Girls disappeared decades ago after posing for one particular photographer. What happened to them? Keith Morrison follows a team of committed detectives crisscrossing the country for clues.
They stare at you from another time, from long forgotten rolls of film. What are those models' looks: provocative, haunted, worried or vacant?
Sgt. Bobby Taylor: They don’t all look like they were willing participants and being photographed. Some were actually crying at the time and have the look of fear on their faces.
Who are these women? Ghosts? Alive or dead? And how did they come to be here?
The whole, strange business has become urgent again. Deep in the center of the vast, un-pretty belly of L.A. County, on a winding street lined with bland industrial warehouses, is the Los Angeles County Sheriffs' Homicide division.
There was housed a huge room chockfull of brown paper cases. In each one was an unsolved mystery—the story of a life taken and a case unresolved.
In the case of Sgt. Bobby Taylor, it’s of the long-forgotten.
Sgt. Taylor: That’s my job. That’s what I’m assigned here to do. To look into old, cases that come out of dusty old folders and see if they can be resurrected.
This story is about one of those brown paper cases—the dreadful history inside and the images that spilled out. There were dozens of women and nobody knew who they were.
Sgt. Taylor: We’d like to, if possible, be able to say that they were all alive and well. That’s probably not gonna be a reality, but that’s what we’d like.
Probably not a reality? Well, the pictures were found among the seized possessions of the man who took them: a drifter named Bill Bradford.
In 1987, Bradford was convicted of murdering two girls— Shari Miller and Tracey Campbell.
Sgt. Taylor: The murders were very brutal. They involved sexual assault. They involved dismemberment. Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Dismemberment?Sgt. Taylor: Yes, and mutilation.
Morrison: Dismemberment of what?Sgt. Taylor: Certain identifying parts of bodies.Morrison: It sounds like you don’t wanna become more specific than that.Sgt. Taylor: Not at this time.Morrison: This was a sick individual who did these things.Sgt. Taylor: I would suspect so.
In fact, Bill Bradford has a rap sheet full of brutal sexual assault charges. He spent years roaming the country, altering his looks to blend in to time and place. Mutating from '50s-greaser, to '60s-stoner to '70s-barfly. Finally, in the ‘80s, he settled on "hip urban-photographer."
It was a role that worked disturbingly well in Los Angeles’ celebrity obsessed sub-culture: Posing as a fashion photographer, Bradford lured young women with the promise that he could launch them on high-paying careers in the modeling business.
Sgt. Taylor: It would start off as a above table photo shoot but then later escalate into a situation where he would try and get them to take nude shots.
Little 15-year-old Tracey Campbell agreed to pose for Bradford in the summer of ‘84. And vanished.
Police searched Bradford’s apartment but found no evidence to connect him to Tracey Campbell’s disappearance.
They did, however uncover a very significant clue—photos of 21 year-old, Shari Miller, a model with big dreams… and not much else.
Detectives had seen that face before. A week earlier her blanket wrapped body was found dumped in a parking lot in West L.A. That, by itself, was not enough evidence to have Bradford arrested.
But what was it about these photos? Where was it taken? Bradford’s old drinking buddy figured it out—a desert rat by the name of Nick Klos.
Nick Klos: It is very difficult for someone to kinda find this place.
Bradford, Klos revealed, had set up a remote campsite at a distant, rocky outcropping, invisible to civilization of any kind. And here, Klos told police, is the background of that Shari Miller photo.
And a few hundred yards away, police discovered the decomposed remains of Tracey Campbell.
Klos: He had thrown a couple of bushes evidently over it but the animals had gotten to it. They had to have been terribly, terribly frightened and no reason to scream because no one could hear them.
When Bradford went on trial in 1987, the evidence against him was largely circumstantial. It took the jury 12 days to find him guilty. But the chilling moment of the trial came as Bradford was being sentenced to death. He turned to the jury box and blurted out, “Think how many you don’t know about.”
Bizarre, is what it was. It was hard to forget. And yet, for whatever reason, detectives did nothing. They never responded to his taunt—never looked to see if Bradford had, in fact, killed other women.
Morrison: Why weren’t those photographs investigated 20 years ago?Sgt. Taylor: That I can’t answer. I can’t speak for what happened back then. I can only say what we’re responsible for now. And when it came to our attention, we picked it up and started running with it.
And when detectives started digging into the Bradford file they found a picture of this woman: Donnalee Duhamel. In 1978, her body was found in a canyon outside Los Angeles—decapitated.
Sgt. Taylor: The murder case involving Donna Lee had never been pursued past the initial stages. And we wanted to see if there was anything there that we could work on now.Morrison: What made her murder connected with Bill Bradford, as far as you could tell?Sgt. Taylor: That they had been at a bar in the Culver City, Venice area drinking and she left in the company of Bill Bradford with the explanation that she would be right back. He was going to take pictures of her. And from that point in time, she was never seen again.Morrison: Somebody did her in. He was the last one seen with her.Taylor: He was the last one seen with her.
New interest in this old murder case will have these detectives chasing hundreds of leads from Oregon to Florida. What happened to Donna Lee Duhamel is suddenly crucial in the not-so-cold case of Bill Bradford.
Los Angeles sheriffs detectives burrowed into Bill Bradford’s thick file of run-ins with the law. They were looking for more evidence that might connect him to the murder of Donnalee Duhamel.
And that’s how they unearthed an amazing cache of aging and perhaps damning evidence: hundreds of pictures of women along with rolls and rolls of film—some of it not even developed.
And so the Los Angeles sheriff’s department, with as much fanfare as it could muster, released a poster full of generation-old photos.
Did anyone know who they were? And?
For some people, like model Alina Thompson, seeing those photos was quite a shock.
Alina Thompson: I was at a photo shoot at Huntington Beach.
Alina posed with her sister in a room full of men. And there was like 20 photographers taking pictures of me at one time.
Thompson: Bradford took these. He came up to me and said, “You know, I’m a professional photographer, and if I could take your picture by yourself, you know, you could probably you know get a really good photo out of it.” When he was taking me out by myself, I was kind of thinking, “Where are we going?” You know, and then he finally took me to an alley, and my father went looking around for me and found where he had me.
Thompson was No. 2 and No. 5 on the poster released by Los Angeles Homicide.
Thompson: Young girls so badly want that kind of attention and want to be photographed and thought of as beautiful. They trust just about anybody.
Detectives have heard similar stories from other women pictured who have, fortunately, turned out to be very much alive.
But 19 still remain unidentified and unclaimed.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Why is it important to do this now?Sgt. Taylor: Number one, we’re eager to find out if in fact we’re going to be able to make a case for prosecution, an additional case against Bill Bradford.
But why would overworked detectives labor away at a massive investigation in order to hang another murder charge on Bradford? He is, after all, sitting on death row, awaiting execution.
Case closed right?
Well, not exactly.
Bradford’s lawyer, Darlene Ricker, has been fighting in court to overturn Bradford’s two murder convictions.
And lately, her case seems to be getting stronger.
Darlene Ricker, Bradford's lawyer: The best result would be a full exoneration. As we all know, a lot of death verdicts and death sentences have been overturned in recent years by the appellate courts.
That, thinks Ricker, is why police have suddenly released these pictures—they want to be ready to pin another murder charge on Bradford, just in case.
Ricker: We have to think why now, why are they doing this now? When the only reason I can think that may be is that Mr. Bradford is in the last stages of his federal appeal. I have some very, very strong claims in the federal petition that may have given pause and concern to the authorities.
Could the man who once taunted a jury with the specter of more murder victims... go free?
Morrison: Could he actually walk?Ricker: Sure. He most certainly he could walk. He’s always told me that he never killed anyone, including the two women that he has been convicted of killing.
She insists that the evidence against her client was barely enough to convict a man—let alone send him to death row.
Ricker: I’ve lived with this case for close to eight years. I’ve seen the evidence or rather the lack thereof. It was a purely circumstantial case on the two that Mr. Bradford was convicted of. There’s nothing directly tying him to either of those homicides.
And this is where the story takes another, decidedly weird, "only in L.A. turn" —the lead investigator in the case was a local legend now-deceased fellow by the name of John St. John. He was known as “Jigsaw John” as he was so masterful at piecing together clues.
In the mid-‘70s there was even briefly a television crime drama on NBC based on St. John’s career. It's significant because Bradford’s lawyer is now claiming her client was railroaded by a publicity-savvy St. John who, she says, was writing a book about the case.
In her appeal she states St. John had “a personal and financial stake in seeing (Bradford) convicted of murder.”
While Bradford’s appeals were rejected time and again in state court, his latest appeal in federal court has been getting some traction.
The evidence against him is quite strong, but a federal court judge agreed that if a detective were writing a book about the case as he worked on it, then Bill Bradford might not have received a fair trail.
And thus, the conviction could be overturned and a new trial ordered and Bill Bradford could walk free.
Ricker: Good luck retrying someone after two decades. Memories have faded. Witnesses presumably have died by now, moved away. Good luck!Sgt. Taylor: Wow, that’s pretty bold of her to feel that way. But if that does occur, perhaps we’ll have information ready to go to keep him in jail.
Or would they? Remember, the strongest additional case sheriffs had against Bill Bradford was the 1978 murder of Donnalee Duhamel. Or so they assumed. And you know what happens to assumptions.
It's windy in the desert, in the place Bill Bradford brought the women he was convicted of killing. No one could hear them scream.
In 1984, homicide detectives put together a strong, circumstantial case that Bradford was guilty. There was more than just his photos of the victims. There was also the way these women were killed, for instance.
Sgt. Taylor: The similarities being the mode and manner in which the death occurred. Morrison: What do you mean "mode and manner"? Sgt. Taylor: Each of the victims was manually strangled, usually with a piece of clothing or a ligature. And those are some of the common factors there.Morrison: Kind of a signature of somebody would be.Sgt. Taylor: Exactly.
‘Mode and manner’—that signature was also found at another murder scene.
Remember Donnalee Duhamel? She’s the would-be model, whose mutilated body turned up after she left a Culver City nightclub in the company of Bill Bradford.
All the clues seemed to point directly at Bradford. Detectives were hoping her thumbworn old file would produce a genuine breakthrough to keep their killer on death row.
And then disaster.
Morrison: What's happened to the evidence in the Donnalee case?Sgt. Taylor: For one reason or another, over the ensuing 28 years, it seems to have either been destroyed, lost, misplaced.
Gone. And with it, the main chance of pinning another murder on Bill Bradford..
So now, there is, simply, this: the curious poster of all those missing women—all the photos snapped by Bill Bradford himself.
Once the pictures were made public, tips started pouring in from across the country. Could detectives, by following their trails, be hoping to pin at least one other murder on Bradford?
Taylor and the two dozen detectives on his team have crisscrossed the country sniffing out Bradford’s old haunts of decades ago.
Detectives know Bradford was in Florida back in 1980 because he was arrested there on sexual assault charges. There were girls there, and the famous international speedway in Daytona Beach. Bradford was a car buff.
And Daytona Beach just happens to be the place where, in the early '80s, two young women suddenly went missing.
Michelle Sprauge disappeared from a Daytona Beach street corner.
Denise Duarte: No one’s ever heard from her again. Gone.
Denise Duarte was Michelle's best friend. It’s been more than 20 years since she vanished. And now, those photos.
Duarte: One of the photos captured my attention almost immediately.
Morrison: Which photograph? Number what?
Duarte: Number 31. Looks remarkably like my friend Michelle.
And just up the coastfrom Daytona Beach, in a small, sad house, Fran Webb saw the photos too.
Fran Webb: 23 years, and I keep checking. I keep checking everything.
And now, suddenly, a picture: Missing girl #33. Could this be her long lost daughter Darlene?
Morrison: Tell me what you think of the similarity.Webb: There is such a a such a close resemblance that it could be a twin sister, almost.
Fran Webb’s Darlene was so beautiful, she’d once been a contestant for “Miss Teen Florida,” where she had to pose in a bikini before a room full of men taking pictures.
One Friday night, Darlene went out with a group of friends. And around 11 p.m., she said goodnight, and walked down this street to her little car. She’d told her mother she wouldn’t be late.
Webb: We had a thing in the house, the light stayed on the front porch till the last one was home at night.
Darlene was a good girl, said Fran, dependable. Fran went to bed, still untroubled.
Morrison: When did you start to worry?Webb: Saturday morning. I went into her bedroom; bedroom was not slept in. I went out, there was no car.
And the porch light was still on. Had she slept over with a friend? Fran called around.
Webb: That’s how I found out where the car was. And when I got there the car was there; right where she parked it. Had not been moved.
Her purse was in the car, her glasses, her wallet. The only thing missing was her and her keys.
Morrison: And since then you’ve been living a version of hell, I supposed you could say…Webb: There is no hell. Hell is here in earth. What we live every day is our hell.
And that’s how Fran Webb’s life went on hold. For 23 years she’s been despairing, and hoping, and leaving the porch light on.
But could her vigil finally be over? Could these Bill Bradford photos actually be Darlene Webb and Michelle Sprague? The similarities were so uncanny that Sgt. Rick Longshore, armed with more of Bradford’s photos of the two young women, flew across the country for a dramatic meeting.
On this hinges a murder case, and two family mysteries... are they about to be settled?
Fran struggled with the photos.
Both women were counting on some kind of answer.
And Fran is confused. She’d expected to she her own daughter. The similarity is uncanny. And yet?
And we, watching this, felt the oxygen leave the room.
Sgt. Longshore: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being a positive and 1 being no way, how would you, looking at those photographs how would you grade that?Duarte: I would say a 5. I can’t say with certainty whether it is or whether it isn’t.Webb: I’d have to say a five. I can’t say yes it is or no it’s not.
And so, Fran Webb picked up what’s left of her hope, and went back home to the fantasy that one of these nights her Darlene will step out of the past...and walk through the front door..
Webb: Every night that light goes on. Morrison: Leave it on all night?Webb: All night long it stays on. Because the last person’s not home.
And back in Los Angeles, the detectives at sheriff’s homicide started again.
Back in the Bradford file, they found 30 more old photos and added them to the 19 still unidentified from the earlier list of Bradford pictures.
All we know about these people is that once they posed for a man now on death row for rape and murder... who taunted a jury with the idea he might have committed more... and who is hoping now to be freed.
Does anyone know who they are? Or have so many years gone by, that even a mother isn’t sure?
They can’t be so forgotten that they don’t even warrant one of these dusty, old brown paper files. Can they?
The person who could identify most, if not all, of the women in the photographs is Bill Bradford, himself. For months he refused to meet with investigators, but now he has changed his mind. Detectives will soon head to San Quentin's Death Row to meet with him.
Anyone with information should contact Sgt. Taylor or Sgt. Castro at the L.A. Sheriff's County, call 1(800) 618-6707 or e-mail LACountyMurders@lasd.org