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Face to face with an alleged serial killer

By Ann O'Neill
CNN
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(CNN) -- The way his prosecutor recalls it, William Richard Bradford literally scared jurors into giving him the death penalty 18 years ago.

"He was the scariest defendant I ever prosecuted," said David Conn, a Los Angeles lawyer who won Bradford's conviction for the 1984 murders of a young woman and a 15-year-old neighbor.

"We knew all along there were more," added Conn. "It was one case I knew I couldn't afford to lose. I had to convict this guy or he'd go out and kill more people."

Even Bradford hinted at other victims after he fired his lawyers and gave his own closing argument:

"Think of how many you don't even know about," he told jurors.

Nearly two decades later, police in Los Angeles, California, are working to tie Bradford to unsolved missing persons and murder cases dating back to the 1970s. (Watch detectives reopen a cold case -- 1:45)

Earlier this week, homicide detectives released about 50 pictures of women found years ago among his possessions. (Who are these women?)

Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are trying to find out who -- and where -- some of these women are. (Read))

Charles Lindner, one of the lawyers who defended Bradford during the trial, said he had no comment.

Bradford's secrets almost died with him during the summer of 1998 when he came within five days of execution. He dropped his appeals, said he wanted to die and then changed his mind.

Face to face

As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I met with Bradford at San Quentin State Prison in August 1998. I wanted to know how a man could give up on life, even a life spent behind bars.

"I am tired of it," he said between rants about the legal system and an almost obsessive fixation on the minute details of his case.

"What gets to me is the not knowing. The waiting," he told me.

We met in a prison visiting room surrounded by bars and unbreakable glass. Bradford backed up to a slot in the door where a guard unlocked his handcuffs. I noticed the tattoos on his arms. They were of women. He told me three of them were his former wives.

We sat down at a sticky wooden table, joined by his lawyer at the time -- a man Bradford retained to speed his trip to the death chamber.

Bradford was unshackled, and I was allowed to bring in a pen and a legal pad. During one particularly uncomfortable moment, Bradford talked angrily about a knife police found during a search of his car, denying it was a murder weapon.

He looked me in the eye, made a stabbing motion, and stated, "I could do more damage to you right now with this pen." I returned his gaze and said, "Please don't."

As I later wrote, his manner was more joking than menacing but the point was not lost.

Death row poet

Bradford told me he'd spent hours getting ready for the visit. It appeared as if he had put black shoe polish in his hair -- cut in a flattop -- to cover the gray. He carefully pressed his prison-issue jeans, smoothing them over and over with spit and soap doing the job of starch.

I dressed down, well aware that police and prosecutors believed Bradford was a serial killer of women. I wore no makeup, and glasses instead of contact lenses. I hadn't slept the night before the visit, and my stomach was upset.

Because he was next in line for the execution chamber, Bradford was able to use the biggest visiting room. It had a window looking out onto a verdant carpet of lawn and tidy beds of red and white impatiens.

Bradford said he hadn't seen grass in nine years. His pupils shrunk to the size of pinpricks as he stared out. "I don't know what grass is anymore," he told me. "I don't know what dirt is. It's stuff like that."

He didn't bring it up, but when asked, Bradford insisted he was innocent of the crimes that brought him to death row. He also denied he was a serial killer.

He was charming and at times creepy. I was surprised to hear he wrote poetry and he agreed to share some of his poems about awaiting death. This one was typical:

"Many nights I have dreamed of death

Greeting me with welcome comfort

Tempered with a searing seduction

Within these dreams I have discovered a

Private

Serene, extreme place

Which dissolves the last drop of fear ..."

How he was caught

Later, as I researched the details of his case I learned about the detective work that put Bill Bradford on death row, and the unanswered questions about eight other women whose paths might have crossed his.

Bradford was convicted and sentenced to die for strangling Shari Miller, a 21-year-old barmaid he met at a joint called the Meet Market, and his 15-year-old neighbor, Tracey Campbell. He lured both women to a remote camp site in the desert north of Los Angeles by promising to help them build modeling portfolios.

Both slayings took place during the first two weeks of July 1984. Miller's body turned up first, as Jane Doe No. 60, in an alley near Hollywood.

The corpse was missing some of the flesh on a calf and the abdomen, Conn recalled. Bradford, who was awaiting trial on a rape charge, came under police scrutiny after Campbell, his neighbor, disappeared.

Police searched Bradford's apartment and found Miller's photo in his collection of women in modeling poses. A detective noticed that the woman's tattoos corresponded to the flesh that had been cut from Jane Doe No. 60. Dental records confirmed the identification.

In the picture, Miller was posed against a seal-shaped rock formation, and detectives scoured the desert for it, Conn said. When they found it, they also found Campbell's body, the face covered by a blouse that once had belonged to Miller, he recalled.


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Bill Bradford, shown in an undated mug shot, is on death row for the murders of a woman and teen.

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