No justice for Dana

Barb
Barb Sweet
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Thirty years later, her murder remains unsolved

A man pulls over in his dilapidated Plymouth or Dodge car on a rough dirt lane off Maddox Cove Road. He leaves the body of a 14-year-old in the bushes nearby and drives away.

That was 30 years ago, after Dana Bradley went missing on Dec. 14, 1981, miles away on Topsail Road.

“It’s an eerie old spot isn’t it? Really eerie, you know,” said Dale Smith, standing in the place where he found Dana’s lifeless body on Dec. 18, 1981, during a family outing to find a Christmas tree. 

“Fourteen years old is not very old, is it?”

With no houses in sight, people dump junk on the craggy, rough-cut lane and they did back then, too.

On that fateful day, someone had discarded a bunch of old toys, spotted by Smith’s then four-year-old twins.

There was a fresh layer of snow down and Smith recalls seeing footprints made by people who had walked up the lane ahead of his family.

But it was Smith who veered into the woods looking for a tree and instead, found Bradley’s remains, which he at first thought was a mannequin because of the toys discarded nearby.

He looked long enough to see the cowboy boots, blue pants and other clothing, and went to his wife. He realized it was a person, but was unsure if it was just someone asleep.

His wife took a quick peek, and told Smith it might be the girl who had gone missing.

They hustled their children to their pickup so they wouldn’t see anything.

Smith flagged down a man who was cutting wood nearby and asked him to watch the area while they went home to Shea Heights to phone the police.

Officers found Dana’s body laid out in burial fashion, her schoolbooks neatly tucked under her arm.

An autopsy revealed she died of multiple blunt-force injuries to the head.

Smith has only returned to the site twice since that day — the last time about 15 years ago, with media, and this week with The Telegram.

But every Christmas season, he and his wife talk about Dana Bradley and how her murderer never paid for the horrific crime.

After Smith reported the discovery late that afternoon in 1981, the area was swarming with police who ran search lights into the night.

He still wonders if it should have been handled more quietly that day.

“I would say once we made that call, I think one person should have come up in plainclothes. I would show him where she was at,” he said.

“Put surveillance on that area for eight or 10 hours and whoever done it would come back and see what happened.”

Last glimpse

Dana was last seen getting into a 1973 to ’76 Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant four-door sedan, reads the handwritten RCMP news release from December 1981. The car was beige, tan or faded yellow with noticeable rust marks.

She climbed into the car at a bus stop opposite Tim Hortons on Topsail Road about 5:20 p.m. on Dec. 14.

Harry Smeaton of Gander and his brother, John, were selling Christmas trees on the empty lot behind the bus stop.

It hadn’t been a busy day and they were sitting in the truck watching people going back and forth.

“This little one looked like she was going for the bus,” he said of Dana, who then stuck out her thumb to hitchhike.

In no time, a car pulled up and the man had to reach across and open the passenger door from the inside because the handle didn’t work. In that moment in time, the brothers couldn’t know it was the last time anyone — aside from the killer — would see Dana alive.

“I wish we had the wherewithal to get the plate number,” Smeaton said in a phone interview last week.

“But at the time, it was a different place.”

Pretty, blue-eyed Dana lived on Patrick Street, but she had been at a friend’s house that day on Currie Place, off Topsail Road, and phoned to say she was on her way home to a family birthday celebration. When she didn’t turn up, her family reported her missing to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

The newspaper headline: “This girl is missing and the police are concerned,” above Dana’s picture caught Smeaton’s attention when he dropped by his cousin’s house. Smeaton called his brother, who had already alerted the police to what they’d seen.

After Smith found the body, two witnesses came forward saying they saw the car and a man emerge from those woods off Maddox Cove Road the night Dana disappeared.

The descriptions of the two witnesses and the Smeatons led to a preliminary sketch and then a more detailed composite of the suspect, believed to be in his mid-20s.

Confession later recanted

Some 2,000 cars matching the description of the suspect vehicle were examined by police, 1,000 men questioned and hypnosis used to gain a better description of the suspect.

More than $1 million was spent on an investigation, including laborious excavations in search of the mystery car at Robin Hood Bay, after Mount Pearl resident David Somerton confessed to the killing in 1986 and was charged with first-degree murder.

On Maddox Cove Road, police set up makeshift structures equipped with propane heaters to thaw the ground to search for clues.

Somerton later recanted, claiming he was hounded into the confession during questioning. He was convicted of public mischief and sent to jail for two years. 

Another man was sentenced to nine months in prison in 1982 for making cruel, harassing phone calls to the Bradley family.

Over the years, the case has been profiled on national investigative journalism shows, is the subject of a book — “Hitching a Ride” by Darrin McGrath — and a poignant song, “The Ghost of Dana Bradley,” by renowned Newfoundland songwriter Ron Hynes.

There has been speculation her murder was connected to three cases of missing Newfoundland and Labrador women between 1978-84.

The RCMP has given numerous interviews over the years, but in the 30th year, the force declined, citing the importance of “the integrity in the investigation.”

 In reply to The Telegram inquiry, the RCMP said tips still come in on a regular basis and all officers in the major crimes unit follow the leads, rather than one person being assigned the case as in the past. But they say it’s still an active investigation.

Initially, nearly 30 officers worked on the case which led to cross-country inquiries and eventual DNA testing.

Dawn Bradley, Dana’s mother, doesn’t want to talk about the tragedy publicly.

“I just can’t,” she said, her voice breaking when contacted by The Telegram.

Covering the story

Retired reporter Pat Doyle was on general assignment in the then Evening Telegram newsroom the Friday the call came in about police activity in Maddox Cove. He and photographer Dick Green headed out on the late-in-the day assignment, arriving to find the area cordoned off.

Green headed through the woods to try to get closer for a shot, but he never liked the aspect of his job that found him photographing tragedies.

“I didn’t feel right doing that,” said Green, who left the newspaper a few years later and is now an antiques and art dealer.

Doyle still remembers covering Dana’s funeral and the wrenching grief of her family and young classmates.

“They couldn’t pin it on anybody,” he said of the police efforts.

“I wouldn’t have thought it would have gone on this long.”

Still haunted

The years slid by with no resolution and when Smith’s twins, a boy and a girl, turned 13 or 14, he was scared for their safety when they went out, especially for his daughter.

“You had to let them grow up. You couldn’t just keep them in under your thumb all the time. You had to give them a bit of space,” he said.

With sadness in his voice, he remarked that Dana would be 44 now, “still a young woman.”

Smeaton is astounded no one has come forward with telltale evidence.

“The thing that haunts me about it is you’d think someone must know something,” he said.

Retired I.J. Sampson Junior High School principal Fred Tulk was getting ready to head out to chaperone a dance at Dana’s school the evening of Dec. 18, 1981, when news of a body being found came on TV.

“I was just going through the door when CBC blasted the news,” he said this week. “I said to myself, holy hell! and took off.”

Tulk thought it was too late to cancel the dance, and in those days — when teachers filled whatever role was needed — they all arrived at the school to handle the grief, speaking to the students in small groups.

“I think that was the start of the shock,” he said, adding the first few days after Dana didn’t return, everyone still held out hope it was a kidnapping that would end in a rescue.

He recalls the police searching the cabins young men had built on the Southside Hills.

Tulk said Dana was an ordinary Grade 9 student.

He still struggles to understand, “why her?”

The crime changed parents, teachers and students, he said, and many more parents began picking up and dropping off their kids.

Prior to the murder, hitchhiking had been fairly common.

“The whole community of St John’s was in awe of what happened,” he said, adding he fears the killer will never be identified.

“As the time has gone up to now — 30 years — I can’t believe it. We’re still basically no further ahead than we were then or 15 years ago. … We’re still in a mess of not knowing.”

Tulk imagines the hell the Bradley family must go through at this time of year.

He remembers that Dana had a great personality and an artistic flair.

“That kid could have been anything, whatever you wish,” he said.

“Dana was a good kid. She would have been a fantastic adult.”

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RCMP, Tim Hortons, Retired I.J. Sampson Junior High School CBC

Geographic location: Maddox, Topsail Road, Shea Heights Newfoundland and Labrador Patrick Street Currie Place Hood Bay Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • nick
    December 17, 2013 - 08:14

    I think it's twisted that today, they are sentencing another man for a crime almost identical to Dana Bradley's, but 32 years later they can't identify who killed Dana. So sad.

  • always said they were looking for wrong car
    December 14, 2013 - 17:35

    I gotta funny felling that this investigation got off to a wrong start; right from get go; with description of the car; being a dodge dart or Plymouth valiant; I think make of vehicle is incorrect; and that fellow who picked her up; which was eye witnessed by fellow selling xmas trees according to buddy McGrath book; was driving rusted Plymouth valiant car; and fellow had to reach over and open door so young Bradley girl could get in; as young fellow who had Plymouth valiant those cars did not rust like later model dodge ASPENS or Plymouth VOLARE; my buddy had old VOLARE and those cars were rust bucket; from chyrsler; and I think that what fellow who picked up this young girl was driving; a dodge ASPEN or Plymouth VOLARE; they rusted bad and around door handles; these models by chryster if I do remember were pull up handles; and old valiants and dodge darts had button door handles; so I dare say the POLICE were looking for wrong car right from day; one and according to reports way back then; they dug up cars from stjohns to stanthony; that's just my opinion; hard to believe they could nt solve this case; I guess was case of just another person in nfld was not big shots daughter so not much done; same as Lovelle out here on west coast; Cuff got away with it for years and probably other murders who knows? but I always felt that car was wrong model; and not a valiant or dart because they weren't rust buckets like chyrsler ASPENS or VOLARES

  • John Miller
    December 14, 2013 - 14:30

    This is a link to the sketch given at the time... http://www.mindytran.com/danabradleysuspect.htm I hope someone can remember this bastard and bring him to justice!!!

  • m
    December 14, 2013 - 11:39

    What's burns me is wittnesses that saw her being picked up was apparently never questioned.56555323

  • mary
    December 14, 2013 - 11:35

    What's burns me is wittnesses that saw her being picked up was apparently never questioned.56555323

  • Ruth Hall
    December 13, 2013 - 23:46

    Give me a call about this case 780 239 6491. I tried to contact the writer of the book a few years ago but no body return my call

  • Amber
    December 13, 2013 - 15:04

    They should rerelease the sketch of the man they drew, perhaps even an aged sketch. Just to jog everyone's memory. They still have a chance of finding out who did this, and find justice after all.

    • Smac
      December 14, 2013 - 12:51

      The sketch is included in the photos attached to this article.

    • Smac
      December 14, 2013 - 12:53

      The sketch is included in the photos attached to this article.

  • Sherrie
    December 13, 2013 - 14:44

    I was 9 years old and she was only 14, she went to school with one of my older cousins. I was only nine but I think I grew up a lot with Dana Bradley was abducted and murdered....I think all of Newfoundland did a little. I wish her family could find a little peace ...RIP Dana

  • John
    December 13, 2013 - 09:24

    I remember this as if it was yesterday.. My ex- girlfriends aunt and family were the ones that discovered her. Justice will be served, if not by the courts, then by god himself. Who knows perhaps this person may already be dead. Today this person would be maybe 52 to 55 years old. A case that may never be solved. R I P dana

  • delores penny
    December 12, 2013 - 23:25

    all these years its not been solved ..god rest her young soul .but i believe it will come to a closer ..prayers still go to the family.and hope 1 day they fine the person/persons that this ..hope they never rest .like this young girl is not tell this is solved ..

  • Christine S
    December 12, 2013 - 12:52

    This is truly a sad story with no justice or happy ending.. I pray one day the killer will b caught and made to pay to the extreme for this horrible crime.. God bless the Bradley family...

  • karen noel
    May 07, 2013 - 14:52

    reading updates , keeping newpaper clips since dana`s death in 1980, and now to reread it all over again with no new leads or information to bring closure to my cousins death,, it brings such sadness to my heart and mind knowing that some one out there must know something. my uncle otto bradley even had big rewards offered for information and arest of the person / persons involved ,, but time is passing and more deaths are happening to ppl of nfld and to my own family members , as ref , to uncle otto and aunt jean bradley ect . hoping sometime, someone will help solve this case so all family members especially danas mom dawn and her dad billy can get closure in life and dana will finally r.i.p the way she should of. she was a beautiful smart girl that didnt deserve her life taken away so young and like it did . GOD HELP FIND ANSWERS .

  • HAROLD WILLIAMS
    December 16, 2011 - 15:22

    I lived across the street from Dana AND I MUST SAY SHE WAS AGREAT PERSON ,SHE WAS WAY TWO YOUNG TO DIE . I PRAY TO GOD THE KILLER DOES GET CAUGHT, GOD BLESS YOU DANA.

  • leahh
    December 15, 2011 - 08:36

    I was 18 years old at the time I heard this story and lived only a short distance away.You never heard of things like that very often back then-it horrified me then and was afraid I would also become at risk back then and remembering Dana Bradley story today still horrifies me.I hope they captures this person and locks him away.So sad for the family.

  • Kimberley
    December 15, 2011 - 07:59

    I want to personally thank the Telegram for keeping this story alive. Dana was a close friend of ours, and even though 30 years has passed, this whole tragedy is still quite fresh in my mind. I will never forget how I felt when she went missing. I will never forget how I felt every day that week that she never turned up. And I will especially never forget how I felt when her body was found. I only hope that whoever did this to her can't forget as well, and maybe someday he will do something that will get him caught and brought to justice....at long last. So, yes, to the Telegram. Please keep this story alive....which is something that we couldn't do for our dear friend Dana.

  • tonybittner
    December 14, 2011 - 21:59

    After reading this story I just called crime stoppers about something that happened to my girlfriend and I at that time

  • Krys
    December 14, 2011 - 20:28

    Today is my birthday, it was going good until I read this. I am so mad at this! I can't understand..... with all the DNA testing and other things there are today....... did they even collect evidence? if so and a person who was so posesed to do something like this must be in the system.... keep running tests!!!! I am so sorry for this little girl & her family. I hope someday this demonized Man is FOUND!!!!!!!

  • Steve
    December 14, 2011 - 19:58

    Hope you sold your fair share of copies. Speaking as a subscriber, I was floored when I saw this today. Why the front page? Her family has to deal with this for the rest of their lives, and Christmas time has to be the hardest. She's never forgotten, and neither is her story, but I think I'd be crushed if I saw my little girl's face blown up and plastered on the front page, no matter how many years it's been.

  • Jim
    December 14, 2011 - 19:53

    I am glad this comes up from time to time to remind her Mom that although the killer was never caught, that as a province we have never forgotten Dana.

  • tom
    December 14, 2011 - 19:51

    God love her and I hope her Mom can find some peace. I feel for them.

  • Snowbird
    December 14, 2011 - 16:27

    I remember that Dec. 15 morning when the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary showed up at I. J. Samson to question the students on any of her whereabouts. It was so chilling. Who knew it would endure for such as long as these past 30 years. I will always remember December, 1981.

  • kimberly
    December 14, 2011 - 16:26

    i believe that someday the case would be solved. I think at this point what the police needs to do is if there was any witnesses there back then to interview them and get a report as to what they saw. and probably look for any evidence that probably could never be found . i believe that there might be evidence that might lead to unsolved mystery of her death as to why she was murdered.

  • Jessica's Mom
    December 14, 2011 - 15:06

    From mother to mother I can understand Dawn's feelings especially as the world prepares for Christmas. I've never spoken with Dawn but have been in her company a few times over the past years, I haven't the heart to get together and share our grief. For the Telegram to keep this story alive (despite the season) as is often the case with the death of my daughter and a few other sad tales of lost children at Christmastime- they ensure our beautiful children aren't forgotten. Maybe one day keeping this story alive will lead to the person reasponsible being brought to justice. My thoughts are with the Bradley family as I read this story, for a few minutes we are able to escape our Christmas tragedy and think of someone else- and others who read this might take the time to be more grateful they have a healthy and happy Christmas season ahead.

    • Shane
      December 13, 2013 - 17:02

      Jessica's mom; how is it you alwaysanagehe to try and make a story about yourself? I am sorry you lost your daughter, but this isn't about you. Dana's parents have had to live every day with no justice being served. How selfish are you to try to make this about you. It's time you got over it.

  • Leah
    December 14, 2011 - 13:42

    Joseph McGrath, you are, obviously, very insensitive. Today is the anniversary of Dana's horrendous murder, and all you can do is shoot off your big mouth (as usual) to criticize The Telegram. They are still, and should keep on writing, about Dana, because her heartless cruel murderer is still walking around freely. I only hope that his conscience is haunting him so much that he can't live with himself. I am so sad for the family. It must be horrible not having justice served for the loss of your young loved one.

  • noel guiney
    December 14, 2011 - 11:03

    It was a sad day indeed and I remember it well. I hitchhiked from St.John's to the Gould's that very day after signing up for the military. This time of year I always think about Dana's murder and what a tragedy it was. Today I have a 14 year old daughter who I could not imagine losing especially in this way. My thoughts and prayers go out to Dana's family today and forever and I hope that someday they find the monster that took a young, beautiful life far too soon.

    • Gage
      December 14, 2011 - 13:52

      Dana was found in my mother's sweater that night. My mom had lent it to her because it was cold out. Today is my birthday and this is always something I think about every year.

    • angel
      December 14, 2011 - 18:36

      where are the toys that were never by? First I had heard of them...why? They would have linked an ndividual to the location. How could someone view pictures of the toys?

  • John
    December 14, 2011 - 10:17

    Firstly, the people initially involved - Family and the people involved in finding the body, need to know that the experiences and emotions they are feeling are completely normal reactions to a traumatic event. It is NEVER too late to have counselling to help process the the psychological injuries they have suffered. The provincial government should try offering awards say $25,000.00 for old unsolved severe cold cases letting the RNC and RCMP decide on the cases they want the reward to be offered on. The reward would payable when either an arrest is made but ideally on a successful prosecution. We have very few cases but another that comes to mind is the O'Brien case from Torbay. It migny also be a good idea to have a "most wanted" list be placed on all 3 sites, the Justice Department, RNC and the RCMP web sites.

  • B
    December 14, 2011 - 09:51

    Jooseph.....Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Case not solved!!!!!!!!!!! I hope the Telegram continues to take a walk in old cases particularly this one. I remember it was if it was yesterday as I lived close by and walked that area daily. It changed everything for me and I feel the people in St John's. I still think of Dana Bradley from time to time and how her life was cut short by a monster who is still out there. If you are not caught you will answer to God so you really have not gotten away with this!!!!!!! My thoughts are with Dana and her family. She is not forgotten.

  • Mikalah
    December 14, 2011 - 09:51

    I agree with Bayman, print this again and with all our updated technology hopefully this sick minded person will be found and justice will finally be served. RIP Dana.

  • Bayman
    December 14, 2011 - 08:57

    Bring the story out again is hopefully going to bring some more tips for the police to go on and hopefully the person who did this will have a conscience and tell someone. At the very least let something slip about the crime and will get reported. This person must be at least 55 or older by now and has lived a hard life knowing what he/she did 30 years ago if this person is human and has a conscience.

  • Jooseph McGrath
    December 14, 2011 - 08:33

    This is indeed a very sad story and one really feelss for the shortened life of this lady.Having said that I really wonder what the Telegram is doing of late?Is news so slow?Are reportters so inept there that they can only go back to old tely files from decades ago to look for a story line?This is Christmas time and yet that newspapers has decided to take a walk through stories decades old.Just look at it's recent stories on RC clergy,missing kids etc?Time for some big changes at the Tely or it will soon be but a memory in the field of media.

    • Kris
      December 14, 2011 - 09:24

      Jooseph, ever hear of the anniversary of the death?