A Position of Trust, Again

RamonaGravitarIn early August, a 15-page handwritten letter was sent from Earl Bradley to the justices of the Delaware State Supreme Court. The letter was Bradley’s pitch on why the justices should reconsider his case.

If the name Earl Bradley doesn’t ring a bell with you, here’s a reminder: Bradley is the worst pedophile in American history. He was convicted of raping, assaulting and molesting 85 girls and 1 boy, over more than a decade. The average age of his victims was three.

Yes, you read that correctly: age 3. How did he have access to so many very young children, for so long? He was their pediatrician.

In sending the letter mentioned above, Bradley bypassed his attorneys. This was his first communication since his conviction in June 0f 2011. By sending the letter, Bradley “broke his silence.”

Silence and rape are hellish partners, aren’t they? Of course, it’s hard to cry foul when you are only three. Often, all a three-year-old can do is cry.

I don’t often recycle posts, but below is one I wrote as a guest blogger at The Working Stiffs. It appeared after Bradley’s one-day trial, but before the judge delivered a sentence. The sentence turned out to be 14 life terms in prison, plus 164 years. A lot of people think he got off easy.

I’m revisiting this sad and painful story because in his letter, Bradley expresses his outrage about the “assaults” on his personal privacy, and requests his conviction be overturned. The thought that this might happen, even conceivably, is chilling. But this is our legal system, which I respect. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be silent about my disgust with him.

Original post below, from July 15, 2011:

WARNING: This post contains graphic descriptions of child abuse, including rape.

Dr. Earl Bradley was an odd guy. His BayBees Pediatric clinic near Lewes, Delaware was known for its unusual décor: a real merry-go-round and small Ferris wheel in the yard, with a life-sized Buzz Lightyear nearby. The clinic’s VW bug was painted like a bee with black and yellow stripes. Inside, walls displayed posters of TV characters and shelves full of toys. One room held a small movie theater where Dr. Bradley showed Disney films.

This was not your typical pediatrician’s office.

But it’s not against the law to be peculiar. For all his eccentricities, Bradley had a thriving practice. He seemed to love his little patients—so much so that he lavished kisses on them. He didn’t rush appointments—he sometimes spent a half hour, alone, with a child. He took little girls to a toy room to be rewarded with “princess dolls” and candy. If a child had an allergic reaction to an inoculation, he provided red Popsicles to soothe swollen lips. He gave up his weekends for three-day series of shots to treat ear infections.

And if children cried after an exam, well, sick children cry. Shots hurt. His patients were too young to explain their tears and fears, so parents did what parents do. They trusted their child’s doctor. A doctor, like a priest or a teacher or a camp counselor, operates in a position of trust. Plus, if there was anything untoward about Dr. Earl Bradley, there were licensing boards and medical review teams and police to catch that. Right?

Being odd is not illegal, but it is illegal to abuse children. Eighteen months ago, after a year-long investigation that began when a toddler told her mother that Bradley touched her “in the basement and it hurt,” Delaware State Police troopers went to BayBees Pediatrics with an arrest warrant. It listed multiple counts of sexual exploitation against Dr. Earl Bradley. In a search of the property, homemade videos that showed 13 hours, 35 minutes and 6 seconds of criminal sexual activity performed by the doctor on his patients were discovered.

Over 100 children appeared on the tapes. The average victim was three years old. All but one were girls. During the videoed assaults, little girls turned “ashen gray” while being orally raped to the point of suffocation, after which their attacker—a trained, licensed and certified medical professional—performed CPR to revive them. Footage showed children in diapers screaming as they tried to escape.

The arrest date was December 8, 2009. A news photo shows a handcuffed Dr. Earl Bradley wearing a jacket with Mickey Mouse embroidered on it.

Since the arrest, Delawareans have reeled in disbelief at a horror tale the Brothers Grimm couldn’t fathom in their sickest imaginings. The Popsicles? To disguise lips swollen after forcible oral sex. The three-day series of shots? To allow repeated assaults on the same child. The toy room with the “princess dolls”?  Equipped with cameras so Bradley could record his sadistic acts.

The toys, the movies, the candy, the kisses, the special attention? All meant to “groom” unsuspecting parents, to put them at ease, to show how much he cared about their little tykes. Because Earl Bradley might be an evil, deranged bastard not worthy of the oxygen he sucks into his undeserving lungs, but like many pedophiles, he was also clever and manipulative. He knew that to gain access to his young victims, he had to get past their parents. To do that, he relied on the trust people afford to doctors.

In February of 2010, a grand jury indicted Bradley on more than 470 charges of abuse, rape and sexual exploitation of 103 children. The oldest victim was 14; the youngest three months. 86 victims have been identified. 15 have not.

His trial was held last month. Bradley waived his right to a jury, so a bench trial was held. Only two witnesses called by the prosecution, both Delaware State Troopers. One was detective Thomas Elliott, the lead investigator who authored the search warrant.

The other witness was with the High-Tech Crimes Unit, a veteran computer forensics expert who analyzed the videotapes. Detective Scott Garland viewed 13+ hours of little girls—toddlers, babies–subjected to assaults he described under oath as violent, brutal,  beyond anything he had ever witnessed, scenes nothing in his years investigating sex crimes had prepared him to see. At one point, he testified that he yelled “Let her up!” at his computer as the little girl onscreen was orally raped until she lost consciousness.

I’ve debated about naming Detectives Elliott and Garland. I have because I have to believe that somewhere in this horrifying situation are some good guys.  Some DSP troopers who worked the Bradley case required special counseling. I hope it helped them. The detectives deserve recognition for doing a job I, and most people reading this, could never want or perform.

The trial lasted one day. Bradley was founded guilty on 24 counts of rape, assault and sexual exploitation of a child. His sentencing is pending.

At the trial, the defense didn’t put up a case. Why? Because there is an issue with the execution of the search warrant that uncovered the video tapes. An appeal is expected. If the video evidence is thrown out, it is unlikely that his victims can provide reliable testimony. Children don’t make good witnesses. In this case, some of the victims were not only too young to be considered reliable, some were still too young to talk.

But the children aren’t the only victims in the Bradley case, and the complaint that result in his arrest wasn’t the first. Since 1994, when he worked at a Philadelphia hospital, complaints were made to hospitals, to police, to state medical boards against Earl Bradley, by parents, nurses, doctors, even his sister and officer manager, about inappropriate touching, videotaping of patients, prolonged or unnecessary vaginal exams. He was investigated more than once, but there was never sufficient evidence for an arrest warrant. Now, Delaware’s governor has called for an independent review of the various police, medical and legal bodies involved in the Bradley case. In February, the state medical board permanently revoked his medical license.

In a few weeks, after reviewing testimony and the videotapes, the judge will deliver a sentence. I pity that judge, just like I pity the state troopers, and as I pity the victims’ parents, whose nightmares I can’t begin to imagine. Most of all, I pity the tiny little children whose youth might, hopefully, spare them remembering what happened to them at the hands of a monster.

But pity doesn’t stop crime. Earl Bradley has been called the worst pedophile in American history, but few people outside of Delaware know about him. Some people here want it that way. People who got angry at constant news coverage. People who believe it makes the area look bad. People who find talk of child rape distasteful.  People who want to heal and put all this ugliness behind them. People who don’t want to believe that someone who is educated and with an important job, could ever do such horrible things to an innocent child.

On the other side are people like me, who think that stories about monsters who hurt children should be shouted from the rooftops. A pedophile wants you to be in denial. A pedophile wants you to believe he can’t live in your pretty little town. If you don’t believe it can happen to you, to your child, in your town, by a person in a position of trust, all the better for the pedophile.

Goodbye to the Working Stiffs

Today  I posted my last guest post at the wonderful, Pittsburgh-based group blog known as the Working Stiffs.

My post today discussed writers as artists. You, the Artist asks writers to accept that the words they piece together into stories is indeed art, and we should all band together to encourage the next generation as they enter the wacky world of writing and publishing.

I’ve had a lot of fun as a Working Stiffs contributor. Posting there allowed me to touch on a range of subjects–some light, some dark–but I hope all thought provoking in some way. It was a great pleasure to work with such fine writers, who amused, challenged and entertained me with their posts, and honored me with their friendship.

Here’s a summary of my contributions to the Working Stiffs:

The Gift of Time and a Boxed Lunch. (Yay! I’ve been accepted to an artists’ colony!)

Over There. (A Veterans Day history lesson on the War to End All Wars—ha—and the little known Bonus Army of 1932.)

Paging the Lorax. (I speak for the Hwy.  50 Shoe Tree and the Spirit Oaks at Toomer’s Corner.)

Twelve Average Citizens. (On a quiet Tuesday night in Georgetown, Delaware, a Patrolman named Chad Spicer was killed in the line of duty.)  

Who Do You Love?  (The story of Charles:  the love of my life—and how he wooed me when I was five.)

Double Dating a Killer. (Have you ever known a murderer?)  

A Position of Trust. (On Dr. Earl Bradley, the worst pedophile you’ve never heard of, and how he was able to abuse so many children, for so long.)

Are You Intrepid?  (On being brave, and trying something new in life.)

Beggars Can’t Be Writers. (Is it okay to ask for something for nothing? If so, tell me where to put the DONATE button.)

In With the Old. (A recipe for My Favorite Cake, and why a vintage cake cover is necessary for success.)

Three Questions for Two New Authors. (A couple of new mystery writers to watch.)

I’m a Big Girl Now. (Will your parents ever stop treating you like a child? No, probably not, but you gotta love ‘em for boldly not trying.)

I Bought the Book, It’s Mine Now, So….(Is it a sacrilege to write in a published book?)

To Have and To Hold…A Grudge. (A post-election look at Delaware’s Return Day tradition, and a question about how long you hang onto hard feelings.)

Three Travel Adventures (Embarrassing moments on the road.) 

I’m Not a Believer. (Goblins, ghosts, woo woo and voodoo—what rattles your chains?)  

Sometimes You Seek the Story….

…and sometimes, through no effort of your own, it seeks you.

Last Friday, for my monthly guest gig at Working Stiffs, I wrote about the guy I knew from high school who is currently incarcerated for murder. The post earned some good responses, but I was surprised at the number of people who contacted me privately about murderers they know. I was equally surprised when someone suggested I write a book about the ten years it took for Connie’s disappearance and murder to be solved. I don’t write true crime, so that nixed that idea. Also, while I knew both the killer and the victim, I was long gone when they were married and their troubles began. My connection to them was from happier times.

This is not the first time someone suggested I turn a blog post into a book. It happened when I wrote about Dr. Earl Bradley, the Delaware pediatrician who has been called the worst pedophile in American history. His is a tale of violence, sickness and evil that might serve as a cautionary tale about people trusting figures of authority too well. But I have no connection to that case, other than living in Delaware when his arrest and trial went down. In writing the blog post, I read enough gruesome details to know I don’t want to spend a year of my life delving into the dark side of a very dark story.

My same feeling applies to the story of Patrolman Chad Spicer, who was killed in the line of duty one night two years ago. Officer Spicer was a small town Delaware boy serving on a small town Delaware police force. He had a small child, a loving family, a wonderful reputation. Is this a story someone should share? Perhaps. Is that someone me? No.

How does a writer know when a story is theirs to tell?

As evidenced above, I find a lot of blog posts to share from the news or personal experience. In my fiction writing, I steal from my family. I’ve done well by that. I’ve been awarded a couple of arts grants to record portions of my family history in south Louisiana. I feel connected, so I’ve devoted time and work to creating a fictional version of my own aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Their experiences are based on true events, though told as fiction rather than memoir. I researched to make the town and time accurate to the times. I had to do world building, but the world is based on my own genetic and cultural one. I didn’t experience or witness the events, but I molded them into my version. My story.

When you are a writer, people suggest stories to you all the time. Most of us have no problem coming up with ideas of our own, but you never know when a spark will happen. It happened to me not long ago, on my daily walk through the neighborhood. I walked by the home of someone on my street, and I thought about the rather tragic events going on with them now. And bam! I wanted to write their story, but told in my way, through a rather tragic event of my own. By the time I got home three miles later, I had a full outline brewing in my head.

The story sought me like a heat-seeking missile. I have no personal connection to it other than witnessing what went on with a family on my street, but in an hour I had made it mine. It has spoken to me.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Some stories speak to you. Some don’t. Consider that you have to spend a year of your life, at least, to devote to a novel, you want a story that reaches out and grabs you like a beast from hell and won’t let go.

Seek and ye shall find, the saying goes. Sometimes, for a writer, it’s the opposite. There are a lot of stories out there. Some of them are yours. Why write one that isn’t?

Ramona