Parents in Delaware sex probe against doctor wonder, 'Was my child abused, too?'
Saturday, February 27, 2010
LEWES, DEL. -- Every day this week, a team of State Police detectives has arrived at a different front door in this seaside resort on the same heartbreaking mission. They bring with them a captured video image, carefully cropped to show nothing but a young face, that confirms another family's nightmare: Their child might be a victim of Earl Bradley, a popular local pediatrician who now stands accused of sexually molesting scores of young patients.
More than 100 victims have been identified from the 13 hours of video Bradley allegedly made of the assaults. And Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden this week announced a 471-count indictment against the physician. But as one of the largest sex-crime investigations in U.S. history works through more than 7,000 case files removed from Bradley's office, hundreds of other parents remain suspended in an agony of waiting.
"There are definitely more to come," said Patricia Dailey Lewis, the deputy attorney general who runs the victims' service office the state has set up a few doors from Bradley's cluttered frame house. "I had a woman call yesterday just screaming, 'I want to know right now if my daughter is on a video.' It's horrible for them, just horrible."
Winter is normally a tranquil time in Lewes, a town known to summering Washingtonians as a sleepy ferry port. But residents say the alleged betrayal of trust has shattered that calm and threatens to split the small town over questions of blame.
Lewes's off-season of anguish began two months ago when police, acting on a complaint from a young patient, arrested Bradley, 56, and searched the garishly decorated office he maintained on Route 1 near the border with Rehoboth. Amid the miniature carnival rides and elaborate toys, investigators found a network of video cameras, computer files and other evidence they said documents a history of brazen and systematic pedophilia dating back as least 11 years.
Since 1998, according to the indictment and interviews with attorneys, Bradley violated children ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years of age, many of them on multiple occasions. The charges include rape, sexual exploitation, continuous sexual abuse of a child and reckless endangerment. All but one of the victims identified so far are girls.
Bradley is being held with bail set at $2.9 million. His attorney did not return a call seeking comment.
Many of the alleged assaults reportedly occurred in the presence of parents, disguised as part of an examination under a privacy sheet. Bradley might have also used a camera concealed in a penlight or a cellphone he was known to place on the exam table, according to one couple briefed by investigators.
At other times, Bradley would take the child on a brief visit to the basement or a nearby outbuilding, ostensibly to fetch one of the post-exam toys he was famous for giving his patients.
"He took her down to the basement one time, but it was for less than two minutes," said one distraught mother whose 7-year-old daughter had been a patient of Bradley's since birth. This woman and husband, who asked not to be identified to protect their family's privacy, agreed to meet at a library to talk about the case. "He told me it was too messy down there," she said. "I waited right at the top of the stairs."
The couple said investigators have told them that several of the counts in the indictment relate to crimes against their daughter. Bradley said he was treating the child for a recurrent urinary tract infection, which they now see as a ruse.
"It was just a way for him to examine her private parts every time we took her," said the husband. "We have laid in bed until 3 o'clock in the morning to review every visit from birth to now, looking for clues."