‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ Murder Trial Near : Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty in Killing of Girl, Woman
Tracey Campbell and Shari Miller led very different lives.
Campbell, a 15-year-old student, had recently moved to Los Angeles from Missoula, Mont., and lived quietly with four other family members in a one-room apartment, scarcely venturing outside her Westside neighborhood.
Miller, six years older than Campbell, apparently lived out of her car and performed odd jobs when she could find them. She had a large circle of acquaintances and hung out at a bar known as the Meet Market.
Different as they were, however, the teen-ager and the young woman had three things in common, prosecutors say. Both aspired to become models. Both knew an amateur photographer named Bill Bradford. And in the summer of 1984, both were found strangled.
Three years after Campbell and Miller were killed, Bradford, now 41, is about to go on trial for their murders, with jury selection expected to begin today in Los Angeles Superior Court. Because he is charged with a double-murder, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
It is a case that both sides describe as a “jigsaw puzzle,” assembled solely with pieces of circumstantial evidence. Even though there is no physical evidence linking Bradford to the killings--no fingerprints, blood or hair samples or murder weapon--prosecutors are convinced that the pieces fit together perfectly.
But defense attorneys charge that investigators first determined the shape of the puzzle and then cut the pieces accordingly. “What they decided is that Bill Bradford is guilty, and then they molded the evidence to fit that,” co-defense attorney Charles L. Lindner said.
Prosecutors believe that Bradford killed both victims in a remote camping spot in the Mojave Desert, after luring them out there separately by offering to help launch their modeling careers.
“Photography was a means of getting these women to trust him, and placing him in a position where he could kill them,” Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn said in an interview.
During a weeklong preliminary hearing in July, 1985, the prosecution presented three dozen witnesses, but never attempted to ascribe a motive to Bradford, who has been married at least four times. “There was no motive,” Conn said. “These were pointless killings.”
Shari Miller was the first to die. Her partially clothed body, wrapped in a bedspread, was found July 6, 1984, in a parking lot behind a carpet shop on West Pico Boulevard. Authorities believe that she was strangled two days earlier with a leather bootlace. Her car was later found parked in front of a bar two blocks from the Palms apartment where Bradford lived.
Her body was not immediately identified.
On July 12, Tracey Campbell, a neighbor of Bradford, disappeared.
As soon as they returned home that evening, family members could tell something was wrong, preliminary hearing testimony showed. All five of them slept on mattresses in the one-room flat, and it was Campbell’s job to pick up the bedclothes and put them away. The bedclothes and mattresses were still on the floor.
Campbell was such a loner, and knew so few people after only three months in Los Angeles, that suspicion immediately fell on Bradford, who had been to the apartment that morning.
Bradford acknowledged to Campbell’s cousin that he had seen the girl that morning but said he knew nothing about her whereabouts, the cousin testified.
It was another month until the pieces fell into place, prosecutors say.
During a search of Bradford’s car, police found 10 photographs of Miller, several with distinctive rock formations in the background. One of the officers, John Rockwood, happened to notice that the woman in the photographs had a motorcycle-emblem tattoo on her leg. By coincidence, Rockwood had seen the body dumped on Pico and remembered that the dead woman had a similar tattoo.
A fingerprint match established that the victim was Shari Miller. The young woman apparently knew Bradford from the Meet Market. “They ran with the same people,” defense attorney Lindner acknowledges.
Miller’s mother later testified that shortly before she was killed, Miller had made an appointment to see Bradford. “Mom, I have a chance to do some modeling and take some photographs for a magazine. . . ,” Marilyn Miller said her daughter told her. “And she was delighted. She felt she had a job.”
Although Bradford told detectives that the photos were taken in Topanga Canyon, police suspected that they have might have been shot in the Mojave.
For one thing, Bradford was awaiting trial for allegedly raping a former girlfriend in the desert, after a trip to Edwards Air Force Base to watch a space shuttle landing. (In August, 1984, just after he was arrested in the murders, he pleaded no contest to forcible rape and was later sentenced to eight years, Deputy Dist. Atty. Meredith Rust said.)
Following this lead, police went out to the desert but came up empty.
The next break came when a friend of Bradford offered to guide police to a favorite Bradford camping spot--a barren bowl-shaped area 28 miles east of Lancaster. The nearest town, Hi Vista, is five miles away.
The friend, Nicholas Klos, testified that he had introduced Bradford to this isolated spot, and that Bradford had later asked him for a map.
“From the road you cannot see this place,” Detective John P. St. John, one of the key investigators in the case, told a reporter last week while touring the area. “Nobody would know you were here.”
In mid-August, St. John and nearly a dozen other Los Angeles police detectives combed the area pinpointed by Klos along with a sheriff’s posse of more than 75 officers using helicopters and horses. It was not a wasted trip. They found a nude, badly decomposed body that was later identified through dental charts as Campbell’s.
Rocks in Pictures
And, according to St. John, they also found something else: the rocks that served as a backdrop for the photographs of Miller. In one picture, for example, she is standing in front of a distinctive seal-shaped rock 400 feet from where Campbell’s body was discovered, St. John said.
The lure of a modeling opportunity, the “ligature strangulation” and the desert location make up “as distinctive a signature as if he had left a calling card,” co-prosecutor Pamela Ann Ferrero said in court last week.
Another link, prosecutors said, is an unusual blouse with a snail pattern that was found draped over Campbell’s face. Michael Faddis, a friend of Miller, testified at Bradford’s preliminary hearing that he obtained the garment from a trash can and later gave it to Miller.
In addition, items belonging to Miller--for example, a set of knives, a key ring, a belt and belt buckle and some jewelry--were found in Bradford’s apartment, as was a rope that an expert witness testified could have been used to strangle Campbell.
Prosecutors also point to Bradford’s statements to police and others as evidence of his guilt.
Asked about his last encounter with Campbell, Bradford said the girl had come to his place to use the telephone. Then, he said, he dropped her off at a store so she could buy cigarettes.
A problem with that story, Conn said, is that Campbell was not out of cigarettes that morning. Her brother, Darrill, testified that he gave her a pack of Camels before he left for work.
Bradford also had reason to lie to police about where Miller had posed for him, prosecutors theorize, since the truth would have led detectives straight to Campbell’s body. The suspect also said the photos were taken in early June--an impossibility, Conn said, because close inspection of some in the series show Miller with a cut on her elbow. She did not incur the cut until June 29, according to court testimony.
Taking issue with the prosecution’s theory, defense attorneys adamantly maintain that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the two murders were committed by the same person. Contending that it is prejudicial to try their client for both cases at once, they moved to have the two counts tried separately. Judge Paul Boland denied the severance motion last week.
Defense attorneys Lindner and Dale Michael Rubin have argued that the “murder weapon” was different in each case--a leather thong in one instance, a rope in the other. Miller’s body was mutilated after she was killed, while Campbell’s was not.
Noting that women’s gloves and buttons were found near Campbell’s body, they speculate that she may have been left clothed--in contrast to Miller. If Bradford indeed used photography as a lure, they ask, why were no pictures of Campbell found among the thousands of photographs seized? If Bradford killed Miller in the desert, why did he dump her body in West Los Angeles?
Portraying Miller as a loose-living, drug-using “biker lady,” the defense attorneys cite “a multitude” of potential suspects in her murder, including a male friend with whom she had recently quarreled. That Bradford had some of her possessions proves nothing, they say. She was in the habit of storing things with friends, or bartering goods for favors.
‘There Is No Evidence’
Dismissing the snail-patterned blouse, Lindner says the link to Miller is based on testimony from a “rag picker” and that witness’ girlfriend.
As for Campbell, Rubin said in court last month: “There is no evidence that (Bradford) took her anywhere, other than to the corner.”
“It does not make any sense to us to send the wrong man to the gas chamber,” Lindner said outside the courtroom. “What we’ve got here is a pure whodunit.”
Attorneys predict that the trial will last several months.