We all know that there are good cops and there are bad cops. Today’s story is the story of a cop who actually kept a motto visible in his office in Mesquite, Texas: “We work for God.” According to Comanche Chief of Police Bruce Bradshaw, it was his faith that sustained him during his years in the Mesquite Police Department, where he investigated some of the worst crimes known to man.
Rickey and I went to school with Bruce Bradshaw. In fact, Ric and Bruce were “raised” together since the families were good friends. Then, as so often happens to high school friends, we all grew up; Bruce went off to be a cop in Mesquite, Texas…and…we lost touch with him and everything about him except for just the most basic information.
By the time 1985 rolled around, Rickey and I had buried our oldest daughter, and I was still reeling from the loss, making anything remotely pertaining to a child’s welfare prey terribly on my mind. Media stories that dealt with child abuse cases, adoption gone wrong cases, or anything of the sort, were things that Ric did his best to ban in our house because they were so upsetting to me.
On the day that the abduction of Christi Meeks made its way to Comanche, Texas, I was listening, thinking about anything and everything…except Bruce Bradshaw. It would be many years before I knew of Bruce’s involvement in the case. Of course, it wasn’t until the recent release of Steve Jackson’s Bogeyman that I began to understand just how close to the Meeks’ case Bradshaw actually was.
Today, I asked Bruce and his wife, Gail, to sit down with me and walk me back through the years that had to have affected both of their lives in a tremendous way.
“Christi Meeks came to live in our house on January 19, 1985,” is the way that Gail explains how one phone call changed their lives forever. “She never left.”
The story is so big, covering so many years, until I really didn’t know how to begin my interview with the Bradshaws. What do you say to the man who spent the greatest part of his working career investigating the brutal rape and murder of one little girl? What do you say to the wife who waited at home with the couple’s two daughters as well as that other little girl who had become such a dark part of their lives?
Not knowing what else to do, I asked Bruce to start wherever he felt comfortable. That seemed to be with the memory of his long ago partner, Bob Holleman.
It was Holleman, who took the call on January 19, 1985, a call that told him that both he and Bradshaw were needed to investigate the disappearance of a little girl, five-year-old Christi Meeks. Apparently in the world of detectives and law enforcement, there are routine missing children cases and then there are those that are not. As it turned out, the Christi Meeks case was anything but routine, and Bob Holleman would never recover from the trauma he suffered investigating the case. On January 19, no one could know that, of course.
And, quite truthfully, wanting to honor the memory of his old partner was the only reason that Bradshaw agreed to talk to best selling author, Steve Jackson, something heretofore he had never been willing to do.
“When I was approached about the book, Bob, had just been dead for a few months. The Christi Meeks case helped to destroy his life and destroy his family. I wanted to tell the story for him, and I wanted his children to know that once they had a great dad who loved them very much. I knew that his demise came at least partly from this case.”
The first thing Bruce did was have Jackson read an article Holleman had written for D Magazine about the case, and then he sent him to talk to Molly, Bob’s ex-wife, who was hurt as much as anyone involved in the disappearance and murder of Christi Meeks, the case that quite literally stole the husband she had once known from her.
“Bob drifted back and forth and couldn’t quite get his life together again. He was obsessed with the Meeks case, plus it seemed that he was always the one investigating when people died right in front of him. He was so intelligent, even reading college textbooks just for fun. He always wanted to go back to school to be a doctor.
“He couldn’t deal with Christi Meeks on a personal level. You have to understand that we measured our success on these sexual assault cases by getting a confession out of the guilty parties.”
Gail Bradshaw jumped in here to add, “There was no DNA in the ’80s, no sex offender registry, no Internet, and police departments were not linked together with shared information like they are today. Plus, these guys were only in their 20s with their own babies at home when Christi disappeared. Bruce was 52 when a conviction was finally handed down.”
Bradshaw took the story back up, “You can’t imagine how many people would call us once the composite was out there. They would call in with, ‘I think I know someone who looks like that guy,’ or ‘I know that guy, and he’s a creep.’ Those calls even took us to other states, and maybe we would follow a lead way on down the road to only find that it did not lead back to Christi.”
All the way through the investigation, there was a name…David Elliott Penton.
“I went to Ft. Hood and talked to ex-wife because I knew that Penton had killed their son and then jumped bond. She was Korean and she told me a bit, saying that he had run off with a credit card that belonged to her. He had been in Dallas, rented a car, bought an airline ticket, but the dates didn’t match up with the disappearance of Christi (Mesquite) or two other little girls, Christie Proctor (Plano) and Roxann Reyes (Garland).
“No matter how hard I tried, I just could not put him in Dallas at that time. And I couldn’t put him in Oklahoma, where the Meeks’ body was found. One thing you have to understand is how much money an investigation like this costs. My administration wouldn’t justify spending the money for me to go on.”
Those words are enough to make the parent in me completely lose control and yet, money is a cold hard fact of life. By this point, lots of dollars had gone into trying to find Christi’s killer, and the case had gone cold. There were other pressing cases that needed the department’s attention. And, of course, Bradshaw himself had many other cases and many other investigations…
Year’s passed with Christi Meeks never far from either of the Bradshaw’s minds. It affected who they were and how they reared their girls. As for Holleman, he found that he could no longer investigate those kinds of cases, and he moved over into the narcotics division. However, for whatever reason, Christi Meeks and his failure to find her killer, was something that preyed on his mind, and slowly he began to sink, eventually losing everything that had once been so important to him.
And then one day in the summer of 2000, a letter landed on the desk of Fort Worth detective, Diane Teft. It was written by an Ohio prison inmate, Jeffrey Sunnycalb, a sex offender himself. And while the “rest of the story” is simply too long for me to relate in an Internet article, that letter eventually led right back to Bruce Bradshaw, who was once again on the case, trying to find justice for Christi and all of the other children harmed by the person Hallemon had called the Bogeyman, long before there came to be a book with the same title.
And then, there was only time for me to begin to wrap up my time with Bruce and Gail.
“And so today you’re retired from the Mesquite Police Department, you serve as the Chief of Police in your hometown of Comanche, and you’re far removed from Christi Meeks…” I broke off as both of the Bradshaws interrupted at the same time with an emphatic “NO!”
It was Gail who explained. “Christi Meeks never left our home. She changed our lives forever, and she is still with us today. I can remember sitting at the dinner table chatting with our girls, and looking across the table to see that Bruce was completely somewhere else. Or maybe right in the middle of something, he would suddenly verbalize a question about the case, not even realizing that he was talking out loud.
“Christi Meeks served to make us realize how precious life is and that anything can happen at any given moment because suddenly we realized that we could lose our children anytime. Because of this, we wanted to be sure they had the chance to achieve everything they wanted out of life because who knows how long that life will last?”
Bruce Bradshaw, the current Chief of Police in Comanche, Texas closed the conversation. “I want people to understand that police officers are human beings too. Behind the badge is not just the man, but also his family. Officers are husbands, dads, etc. just like everyone else, and they hurt just like everyone else. Bob Holleman lost his life because of these hurts.”Christi’s photo was taken from images on the net.