034 - The Murder of Dana Bradley
Dana Nicole Bradley was raised in St. John’s Newfoundland by her mother, Dawn. St. John’s is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, covering approximately 446 square kilometers or 172 square miles. Not densely populated, in the mid eighties the population was just over 100,000 and remains at a very similar figure today. Newfoundland itself is a large area comprised of 405,000 square kilometers or 156,000 square miles, though its total population is listed as just over 500,000. A large area, but with a small population, this results in many small towns that are tight knit and during the early eighties, and even today, many of those towns inhabitants known one another and at a minimum are familiar with each other by sight.
Dawn married Dana’s stepfather, Jeff Levitz, when Dana was still young and Jeff acted as Dana’s primary father figure throughout her life. Details are scarce about Dana’s biological father, if existent at all, though by all accounts he didn’t appear to play a major or primary role in her life and upbringing. Throughout her childhood, Dana was described by friends and family as a loving young woman who had an infectious laugh and wasn’t shy about showing her affection. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about Dana, after her big smile, were her brilliant blue eyes. People were always making comments about them. Jeff had a boat, and Dana reportedly loved spending time on it, especially when Jeff would put her at the wheel where he teach her to steer, though never leaving her side. It was a happy childhood for Dana, who grew up in a loving family that supported and spent a great deal of time with her.
In the years since Dana’s murder, her family has been very withdrawn from the media and have made few statements. It has been an incredibly difficult experience for them, and all of these years later, the memories are brutal and tragic. Dawn, when asked for comment on multiple occasions has refused, stating that it is still too hard for her to speak about. Jeff has spoken to the media on occasion, mostly to clear up speculation or to thank the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for their devotion to her case and for keeping her name alive. Interestingly, whereas social media can often be a benefit to cold cases, in Dana’s case, much of it is rampant with speculation and has been negatively characterized by both investigators and Dana’s family. When asked about his stepdaughter, Jeff described her as “She was a bright child, and a very social child.”
By 1981, Dana was fourteen years old and attending 9th grade at Sampson Junior High School. The former Principal, Fred Tulk, remembers Dana very vividly, and the time surrounding her disappearance. When asked about her, years later, he recalled that she was a smart young woman who wasn’t very different from a typical 9th grader. Friends and family have remarked that she was sharp, achieved high marks in her classes and had a love for, and talent in art. By the age of fourteen she was just beginning to figure out who she was going to develop into, and being in ninth grade, wasn’t yet under the pressure to make too many major choices about her future. She had four years of High School to complete, and as her family believed, plenty of time to make those choices. Sadly, for Dana, she would never have the opportunity to forge her own path in the world. Fred Tulk would later state “That kid could have been anything, whatever you wish. Dana was a good kid, she would have been a fantastic adult.”
December 14th, 1981, began as a typical day for Dana and her family. She awoke that morning and made her preparations for school. It was going to be a busier day than usual for Dana, whereas normally she’d attend classes and then either come straight home, or hang out with some friends, this particular day was her mother’s birthday and she wanted to be home in time to celebrate. However, being a young teenager, she still wanted to spend time with her friends. She made plans to meet up with some friends and hang out after school, and planned to catch a bus ride home afterward to be there for her mom.
At 2:50pm, Dana reportedly left school and went straight to a local convenience store that she and her friends had set as a meeting point that afternoon. Shortly after arriving, Dana met with her friends and headed to the house of Penny Cobb, located on Currie Place just off Topsail Road in the west end area of St. John’s to spend a couple of hours talking and doing whatever it is that fourteen year old girls do. Less than two hours after leaving school, Dana placed a call home which was answered by her grandmother. She explained that she was planning to leave her friends house shortly and was going to walk down to a nearby bus stop on Topsail Road. This would be the last time Dana would ever speak to her grandmother or any family member. It should be noted here that it has subsequently been reported that Dana actually spoke to her mother, Dawn, and not her grandmother. There are varying accounts reported in local papers of the time.
According to her schedule, Dana planned to arrive home by 5:30pm and had no intentions of changing her plans. I was unable to find details about the particular bus route that Dana was planning to follow, but the official timeline will later seem to dictate that she missed the bus or simply elected not to take it. The walk from her friends house to the bus stop was short, only a few minutes away and it was located on a fairly busy street. Dana said goodbye to her friends and told them she’d see them in school the next day before grabbing her school books and heading out. It would be the last time her friends would ever see her though they would not be the last people to see Dana alive.
At approximately 5:20pm, Harry Smeaton and his brother John were working at a lot selling Christmas trees in a lot located directly behind the bus stop on Topsail Road. According to Harry, he and his brother had a busy day, Christmas was just a week and a half away, and they had taken some time to sit in the back of their truck and relax. They passed the time watching cars driving down the road, the comings and goings of the locals, and then they saw Dana. Harry would later state that she had come walking down the road towards the bus stop. Harry commented to his brother “This little one looked like she was going for the bus,” but rather than waiting there, the young woman stuck her thumb out and appeared to be hitchhiking.
It’s very easy in this day and age to think of hitchhiking as a dangerous choice, but you have to keep in mind that this was 1981 and teenagers hitching rides was not such an unccomon thing and while it may have still been dangerous, people looked at it differently back then. Also, while Dana lived in a larger city, it’s population led to it having that small town feel that can often times lead people to feel safer than they are. Likewise, this was not Dana’s first time thumbing a ride. While at the time, this wasn’t thought of as too strange, Harry did report that he and his brother made some comments back and forth to one another about such a young woman thumbing a ride.
Early on, Harry and John would become the primary witnesses to Dana’s disappearance. According to them, very quickly after stopping and sticking her thumb out, a vehicle pulled up beside Dana. It would later be described as a light colored car, either beige or faded yellow, four doors and thought to be a 1973 to 1976 model Plymouth or Dodge, often times thought to be a Dodge Dart. The car was in bad shape, often described as dilapidated, with rust in various spots and, according to Harry and John, a broken passenger side door. By their statements, the car stopped and Dana exchanged a few words with the driver before grabbing the handle of the passenger side door. The door wouldn’t open, the handle was apparently broken, and the driver leaned over and opened the door from the inside. Harry would later state “We were actually only 25-30 feet away from where she got aboard. She got in and they drove off. We did comment on a little girl like this, hitchhiking, getting aboard with a stranger and never thought no more of it than that. I wish we had the wherewithal to get the plate number, but at the time it was a different place.”
Dana was expected home just ten minutes later, and when she failed to arrive her family was somewhat concerned, it was unlike her to be late, though not necessarily worried but it was a cold December night and while the snow hadn’t yet come, it was certainly not the kind of weather a young woman should be walking around in. As minutes turned into hours, their panic began to grow and what was meant to be a fun, family night spent celebrating Dawn’s birthday became an instant nightmare. After calling around looking for Dana, they finally placed a call to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and reported her missing.
Authorities did not immediately swing into action. They informed the family that while they would certainly look for Dana, there was little that could be done that night. By the next day, police had begun looking around for Dana and sent officers to speak to friends and family. That morning they also reached out to the media, and the headline of the paper read “This girl is missing and police are concerned.” Below the headline was a large picture of Dana and her description including what she had been wearing when last seen which included blue pants and cowboy boots. That morning, while spending time at his cousin’s home, Harry Smeaton immediately recognized the girl in the article as the girl from the day before. He called his brother to to ask if he’d seen the paper and John informed him that he had already called the police. Police were eager to speak to the brothers and to get whatever information out of them that they could.
After a description of the vehicle, the brothers were able to give a vague description of the driver. They hadn’t seen him as clearly as they would have liked, but there was enough information available to develop a composite drawing which was circulated over the next few days while the search for Dana intensified. What had initially been considered a child who may have made other plans, or simply gotten lost, quickly became a case where foul play and abduction where highly suspected.
According to authorities, they spoke to Penny Cobb’s family who informed them that Dana had left their home at approximately 5pm to make her way to the bus stop, located just 450 meters away, or what police described as a five minute walk. They traveled the short distance looking for any signs of her, and for any other witnesses who may have seen her the day she disappeared but were unable to garner any further information. There was a Tim Horton’s located directly across the street from the bus stop, but in 1981 there were no surveillance cameras to check and none of the employees noted having seen Dana. For the next few days, searches were conducted and authorities began gathering as much information as they could on all vehicles which matched the Smeaton brother’s description. Not surprisingly there were many cars which matched the description, and police had a great deal of possible leads to track down.
As more days passed, Dana’s family became even more worried. While they prayed that Dana would be returned safely, there was that gnawing voice in their minds that told them the worst was yet to come. Dismissive of it, they kept their spirits high and worked closely with authorities who were becoming more focused with each passing day. For them, when Dana had not returned home and there had been no additional sightings over her for the next few days, they began to think grimly of the outcome. They hoped for an abduction from which they might be able to bring her back home, but on the Friday morning, all of that would change and the dark realization of what had happened in their little town would shake up everyone in the area.
Early in the morning of Friday, December 18th, just four days after Dana had gone missing, Dale Smith was driving with his wife and two children. They had decided they wanted to get a Christmas tree, but rather than going to a lot and buying one, they thought it would be a fun family outing to cut one down themselves. That morning there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, and Dale drove the family’s truck down a roughly cut road with no houses and a large expanse of wooded area in a location south of St. John’s called Maddox Cove. Due to its distance from other homes, and the rough terrain, the sight had essentially become a dumping ground. It wasn’t uncommon to find garbage, discarded toys and random items lying about. Dale thought this would be a good place for them to select a tree that no one would notice, nor care about being cut down.
Dale recalls seeing footprints in the snow, suggesting that others were in the area previously, or could possibly still be there. Not wanting to socialize, or to run into anyone else, Dale veered into the woods and his family followed closely behind. As they made their way in deeper, they came across several discarded items. Suddenly he noticed what, at first, he believed to be a mannequin but quickly the realization hit him that it was a person. The body was clothed in cowboy boots and blue pants, and Dale turned to his wife, gesturing toward the body, wanting second party verification that he was actually seeing this. She looked quickly and immediately noted that it could be the girl who had been reported missing, Dana Bradley, as the clothing matched descriptions in the paper.
At first they thought the person might just be sleeping, but it didn’t take long to realize something was very wrong and that the person wasn’t breathing. Neither Dale nor his wife approached the body closely, staying at a distance and simply looking on while the gravity of their discovery set in. The couple quickly ushered their children back to the truck, hoping to avoid them witnessing the scene and Dale flagged down a man who was chopping wood nearby. He requested that the man keep an eye on the area while they drove to a nearby police station to get help.
Police arrived on the scene and quickly confirmed that it was in fact Dana Bradley. According to responding officers, the scene was odd. While her body had been left in this dumping area, it didn’t appear as though she had been simply dropped there. Her body was described as being posed in a burial fashion. She was dressed in her school clothing and had her books tucked neatly in the crook of her arm, almost as if she were carrying them. According to first responders, it appeared that her face may have been cleaned and the perpetrator had displayed some level of care in placing her body there. This led lead investigator, RCMP Chief Inspector Jack Lavers, to believe that whoever had committed this heinous crime had felt some sense of remorse about what he had done, though they had no way of knowing for sure. They would later use this information when they made a plea to the public hoping that the killer would reach out, rocked by guilt, but ultimately their efforts proved fruitless.
They began sweeping the scene, looking for forensic evidence. The forensic science practices of 1981 were not nearly as advanced as they are today, but they did their best, even bringing in propane heaters to melt the snow and thaw the ground in the area in hopes of finding footprints or other clues. They were unable to find anything which gave them insight into who may have been responsible, or why. They did, however, gather some DNA evidence which would become valuable later in the investigation. The cause of death wasn’t immediately determined, though it appeared that Dana had been violently struck on the head. An autopsy would later determine that she had died as the result of blunt force trauma to the head with an unknown weapon and that her skull fractured. The autopsy also revealed that Dana had been sexually assaulted by her killer. The coroner concluded that her time of death was consistent with the day she disappeared.
The nightmare for Dana’s family now had a sinister turn, and while they struggled to come to terms with the loss of Dana, they developed strength and solidarity with the authorities. Initially, thirty-five officers were assigned to the case in a task force made up of both the RCMP and the Royal Newfoundland Constalbury. Working with the information they had, over 1000 vehicles matching descriptions given by the Smeaton brothers were poured over and examined for physical evidence within weeks of the murder. Thousands of interviews were conducted and at its peak the case had a listing of 280 suspects, though no hard evidence to link any particular suspect to the crime. Police even employed hypnosis on possible witnesses in hopes of finding details which may not have been consciously available. Shortly after the discovery of Dana’s body, two new witnesses came forward. According to them, they had seen the suspects vehicle in the area of Maddox Cove the night Dana disappeared, and they had even seen the suspect himself, emerging from the woods. Through their descriptions, authorities were able to get a much more detailed composite drawn up.
Despite new witnesses and a more accurate composite, leads failed to develop and authorities became frustrated with the case. The community continued to be horrified by the incident, finding it difficult to believe that something so heinous could happen so close to home. At Dana’s funeral, Reverend Robert Mills stating that the crime “shocked, terrified and angered us all. It doesn’t happen here, not in this community.” While most of the community was loving and supportive, there were those who wanted to make a cruel joke out of the situation. In 1982, a man was sentenced to nine months in prison for making harassing phone calls to the Bradley family alleging that he had been the one responsible and making all manner of statements about what happened. Authorities ruled that he was not involved in the crime, but did charge him for the harassment.
Though investigators have been adamant that the case has never been considered cold, and that they had persons of interest from the beginning, activity on the case began to slow down and for the next several years, Dana’s murder remained unsolved with no new leads or information. Despite exhaustive searches, interviews and polygraph tests being administered, police were no closer to finding her killer than they had been the day she was found. The media eventually began to move away from the story, and the community shifted back to their normal day to day activities and Dana’s name began to transform from that of a sweet, innocent girl who was brutally murdered to a boogeyman story about the dangers of hitchhiking and the cruel world that lay beyond the doorstep. For her family, it was a nightmare that lived every day and for the investigators on the case it was frustrating and demoralizing.
Suddenly, in the summer of 1986, nearly five years after the murder, police had what they believed was a major break in the case. Chief Inspector Lavers received an anonymous note which alleged that the murder had been committed by an ex-convict named David Somerton. With their interest piqued, authorities went to question Somerton and to their shock, he confessed to the crime. They went over the details multiple times, having Somerton explain what he had done, and when. Lavers would later state “His description of how he said he did this was consistent with certain things that we knew. “ Somerton alleged he had commited the crime, buried the murder weapon and abandoned the car in Robin Hood Bay. The murder weapon, Somerton claimed, had been buried at the sight where Dana was found. Though police has thoroughly searched it previously, they went back and this time removed trees and tilled the earth, though they never found the weapon. They also exhaustively searched the dump where Somerton claimed he abandoned the car, but again they found nothing. All told they spent over a million dollars chasing down his leads and came up empty handed. Without the evidence to back up the confession, Police were stuck in a corner and things only got worse when Somerton recanted his confession.
With Somerton recanting, and no evidence to validate his claims, they had no ability to hold him on murder charges and had to drop them. When asked about this later, Chief Inspector Lavers said “When we couldn’t recover the physical evidence, then we had nothing to back up the confession. We didn’t want to go to trial and have him tried and acquitted of murder if subsequent scientific investigations or other investigations were going to be forthcoming down the road that would lead to a better prosecution.” Somerton alleged that he had been forced into his confession, stating that “After being there for 18 hours and I knew that I was flipping out on them and on myself because I was in a suicidal state in that room. I was doing anything to get them off my back to make it out of that room, including confessing. I’ve been regretting it ever since.”
As a result of what police felt was Somerton purposefully obstructing their investigation, he was charged with public mischief, for which he was convicted and served a two year jail sentence. For many years after, Somerton was still considered a person of interest and in a bizarre turn of events, Somerton returned to St. John’s after being released from prison. Living in a small town, he occasionally ran into Dana’s parents which only strengthened their grief and anger. Somerton’s misdeeds continued in the future, with him being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in 1996 and in 1999 he plead guilty to sexually assaulting a minor in a separate incident.
After the incident with Somerton, the case once again began to dwindle. Though tips continued to come in, no verifiable leads or information came to the surface. During the early 1990’s, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, CBC, ran several news shows about the murder which included reenactment segments. They had hoped to bring the case back out of the darkness into which it had fallen, and while the episodes did bring attention back, and more tips came flooding in, again there was nothing useful derived from it. In the mid 1990’s, there was thought to be a possible connection between the murder of Dana Bradley and the alleged crimes of Shannon Murrin, a man who has been thought to be connected to multiple murders and rapes throughout his life. Despite working hard to make those connections stick, the debacle surrounding Murrin involved acquittals and, on Murrin’s part, alleged assault and coercion by the police. It is known that Murrin claimed to have been to Newfoundland for Christmas in 1980, though no evidence has ever shown him being in the area at the time Dana vanished. For many, Murrin’s 1980’s photos closely resemble the police sketch of the suspect seen driving away with Dana, but there has been no evidence discovered. Still, Murrin remains a prime suspect in the minds of many.
The 1990’s would pass but with little in the way of new information. In 2003 Darrin McGrath published a book about Dana’s murder, titled “Hitching a Ride: The Unsolved Murder of Dana Bradley.” Despite its publication, little interest was brought back to the case at that time. Singer songwriter Ron Hynes also wrote a song about Dana, released that same year and titled “The Ghost of Dana Bradley.” On the twenty-five anniversary of the crime, in 2006, media attention once again returned to the case. The interest had been renewed, and so many years had passed, that people were getting curious about the state of the case. The RCMP spoke to the CBC in which they confirmed that they stilled received, on average, fifty tips a year in regard to Dana’s murder. When asked about the case being shelved, RCMP Sgt. Peter McKay stated “It’s an ongoing investigation. That’s something people seem to lose track of. It’s always active, it’s been looked at regularly.”
In 2014, some thirty-three years after Dana’s murder, a man came forward with what he claimed was not only new information about Dana’s case, but that he knew who had committed the crime and had in fact been a witness to it. A man going by the pseudonym “Robert” gave an interview in which he revealed a great deal of information about the case and the man he claimed had murdered Dana that night, as well as having molested him for years. According to Robert, he had a severe alcohol problem as a result of his childhood traumas at the hands of this man, and later in life when he quit drinking, he was flooded with repressed memories, one of which revolved around that cold December night in 1981.
According to Robert’s story, the man who committed the murder was a neighbor and family friend. On the night of Dana’s murder, he claimed the man was driving Robert’s fathers car, a 1972 Dodge Dart and that not only was Robert in the back seat, but so was his four year old brother. No witnesses had seen anyone else in the car besides the driver, but Robert explained that away by saying he and his brother were not sitting in booster seats and thus would not have been visible in the windows of the car. Robert then went on to explain the events of that evening saying “When she got in, she turned around. I remember her asking what our names were and what grade we were in, and my brother was being really quiet and I had to explain to her that he wasn’t going to school.”
According to Robert, Dana gave the address to her home, located on Patrick Street, and that the vehicle began heading that way, but ultimately passed by her house. As the car continued on, he alleges that Dana became scared and tried to get out of the car. Robert continued “She tried to jump out of the car up a couple of sections of those hills and he’d grab a hold of her and he’d speed up and he kept telling her he was going to turn around. “ Robert explained that the driver eventually pulled off into a wooded area where there was some kind of a pit in the earth. According to his story, the driver began trying to kiss Dana, who fought against him. He stated “He kept saying he just wanted a kiss. She was crying and fighting him, eventually, it wasn’t very long, she scratched him on the face, pinched him or something, because he jumped up and she grabbed the door and got out and bolted. He got out, one of the things I remember is how quickly he got out of the car and bolted after her.”
Robert alleges at this point that he exited the car and witnessed not only the sexual assault, but the violent murder. According to his story, the man struck Dana on the head with a tire iron. At this point, the driver supposedly placed Dana’s body in the trunk, and drove out to Maddox Cove. After dumping Dana over an embankment, the killer is said to have retrieved her body and brought it to where it was ultimately found. Robert would claim that the reason her body looked as though it had been cared for rather than merely dumped was not the killer’s doing, but his, as he was crying and felt bad for her and didn’t know what to do. He also claims it was he who placed her books in the crook of her arm, believing that she would be ok and would need to go to school the next day. The man Robert stated had been the killer was arrested and convicted of sexually abusing children in the 1990’s. Robert also claimed that the vehicle had been buried at a property his family used to own, which his father did confirm. His father also spoke with the RCMP to give them detailed information about where to locate the vehicle. What was most surprising about Robert’s story was not that he had finally told it, but that several years earlier in 2011, he had gone to the RCMP and told them. So why had nothing been done?
Robert did not initially go straight to the RCMP, as later investigation shows, but instead he went to the man who had once been in charge of the case, former Chief Inspector Lavers. It was Lavers who brought Robert to the attention of the RCMP. Initially, they found his story very compelling, but after thoroughly checking the details and conducting what they has described as a sixteen month long investigation, they believed that the story was false. In an interview, Sgt Kent Osmond, the lead investigator on Dana’s case in 2015, was asked whether Robert’s story had been consistent or if details had changed over time. Osmond responded by saying “Yes. His account changed dramatically from the first contact with Mr. Lavers to the last contact with RCMP investigators and points in between. Before meeting with Mr. Lavers, he researched the murder by researching historical media coverage, and a book, on the case. It was clear that he had imported certain things he would have seen or read in the media into his own statements. Over the years, the media, since it doesn’t have access to the investigation, has reported some aspects of the murder that aren’t accurate. This person made the same mistakes in his account.”
The interviewer pressed Osmond, asking if he could explain in greater detail how they were able to verify that Robert’s story was not consistent with the crime. Osmond responded “1) Incorrect facts. He describes injuries that were not actually inflicted on Dana, and does not remember injuries that we know, with certainty, occurred. He incorrectly describes aspects of Dana’s clothing in explicit detail, and some of the clothing he describes didn’t exist. He describes handling and looking through possessions of Dana’s that didn’t exist. He is incorrect about body position and many other crime scene details.” In addition to this, Police noted that no witnesses had seen Robert that night though he claims to have been seen later on during the dumping of Dana’s body. Also, Robert’s brother has stated that this event never took place. Other signs investigators found troubling included that his story continually changes and he would make statements and then recant them.
After the dismissal of his claims, Robert became involved in a battle against the RCMP alleging that they had the information they needed to solve the crime but were choosing not to do it. Indeed, authorities made the choice not to excavate and attempt to dig up the vehicle Robert claimed had been driven by Dana’s killer. When asked about this, Sgt Osmond responded “The reason for not excavating the car is that there is no reasonable possibility that it contains evidence of Dana Bradley’s murder.” Ultimately, Robert felt that authorities were working to disprove his story rather than trying to find the answers to Dana’s murder. Former Chief Inspector Lavers sided with Robert, believing that the RCMP needed to dig up the car, but they still elected not to. With all of this information buzzing about, Jeff Levitz, Dana’s stepfather, finally came forward and answered some questions regarding the family’s feelings about Robert’s story and the investigation itself.
When asked about the case, Levitz stated “Dana’s investigation has been ongoing for over 33 years. Can you imagine the amount of effort and information gathered that has gone into her case by a myriad of officers? We have developed a strong relationship and trust with a number of the lead investigators over the years, and rely on that trust to follow their lead. We have faith that the RCMP has a strong desire to solve Dana’s murder, because after 33 years and countless expense, they still refuse to make this a cold case.” While the family trusts the RCMP, they did express their interest in having the cars excavated, if for no other reason, to shut down the rumor mill buzzing on the internet about Robert’s story.
A local man, Terry Hynes, moved by Robert’s story began a Facebook page entitled “Justice for Dana Bradley.” While the page may have begun in the hopes of bringing new information to light, many feel that the site has become a soap box for Robert’s cause and that it is responsible for reporting misinformation and bringing more confusion into an already complex and convoluted case. When asked about this, Jeff Levitz responded “It’s lovely to see how many people are still interested in Dana’s case and I would never want to deter anyone from contacting the police with information that might help in solving her murder. However, if its on the internet it must be true is not the case. One should take everything they read on these sights with a pound of salt. I feel the Facebook site is no longer about Dana but rather about Terry Hynes Advocating for Robert.
I can’t stress enough our desire to have Terry Hynes, and his co-administrator, stop using Dana’s name in order to present biased information on a Facebook site which is supposed to be in her honor. In our opinion this site is not about Dana but rather about Robert and his crusade against the RCMP for not validating his accusations.” In regard to Robert’s story, and Robert himself, Levitz responded “I’m sorry for Robert and the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of his alleged abuser, but he needs to let Dana’s murder go and pursue his abuse case alone.”
Since Robert’s story came out, he has been identified as Danny Tuff. The man he accused of committing the murder was later identified as Thomas Carey of Witless Bay. A known and convicted pedophile, Carey was never considered a suspect in the murder of Dana Bradley, though RCMP investigators did speak with him and felt that he could be ruled out. While the battle between Tuff’s supporters and the RCMP continued, funds were raised to have the vehicle excavated. In late May of 2016, the digging began. Before it was completed, the RCMP came out with new information in their investigation into Dana’s murder. According to investigators, they sent DNA which had been taken during the initial investigation and had it sent out for re-testing with advanced technologies now available. The testing connected the DNA to a yet unknown male suspect. Inspector Pat Cahill, the man in charge of the RCMP’s Major Crime unit stated to the media “This new DNA evidence is a breakthrough for the investigation. Our investigators are using the DNA to eliminate suspects and continue to clear tips received from the public.” It should be noted that Thomas Carey was indeed tested against this DNA and officially ruled out as a suspect when there was no match.
Only a short time later, excavation of the cars was completed by volunteers. Even moreso now, Officers felt the dig was a waste of time saying that their DNA evidence has already cleared Thomas Carey, which gave them more reason to believe there would be nothing of evidenciary value discovered in the recovered vehicles. The vehicles were in fact examined by police following the dig but were found to be too deteriorated and damaged to have presented any evidence. As of July of 2016, investigators were still employing their newly developed DNA profile to rule out past suspects and to compare against anyone of suspicion whose name had come up in the thirty five years since Dana was murdered. As of yet, no new suspects have been named, though the case remains ongoing. Dana’s parents are hopeful that this new discovery may yet heed the justice which has evaded them for so long.
Over the past thirty six years, the investigation into the murder of Dana Bradley has become known as the most expensive and exhaustive murder investigation in Canadian history. Thousands of interviews were conducted, hundreds of suspects considered, nearly a thousand cars searched and no solid information had been discovered. Officers associated with the case were unable to recount the number of polygraph tests they administered, nor the total count of individuals who were questioned. Dana’s case files have been involved in an ongoing process to convert them to digital, and to create a database, to more easily access the files. There are over 10,000 documents in relation to the case as well as investigator notebooks containing more then 10,000 pages. Since 1981, 1700 tasks have been investigated. Sgt Osmond was asked whether or not he believed Dana’s case would be solved. His response was “I believe it can be done. The investigators currently working on Dana’s case are as passionate and dedicated today as those that worked on it in 1981.”
As one might expect, in a case so baffling with such a wide array of suspects and possibilities, spanning more than thirty-five years, many theories have come up and continue to be hotly debated today. Some of those theories are based on pure conjecture, others have some facts backing them up. The first theory about the murder of Dana Bradley is that David Somerton, the man who initially confessed to the crime and then recanted was indeed the one responsible.
The second theory is that Dana may have been murdered by Shannon Murrin, a man alleged to have committed multiple murders and sexual assaults all throughout Canada from as early as the 1970s and through the 1990’s and possible beyond. For many, the similarity in his appearance to the composite sketch, and his long list of alleged crimes is enough to indict him immediately.
The third theory revolves around Danny Tuff’s, aka Robert’s, story about Thomas Carey. Despite the fact that DNA evidence cleared Carey of any involvement in the murder, there are still many who feel that he was responsible for the crime or played some role in it. They believe Robert’s story and argue that the RCMP are simply covering this up out of their personal feelings towards Robert.
The fourth theory is that Dana Bradley was murdered by someone she knew and was familiar with whose name has never been publicly mentioned as a suspect, whether this individual be known to authorities or not. Many followers of this theory use the positinioning and care shown to the display of Dana’s body as a sign that this horrible crime was perpetrated by someone who knew and may have even cared for her at some point in time.
The fifth and final theory is that Dana Bradley was murdered by a complete stranger, and possibly even someone who didn’t live in the area and was simply passing through. It has been argued this could explain why the suspect was never located and why Canadian authorities are struggling to get a match on their DNA profile. For many, it’s possible that the killer may not have even lived in Canada.
The murder of Dana Bradley is a shocking and brutal crime committed by a heinous perpetrator without reason or cause. A beautiful, talented, sweet and smart fourteen year old girl had her life stolen in moments of brutal violence that we cannot begin to fathom. Her family has lived with the horrible knowledge of what happened to her for far too many years. Her killer has evaded justice for more than twice as many years as Dana herself was alive, and one can only hope that the new DNA may bring a suspect into the light eventually. Justice may move slowly, but even after all of these years, it would bring comfort to the hearts of her family to see her killer brought to trial and convicted. The answers are out there, and someone knows exactly what happened that night. If Dana had lived, she would be fifty one years old today. Possibly a mother, maybe even a grandmother. All of her dreams, her ambitions, her future, were taken away in moments of madness by a sick and depraved killer. It is all a waiting game, as it has been for the past thirty-six years. Thanks to the dedication of investigators and advances in DNA technology, we can only hope that the answers on the horizon.
[Thoughts & Theories]
I first became aware of Dana’s case a long time ago. I couldn’t tell you exactly how, but it’s one that has existed in my mind for a long time. I wasn’t super familiar with it, knowing only minute details and a very broad generalization of the case. I research so many cases, and have been consuming everything true crime for so many years that sometimes things can blend together. Inititally, I didn’t have a great theory about what happened and I wasn’t aware of a lot of information which really shapes the story of this tragedy. A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who lives in Newfoundland and he asked me if I ever thought about covering Dana’s story. When I mentioned that I didn’t think there was a lot to work with, he urged me to at least take a look and see what I thought. The more I read about it, the more determined I became to cover this case. So I wanted to thank Tazz for pushing me forward and giving me the drive to pursue this.
It’s tough, the murder of a fourteen year old girl is absolutely heart wrenching and infuriating. What makes the case even more difficult to examine is the sheer lack of information available. There are details, but investigators have played this story very close to their vests over the years and I commend them for that. The integrity of the investigation has clearly been a priority, and a lot of times in cases that cover such a wide range of years, that integrity can dissipate. I think that things have been handled well, for the most part, and that will make it more likely that if the DNA they found does match someone eventually, they’ll be able to get a conviction. The evidence has been secured, and to this day, many people don’t know all of the details.
Any case that spans over three and a half decades is going to have its share of leads, misiniformation, suspects and confusion. Obviously this is a case that has been discussed for a long time, and as a result of that, people pick their sides and that can often lead to a lot of negative talk back and forth. In Dana’s case, it does seem as though a lot of people have lost sight of her and are just so heavily entrenched in their own theories that they don’t have the time, or possibly the inclination, to consider differing perspectives. I can understand people becoming hooked on one aspect of the case, or believing a particular theory over others, but ultimately this is about what the evidence dictates and what makes logical sense in terms of investigation, suspects and available information.
Before moving into the theories I did want to address the situation in regard to Dana’s family and social media. I have the utmost respect for Dawn and Jeff, as well as anyone else who was close to Dana and has suffered everyday since she was taken. It is not my intention to discuss this case in any manner that would negatively impact the family, but I do think it is important to discuss. I understand their choice to remain withdrawn from the public and to rarely make comments, I cannot fathom what they have lived with for these past thirty-six, nearly thirty-seven years. While others have taken this case and bent or twisted it to their own ends, it is purely my intent to discuss what happened, and to hopefully, transmit this story to others who haven’t heard it and bring attention to the beautiful person Dana was. I sincerely hope that my coverage will help shine more light on this story and that the Bradley family will feel I handled it with respect and consideration. In order to respect their wishes, I did not make any attempts to reach out to them while preparing this episode.
When it comes to the theories in this case, there isn’t exactly a shortage. Many people have their own personal suspect or possibility. The first theory I’m going to look at is that David Somerton, the man who initially confessed to the crime, was indeed Dana’s killer. In 1986, Somerton came forward and confessed to the crime. He gave the police a detailed story about how committed as well as what the murder weapon was, where it could be found and what he had done with the car he had driven that night. Obviously, investigators were very interested in his story and pursued it with devotion and ambition. They ultimately spent over a million dollars excavating land in hopes of finding both the murder weapon and the car, but as time went on, it became more and more apparent that what Somerton was telling them was untrue.
Somerton was sentenced to two years for interfering with the investigation, and while he initially seemed like a prime suspect, he didn’t have details about the murder which the killer would have. His story didn’t sync up with what investigators knew to be true and his entire confession had to be thrown out. It especially didn’t help with Somerton later recanted and claimed that he had been interrogated for eighteen straight hours and had said whatever was necessary to get the police to leave him alone. He also alleged that, at the time, he was on heavy medication for psychological problems which led to him making the false confession.
Outside of Somerton vaguely resembling the composite, there was very little else to link him to the crime. He does have a history of sexually assaulting young women, which matches in Dana’s case, though murder hasn’t been part of his other crimes. It’s entirely possible that something went horribly wrong that night, or Somerton went too far, which resulted in Dana’s death but we have to follow the facts and when it comes to Somerton there aren’t very many which lead to him being a suspect. In a lot of ways, people link Somerton to this crime not so much based on the recanted confession, but based on his history of horrendous crimes. While Somerton may indeed be a sex offender with a long rap sheet, and definitely not the kind of person you’d want hanging around, that doesn’t necessarily mean he played a role in this particular crime.
In the years since, Somerton has been in and out of prison for various offenses, related to sexual assault. He has also been outspoken that he regrets the time in his life where he made that confession and has apologized publicly for doing so. According to Somerton, he submitted DNA to the RCMP back in 1999 though he has said that the testing came back with inconclusive results. In an interview conducted in 2016, Somerton acknowledged the new DNA evidence which had been found and stated that he was willing to resubmit a sample of his DNA for testing, under certain conditions. He wanted the testing to be done with his lawyer as a liason and he wanted others present when he gave DNA to ensure that the test wasn’t manufactured to target him at the killer. He has said he is one hundred percent certain that the results will show that he had nothing to do with the crime.
Interestingly, when the RCMP major case unit was asked about this, they were vague in their response. They would only state that the new DNA evidence was being used to rule out suspects and that they had a backlog of over two hundred individuals to retest. One would have to assume that Somerton would be on that list, and likely closer to the top than some others. There has been no information about whether or not another test has been conducted on Somerton, but if there had been a match, an arrest would have been made. Authorities have had this new DNA for nearly two years, so all signs seem to indicate that Somerton was likely not the man involved in Dana’s murder. Somerton is certainly a suspect who could fit the description of Dana’s killer, and his criminal activities over the years have shown him to be involved in sexually assaulting young women. I believe Somerton is a suspect who should be more closely examined, but it remains on the shoulders of the RCMP to clear him or indict him based on DNA evidence. He is a possibility, though after all these years, it seems unlikely that police wouldn’t have found something on him by now if indeed he had been responsible for this terrible crime.
The second theory involves a man named Shannon Murrin. Murrin has a checkered past with the police which involves him being suspect in multiple murders, one for which he was ultimately tried. Murrin’s name first became majorly associated with the abduction and murder of eight year old Mindy Tran. In August of 1994, she went out riding her bike and never returned home. Six weeks later, in October, her body was found and showed signs of strangulation and sexual assault. It’s a complicated case with a lot of conjecture and, sadly, investigative mistakes on the part of the RCMP including washing a shirt that was stained with DNA before it could be properly tested.
Early on the RCMP suspected Murrin of being involved considering that he lived near the Tran residence and had a bad reputation. He was ultimately charged with the crime and DNA testing found three hairs on the victims underwear which linked to Shannon Murrin. However, after a trial which lasted nearly seven months and involved over 80 witnesses called to the stand, a jury found Murrin not guilty. There was, apparently, too much reasonable doubt created. It was also argued by the defense that Murrin had been railroaded by the RCMP, that evidence had been tampered with and that a group of men who had violently assaulted Murrin were put up to it by the RCMP.
Murrin has been suggested to have been linked to many other crimes including the double murder of Kim Lockyer and Dale Worthman in 1993. Joey Oliver alleged, in trial, that he was the wheel man who drove the couple to a remote wooded area outside of St. John’s where Murrin then executed both. Oliver alleged that he had been told to lure the couple there where Murrin was planning to beat and rob them, and that he didn’t know it was going to be a murder. Prosecutors said there was no evidence to corroborate Oliver’s story, and they had no evidence with which to charge Murrin, though they would be investigating further. Murrin was angered by Oliver’s statements and when asked about it later stated “If I took the trouble to dig two graves why wouldn’t I dig three graves? I mean that’s only common sense. What am I going to do, let a piece of garbage like him go around all out of it, all the time saying things that can put me away for life? I never harmed anybody in my life with a weapon.”
Charming though Mr. Murrin may be in his discussions with the media, many find that he is a likely suspect in the murder of Dana Bradley. Outside of circumstantial evidence, I haven’t been able to find anything which significantly links him to this case. It’s been suggested he was in the area at the time, though no hard evidence has ever secured that. He is suspected in many other cases of murder and sexual assault, but no evidence strong enough has ever been supplied to convict him. While Murrin certainly presents himself as a less than kind individual, none of this is more than circumstantial. Even the RCMP have been very remiss in discussing specific suspsects, and Murrin’s case is no different. While Murrin is certainly a suspect, and not just in this case, without more information or hard evidence, it’s incredibly difficult to connect him. While it should certainly be examined, this is another case like that of David Somerton. A suspect, certainly, but I would have to believe Murrin would be high up on the list of people to test the new DNA against also.
The third theory is that of Robert, aka Danny Tuff, who alleges that he was in the car the night Dana was murdered and that the killer was an old family friend and neighbor, later identified as Thomas Carey, a convicted pedophile. While many look at this story as a compelling one, and obviously there have been enough followers to raise the funds and get a crew together to excavate some cars, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to it. Investigators were drawn in, but through the course of their investigation they found major inconsistencies with the story and had to rule it out as false. Interestingly, they did not consider this a malicious act, but one which came as the result of past trauma.
The RCMP did tell Robert that they found enough evidence to cooroborate his claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Thomas Carey, and it is an investigation they are willing to pursue, but when it comes to Dana’s murder, there wasn’t anything there that convinced them. They believe that Robert read about the case and became the victim of something known as False Memory Syndrome. Robert alleged that after he quit drinking alcohol he was going to therapy and repressed memories came to the surface, one of those was the murder of Dana Bradley. In False Memory Syndrome, the victim believes the memory to be completely true and this colors their life and perspective from that point onward. False memories can be implanted by reading about something, experiencing something or even by a therapist who makes a mistake. In Robert’s case, authorities believe that his study of Dana’s case created false memories.
Whether or not you are a supporter of false memory syndrome, and it is a psychological condition which has its supporters and detractors, you have to always go to the evidence when it comes to a case like this. As for Robert’s story, things simply didn’t line up. When the information cannot be verified and when contradictory information exists that calls the entire story into question, it’s hard to hang your hat on it. Dana’s family has never spoken to Robert, but they have addressed the situation and said that while they feel sympathy for him and the horrible things he went through as a child, they believe he should pursue legal avenues in relation to that and accept that its possible his memories of the night Dana was murdered are not true or accurate. It’s certainly a captivating story which brought new life to this case, but was found to be false and there is no evidenciary value to it.
It should also be noted that the cars were excavated, and the RCMP looked them over and found no evidence. Some have argued this is due to the poor conditions of the vehicle, but the RCMP went even further and tested the new DNA evidence against Thomas Carey and found no match. He was officially ruled out as a possible suspect and cleared of all involvement. While I feel sadness for Robert, and the terrible crimes perpetrated against him, I have to work evidence and facts and there are none here with cooroborate his story. Some have argued that the RCMP simply don’t want to believe Robert and worked hard to dismiss his story out of some bias, but I find it hard to believe that they would act in such a petty manner when it came to the possibility of solving a case which has haunted them for three and a half decades. They have shown integrity through the most part of this investigation and I don’t believe they would drop all of that simply to make someone look like a liar. If there were validity to his claims I fully believe the authorities would have followed the evidence.
The fourth theory is that Dana was murdered by a complete stranger and possibly someone who not only didn’t live in the area, but may not have lived in Canada. I have to be honest, this was the theory I initially had when I first examined this case. It seemed unlikely that in a small town environment someone could commit this crime and escape the police for all of these years. Especially with new DNA evidence, eyewitnesses and a description of the vehicle. Many people have speculated that Dana could have been picked up by someone simply driving through the area, or someone who passed through the area for their job.
Under this theory it is assumed that the man who committed this crime did not know Dana, and though he may have been somewhat familiar with the area, it was considered unlikely that he lived there. Many argue that the killer simply saw and opportunity and took it and that Dana was, sadly, unfortunate enough to have been there at that time. It does seem somewhat unlikely that this was a planned out crime, unless the perpetrator would have some way of knowing that Dana would have been in that spot looking for a ride at that moment. This could possibly explain why the DNA has never matched anyone tested, under the assumption that this person not only didn’t live in that area, but may not have lived in the country. He could have committed the crime and continued on his way. Keep in mind that Dana’s body wasn’t discovered for four days and it took the police weeks to track down similar vehicles as was described by witnesses. This affords a great deal of time for someone to drive far away and never look back.
It’s hard to say anything beyond the fact that this is a possibility. It’s definitely likely that the perpetrator could have committed this crime during travel, or work, and simply moved on without every being caught elsewhere. I do find it a little unlikely that someone who would so callously and violently assault and murder a fourteen year old girl would never commit another crime for which he would be arrested and his DNA filed. The original descriptions of the killer suggested it was someone in his early to mid-twenties, which would make him in his mid to late fifties today. Another possibility in relation to this matter is that killer died at some point after the crime was committed, which could also explain why the DNA has yet to match anyone tested. I do believe the stranger theory is a possibility, it’s certainly more likely than some of the other theories suggested.
The final theory is that Dana Bradley was assaulted and murdered, not by a total stranger, not by a well known criminal, not by someone who has ever been on the radar of law enforcement, but instead, by someone she may have known and trusted. I’ve always found this to be an interesting theory and I think it would explain some of the early details of the case. We have no way of knowing how often Dana hitchhiked, so its impossible to say if she was comfortable just getting in the car with anyone. One piece of information which, for me, suggests that at a minimum this crime was committed by someone familiar with the area is the location in which Dana was found.
If the perpetrator were simply someone passing through, it seems unlikely he’d know about the remote Maddox Cove area where her body was found. As we have heard from witnesses such as Dale Smith, this was an area known to the locals as being a dumping ground. There was plenty of trash and discarded items in the area and even Dale went there to get a Christmas tree because it was a wooded area no one seemed to care about. I’ve always felt that whoever committed this crime knew about this area enough to know it would be a likely place to dispose of a body with a low probability of running into anyone or being seen. Two witnesses did come forward later stating that they saw the car and the man in that woods that night, but they weren’t close enough to give much more than a physical description of the killer.
Earl on, investigators put a lot of weight into the condition of Dana’s body. They said that she was posed funeral style, that it appeared her face had been cleaned and her books were tucked into the crook of her arm. For them, this suggested a sense or remorse for the horrible crime committed, but it could also suggest a link to Dana. Perhaps someone who knew and cared for her and felt the pull of sympathy and regret for what had happened. Being that the suspect is thought to have been in his twenties, I’ve always wondered about the possibility of an older brother of a friend or maybe even a former student or neighbor. We may never know, and the RCMP conducted such a thorough investigation it has to be believed that they would have especially paid attention to anyone fitting the description who had any personal connection to Dana. On the other hand, the way in which Dana’s body was posed may not have indicated sympathy, but could suggest some further fantasy in the twisted psychology of the killer. It may have been less an act of remorse or care, and more about fulfilling his own sick needs, or maybe even shame, moreso than remorse. Many killers go into quiet periods after they commit a crime, once the rush and the adrenaline wears off, and become calm and docile following their actions until the urge builds up again. Could this be the case here? Absolutely.
Crimes of this nature can often be personal, and this is why investigators tend to look first at the family and then close friends and people in the area. In Dana’s case, it certainly could have gone down this way. The problem with this theory, at least for me, is the car. It was distinct in that it was in bad shape, with rust on it, and there was enough of a description to narrow down the possibilities. Had police found a car in the area that matched that description, they’d certainly have gone over it and questioned anyone who was known to drive it. Within weeks of the investigation they had swept through nearly a thousand cars matching the description and came up short handed. They also never were able to define exactly what the murder weapon was, nor locate it which, some believe, means that the killer remained in possession of it. Of course it could have just as easily been discarded in a river or lake. I do consider it possible that the killer knew Dana, and that he may even still be living in the area where this horrible crime took place.
The murder of Dana Bradley is a complicated, frustrating and heartbreaking story. For more than thirty years her family has had to live every day wondering what could have been, why Dana was taken from them and who could be so cruel. For the officers involved, there are daily reminders of Dana’s story and they continue to receive tips which they track down in hopes of some day breaking through and finding the answers everyone is searching for. To bring justice to the guilty party, and perhaps, some semblance of comfort for the family knowing that the killer was held accountable for his crimes. No amount of investigation nor resolution can ever restore Dana, nor show what she may have grown up to be and the type of person she would have become. Those were dreams stolen away in the night when a vicious man abducted, assaulted and murdered a fourteen year old girl trying to get home to her mother’s birthday party.
In a case which has spawned countless articles, news reports, reenactments, forum postings and social media responses all on its way to becoming the most expensive investigation in Canadian history, the answers remain unknown. The RCMP had a breakthrough with DNA evidence discovered in May of 2016 and they have been backtracking through every possible suspect in hopes of eliminating or confirming the killer. As of yet, there have been no public statements further addressing the investigation and we can only hope that each day as more names are crossed off their lists, they come closer to finding the one name that can finally put this to rest. Until that day, the murder of Dana Bradley remains an ongoing investigation and very much unsolved.