COD: Head trauma
Date found: December 18, 1981
Location found: St. Johns, NL
Date last seen: December 14, 1981
Location last seen: St. Johns, NL
Sorrow is nothing new to Newfoundlanders. Their history is marked with tragedies, mostly related to the sea. But when 14-year old Dana Bradley was murdered, it left the province reeling.
Even though it happened more than 20 years ago, the residents of St. John's are still haunted by what happened to one of their children.
"She was a bright child and a very social child," says Jeff Levitz, Dana's stepfather.
It's every parent's worst nightmare and the night of December 14, 1981 is still painfully vivid for Dana's family.
Dana had left her friend's place and headed out into the chilly St. John's night for her mother's birthday party and then disappeared.
She told her friends she was taking the bus home. The bus stop was only minutes away on a busy street.
Harry Smeaton and his brother were taking a break from selling Christmas trees when they noticed Dana hitchhiking. They saw a car pull up and the driver offered her a ride.
"We were actually only 25-30 feet away from where she got aboard. She got in and they drove off. We did comment on a little girl like this, hitchhiking, getting aboard with a stranger and never thought no more of it than that."
Little did they know, it would be the last time anyone would see young Dana Bradley alive.
Hours passed and Dana's parents started to sense that this was more than just a teenager's tardiness. They sensed something horrible must have happened to their little girl.
The police did file a report for the Bradleys, but they said that little could be done that night. But as the hours grew into days, Dana's parents knew that their daughter had somehow been taken.
"There was no thought that she might end up not living through the ordeal," says Levitz.
All they could do was hope and pray her abductor would show some mercy. But their prayers went unanswered.
On December 18, 1981, four days after Dana went missing, everyone's worst fears were confirmed. In a remote wooded area, just outside of St. John's, police discovered her body.
There was very little useful DNA evidence for investigators to collect at the crime scene. An autopsy would later reveal that she died from numerous blows to the head.
But when the police first arrived, they did notice something very unusual.
Dana had been laid out carefully, dressed in her school clothes with her schoolbooks tucked neatly under one arm. This led Jack Lavers, the RCMP's chief investigator of the day to a very important clue about the killer.
"It would appear that there was respect for the body... I felt that there was an element of remorse," says Lavers, who is now a lawyer in St. John's. .
Suspecting that the killer was in some way remorseful, the police appealed to him through the media and the public.
The murderer didn't come forward but Harry Smeaton did. He and his brother described the vehicle they saw Dana ride away in and, even more importantly, they gave police a good enough description of the driver for a police sketch.
Other witnesses also came forward, claiming they'd seen a man near the clearing where Dana's body had been found.
"All of us were very confident that it would be solved," says Lavers.
While waiting for some sense of resolution, Dana's family was slowly trying to come to terms with their loss and overwhelming grief.
"After the murder, you'd just be driving along and you'd start to cry for no reason," says Levitz.
As time passed, the investigation into her death grew larger. It became not only the biggest murder investigation in Newfoundland history, but also one of the biggest in Canadian history at the time.
"We probably ended up with 250 prime suspects," says Lavers.
Thousands of people had been interviewed, countless leads pursued. But finally in 1986, there was a glimmer of hope. Lavers received an anonymous note pinning the murder on an ex-con named David Somerton.
"I started telling them where the car was and then I'm telling them where the murder weapon was," says Somerton.
The police felt they had a pretty strong case. Somerton was after all, a convicted criminal with a violent past. Investigators had another reason to be optimistic.
"There is a substantial resemblance between the way David Somerton looked in 1981, shortly after he came back here from doing time in New Brunswick for armed robbery, and the way he looked in '86," says Lavers.
But most importantly, just before he was arrested, Somerton confessed to being Dana's killer. This time, the Mounties believed they had their man.
"His description of how he said he did this was consistent with certain things that we knew," says Lavers.
With Somerton in custody, the police began searching for the two key pieces of evidence to confirm his confession. Somerton had told the investigators he buried the murder weapon at the same place he left the body.
Police had already searched the area, but this time the site was completely cleared of all trees and brush and dug up. However, nothing was found.
Their next hope was at the local dump, where Somerton claimed he left his car. In all, nearly one million dollars were spent digging up and searching those two sites but again nothing surfaced.
"When we couldn't recover the physical evidence, then we had nothing to back up the confession," says Lavers.
To make matter worse, Somerton had recanted. He denied any involvement with Dana's murder. The police didn't have the evidence to hold him any longer.
"We didn't want to go to trial and have him tried and acquitted of murder if subsequent scientific investigations or other investigations were going to be forthcoming down the road that would lead to a better prosecution," says Lavers.
While the police were forced to stay the murder charge in 1986 against him, Somerton was charged with public mischief and sentenced to two years in jail for misleading the RCMP.
After being released Somerton returned to St. John's and in a city that size Dana's parents couldn't help but run into him.
"You'd see him around the odd time. And how do you deal with that?" says Levitz.
Somerton agreed to speak with W-FIVE to give his account of what happened.
"After being there for 18 hours and I knew that I was flipping out on them and on myself because I was in a suicidal state in that room... I was doing anything to get them off my back to make it out of that room... Including confessing, I've been regretting it ever since."
He says that around the time of his confession, he was on heavy medication.
For his part, Somerton hasn't stayed out of trouble. In 1996, he was convicted of indecent assault involving a teenaged girl. Three years later, he pled guilty to sexually assaulting a minor in a separate incident.
But while the case has never been solved, police haven't stopped looking for the murderer. They say they still have a very strong handful of suspects.
A new generation of police investigators has taken over the responsibility of bringing Dana Bradley's killer to justice. For the past seven years, Constable Chris MacNaughton has been the lead investigator in the murder of Dana Bradley.
She has realized that the people of Newfoundland are trusting her to do what no one else had been able to do before, to find Dana's killer.
"The public will always be on our coattails, tugging us on, reminding us through phone calls... That has not let up in 21 years."
As for Dana's family, ultimately they too want to know. But the day the killer is caught is a day they both hope for and dread.
"It's not going to resolve anything. It's not going to bring Dana back. It's not going to make us feel any better or anything. In fact, it'll make us feel a lot worse most likely. But I would still hate to see somebody get away with it," says Levitz.