A group of children were playing in the woods, near an anthill, when they discovered the living body of a girl. It was Jennifer Schuett, eight years old, kidnapped, raped and strangled twelve hours earlier for a sexual predatorwho had abandoned her and left her for dead.
The quick action of the doctors helped the little girl to survive and report what happened, despite her deep cut in her throat. She did so by writing her dramatic experience in a paper where she also provided precise details of her abductor. However, almost twenty years passed before Investigators hunted down her assailant. The advanced DNA techniques they ultimately ratted out Dennis Earl Bradford, an ex-convict sex offender and father of two.
the dramatic night
Our protagonist was born on September 28, 1969 in Harris County (Texas) and, until 1991, any biographical or family information regarding Dennis Earl Bradford is unknown. The only thing we know is that, six months after the brutal attack on Jennifer Schuett, the young man met his first wife, Lisa, with whom he married and had two children.
Therefore, this urgency to form his own family occurred very shortly after the attempted murder of little Jennifer, barely eight years old, whom he kidnapped from her room in the early hours of August 9, 1990, in Dickinson.
During her childhood, Jennifer was always afraid of the dark, she did not like to sleep alone, so she sought comfort in her mother, with whom she spent every night. However, that August 9, Ellen asked her daughter to come back to her room because she had to get up very early the next morning.
Well into the morning, a stranger slipped through the window and assaulted the girl, covered her and her nose with his hand so she wouldn’t scream, and told her he was an undercover policeman named Dennis. Jennifer was terrified. Then he put her in her car and drove to the parking lot of Jennifer’s school.
“‘Everything is going to be fine,'” he told her to calm her down. She even promised that she would return to her mother by sunrise, but Jennifer knew something was wrong, especially when the fake cop put the vehicle in gear and headed into a forest outside of town.
Upon arrival, Dennis held a knife to her throat and whispered in her ear, “Am I scaring you, girl? Am I scaring you?” He then sexually assaulted her little girl, then suffocated her with her own hands. “She strangled Me as hard as she could. And then she tried to break my neck,” the victim explained in an interview years later.
Jennifer passed out from lack of oxygen, and then Dennis slit her throat from ear to ear. Immediately afterwards and believing that she was already dead, she abandoned her body on an anthill. But Jennifer was still alive: “I heard him walk away from her, and I heard her car door slam shut and she walked away.”
The little girl tried to call for help, but she couldn’t. The wound on her neck prevented her from screaming, so she decided to cover the wound with her hand. She “she was 8 years old. They left me to die in a field,” said Jennifer, who was bleeding to death at times.
The next morning, Ellen went to wake up Jennifer and, not finding her and seeing the open window of the room, she realized that her daughter had been kidnapped. The woman immediately called the police and the search protocol began.
Meanwhile, Jennifer’s still-living body was located by children and she was rushed to hospital. Her condition was very serious, but as the days went by, the little girl was able to describe the dramatic event in detail.
He did so by writing key details on a piece of paper to find the whereabouts of the aggressor: his first name, the excuse he gave him to kidnap her, the vehicle he was in and the dents it had, how much beer he drank and the brand of cigarettes he smoked.
“He says he was an undercover cop/big gun” or “he said I don’t have my gun or badge right now,” can be read in Jennifer’s handwriting. In addition, the girl also gave a physical description of Dennis, whom she saw as “greasy” and with “a scar on his face.”
The details were so precise that the police cartoonist’s portrait was practically nailed to the mugshot of the sexual predator. However, investigators were unable to find any suspects and the case went cold.
DNA, the key
Six months after this ominous assault, Dennis started a new life with Lisa. But the shadow of what happened took its toll on his character, as it turned out, and, for the next few years, the young man took to drinking and began to behave in an unpredictable way. He was never violent with Lisa or her children, but there was something about him that didn’t fit. So the wife filed for divorce.
In 1996, Dennis committed a second sexual assault, six years after the attack on Jennifer. On this occasion, the rapist kidnapped a woman at knifepoint, whom he had previously met in a bar in Hot Springs (Arkansas), dragged her into the woods, and raped her there. After threatening to kill her, he finally set her free from her. Hours later he was arrested.
The court found Dennis guilty of the crime of kidnapping and he was sentenced to twelve years in prison, but he was never sentenced on a rape charge. Even so, during the investigation of the case, the police took his DNA and entered it into the national database.
In 2000, the offender was paroled, moved to Little Rock, married a second time, and began working as a welder in a shop. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who was 18 years old at the time, tried to rebuild her life without losing hope that one day she would find her aggressor.
The fortunes changed in 2008 when a new detective, Tim Cromie, took over the cold case of Jennifer Schuett. First, he had the DNA found on the girl’s clothes analyzed: the latest technological advances allowed for better results than twenty years ago.
Once examined, they were compared with the national database. This whole process took many months until, in October 2009, there was a coincidence. The DNA matched Dennis Earl Bradford, booked and convicted of kidnapping a woman and, at the time, free.
Cromie and his team reviewed Jennifer’s notes and confirmed that the name the girl had written was Dennis, so they asked traffic for a photograph of the aforementioned. As soon as the image arrived, everyone was amazed: it was a carbon copy of the sketch drawn thanks to Jennifer’s description. She was arrested.
She is alive?
During questioning, Dennis explained to the officers, “Not a day goes by that I don’t see that girl. She was innocent. And I was a sick, deranged, beaten, little fucking thug.” After recounting the assault and calling himself a “wild animal”, the detainee assured that he never knew why he cut his neck. He just did it.
And when the cops informed him that the girl he thought was dead was actually still alive, Dennis just broke down in tears. “Thanks god. She Is she alive she? You have no idea how much I’ve prayed for it,” he said. Bradford was charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted capital murder.
For her part, Jennifer gave a press conference with the investigators of the case and, between tears, released a: “I am not a victim, but a winner. This is a big day for me. And I want to see this to the end. The rest will come to light during the trial.”
But that hope of seeing how her rapist faced justice was diluted on May 10, 2010: Dennis had hanged himself in his cell. During the previous months, Jennifer had conscientiously prepared her statement so as not to forget any details, and she even wrote a few words addressed to the accused. But after her suicide, she only had to go to her grave.
Once there, Jennifer read aloud: “Dennis Bradford. I waited 19 years, two months and three days to learn your last name and for you to be caught… You chose the wrong 8 year old, 45 pound girl to try to murder her because for 19 years I have thought of you every day and helped search for you … In my heart, I knew you were out there, alive, or in prison, or living a lie. And now, I know that listening to my heart all these years and never giving up on finding you. He was right”.
After closing this chapter of her life, Jennifer started her own family with her husband Jonathan and their two children. She had finally fulfilled her two main goals since that traumatic event: to find the man who nearly killed her and to use her voice to tell her story to as many people as possible in the hope that other victims of violent crimes also report.
“I hope that my case,” says Jennifer Schuett, “will serve as a reminder to all victims of violent crime to never give up hope in seeking justice, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is. With determination and using your voice to speak, you are capable of anything.”
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