◼ Pt. 1: Together and alone: The story of Monica and Robin Bradshaw, how they defied all odds to be together and wound up in near complete isolation
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series looking at the lives of Robin and Monica Bradshaw. The stories look at their early relationship, isolated life, her killing and the investigation that led to his arrest 18 months after her death.
Almost instantly, 16-year-old Monica Bradshaw knew that she had met the man she was destined to marry.
Referring to her future husband, Robin Bradshaw, as “Robby,” the beautiful teenage girl -- glowingly described by relatives as enthusiastic and bubbly, if a bit headstrong -- talked of lives intrinsically linked. Mostly, she talked of love.
”I love you more than my freedom, my home or my life,” reads a letter Monica penned to Robin during their courtship. “Till the day I die, I'll love you.”
Some 35 years later, Monica Bradshaw did die, bludgeoned to death by her husband of more than three decades, the man who had sworn to protect her and the man who -- against all warnings -- Monica Bradshaw had left her family to marry.
On June 30, Robin Bradshaw was sentenced to serve 12 years in state prison, having pleaded guilty to one count each of voluntary manslaughter and insurance fraud. The sentencing hearing represented the end of Robin Bradshaw's court case, but a slew of questions remain in its wake.
While questions swirl about the case's outcome -- whether Robin Bradshaw's actions on or about the night of Aug. 17, 2008, constituted manslaughter or murder -- perhaps the most disturbing questions in the case involve how a 30-plus-year resident of the local community vanished one night, seemingly without being missed.
Nearly six months passed between that August night and when the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office was first notified that something was possibly amiss in the Bradshaw household. When the call finally came in, it wasn't from a friend, a neighbor or a family member. Instead, it came from a woman who administered the insurance policy on Monica Bradshaw's car, a woman who didn't know Monica Bradshaw from a name on a piece of paper.
With the benefit of reflection, some say they had their suspicions.
Others say they asked questions about Monica Bradshaw's whereabouts, but none asked loudly enough to be heard by anyone with the power to find the answers.
Us against the world
Part of the problem seems that those doing the asking simply did not know Monica Bradshaw, nor her husband. It turns out, hardly anybody did.
The roots of the Bradshaws' solitude and isolation run deep. In fact, they seem to encase the foundation of their relationship. When the two met, Monica was 16 and still in high school and Robin, four years her senior, was already working construction, following generally in the footsteps of his father. While family members described Monica Bradshaw as having a bubbly personality and being a bit shy, they concede she could be headstrong. Nowhere was this obstinate streak more apparent than on the subject of her first boyfriend, who lived just a few blocks from her family's home.
”(Robin and Monica) met when she was 16 and she decided right then she wanted to marry him,” said Caroline Sheffield, Monica Bradshaw's sister, who added that her family instantly grew concerned, both by the age difference and the fact that Robin Bradshaw had a juvenile criminal record.
According to Sheffield, her parents' concern quickly blossomed into full-blown dread at the prospect of Monica and Robin being together.
Robin's parents, Verlin and Viola Bradshaw, were equally skeptical of the relationship, although for completely different reasons. Viola Bradshaw said she always felt like Monica's mother, Wilma Bellows, was emotionally unstable, a trait Viola Bradshaw said she saw in Monica.
”I said, 'Rob, you've got to stop,'” Viola Bradshaw said. “'I don't know how much dating you've been doing of this girl, but you have to stop. She's dangerous.'”
Sentiments were similar, if running the opposite direction, in Monica's home, and Sheffield said a plan was hatched to get Monica away from Robin.
”(My parents) were willing to bend heaven and earth to get her out of his way,” Sheffield said, adding that her parents soon packed Monica's bags and sent her to live in Ontario, Calif., with Sheffield, her husband and their daughter.
However, the family soon learned that it would take more than distance to bridle the Bradshaws' passion for one another. The young couple kept corresponding. Sheffield said her sister kept sending swooning love letters to Robin Bradshaw and that they often spoke on the phone, adding that Robin often exhibited signs of jealousy and would intensively question Monica about her outings, school dances and other things.
At one point during the year, Sheffield wrote Robin Bradshaw a letter asking him to stay away from her sister.
After a year in Ontario, Monica Bradshaw was sent to rejoin her parents, who had since moved to San Francisco, where her father had been hired as a consultant for the construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. Monica, Sheffield said, was furious at the prospect of having to continue living apart from Robin.
”She flew to San Francisco, stayed at home with them for three days and, one night, went through pockets and purses and gathered up every dime she could get her hands on,' Sheffield said. “She bought a bus ticket to Seattle and went to live with Rob's family, and refused to come home or to speak to my parents ever again.”
Through intermediaries, Monica Bradshaw reportedly told her parents that she would never come home. If made to, she said she would simply run away every chance she got. Sheffield said that Monica never returned home, and that she lived with Robin Bradshaw and his parents until she graduated from school and turned 18, at which point, she and Robin married and moved out on their own.
Robin Bradshaw's parents, however, remember things differently. They say that Monica Bradshaw showed up in Seattle one night, only to throw a tantrum the next day when Robin Bradshaw left for work. Viola Bradshaw said that Monica erupted screaming that morning and broke a hole in a wall of the home. Viola Bradshaw said she eventually had to slap Monica to try to get her to calm down.
”We sent her back home,” Verlin Bradshaw said in a phone interview from his Seattle home. “She was just here for a day or two, then we sent her back to live with her folks.”
Sheffield said she is positive that Monica never returned to the family home after leaving for Seattle. Where she went is unclear, but she and Robin Bradshaw kept in touch, and their romance remained ablaze.
Together and alone
At some point in 1973, Robin and Monica Bradshaw saw their chance.
During that year, Robin and Verlin Bradshaw were living in Eureka to oversee a construction project when Monica and Robin moved in together. Unbeknownst to their families, the couple married on Oct. 25, 1973.
”I was there (in Eureka) at the time, but I wasn't invited to the wedding,” Verlin Bradshaw said. “I didn't know it even happened.”
Verlin Bradshaw soon returned to Washington, leaving the newlyweds to begin their lives together. While Monica was seemingly content to settle in as a housewife, Robin Bradshaw began working his way up through the local contracting community.
”He was pretty much a workaholic,” Verlin Bradshaw said. “He didn't play golf. He wasn't interested in sports. He didn't do much else.”
From all accounts, Robin Bradshaw was an exceptional construction foreman. His projects almost always came in on time and under budget. Those who worked next to and under him said Robin Bradshaw was just about everything you could ask for in a team leader: He was demanding, dynamic and unflinchingly consistent.
In one 12-year stretch, Robin Bradshaw never missed a day of work, according to one man who worked with him at Danco. His knowledge of contracting, many said, was simply unparalleled.
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Detective Rich Schlesiger, the lead investigator on the case, said a number of people told him that if you gave Robin Bradshaw the square footage of a house, he could tell you how many nails would be needed in construction. He was that good.
But, that's not to say he was a model employee. Schlesiger said he believes Robin Bradshaw to be a pathological liar, noting that he found numerous instances of him lying at work. It was nothing big, Schlesiger said, just accounts of Robin Bradshaw making up stories to cover his tracks for failing to turn in a report, fill out a form or keep on top of the mountain of minutiae that comes with overseeing large-scale projects.
With one large exception, it seems Robin Bradshaw, like his wife, kept almost entirely to himself.
”He never was friends with anyone,” said one Danco employee who worked with him for some 15 years, adding that while many at the job would head off for a cold beer or a bite to eat at the end of the day, Robin Bradshaw never joined them.
In fact, he never even spoke of his personal life.
”He just didn't talk about that kind of stuff,” one co-worker said. “We had in-depth conversations about lots of stuff, but always about work. He was tight-lipped. A lot of people who knew Robin Bradshaw didn't really know Robin Bradshaw.”
The co-worker said that, for as long as he could remember, Robin Bradshaw had a pretty constant stream of women -- none of them his wife -- stopping by his job sites. Sometimes, they would bring meals, and sometimes they would just stop by to say hello, the co-worker said, but it was pretty common knowledge that Robin Bradshaw did a lot of philandering.
From many accounts, including by Robin Bradshaw in probation interviews, a lot of that philandering occurred with prostitutes.
Over the 20 or so years that Robin Bradshaw was making a name for himself in the local construction business, it's unclear exactly what Monica Bradshaw was doing. Family members said they believed that she and Robin Bradshaw had some mutual friends through his work, but none of his co-workers interviewed by the Times-Standard seemed to remember the couple ever socializing with anyone.
Monica Bradshaw did have a plethora of hobbies. She loved riding horses and did it often until a back injury forced her to give up the saddle later in life. She also sewed, gardened, cooked and, at some point, took up the hobby of refurbishing antiques and old furniture. Most of what she did, she did alone.
”I don't know if she preferred solitude or just came to accept it,” said Melissa Lausanne, Monica Bradshaw's niece.
”Nobody was really close to her,” Sheffield said. “She wasn't somebody that you talked to every day. She was a very private person.”
Verlin and Viola Bradshaw said their son also became increasingly isolated during this stretch of time, which they attribute to Monica's influence. They said when they or other family members tried to come visit, Robin Bradshaw would say it wasn't a good time because of Monica Bradshaw or that she would make them stay in a motel instead of the family's home. They said they also got the feeling that Robin Bradshaw was sneaking phone calls to them, only calling when he had a moment alone because Monica Bradshaw was off feeding the horses or doing something else.
”I never really knew my son much after they got married,” Viola Bradshaw said. “We lost a son long before he ever went to jail. It's very, very, very sad. Talk to his sister or brother, and I think they would tell you the same thing.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
◼ Pt. 2: Cracks in a foundation: The Bradshaws' marriage, the product of youthful love, begins to crumble
A killer walks among us
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series looking at the lives of Robin and Monica Bradshaw. The stories look at their early relationship, isolated life, her killing and the investigation that led to his arrest 18 months after her death.
Years before Monica Bradshaw went missing and her husband Robin Bradshaw became the suspect of a murder investigation, fissures started to develop in their relationship.
If their marriage was a home, large cracks were becoming visible in its foundation.
When news hit the papers in January 2009 that Monica Bradshaw, a 53-year-old McKinleyville woman, went missing, all eyes turned to Robin Bradshaw and the suspicions of many, held quietly for months, began to leak out to the larger community. Last month, Robin Bradshaw was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison for killing his first love, the woman he'd been with since she was 16 years old.
While court proceedings in the case are over, a host of questions remain. One of the most difficult to answer is how a marriage of almost 35 years that united two lovestruck youths ended with Robin Bradshaw bludgeoning his wife to death one night in August 2008 in an act he insists was self-defense.
Monica and Robin Bradshaw married in 1973 and seemed to have depended almost solely on each other for companionship. They had few friends and did little without each other, both seeming to keep their families -- which strongly opposed their relationship -- at an arm's length. While there weren't any early reports of discord, it seems clear that by the mid-1990s some major problems began to surface in their relationship.
Robin Bradshaw's parents said they feel their son always felt somehow bound to care for Monica, but seemed to do so reluctantly.
”He was that type of person,” Viola Bradshaw said of her son. “He was the one always to take care of the little guy -- he was always the helper.”
Robin's father, Verlin, was a bit more direct.
”We always had the feeling that Rob felt like he had to take care of her,” he said. “I don't know why he felt so obligated, but he did.”
According to court records, co-workers and Monica's family, Robin Bradshaw had begun looking outside his marriage for companionship by the mid-1990s. Co-workers said an assortment of women would come by the job site to visit him, and Robin Bradshaw himself admitted in a probation interview that he began seeing prostitutes, saying he only did so after he and Monica stopped being intimate.
At some point, Monica Bradshaw caught wind of her husband's infidelities and was devastated, according to Monica's sister, Caroline Sheffield, and court documents.
Sheffield said her sister called her crying one day, having discovered that Robin Bradshaw paid to put a prostitute up in a motel for several months with money from the couple's account.
”She was panicked and terrified that he would leave her,” Sheffield recalled. “I said, 'You always have a home here.' I said she needn't worry about being alone, that there would always be a place here for her.”
Sheffield said that Monica never sought further advice about the situation. She also did not leave her husband. Monica's niece, Melissa Lawson, said she thinks the thought of starting a new life was too much for her.
”At the point she realized it was not a good situation, she didn't know how to get out of it,” Lawson said. “She had only been a daughter and a wife in life.”
In 1997, Monica and Sheffield's father passed away and the family was reunited, briefly, for his funeral. Sheffield said Robin Bradshaw accompanied his wife on the trip. According to his parents, Robin's insistence on attending was the only reason they went at all.
”Rob was accommodating. He was quiet. He was polite,” Sheffield recalled, but quickly added that she noticed a distance between her sister and Robin Bradshaw. She also noted that her sister had put on some weight. “He was her whole world, and when he started taking up with hookers her world fell apart.”
Shortly after the funeral, Sheffield said she heard through Lawson and a cousin that Monica Bradshaw was looking to get in touch with her, and was upset about how Sheffield had handled her father's funeral arrangements.
”I was supposed to call her back and I didn't. I thought, 'I don't want to listen to you,'” Sheffield said, adding that she never spoke to her sister again, but sent her birthday cards almost annually. “That's on me, and that's something that I have to live with.”
Sheffield said her sister seemed relatively quick to cut people out of her life after a falling out or a disagreement.
”I don't think she had mechanisms in place to deal with rejection,” Sheffield said.
In tirelessly searching through and reconstructing Monica Bradshaw's life, Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Detective Rich Schlesiger said he was only able to track down one friend -- a woman who lived in Eureka and hadn't talked to Monica in some 18 months after the two had a disagreement.
Neighbors of the Bradshaws' McKinleyville home said they never saw Monica interact with anybody -- she never had houseguests, rarely spoke with neighbors and was almost always home.
Investigation reports indicate that she followed a distinct pattern, going to the same stores for the same types of things, going out to eat regularly at the same restaurants, always with Robin Bradshaw.
In 2000, the Bradshaws made the move from Eureka to McKinleyville, agreeing to purchase a picturesque plot of land from Eleanor Sullivan where Robin would build the couple's new home just blocks from Dow's Prairie Elementary. For her part, Sullivan said the new couple seemed nice enough, but a bit standoffish.
”They kind of kept to themselves,” Sullivan said. “They weren't mean, they just didn't have much to do with any of us.”
Even after construction was complete, Sullivan said, the Bradshaws were constantly working on their home, gardening, fixing things up and working out in the yard. They rarely, if ever, showed up at neighborhood get-togethers, Sullivan said, but would always participate in holiday cookie exchanges.
Once, Sullivan said, Monica Bradshaw came to help other neighbors with a rummage sale to benefit a local charity. While other neighbors chatted and visited, Sullivan said, Monica was all business.
”She wouldn't even stop for lunch. We were all amazed that she pitched in so much,” Sullivan said, before adding that Monica Bradshaw also came across as a “bit bossy.”
During this time period, Monica Bradshaw also put on a lot of weight, something her sister attributes to Robin's infidelities and a sense that Monica just didn't care anymore. Viola Bradshaw said her son told her more than once that Monica's size was an issue, and that she would sometimes get angry and violent with him. When she did, Viola Bradshaw recalled, Robin said he had a hard time restraining her and sometimes would be left with bite marks or bruises.
Schlesiger said that throughout his investigation he was never able to find any evidence or accounts of violence in the Bradshaws' relationship. Still, Viola Bradshaw insists it was there.
The last time Sullivan heard Monica Bradshaw's voice, she was vacationing in Oregon when Monica called, distraught about where to bury a neighbor's horse that had passed away on Sullivan's property.
Some neighbors said that was the last time they saw Monica -- when she and Robin set off with a backhoe to bury that horse. For a time, many believed Monica Bradshaw had been buried underneath the animal.
A couple of months after her return, Sullivan said, she ran into Robin Bradshaw and asked him where his wife had been.
”He said she'd had cancer, that it came back and she died,” Sullivan said, recalling his demeanor in the conversation as very “blasé.” “I remember thinking if my husband had passed away, I would have reacted quite differently.”
Sometime in late August, a young woman moved into the Dow's Prairie home with Robin Bradshaw. In the ensuing months, he would offer a variety of explanations for his wife's disappearance: she had died of cancer, she'd gone to visit relatives and she suffered from depression and had left him.
Even at Robin Bradshaw's work -- the place he had managed to keep insulated from his personal life for so long -- signs of a deep, disturbing problem started to surface.
According to co-workers, Robin Bradshaw first told them the cancer story, and a flood of sympathy ensued.
”It was a pretty harsh story,” said one co-worker, adding that co-workers and people who knew Robin Bradshaw would bring him sympathy cards, flowers and even home-cooked meals. He accepted them all without showing much emotion, the co-worker said.
Soon, people started to notice that Monica Bradshaw's personal belongings -- clothes, pictures and letters -- began showing up in construction site trash bins. Then, perhaps the biggest warning sign appeared when Robin Bradshaw started flailing on the job. Deadlines were missed, responsibilities were handed off and Robin Bradshaw -- the company hallmark of consistency -- started spending less and less time on job sites.
”He started missing work, and then I knew that there was some real big problems coming,” a co-worker said. “Everybody was concerned, but everyone kind of believed innocent until proven guilty.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or email@example.com.
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard A killer walks among us
Posted: 07/12/2010 09:48:38 AM PDT
◼ Pt. 3: Monica Bradshaw's remains are recovered, and Robin Bradshaw is sent to prison
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a three-part series looking at the lives of Robin and Monica Bradshaw. The stories look at their early relationship, isolated life, her killing and the investigation that led to his arrest 18 months after her death.
Make no mistake about it, Robin Bradshaw came very close to getting away with killing his wife and quietly moving on with his life.
By the time the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office got a call alerting it to the fact that something was not right in the Bradshaw household, 53-year-old Monica Bradshaw hadn't been seen in six months. The scene of her grisly death had been scrubbed clean, and the weapon Robin Bradshaw had used to bludgeon her was long gone. Perhaps most importantly, there was no body.
”It's always hard with a no-body case because you don't have any place to start from,” said Humboldt County Sheriff's Detective Rich Schlesiger, the lead investigator on the case, explaining that a murder investigation usually begins with a body and works outward.
After more than 60 interviews and months of investigating, Schlesiger, with the help of the Sheriff's Office and the Humboldt County District Attorney's Investigative Unit, did make a case, and did put Robin Bradshaw behind bars. However, the story did not end the way many would have liked.
Robin Bradshaw was sentenced June 29 to serve 12 years in state prison, having pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and insurance fraud after entering into a plea agreement in which he led law enforcement to where he buried his wife of almost 35 years.
Ultimately, one haunting question remains unanswered: Did Robin Bradshaw kill his wife after she attacked him or did he, deliberately and with premeditation, murder her?
It was a phone call to the Sheriff's Office from a concerned insurance adjuster with Ferndale's Capitol Insurance Group that started unraveling the fabric of lies surrounding Robin Bradshaw.
The cause of the adjuster's concern was a claim that Robin Bradshaw tried to submit on his wife's car, which had recently been stolen and recovered. The adjuster said she couldn't rubberstamp the claim because the policy was under Monica Bradshaw's name.
”Robin Bradshaw then advised that he would have Monica Bradshaw contact (the adjuster),” states one court document in the case. “(The adjuster) then received a telephone call from a person claiming to be Monica Bradshaw. The voice sounded like Robin Bradshaw attempting to disguise his voice.”
The adjuster also told the Sheriff's Office about how Robin Bradshaw had then tried to go down to the tow yard with a woman, later identified as his 31-year-old girlfriend, Marin Burdette, who reportedly claimed to be Monica Bradshaw, even signing the vehicle release form with her name. The adjuster told the Sheriff's Office that she then tried to follow up, according to court documents, but when she called the Bradshaws' residence, a female voice answered the phone, telling her that Monica Bradshaw had died.
Upon hearing of the case, sheriff's deputies were dispatched to the Bradshaws' home on Dows Prairie Road to follow up. According to court documents, they arrived at the home to find a sweaty and shaking Robin Bradshaw, who told them that his wife of more than 30 years had “up and vanished.” Throughout the interview, the deputies noted that Robin Bradshaw could not stand still, as if he were “tense and very nervous.”
Schlesiger was immediately called to investigate further, and soon brought in district attorney investigators.
”You could just tell something was not right there,” Schlesiger said.
”It was just obvious he was lying,” said District Attorney's Office Chief Investigator Mike Hislop.
Two days later, a search warrant was served on the Bradshaws' McKinleyville home. Investigators seized dozens of items, from notes and financial records to receipts and a can of Campbell's soup.
Investigators didn't find any smoking guns -- no murder weapons, no blood-soaked clothes and no physical evidence that Monica Bradshaw had been killed. They did, however, find some key pieces to the puzzle, including Burdette.
Quickly, a circumstantial case was materializing: Investigators found a husband who had never reported his wife missing, and had seemingly emptied the house of her belongings after she allegedly disappeared.
They also found -- through financial records and interviews -- that Monica Bradshaw led an incredibly regimented life. She ate at the same restaurants, shopped at the same stores, dialed the same few numbers on her cell phone and even was in the habit of writing the date of purchase on all of the canned goods she picked up while shopping.
For months, the records looked the same, until Aug. 17, 2008, when Monica Bradshaw seemed to disappear. According to investigators, she wrote her last check on Aug. 12. The can of Campbell's soup had a date in mid-August 2008 -- the last date scribbled on a can in the Bradshaws' pantry.
When serving the search warrant, investigators also had their first chance to sit down and speak with Burdette. A picture quickly emerged.
That day, and in subsequent interviews, Schlesiger said, he learned that Burdette and Robin Bradshaw had taken up together sometime around the end of July 2008. According to court documents, Burdette was working as a prostitute when she and Robin Bradshaw met, although he later denied knowing this during a probation interview.
Schlesiger said Robin Bradshaw told Burdette at the time that his wife had died of cancer -- a story he would repeat to neighbors and co-workers after Monica's death -- and that she initially believed him. But Burdette said she later noticed things in the family home -- makeup, clothes, a sewing machine with fabric still in it -- that made her question whether Monica Bradshaw had, in fact, died.
At some point, a few weeks into their relationship, Robin Bradshaw asked Burdette to move into his Dows Prairie Road home. Burdette told Schlesiger that she quickly agreed. According to court documents, Robin Bradshaw soon gave Monica Bradshaw's ATM card, cell phone and car to Burdette.
According to court documents in the case, Burdette and another acquaintance of Robin Bradshaw's told investigators that he had made confessions to them. Both relayed slightly different versions of the same story: Robin said his wife had attacked him with a metal bar, and that he had taken it from her and, in the heat of anger, struck her over the head several times, killing her.
All of a sudden, investigators, having worked the case for only a handful of days, had enough to arrest Robin Bradshaw. They didn't, however, and instead opted to wait. They wanted to give Robin Bradshaw just enough rope to see if he would hang himself.
”We already had enough to bring him in,” Hislop said, “but we didn't have a body. It's kind of hard to try a case without a body. It's been done, but it's hard.”
So, investigators fielded tips and chased down leads. Amid reports that Monica Bradshaw was buried with a neighbor's horse or under the patio of the couple's McKinleyville home, a variety of leads led to the same place: a sprawling, undeveloped piece of wooded Danco property located off Fieldbrook Road, just a few miles from the Bradshaws' home.
”I can't even tell you how many times we went up there,” Schlesiger said, adding that the area was probably searched a dozen times, including once with cadaver dogs, but they found nothing.
The idea of waiting was also to try to get more information out of Bradshaw. They hoped he would open up more to Burdette, that he would crack under pressure and decide to visit Monica Bradshaw's burial site or that he would tip his hand in some other way.
He did none of it, but he seemed to know what was coming.
One of Robin Bradshaw's co-workers at Danco Construction said he got a call from him sometime that spring -- some time after Robin Bradshaw had left his longtime employment with the company -- and that Robin Bradshaw asked him about the job he was working on. The co-worker said he asked Robin Bradshaw what was happening with his wife, and the investigation, as it had been in the newspapers for months at that point.
”He said, 'Well, I'm not in jail yet,'” the co-worker recalled.
On June 12, 2009, Burdette and Robin Bradshaw pulled in to the driveway of their McKinleyville home and Robin Bradshaw must have realized his world was about to end. Investigators rushed into the garage before he could close it. He was arrested without incident and charged with murder.
Even today, Schlesiger believes he built a strong murder case against Robin Bradshaw. There were the confessions to Burdette and another, Robin Bradshaw's obvious lies and enough circumstantial evidence to prove that Monica Bradshaw's life ended sometime in mid-August 2008. And, in Burdette, Schlesiger felt he had a prime motive.
”Marin -- he loves her,” Schlesiger said of Robin Bradshaw, adding that the man seemed to spare no expense for his young girlfriend. “Marin says she was treated like a princess. He loved her -- there was no doubt about that. ... It all revolves around Marin.”
Schlesiger said that he felt at the time -- and still feels -- that if a plea deal were necessary in the case, it should have been for second-degree murder, no less. However, on Dec. 17, 2009, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office entered into a plea agreement with Robin Bradshaw under which he would plead guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of insurance fraud and serve 12 years in prison.
The deal was contingent on Robin Bradshaw leading investigators to where he'd buried his wife, on his passing a polygraph exam and on an autopsy on Monica's remains not contradicting Robin Bradshaw's story: That he bludgeoned his wife to death in the bathtub of their home only after she had attacked him, and that he hit her several times over the head and shoulders, which killed her.
At the time, District Attorney Paul Gallegos offered two main reasons for entering into the plea agreement. He said it was very important to Monica Bradshaw's family that her body be recovered, and said he believed working with Robin Bradshaw was the only way to ensure that happened. Also, Gallegos said he felt it would be very difficult to prove to 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Robin Bradshaw had not acted in self-defense or the heat of the moment. In short, Gallegos said he felt it would be very hard to prove murder, and that his office started to see a manslaughter conviction as the “reasonable best-case scenario” of taking the case to trial without a body.
This decision is a point of contention for Monica Bradshaw's sister, Caroline Sheffield.
Sheffield said that she only learned of the plea agreement after it had been offered, and had no real input into the decision to put it forward. Further, she said that recovering Monica Bradshaw's remains has always been important to the family, but never an end-all-be-all priority, never something that would trump punishing Robin for what he'd done.
”I was not pleased with the plea bargain. I have never been pleased with it. I have never accepted it,” Sheffield said, adding that she was also upset that she was then never notified that Robin Bradshaw had accepted the plea agreement nor of plans to recover Monica's body.
Schlesiger said he remembers that, early on in the investigation, he had a conversation with Sheffield in which he warned her that sometimes bodies aren't found in these types of cases.
”I remember her telling me that she'd love to have Monica back but, if it comes at the expense of (Robin's) ever getting out of jail, then no way,” Schlesiger said.
Sheffield's daughter and Monica's niece, Melissa Lawson, said that she and her mother were so upset by the deal that they eventually consulted a retired prosecutor and defense attorney about the case. She said they were told that involuntary manslaughter was likely the best they could hope for.
It was a cold, damp January morning when a team was eventually set up to go find Monica Bradshaw. In the brisk, pre-dawn air, personnel from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office gathered at a gas station on Central Avenue in McKinleyville.
District Attorney Paul Gallegos was on scene, as was Robin Bradshaw's attorney, Peter Martin.
The plan was to bring Robin Bradshaw -- still in Sheriff's Office custody -- to the Danco property to have him show investigators exactly where he'd buried his wife almost 18 months earlier. They also wanted to use the opportunity to talk to him, to expand on what he'd said during a brief polygraph examination.
Robin Bradshaw stepped out of an unmarked blue sedan looking pensive and maybe even a bit withdrawn, but he did not seem nervous. Clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, a sweatshirt and a black beanie, he spoke briefly with Martin. Robin Bradshaw then led a small group of investigators, Martin and Gallegos down the muddy dirt access road to the Danco property. About 100 yards from Fieldbrook Road he stopped, telling investigators that this was the spot.
According to investigators, Bradshaw told them about the night in mid-August 2008. He and Monica had been arguing but had taken a step back. She had taken a shower, and now he was following suit. He said, all of a sudden, his wife attacked him as he was washing off, striking him in the head with a crowbar.
He said he took the weapon from her and killed her with it. He said he then panicked, wrapped her lifeless body in the shower curtain, pulled it out the front door of their home, loaded it in a wheelbarrow and then buried it under a shallow layer of topsoil in his backyard.
According to investigators, Robin Bradshaw said he waited several days for a backhoe to “become available” at work. When it did, he said, he brought it up to the Danco property and dug a hole more than 10 feet down into the clay-like soil.
Before dawn the next morning, Robin Bradshaw said, he unearthed his wife from their backyard, loaded her in the bucket of the backhoe, covered her with dirt, and drove the backhoe roughly three miles in the morning darkness, down Central Avenue and then down Fieldbrook Road, to where he eventually dumped her in the pre-dug hole, covered her with dirt and left her.
With Robin Bradshaw's story on the table, investigators returned him to the confines of the unmarked sedan, where he sat for hours as the recovery team painstakingly worked to uncover the secret he'd buried 18 months earlier.
Under the supervision of District Attorney Investigator William Honsal and leaning on the gentle hand and expertise of Humboldt County Sheriff's evidence technical Karen Quinnel, the team slowly and methodically began the recovery effort. With a backhoe, they removed small layers of dirt, carefully sifting for evidence and probing for Monica's remains. Of utmost importance in the effort was that Monica Bradshaw's remains be excavated without damaging them to allow an autopsy to discover the cause of death.
The painstaking excavation took all day. First, the backhoe dug down to about where Monica Bradshaw's remains lay encased in a compact ball of rich brown topsoil, making the general area of her body easily discernible from the surrounding orangish clay. Then, Quinnel and DA investigators dug by hand, finding the general outline of Monica's body. Finally, once they knew the outline, the backhoe was again brought in to dig out around it, leaving it on a kind of pedestal that would allow it to be picked up in its entirety and moved to the coroner's office.
”It went perfectly,” Hislop said of the recovery effort. “It was great teamwork.”
An autopsy conducted on the remains by Dr. Mark Super confirmed that Monica Bradshaw had indeed died of blunt force trauma to the head. However, the doctor's report noted that her hyoid bone had been fractured off on both ends, an indication that Monica Bradshaw may have been strangled. However, Super said in his report that he could not state with any certainty whether the hyoid injury occurred while Monica Bradshaw was alive or at some point after she had died.
Feeling there was simply not enough evidence to contradict Robin Bradshaw's story or to pursue a murder charge, Gallegos left the plea agreement in place and Robin Bradshaw was sentenced June 29 -- a little more than a year after his arrest -- to serve 12 years in prison. Under the plea agreement, he will serve 85 percent of that time.
According to a probation office interview, Robin Bradshaw said he deserves to go to prison in order to pay his “penalty to society.”
The probation officer then asked Robin Bradshaw if he deserved to pay a “penalty to the victim.”
”Monica's at peace,” Robin Bradshaw reportedly answered.
”The circumstances surrounding this matter are disconcerting,” the probation report goes on to say. “However, what is most chilling is the defendant's limited display of remorse.”
Because attempts by the Times-Standard to interview Robin Bradshaw in jail were unsuccessful, it seems this probation interview is the closest thing the public will get to a retrospective.
”We had a hard relationship at times and a good relationship at times,” Robin Bradshaw told his probation officer. “I don't know if I worked too much. ... there was a lot of stress between us.”
Robin Bradshaw expressed remorse in the interview, saying he's “sorry it happened” and that he'd give anything to have it “turned around.” He later said that he lived in fear after the crime, but that Burdette's presence helped him forget about the victim, Monica Bradshaw, his wife of almost 35 years.
For Lawson and Sheffield, there is no forgiving Robin Bradshaw for killing Monica, for taking her out of their lives. They said they believe Robin and Monica Bradshaw had an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence specialists like to talk about the power and control wheel that outlines the symptoms of an abusive relationship. One of the most important spokes in the wheel is isolation.
”I think this control thing is a whole lot more accurate than any of us thought,” Sheffield said.
For their parts, Robin's parents, Viola and Verlin Bradshaw, still believe his story that Monica attacked him and he responded. However, both concede that their son made horrible decisions after Monica's death.
Others, including many investigators in the case, look back and think about just how close Robin Bradshaw came to getting away with it all.
Lawson, however, said she feels bound to take something positive away from this tragedy and believes she's found it. First, she said, the people of the Humboldt County community have been glowingly caring for her and her mother, something both said they did not expect and remain immensely thankful for.
Perhaps even more positive, Lawson said, the tragedy of losing her aunt has brought her family closer together. An uncle, once on the fringes of her life, much like Monica used to be, has become an integral part of her life. Tragedy, Lawson said, has brought them together.
Ironically, Lawson said, she also now better understands Monica Bradshaw. In the heart-wrenching days spent cleaning out what was left of the Bradshaws' home, and Monica's belongings, Lawson said she emerged with a new picture of her aunt and may know her better in death than she had in life.
”It really has sharpened my understanding of her,” Lawson said. “All of this tragedy has definitely brought us together, as well, and I just adore my uncle. To get to know him again has just been a blessing.”
ON THE SCENE: Staff Writer Thadeus Greenson was present during the excavation of Monica Bradshaw's remains by Humboldt County authorities. He was granted permission to observe the recovery, provided that he not publish any pictures or write about the incident until after the case was adjudicated.
Oct. 25, 1973 -- Monica and Robin Bradshaw are married in Eureka. No members of either family attend.
Around Aug. 17, 2008 -- Just months shy of their 35th wedding anniversary, Robin Bradshaw kills Monica, bludgeoning her over the head with a metal bar. He later tells authorities that Monica first attacked him, and that only then did he take the weapon and strike her with it.
Early January 2009 -- A claims adjuster for Capital Insurance Group in Ferndale notifies the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office that she believes that Robin Bradshaw has attempted to submit a fraudulent claim on his wife's auto insurance policy.
Jan. 17, 2009 -- Deputies meet with Robin Bradshaw and grow suspicious when he is sweating profusely, acting nervous and offers varying accounts as to his wife's whereabouts. Publicly, the case remains that of a missing person.
Jan. 19, 2009 -- The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office serves a search warrant on the Bradshaws' residence, seizing financial records, medications, a computer, receipts, handwritten notes and a can of Campbell's soup.
Jan. 27, 2009 -- Law enforcement serves a search warrant on Robin Bradshaw's Jeep Cherokee.
Sometime in January -- Two witnesses tell law enforcement that Robin Bradshaw has made confessions to them about killing his wife. Both say he told them that Monica Bradshaw attacked him first.
March 2009 -- The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office publicly announces that it suspects foul play in the case of Monica Bradshaw.
June 12, 2009 -- Robin Bradshaw is arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife.
June 15, 2009 -- Robin Bradshaw appears in Humboldt County Superior Court and pleads not guilty to charges of murder and insurance fraud.
Dec. 17, 2009 -- Robin Bradshaw enters into a plea agreement with the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office under which he agrees to plead guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of making a false insurance claim. The agreement is contingent on Robin Bradshaw passing a polygraph exam, leading law enforcement to Monica Bradshaw's body and a forensic pathologist's autopsy report not contradicting Robin Bradshaw's story.
Jan. 7, 2010 -- Robin Bradshaw leads law enforcement to a wooded area off of Fieldbrook Road near McKinleyville, where Monica Bradshaw's remains are unearthed from a more than 10-foot grave.
April 26, 2010 -- The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office receives Dr. Mark Super's autopsy report, which lists blunt-force trauma as Monica Bradshaw's official cause of death. However, the report notes that the victim's hyoid bone was broken in two places, which could indicate strangulation. Dr. Super states that he cannot say with any certainty whether those injuries occurred pre- or post-mortem.
June 29, 2010 -- With the District Attorney's Office having left the plea agreement in place -- stating that it does not have enough evidence to toss out the plea deal -- Robin Bradshaw is sentenced to serve 12 years in prison -- 11 for manslaughter and 1 for insurance fraud. According to the plea, Bradshaw must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 07/13/2010 01:30:21 AM PDT
◼ Robin Bradshaw sentenced to 12 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter of wife
Sheffield said the plea deal reached between Bradshaw and the District Attorney's Office in December of last year was made without ever consulting the family. Sheffield said that she is “extremely disappointed” in District Attorney Paul Gallegos.
”It's a never ending. It's like a nightmare that we can't get rid of,” Sheffield said. “We just want this to be over.”
It is indeed a never ending story. We hear this again and again and again.
◼ DA's office (Paul Gallegos) still undecided in Bradshaw case; Gallegos to talk to pathologist next week May 28, 2010
◼ Bradshaw sentencing postponed, Gallegos "weighing" decision May 5, 2010
...Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos received Super's report last week, but has yet to decide how to proceed with the case. At Tuesday's hearing, Bradshaw's attorney, Peter Martin, said Gallegos had contacted him asking that the sentencing hearing be postponed.
”He wants more time, I believe, to review the medical report and to request supporting materials from the medical examiner,” Martin said....
◼ ”It's going to be something Paul's going to have to think about.” April 27, 2010
-- Bradshaw autopsy report with Humboldt County DA; indicates blunt force trauma as cause of death
◼ Autopsy report coming in Bradshaw case; plea agreement hinges on results for McKinleyville man accused of wife's murder APRIL 24, 2010
◼ Bradshaw positively identified; full autopsy report pending more test results FEBRUARY 01, 2010
◼ Autopsy set for Sunday in Bradshaw case JANUARY 23, 2010
◼ ANOTHER PLEA DEAL - Bradshaw agreed to give location of body in plea deal JANUARY 09, 2010
Robin Stuart Bradshaw entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors last month, agreeing to disclose the location of his wife's body and plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, court records show.
◼ Authorities believe they have found the body of missing McKinleyville woman JANUARY 08, 2010
The person further told investigators, according to the affidavit, that Robin Bradshaw confessed to first burying his wife in a shallow grave in the backyard of his home, only to later dig her body up and bury it on an undeveloped Danco subdivision off of Fieldbrook Road in McKinleyville.
◼ Hearing for McKinleyville murder case continued NOVEMBER 05, 2009
◼ Bradshaw Prelim continued to Nov. 5 SEPTEMBER 30, 2009
◼ Prelim for Robin Stuart Bradshaw JULY 07, 2009
◼ Bradshaw pleads not guilty to murdering wife June 16, 2009
◼ Robin Stuart Bradshaw, arrested JUNE 16, 2009
◼ Second search warrant issued in missing woman case - and a request to seal documents January 29, 2009
◼ Monica Bradshaw: MISSING January 27, 2009