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'She Scared the Daylights Out of Me,' Daughter Says After Exposing Her Mom as a Murderer
It seemed like an open-and-shut case of self-defense until police learned more about Priscilla Bradford's relationship with her husband, John.
A Florida woman said she killed her husband to save herself from his abuse — but was it really self-defense? A shocking confession from Priscilla Bradford’s own family member told a different story.
In fact, just days before John Bradford’s death, he had made a startling statement to his lawyer: “He believed Priscilla Bradford was trying to kill him,” said Robert Carrasquillo, a Melbourne Police Dept. detective, on Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
John Bradford, a father of two, owned an optometry practice in Florida and divorced his first wife after almost 30 years. In 1976, he fell in love with a patient: Priscilla.
Priscilla was coming off her own divorce and had an 11-year-old daughter. They were married by November 1977. John then brought Priscilla in as a partial owner in his practice, and they expanded it to include their own lab where they created lenses.
"It was one of the only labs in town,” said Jeffrey Lowe, a former employee of John and Priscilla, on Snapped. “I think that they were bringing in some money, pretty good money.”
Things were going well between the Bradfords in their marriage and in business.
“My mother was so enthralled by this whole idea of this fairy tale she had in her head,” Eden Bradford Conley, Priscilla’s daughter, said on Snapped. “Gonna marry a doctor. Gonna run a lab. Gonna be rich. It’s going to be great.”
But the couple had been married less than three years when John was killed.
Priscilla Bradford, 36, first called 911 and Melbourne, Florida police around 6:15 p.m. on March 28, 1980, hysterically saying on the phone that she had killed her husband.
Her own daughter, Eden, was there at the home, and witnessed the killing of her 53-year-old stepfather.
“I remember little snippets of the cops had arrived, and I was sitting on the couch,” Bradford Conley said. “In my mind, I still didn’t grasp the reality, the enormity of this, that this is real.”
Joyce Cummings, 18, and Janice Gould, 34, who were employees and friends of Priscilla Bradford, were also in the home as John Bradford was killed.
It was a gruesome scene for Melbourne police, as Bradford was found dead on the kitchen floor on his back, with injuries to his head and chest.
“It was horrific. It really was,” said Melbourne Police Dept. Detective Bobby Bowen. “It was just a bloody mess. He was unrecognizable.”
Priscilla and her two friends told police Priscilla and Dr. Bradford had gotten into an argument that morning before he went to work.
Priscilla told detectives she invited the women over for drinks and to hang out at the pool, but John came home earlier than expected and became upset, and they got into an argument. The women heard Priscilla yelling for help.
“They observed Dr. Bradford with the bottle capper, about to strike her,” Carrasquillo said. “All three women tried to get him down — just make him stop.”
Priscilla had bruises on her face and cuts on her arm, and the other girls had bruises from when they said they tried to restrain John.
“The house was also in disarray,” Carrasquillo said. “Broken glass, things were thrown around, there was a skillet, a frying pan that was broken near him, there was a bottle capper as well near his body.”
Police found the bottom had broken out of the frying pan that the women said they used to strike Dr. Bradford.
“It’s a heavy metal … it would take a lot of force to break that frying pan in half,” Carrasquillo said. “You would have to strike continually, several times — it appeared excessive. So she might have felt that she needed more force because he’s a man, but would it be suspicious? Yes. And my experience tells me that there’s more to the story than what they’re telling.”
Priscilla told police her daughter didn’t see anything, as she was taking a shower and the stereo was on.
After the women were checked out at the hospital, detectives decided to re-interview Priscilla the next day, and found Cummings and Gould at the home, as well as Priscilla’s mother and Eden. Police saw odd behavior between Eden and her grandmother.
“I don’t recall everything they were asking me, but I remember my grandmother elbowed me and kinda went, ‘Shhh, you talk too much, quiet,’” Bradford Conley said on Snapped.
Police also found it odd all of the women were at the house together when they got there.
“Seeing the grandmother try to control Eden’s statement, now it seems that they’re trying to hide something,” Carrasquillo said. “So we were worried about how to break this case open, because as long as they stick to the domestic violence story, the self-defense claim would probably stick.”
Rumors swirled about the couple at their medical lab — adding more suspicion for police. Employees told police they’d heard John was preparing to divorce Priscilla. Employees also said Priscilla had been trying to figure out how to get out of the marriage while still owning the lab.
“There was animosity between Priscilla and her husband,” Lowe said. “I do remember her saying that he slapped her. There was talk of it, but nobody ever saw any evidence.”
One employee told police Priscilla, Cummings, and Gould had talked about planting drugs in Dr. Bradford’s car — and when detectives searched Dr. Bradford’s car, they did find drugs underneath the seat.
One month before his death, Dr. Bradford also changed his will, removing Priscilla from her ownership of the business and ownership of their house and leaving all his assets to his daughter. Dr. Bradford also began calling his attorney with his suspicions that Priscilla was trying to kill him.
"John Bradford reported that he had been struck in the head in his office with a two by four,” Carrasquillo said. “He heard a woman’s shoes, like a clicking sound, like a woman walking away.”
Then, the day before his murder, he believed Priscilla had added poison to his drink.
“He actually could taste something’s wrong with the orange juice, and he didn’t drink it,” Bowen said.
12 days after Dr. Bradford’s death, police got a major break: Eden’s father called and asked for an interview with his 14-year-old daughter, as long as she had immunity from prosecution.
Although Eden initially recited the same self-defense story, once she was shown a picture of Dr. Bradford’s bloodied face, she broke down and began confessing.
“She didn’t want him anymore. She just wanted the lab,” Bradford Conley said. “She thought that maybe the only way to get the money that she wants out of it is to not divorce him, but kill him.”
Eden told police Cummings and Gould were in on the plan to murder Dr. Bradford after Priscilla promised them money. She corroborated to officers the two attempts on her stepfather’s life were from her mother, and confirmed Priscilla told everyone she was being physically abused by the doctor, even though that was untrue.
“[On the morning of the murder] she actually asked me to hit her to quote, ‘Make it look like Dr. Bradford had hit her,’” Bradford Conley said. “My mother went in and reported to them that John was beating her up. If I said or did anything contrary to what my mother wanted, yeah, I was afraid I’d have been hurt.”
The teenager confessed that her mother purposely called Dr. Bradford to come home early, and as she hid in the bathroom, the three women attacked him.
“He was ambushed,” Bowen said. “He had not a clue what was going to happen to him when he walked through that door.”
Eden heard her mother call her grandmother, Mildred, because John was still alive despite their repeated attacks. She heard her grandmother say over the phone to hit John until he was dead, then wait about 10 minutes before calling an ambulance. The women then got Eden involved in the murder.
“Janice [Gould] says something to the effect of I have to come out to help them, the S.O.B. won’t die,” Bradford Conley said. “My mother handed me the bottle capper, and she did instruct me to hit him, and I did, two, maybe three, times. If I had tried to stop it in that moment, she definitely would have killed me too, no doubt about it.”
On April 10, 1980, Gould, Cummings, and Priscilla were arrested and charged with murder. But their plotting and scheming continued from jail. Cummings’ cell mate tips off police to another conspiracy.
“While in jail, Priscilla, Janice and Joyce ask her if she knew someone that could put a hit and kill witnesses that were going to testify against them,” Carrasquillo said.
On the list to kill: Priscilla’s own daughter, Eden.
“What she took away from Eden was her childhood basically, and that’s a crime in itself,” Bowen said.
During a sting operation, police found Priscilla sent her own mother to drop off the money at a phone booth to pay for the hits.
All three women were then charged with solicitation of murder.
“I felt fear, because I already saw what she could do,” Bradford Conley said. “And she had a way of getting people to do what she wanted. She scared the daylights out of me.”
Cummings went on trial, where Eden Bradford testified against her. She was convicted of 25 years to life for murder, and 15 years for solicitation of murder, and is currently at Homestead Correctional Institution in Florida.
Priscilla Bradford and Gould both pled guilty to avoid the death penalty and were sentenced to life in prison. In July 2007, Priscilla died of a lung infection in prison.
“When I got away from her, I realized there’s a whole great big world out here, and there’s a lot of good in it,” Bradford Conley said.