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Private group digs for cars they say are linked to Bradley murder


Any potential information contained in old, rusted car parts dug up by civilians in Witless Bay Monday may be inadmissible in court, depending on the way it is being handled.

Monday morning two backhoes were used to dig up private land in a residential area of the southern shore town in search of a vehicle that a man claims was used to pick up Dana Bradley when she was hitchhiking before she was murdered in December 1981. The man says he was a child in the back seat of the car at the day of the murder — a car owned by his father and being driven by a family friend at the time.

Dana, 14, was last seen on Dec. 14, 1981, hitchhiking on Topsail Road in St. John’s. Her body was located four days later in a wooded area off Maddox Cove Road. She was killed from a blow to the head, and her murderer has never been found.

In a series of articles published in The Telegram starting two years ago, the man said the car — and another similar car, also owned by his father — had eventually been used as landfill and buried in a backyard in Witless Bay, where they have remained for 30 or so years.

The RCMP spent 16 months investigating the man’s allegations before dismissing the information as untrue. Last week, police announced it had obtained new DNA from evidence taken from the crime scene at the time of Dana’s death — evidence that had been tested numerous times over the years. Because of new technology, male DNA was finally able to be extracted.

Police are using the new DNA evidence to eliminate suspects and clear tips from the public, and have sent it to the National DNA Data Bank to be checked against existing profiles. They say they have already used it to clear the suspect associated with the buried vehicles in Witless Bay a second time, among other people.

“The RCMP’s investigation found that there is nothing of evidentiary value to the Dana Bradley murder investigation in those vehicles,” an RCMP spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

“The suspect associated with the vehicles has been cleared of any involvement in this case.”

The man who alleges he witnessed the murder and a group of his supporters have long been calling for police to dig up the cars. Last year, Dana’s mother and stepfather, Dawn and Jeff Levitz, told The Telegram in a rare interview that they supported the unearthing of the cars, but only to quiet the group.

“Sgt. (Kent) Osmond and his team spent a solid 16 months investigating (the man’s) information and, as explained in your previous articles, came to the conclusion that in the case of witnessing Dana’s murder, he is wrong,” Jeff Levitz said. Osmond is the former lead investigator on the Bradley file.

“Unfortunately, (the man) won’t accept this, and has subsequently continued to occupy too much of the investigative team’s time that could be spent clearing other leads.”

Monday morning, a small group of people, including the man alleging to have witnessed the murder, stood around the dig site as a large orange backhoe went to work. Car parts were eventually located — rusty and mangled, but clearly the parts of a car — some of which members of the group promptly hosed down.

Key parts of the cars being searched for include the trunk compartment and the passenger side door.

The owner of the cars spoke to The Telegram Monday but declined an interview.

Mark Gruchy, a local criminal defence lawyer, who does not have a connection with the case, says any potential evidence contained among the car parts may or may not be admissible in court, depending on what the group is doing with them.

“As a general rule, evidence is ideally obtained as early as possible, and handled in a way to avoid possible contamination,” Gruchy explained. “There’s also something we call chain of continuity. In a court of law, once police obtain evidence they must demonstrate that it has been preserved and in their possession the whole time.

“In this case, we have a group of individuals with a vested interest in the case who are exhuming something that’s been in the ground for a long time. Hosing it off is concerning. Not to say it would automatically destroy evidence, but it certainly doesn’t help. The fact that that car has been in the ground for decades poses problems — they are not necessarily insurmountable, but at the same time, it has to be proven that no one could have interfered, tampered with or contaminated the evidence.”

The RCMP has received about 40 tips from members of the public relating to the Bradley case since they announced the acquisition of the DNA evidence last week. Police are encouraging anyone with any potential information about Dana’s murder to contact them at 772-5400, or by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Monday morning two backhoes were used to dig up private land in a residential area of the southern shore town in search of a vehicle that a man claims was used to pick up Dana Bradley when she was hitchhiking before she was murdered in December 1981. The man says he was a child in the back seat of the car at the day of the murder — a car owned by his father and being driven by a family friend at the time.

Dana, 14, was last seen on Dec. 14, 1981, hitchhiking on Topsail Road in St. John’s. Her body was located four days later in a wooded area off Maddox Cove Road. She was killed from a blow to the head, and her murderer has never been found.

In a series of articles published in The Telegram starting two years ago, the man said the car — and another similar car, also owned by his father — had eventually been used as landfill and buried in a backyard in Witless Bay, where they have remained for 30 or so years.

The RCMP spent 16 months investigating the man’s allegations before dismissing the information as untrue. Last week, police announced it had obtained new DNA from evidence taken from the crime scene at the time of Dana’s death — evidence that had been tested numerous times over the years. Because of new technology, male DNA was finally able to be extracted.

Police are using the new DNA evidence to eliminate suspects and clear tips from the public, and have sent it to the National DNA Data Bank to be checked against existing profiles. They say they have already used it to clear the suspect associated with the buried vehicles in Witless Bay a second time, among other people.

“The RCMP’s investigation found that there is nothing of evidentiary value to the Dana Bradley murder investigation in those vehicles,” an RCMP spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

“The suspect associated with the vehicles has been cleared of any involvement in this case.”

The man who alleges he witnessed the murder and a group of his supporters have long been calling for police to dig up the cars. Last year, Dana’s mother and stepfather, Dawn and Jeff Levitz, told The Telegram in a rare interview that they supported the unearthing of the cars, but only to quiet the group.

“Sgt. (Kent) Osmond and his team spent a solid 16 months investigating (the man’s) information and, as explained in your previous articles, came to the conclusion that in the case of witnessing Dana’s murder, he is wrong,” Jeff Levitz said. Osmond is the former lead investigator on the Bradley file.

“Unfortunately, (the man) won’t accept this, and has subsequently continued to occupy too much of the investigative team’s time that could be spent clearing other leads.”

Monday morning, a small group of people, including the man alleging to have witnessed the murder, stood around the dig site as a large orange backhoe went to work. Car parts were eventually located — rusty and mangled, but clearly the parts of a car — some of which members of the group promptly hosed down.

Key parts of the cars being searched for include the trunk compartment and the passenger side door.

The owner of the cars spoke to The Telegram Monday but declined an interview.

Mark Gruchy, a local criminal defence lawyer, who does not have a connection with the case, says any potential evidence contained among the car parts may or may not be admissible in court, depending on what the group is doing with them.

“As a general rule, evidence is ideally obtained as early as possible, and handled in a way to avoid possible contamination,” Gruchy explained. “There’s also something we call chain of continuity. In a court of law, once police obtain evidence they must demonstrate that it has been preserved and in their possession the whole time.

“In this case, we have a group of individuals with a vested interest in the case who are exhuming something that’s been in the ground for a long time. Hosing it off is concerning. Not to say it would automatically destroy evidence, but it certainly doesn’t help. The fact that that car has been in the ground for decades poses problems — they are not necessarily insurmountable, but at the same time, it has to be proven that no one could have interfered, tampered with or contaminated the evidence.”

The RCMP has received about 40 tips from members of the public relating to the Bradley case since they announced the acquisition of the DNA evidence last week. Police are encouraging anyone with any potential information about Dana’s murder to contact them at 772-5400, or by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

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