Killer’s Cold Case Runs Hot and Cool

Times Staff Writer

In the month since the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released the photos of 47 women taken by a suspected serial killer two decades ago, the trail has led in many unexpected directions.

Eva La Rue, a star on the CBS drama “CSI: Miami,” came forward to say that convicted killer Bill Bradford took photos of her and her sister two decades ago.

When the photos were made public, the department was besieged by more than 1,000 calls, including two by family members convinced their loved ones were photographed by Bradford and later killed. But further investigation determined the women were not among the 47.

Now, a sheriff’s homicide detective is flying to Daytona Beach, Fla., after officials noticed a strong likeness between a young woman in the photographs and a Florida woman who was the subject of a high-profile missing persons case 23 years ago.


And the highly unusual hunt for possible victims isn’t expected to end anytime soon.

Of the 47 women in 54 photos, only 23 have been positively identified as alive, said Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Peavy.

“Usual homicide investigations follow a basic pattern of clues. But obviously here we have a lot of people and a lot of information and daily there are twists and turns,” he said. “The first thing you usually know as a detective is who the victim is. But here that is last thing we are going to know.”

Police found the photographs when they arrested Bradford, now 60, in the early 1980s in the deaths of two West Los Angeles-area models. They sat untouched for years until a cold-case detective decided to take a second look earlier this year.

The Sheriff’s Department now plans to release new photographs Bradford took during the early 1980s of some of the unidentified women.

Sheriff’s investigators have also received photographs of additional women.

“The LAPD has turned over a stack of negatives to me from the original search warrant on Bradford and they may be some shots we didn’t see before with additional women,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Bobby Taylor said.”

Bradford frequented popular Westside bars and offered to take photos of female models and actresses. That was how he met Shari Miller, a 21-year-old barmaid, who he was convicted of killing in 1984. He also was convicted of killing 15-year-old Tracey Campbell during a photo shoot.

Bradford is now on San Quentin’s death row. His attorney said he has denied killing anyone.

Peavy acknowledged that the investigation has had its ups and downs.

The family a 14-year-old girl who hitchhiked from the Midwest to Los Angeles in 1979 never to be seen again swore that one of the images released last month was their daughter.

That prompted a flurry of activity -- until the woman in the photo, who was not the hitchhiker, walked into the sheriff’s office, Peavy said.

Relatives of a 41-year-old woman found strangled in the high desert in 1980 also told investigators they were convinced she was photographed by Bradford. But further investigation found that the identity didn’t match, Peavy said.

“We haven’t been able to say” that any of these other women in the images have been murdered, Peavy said.

But he said the fact that investigators could not identify so many of the women leads him to suspect they will find victims of foul play.

The latest focus of investigators is the case of Darlene Ann Webb, who disappeared Jan. 22, 1983, after leaving a Daytona Beach bar.

Her family has told sheriff’s officials that Webb looks very much like the woman in photo No. 33.

“She bears a resemblance to the woman in the photo,” Taylor said.

Bradford, who had lived in Florida at some point, was residing in Los Angeles when Webb disappeared, officials said.

Then there was La Rue. The actress who plays a DNA specialist on “CSI: Miami” came forward to say that Bradford photographed her and her sister.

After looking at the photos she told investigators that photo No. 3 was her sister, Nika, and possibly was taken in 1984.

La Rue and her sister told their story to People magazine this week.

“There’s a million slimy guys out there,” Nika La Rue told the magazine. “That creeps me out. I’m heartbroken because it could have been me.”