RCMP opens up on Dana Bradley case
Chief investigator talks about the car, responds to misinformation
Sgt. Kent Osmond, lead investigator on the Dana Bradley murder file and head of the RCMP’s major crimes unit in St. John’s, stands near one of the many file cabinets of evidence in the case. Osmond has responded in detail to specific questions posed by The Telegram about the 33-year-old investigation. In particular, Osmond answers why the claims of a man The Telegram called “Robert” have been dismissed and why a car he claimed was used in the murder has not been excavated from where it was buried many years ago. Check out this exclusive three-part series starting today.
Why didn’t the RCMP dig up the car a man has claimed was used in the 1981 murder of 14year-old Dana Bradley? Why did RCMP investigators dismiss this man’s claims that he witnessed the murder as a young boy? How active is this unsolved murder case after 33 years?
These are questions people would likely ask the RCMP’s major crime unit in Newfoundland if they had the chance.
In today’s Telegram, we begin a three-part exclusive series in which Sgt. Kent Osmond, head of the unit and lead investigator, answers those questions and more.
Osmond explains in detail how investigators came to their conclusions about the man’s claims, their concerns about misinformation being spread in the public and how dedicated the team is to solving the brutal crime that has gripped the province ever since it took place on the evening of Dec. 14, 1981.
The Telegram first carried “Robert’s” story in a series that ran in March 2014.
After recovering memories, Robert claimed he witnessed the murder as a six-year-old who was in the backseat of the car — with another boy who was four — when Dana was picked up on Topsail Road in St. John’s.
The murderer, he claimed, was a former neighbour who had borrowed one of his father’s cars. He also claimed he was sexually assaulted by the neighbour on many occasions.
After a 16-month investigation into Robert’s story about the murder, the RCMP dismissed his information, saying his story did not match known facts of the case.
The investigation into the allegations of sexual assault is being handled by another RCMP unit.
Since last March, public interest has grown in the investigation and in Robert and his story, and the RCMP has been criticized on social media, and in The Telegram by former RCMP members — including the original investigator, Jack Lavers.
Robert had approached Lavers with his story before going to the RCMP in 2011.
The RCMP breaks its silence for this Telegram exclusive, responding to the criticism and specific questions about the case.
Q : Why won’t you dig up the cars related to Robert’s story?
A: Through investigation, we determined that these cars were not used in the commission of this murder. The information was taken seriously, thoroughly pursued by many investigators, and found to be false. We didn’t base our findings on opinion or theories, but on facts that can be measured against the autopsy results, other forensic evidence, scene photographs and the like.
I can understand why some people, who do not have all the information the police have, might wonder why the cars are not being excavated. Simply put, there is no evidentiary reason to do so.
The vast differences between the known hard facts of the case and this person’s account cannot be overstated. If there was any evidence whatsoever that indicated we should dig up the car, we would act.
Q : Did Robert’s statements or the details he described change over the course of your investigation into his tip?
A: Yes. His account changed dramatically from the first contact with Mr. Lavers to the last contact with RCMP investigators, and at points in between.
Before meeting with Mr. Lavers, he researched the murder by reading 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.
He also changed his account when he learned certain facts were incorrect, and has amended his description of how his memories were recovered. Over time, his statements became more and more graphic and specific, making them easier to compare against the actual murder facts. They also became more and more incorrect.
This obviously affected the reliability of his information, and of him as a possible witness.
Q : Are there pieces of Robert’s story that do not match known evidence?
A: Yes. When he attempts to describe the murder in a manner that goes beyond what has been reported in the media, he is incorrect.
It would be expected that a six-year-old witness would have memory gaps, and allowances are made for this. However, in this case it is actually the incredible detail he provides that disproves his account, not a lack of detail. His very specific, extremely detailed account allows for an easy comparison against the known facts such as scene photos and autopsy results. His account contradicts the known facts of the case, and clearly shows he did not witness the murder.
Q : Did your investigators interview the other person who was allegedly in the car as a small child?
A: Yes, we did. Q : Is it possible, without divulging evidence, to explain in more specific detail why this tip was dismissed?
A: There are areas of concern that can be separated into loose categories. However, these examples are a small portion of the issues identified by investigators. Further, his information was assessed in totality, not simply as individual points as mentioned below:
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.
2). Potential witnesses do not support him. According to the complainant, various witnesses should have been able to explain why the children were with the alleged suspect in the car that day; should have been able to corroborate how the alleged suspect explained his late return with the two children; should have been able to describe interrupting the complainant and the alleged suspect disposing of evidence; and the child who he claims was with him in the car that night denies he was there. No one supported his account, and many of these witnesses are very close to him.
3). His story changed greatly over time. A detailed account in which he describes the alleged suspect (with the two children in the car) interacting with Dana on two separate occasions before he picked her up isn’t supported by the facts of the case. He later recanted that event, and the conversations they supposedly had with her. He recanted a vivid memory that claims he held and examined a specific possession of Dana’s. A specific memory of a conversation between the alleged suspect and Dana that indicated the suspect knew Dana’s family was abandoned as well.
Also some portions of his account that have been offered to the public as fact, were not presented that way to investigators. He has said they encountered and spoke to the police right after the murder. However, when offering this information to investigators on two separate occasions, he stated that he may have imagined that event.
Q : How thoroughly was the alleged murderer in Robert’s tip investigated? Why no lie detector?
A: We dedicated all the resources in the major crime unit to investigate this particular complainant’s tip. We interviewed every person who might have had any information or evidence. Of all the people we interviewed, most of whom were actually suggested by him, not one person supplied any evidence to support his account.
The complainant stated that certain witnesses should remember very specific facts that would support his claims, but they did not. We utilized DNA technology, ground searches, file research, geographical experts, consulted with another police agency, consulted with the behavioural sciences branch and searched for documentation that might support his allegations.
No evidence was found.
Q : Has your investigation into Robert’s tip been reviewed by other police agencies? Other RCMP investigators outside your unit?
A: Major crime files are peer reviewed as part of the investigative process. Everyone in the major crime unit played a role in this tip, reviewed each other’s work, and the conclusions drawn were unanimous.
An experienced RCMP member from outside the major crime unit also reviewed our work. He presented a comprehensive report to RCMP management, which drew the same conclusions. The investigation was then reviewed by the professional standards unit of the RCMP, and again supported.
Lastly, this person lodged a complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, which is an independent agency. Their completely independent review determined that the investigation was thorough and professional.
Q : Is the person offered by Robert considered a suspect in the murder of Dana Bradley?
A: No, he is not. Q : Would digging up the cars not put an end to Robert’s concerns that the RCMP has not done all it can to
investigate his tip?
A: There is no evidence that it would. However, the reason for not excavating the car is that there is no reasonable possibility that it contains evidence of Dana Bradley’s murder.
Q : Robert’s father has stated to the media that the alleged suspect had access to his vehicle, the vehicle they feel may have been involved in the murder of Dana Bradley. Would that not be enough reason to excavate the car?
A: When we investigated this aspect of the tip, the complainant’s parents could provide no occasion when this alleged suspect ever used their car. Further, they told investigators that it makes no sense that the alleged suspect would have had their car on Dec. 14, 1981, or that their son and the other child in question would have been with the alleged suspect on that day.
Q : In your opinion, has there been a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the RCMP investigation of
A: It has been stated by this person in the media that the RCMP investigated his tip with the intent to disprove him, that relevant witnesses weren’t interviewed or were inadequately interviewed and that there wasn’t enough done to investigate his allegations. He stated the investigation was shallow. This is completely untrue. Deliberate or not, his account of the RCMP’s investigation into this matter has been inaccurate and misleading.
Q : Why have you chosen to respond to questions the public has been asking since Robert came forward?
A: We have actually spoken with the media about this issue on several occasions. However, certain commentary regarding this topic has taken on a concerning tone. It contains misinformation about this person’s treatment by police, the investigation of his tip, and has the potential to erode public faith in this investigation. This may have caused the public to feel that the murderer has actually been positively identified, which might make people hesitant in coming forward with any new information they might have. We certainly don’t want that to occur.
Also, it might lead some members of the public to be concerned that, should they come forward, their information would not be professionally managed. The RCMP wants the public to understand that the murderer is still being sought, and any information provided will be promptly and professionally investigated.
We know we are answerable to the public. We felt that people may be wondering, “Why don’t they just dig up the cars?” Or, “what are they really doing on that file, anyway? It’s 33 years old, there can’t be much going on.”
We felt we needed to bring some context and clarity to those issues.
Six members of the RCMP’s major crimes unit, and all part of the Dana Bradley investigative team, at RCMP headquarters. From left to right are Const. Mike Nippard, Cpl. David Smith, Const. Wayne Pomeroy, Cpl. Steve Burke, Brenda Spurrell and lead investigator Sgt. Kent Osmond. Missing from the photo are Donna Bonia, major crime administrative assistant; Cpl. Monty Henstridge; and Const. Victor Dray.
Some of dozens of boxes of evidence collected in the Dana Bradley murder case.