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A Killer's Warning Haunts Detectives

Retired investigators going through old cases discover unidentified photos of women taken by a man convicted of two murders.

July 26, 2006|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

When photographer Bill Bradford was found guilty in 1987 of murdering two aspiring models, he made an ominous statement to jurors deciding whether he should be sentenced to death.

"Think of how many you don't even know about," he said.

Bradford, now 60, was eventually sent to death row, but detectives never forgot his warning.

Nearly 20 years later, Sheriff's Department officials took a new look at his file and found something that gave them chills.

Inside were snapshots of 50 women Bradford photographed between 1975 and 1984, when he ran a fledgling amateur photography business on the Westside.

Detectives began trying to locate the women -- a difficult task because there are no names and the images are so old.

So officials took the rare step Tuesday of releasing the 50 photos, hoping someone might help identify them.

Sheriff's Capt. Ray Peavy said that although detectives believe some have been murdered, they can't say conclusively and hope the publicity might encourage witnesses -- or the women -- to step forward.

"What we have here is a very large group of pictures of women that we do not know for the most part who they are," Peavy said. "Many of them could have likely been homicide victims themselves. Many of them may have just been women that he met in bars and took home and took photographs of."

Investigators said they suspect Bradford killed one of the women in the photographs, Donnalee Campbell Duhamel, who was found decapitated in 1978 in a Malibu canyon days after she was seen leaving a Culver City bar, the Frigate, with Bradford.

The photo display released by the department shows rows of mostly smiling women, some with the feathery Farrah Fawcett hairstyles that were popular at the time.

One woman is wearing an Uncle Sam hat, another a rhinestone cowboy hat.

Peavy said retired Dets. Bob Wachsmuth and Richard Adams, brought back to review old cases, came upon the photos and recalled Bradford's chilling statements.

Peavy said some of the women are from Southern California but others might be from Michigan, Florida, Texas, Oregon, Illinois, Kansas or Louisiana. Bradford was arrested in 1978 in Michigan for sexually assaulting his wife. Two years later, he was accused of sexual assault in Valparaiso, Fla.

Within minutes of Tuesday's news conference, a woman had called KCBS-TV Channel 2 to say she was in photos 16 and 17.

Bradford moonlighted as a photographer out of his Mar Vista apartment, where he was the complex's handyman. He hung out at popular Westside bars, including the Meet Market.

It was at the Meet Market that Bradford met Shari Miller, a 21-year-old model and actress. At his trial, prosecutors said Bradford took photos for her portfolio as a way of gaining her trust. Then, he drove her to the Mojave Desert for a photo shoot. Sometime after the photos were taken, authorities said, Bradford strangled Miller and left her partially clothed body wrapped in a bedspread behind a Pico Boulevard carpet store. Her car was found outside the Meet Market.

Six days later, on July 12, 1984, Tracey Campbell disappeared. The 15-year-old had recently moved to Mar Vista from Montana and was staying with relatives in an apartment a few doors from Bradford.

Authorities alleged that Bradford may have lured Campbell to the high desert for another photo shoot, strangled her and left the body there.

Although authorities didn't have fingerprints or much physical evidence, they did present photos that Bradford took of Miller in the desert and showed that Campbell's body was found nearby, draped in a snail-patterned blouse that witnesses testified belonged to Miller.

They also noted that Bradford had been convicted of raping his ex-girlfriend in the same desert area near Edwards Air Force Base.

From the beginning, detectives believed Bradford might be responsible for more murders. During his sentencing in 1987, prosecutors described him as a serial murderer and said he could be responsible for up to eight other killings, though they offered no details.

Back then, detectives believed their strongest case centered on Mischa Stewart. The body of the 23-year-old man was found in an alleyway outside a Santa Monica bar, the Pink Elephant, in 1982. At the time, authorities said they could not file charges in his case because a key witness could not identify Bradford.

Peavy said Tuesday that the Stewart case remains under investigation, along with the slayings of Duhamel and Patricia V. Dulong, who frequented the Big Tree bar in the South Bay and was last seen with Bradford.

Bradford's attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bradford has continued to make headlines over the years on San Quentin's death row.

In 1998, he announced that he would drop all his appeals and accept his death sentence. But a few months later, within five days of being executed, he changed his mind and restarted his legal fight.

That year, he provided a Los Angeles Times reporter with some of his poetry, including this work:

Many nights I have dreamed of

death

Greeting me with welcome

comfort

Tempered with a searing

seduction.

Within these dreams I have

discovered a

Private

Serene, extreme place

Which dissolves the last drop

of fear . . .

*

Photos of the women may be viewed at www.latimes.com/wanted

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