George Campbell, sleepwalker not criminally responsible of attempted murder, attacks again

Phyllis John ended an abusive relationship with George Campbell, an Ontario man once found not criminally responsible of an attempted murder he committed while apparently sleepwalking. When she told him to move out, Campbell tried to slit her throat.

'I almost lost my life. He wasn't sleeping when he did that,' says Phyllis John

Woman survives attack

8 years ago
Duration 2:49
Phyllis John speaks out about her life after the attack

At first, Phyllis John didn't realize her new boyfriend was the "sleepwalker" — a man found not criminally responsible of attempting to murder a previous girlfriend because he was deemed to have a sleeping disorder.

Their relationship started out well. He was charming and well-dressed. But as time passed, John says, he became increasingly abusive, at one point even knocking out one of her teeth.

Last spring, after years together, she decided to put an end to the dysfunctional relationship and ordered him to leave her apartment in Toronto’s west end. Hoping to avoid another confrontation, however, John agreed to let him stay in her home until he could find somewhere else to live. John set May 2 as his moving day. 

Phyllis John was forced to fight for her life after her former partner, George Campbell, tried to slit her throat one morning in May. Campbell had previously been found not criminally responsible of trying to murder another woman after a psychiatrist testified that he was likely sleepwalking during the attack. (CBC)
As she stood in her kitchen making breakfast that Friday morning, thinking about a future free of her abuser, her head suddenly snapped back violently.

"He walked up behind me, put his hands around my neck, and started slashing at my throat. I was in so much shock I almost didn't feel the knife," John recalls.

"I could see the blood. At one point I asked him, 'Could you spare my life?' He looked me in the eye and said, 'F--k you, and f--k your kids.' "

John struggled for her life, and after managing to break free she staggered to a neighbour's apartment for help.

By the time police arrived at the highrise on Martha Eaton Way, John's attacker — her partner of more than a decade — had jumped to his death off a 21st-floor balcony.

Attempted murder case in 2000

There was little news coverage of John's injuries. Police never publicly identified her partner as George Campbell, and citing privacy concerns, still won't confirm he's the man who attacked John before taking his own life.

John has what she calls permanent 'battle scars' around her neck from the attack. (CBC)

John wasn't Campbell's first victim, either. Campbell made national headlines in 2000, when a Toronto judge found him not criminally responsible of attempting to murder his then-girlfriend Arlene Robinson by slitting her throat as she slept. She survived the attack. ​

Campbell was evaluated by psychiatrist Julian Gojer and diagnosed with parasomnia, a set of sleep-related disorders that includes sleepwalking. The psychiatrist testified at the trial that Campbell was likely sleepwalking when he tried to kill Robinson.

Both the Crown and Campbell’s lawyers accepted the diagnosis and urged Judge David McCombs to find Campbell not criminally responsible for the attack. The judge agreed, and Campbell was set free. 

'He wasn't sleeping'

John said that Campbell never told her about that initial attack, but she eventually found out through friends. She says the similarities between the attacks are striking, and now questions the judge's finding. 

"I don't remember him ever having to do any follow-ups, any other assessments, any type of checking. I almost lost my life. He wasn't sleeping when he did that."

John is now using her own traumatic experience to urge others to escape abusive relationships. She says there is still too much stigma associated with domestic violence.

"I think much of that is because of the shame we tend to carry, the embarrassment we tend to carry as women. We don't want our friends and neighbours to know. Strong women like myself are being weakened every day, so we keep silent."

John said she believes that resources for victims of domestic violence don't go far enough, especially for women who have left abusive partners. 

"If someone like myself, a strong woman, an educated woman, is having such difficulty surviving after such an experience, could you imagine that mother that hasn't been to school? And then we ask the question why does she go back [to her partner]?" 

'Biggest fight of my life'

CBC News contacted Dr. Julian Gojer, the psychiatrist who diagnosed Campbell with parasomnia in 2000. He was unaware of Campbell's latest attack.

"I cannot comment on Mr. Campbell, but often the information that the public has is different from what is available to the court. On other occasions, based on procedural rules, the courts exclude information that the public may have. This creates a disconnect in how the public may see the outcome of a case," Gojer said in an email. 

John's not sure what, if anything, may have been different if Campbell hadn't been found not criminally responsible.

Permanent scars ring her neck — a constant reminder of the strength she needed to survive that day in May and the strength she's using to recover. 

"I consider them my battle scars. I went through the biggest fight of my life. I didn't do this to me. Why should I be ashamed? He did it."


  • A previous version of this story said George Campbell was acquitted of attempting to murder a previous girlfriend. In fact, he was found not criminally responsible for the crime.
    Oct 14, 2014 9:00 PM ET