son played baseball with Colin years ago.

Eskew ran into father and son Campbell every few months — the last time about a month ago — and never detected trouble.

"He was the nicest guy, his kid was a model citizen," Eskew said Monday. "When I heard this, I was absolutely stunned."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or whobson@tampabay.com.

Motive in Avila murder-suicide remains mystery 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 11:04pm]

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