A Frightening Visage

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

February 4, 2024. Camarillo, California. I looked at our dogs nibbling at their breakfast like finicky ladies displeased with their salad dressing. No question my time would be better spent researching the criminal history of serial killer, Bill Bradford. I walked to my desk, picked up the mug shot of Bradford and pulled it close.  

Suddenly I felt tense and under threat, like he was looking right at me and knew what I was thinking. Wait a minute! I’m a reasonable, sensible person who doesn’t get carried away by nonsensical emotions. My reaction to Bradford’s mug shot took me by surprise.

I was no stranger to photos of Bradford. I’d seen photos taken of him by his wives, friends, police photographers and was always repulsed by his ashen-white complexion, smug expression, and menacing stare. Why now, did this one photo of his face unnerve me?  Then I remembered. August 10, 1987. Criminal Courts Building, LA. Day one of Bradford trial.

I’d worked side by side with Detective St. John who’d hunted, arrested, interviewed Bradford who would be convicted of first-degree murder. The DA would ask for the death penalty. In less than fifteen minutes, St. John would sit at the prosecution’s table with his partner, Chuck Worthen, District Attorney David Conn and Pam Ferraro. Bradford, mindlessly picking at his fingernails and dressed in an off-the rack suit, sat next to his attorneys Charles Linder and Dale Rubin. I’d been waiting for this day since his first arrest, July 31, 1994.   

Detective St. John, coauthor of the book we were writing about his cases, and I had arrived early and found a table in the cafeteria. “You said this case is complicated,” I said. “What did you mean?””

“This case is largely predicated on circumstantial evidence,” he said. “It’s the difference between seeing the guy pull the trigger and the gun going off. The prosecution must paint a clear picture of the murders of Tracey Campbell and Shari Miller in such a convincing way all twelve jurors are certain Bill Bradford is the killer. Let’s get going. It’s showtime.”

We walked into the courtroom together, then split up when St. John joined the prosecution team at a table about fifty feet from my front row seat. I set my purse on the floor, my notepad on my lap and started taking notes. It was just then I looked up at Bill Bradford and realized he was not looking at the prosecutors. He was looking at me.

His eyes were deep set and colorless with the hard stare of a crazed lunatic and his bloodless lips formed a seething, scary scowl. A crop of short, straight, plaster-colored hair fashioned into a flat-top butch reminded me of Richard Nixon’s Chief-of-Staff, H.R. Haldeman.

I couldn’t take my eyes off Bradford’s penetrating stare, his twitchy hands, his suit and tie that ill-befitted a person about to be convicted of first-degree murder of two victims and suspected of killing five more. His watery eyes and vacant stare frightened me more than those jittery, white, bony fingers he kept folding and unfolding in his lap.

What if that stare wasn’t really a stare but the Murder-Mask he’d wear to lure unsuspecting women into his car under the pretext they were headed to a photo shoot? He really took one to an empty house, another to a back alley and two to the Mojave Desert where he could play out his sexual fantasies before killing them. I opened my notebook and started to write.