Jigsaw Takes Jane to the Bradford Crime Scene

by | Jul 29, 2022 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

August 31, 1984. In our thirteen years together, John St. John and I had more than a few epic battles. We argued over the use of profanity in a scene (I wanted less. He wanted more). We disagreed about diet (He liked fast-food, French fries, and steak. I liked salads, salmon, and apples). We had a difference of opinion about exercise (He drove everywhere. I played tennis). We were at opposite ends of the reading spectrum (He read Popular Mechanics. I read novels and biographies). But the one day we both dug in our heels refusing to budge, was the day I asked him to take me to the Bradford crime scene in the Mojave Desert.

I’d been editing and re-editing, filling up wastebasket after wastebasket trying to write just the right words to describe the Mojave Desert crime scene where Bill Bradford murdered Tracey Campbell and Shari Miller.

I could not and would not just imagine the scene.  

I needed to see and experience the desolate, hot, empty wasteland where Tracey and Shari died. I wanted to feel their horror and bear witness to what happened to the teenager who came to Los Angeles and be part of the California dream and the young woman who had just applied to design school because she was ready to leave drugs and drifting behind.

Every time I thought I had the right tone, word, sentence, and paragraph to bring that scene to life, I’d toss the paper into a pile that grew bigger and bigger. Nothing felt right. Nothing looked right. Nothing sounded right. St. John has to take me to the Mojave Desert so I could write it.

So, I called him.

“I’m busy,” he told me. “Up to my ass in alligators.”

“Alligators?” I wanted to scream. “I’m up to my ass in wastebaskets of pages that don’t make sense because I don’t know what the hell I’m writing! You have to take me to the desert!”

He dug his heels. I dug in mine and threatened to write the book myself. Finally, when I told him my birthday was in a week and the trip would be my present, he relented.

The trip to the desert took three and a half hours. Along the way, St. John and I talked about everything and anything but murder. I brought canteens of water, sunscreen, a camera, a journal for notes, and a baseball hat for protection from the burning sun. What I didn’t bring was protection for the deep and penetrating sadness I felt when I stood on the spot where Shari stood, and Tracey stood in the last moments of their lives.

 Neither Tracey nor Shari could have imagined the day they got into Bradford’s car they weren’t coming back. I asked myself over and over – why? Why did the young girl and aspiring artist believe the smooth-talking con artist posing as a photographer who had no intention of creating a fashion portfolio? Instead of camera equipment in the back seat of his car, he had rope, he had beer, and he had a knife. What photographer has a studio in the middle of the Mojave Desert or would imagine booking an appointment in the sweltering heat of August?

Questions swirled in my brain like the dust and dirt of a godforsaken place I could now write about. Most of all, I was grateful to have experienced the crime scene with the person who brought justice to Shari and Tracey.