WHEN NEW JERSEY state Sen. Dana L. Redd, D-Camden, recently announced her intention to become mayor of her beleaguered city, she hinted of a tragic childhood that had not kept her from public service.

"I walk the streets of this city every day, and I know what our people are going through," Redd, 40, a lifelong Camden resident raised by her grandparents, said in a campaign release last week.

Redd's personal tragedy, about which she has rarely spoken, occurred more than 30 years ago in a sleepy roadside hotel in Bordentown, Burlington County, when she was 8.

Her Web site simply quotes her this way: "My parents died under very tragic and painful circumstances."

But July 1976 news accounts in the Inquirer, the Courier-Post and the Evening Bulletin provide a more complete picture of what Redd has overcome:

On the morning of July 22, 1976, the nude bodies of Ronald and Brenda Redd, ages 32 and 31, were found in a room at the Laurel Notch Motor Lodge on Route 206.

Investigators said that Ronald Redd, a former Camden City Council candidate and the president of a large union at Campbell Soup Co., had shot his wife, a medical technician at Cooper Hospital, three times in the head with a .32-caliber Winchester rifle he owned, then used one of his toes to pull the trigger and kill himself.

Ronald Redd had been admitted to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township, Camden County, for a seven-day voluntary commitment on June 28, 1976.

Redd, a Campbell Soup employee since 1965, was released from Ancora on July 1 and left with his wife for a vacation in Montreal a few days later. On their return, they checked into the motel July 20, and a motel maid reported the gunshots two days later.

David Redd, a former Democratic committeeman in South Camden and an investigator for the city's Department of Public Works, told reporters that his nephew may have been despondent over union affairs in Camden.

Ronald Redd was president of Local 80 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, AFL-CIO. The 1,800-worker local represented about half of Campbell's work force at the time.

Sen. Redd, through a campaign spokesman, said yesterday that she did not want to talk about her childhood and would not grant interviews until next week.

In 1995, the Inquirer reported that Redd, then an aide to Camden County Freeholder Riletta T. Cream, "said she still believes that her father loved her mother too much to kill her." She apparently has not discussed details of the tragic incident since.

Two weeks after her parents' deaths, Redd, then a third-grader, was selected by Father Michael Doyle, of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, to present Mother Teresa with a lei of flowers picked from a city garden, when the Nobel Peace Prize winner visited the church.

Doyle also told Mother Teresa why he had chosen Redd.

"She took Dana in her arms with such tenderness and just embraced her," he recalled yesterday. "Dana herself and her grandparents said they always felt the blessing of Mother Teresa comforted her at the time. It was a very holy moment in their grief."

Raised in the Centerville section of Camden, Redd earned a business degree at Rutgers University and in 1994 became an aide to Cream. She later became a division director in the Camden County Department of Buildings and Operations and commissioner of the Camden Housing Authority.

Redd was elected to Camden City Council in 2001, and is currently its vice president. She was nominated to the state Senate in 2007 to replace convicted state Sen. Wayne Bryant.

Over the years, some news articles have mistakenly reported that Redd's parents were shot in a Maryland hotel room or died in a car accident - which is how Camden City Council President Angel Fuentes recalls the tale.

"She's a pretty inspiring person," Fuentes said of Redd. "I'm really a full supporter of her campaign for mayor at a time when crime is high and unemployment is also high."

Doyle said he still regards the deaths of Redd's parents as a mystery.

"I don't think it happened that way. I think they were murdered," he said. "That's what was being said at the time by those close to her father."

In 1973, Ronald Redd ran for Camden City Council on a ticket headed by mayoral candidate "Major" Benjamin Coxson.

Coxson, who allegedly was tied to the old "Black Mafia" in Philadelphia and was a friend of boxing champion Muhammad Ali, was found shot to death in his Cherry Hill home in June 1973 along with his mistress and her two children.

Doyle said the deaths of Ronald and Brenda Redd, regardless of how they occurred, have not crippled their daughter, making her story an inspiring one.

"She never looked back. She never got twisted into anger, frustration or depression," he said. "She was always a star, and still is."

Staff writer Stephen Zook contributed to this report.