Friday, July 15, 2011


by Ramona DeFelice Long

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 d├ęcor: 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.


Joyce Tremel said...

Thank you so much for writing this, Ramona. And I will pass the word on about this monster.

Gina said...

Powerful post, Ramona. I balk at calling the doctor a "monster" only because that makes it sound as if he'd be easy to spot, like Godzilla or Frankenstein. Unfortunately, predatory pedophiles look just like the rest of us.

Ramona said...

Joyce, Gina, thanks. That is a very good point, about the word "monster."

I considered posting a photo, but the mug shot is so creepy, it would raise Gina's point. Then again, it's his mug shot, not how he looked every day.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Very disturbing. I agree with Gina that this is a powerful post.

Annette said...

Ramona, I know how you struggled writing this piece and want to say bravo for having the courage to bring attention to a subject that most folks just want to close their eyes to. Which is precisely what these...what do we call them if not monsters? "Men" doesn't seem appropriate either. But the silence of good people is what "they" count on. It gives them permission to continue the atrocities against those who don't have a voice.

Thank you, Ramona, for giving the young ones a voice.

Ramona said...

Thanks, Annette, it was indeed a hard post to write. I decided not to several times, but it never went away. I guess that meant I needed to write it out.

As for what to call him, Gina's comment about "monster" has made me think. I imagine a string of expletives would do the job, too.

Anonymous said...

In an episode of British TV show George Gently, detectives uncover irrefutable evidence of pedophilia sanctioned or engaged in by leading community members over twenty years before. Discussing whether charges should be filed against the two surviving adults who knew what was happening, the chief constable says, "It would disgrace the community." The detective responds, "The community has already disgraced itself."

The story must be told.