ORANGE COUNTY — Twenty-five years after she went missing from Joshua Tree National Park, Mike Bradbury continues to search for the truth of what happened to his daughter Laura Ann Bradbury. The 3 1/2-year-old disappeared from Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park during a family camping trip Oct. 18, 1984. The girl accompanied her 8-year-old brother to the portable restrooms near the campsite. He went inside one of the restrooms. She did not. When he came outside, his sister was gone.
Within a day of her disappearance, about 250 searchers along with horses, dogs and helicopters had spread out across what was then Joshua Tree National Monument, scouring the ravines and maze-like interior of the nearby Wonderland of Rocks, but Laura was never found.
Mike Bradbury accompanied a bloodhound that followed what was believed to be tracks from Laura’s flip-flops for about 2 miles before the dog lost the scent.
Three days after she vanished, the county sheriff’s department called off the wide-scale search and concentrated on the possibility that Laura had been kidnapped. People across the county reported sightings of a suspect, a man in his 50s, and his metallic-blue van, seen at Indian Cove shortly before Laura disappeared. A similar man was spotted in the Burns Canyon area a few hours after her disappearance, and investigators speculated to the press that he was taking the back road to Big Bear.
The sheriff’s department even brought in a hypnotist to try to coax out more details from campers who had seen the bearded, pot-bellied man and his van.
Like Laura, though, the man seemed to have disappeared.
In 1986, hikers found a skull believed to be hers near the west entrance to the park, five straight-line miles over rugged terrain from the Bradburys’ campsite.
That was the last break in the case, however, and it is still unclear just what happened to the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl.
Bradbury has been trying to have the skull transferred from the coroner’s facility to a mortuary since October 2009, but because the San Bernardino County coroner’s office has not issued a death certificate, he has been unable to claim his daughter’s remains.
Since Bradbury’s wife, Patty, died in 2001, he has wanted to bury both Laura and Patty together.
“In 1991, we were told her remains were ready to be transferred, but there was no death certificate then, and there is not one now,” Bradbury wrote in an e-mail last week. “Nor is there a certificate of probable cause of death.
“I have been attempting to obtain her remains since October 2009, and have been continuously been told, ‘another few months, another few months.’ It’s now been almost six months, and still no death certificate.”
Bradbury said in a telephone interview last week that he recently was shown about 40 color 35 mm slides of the skull, and was astonished to find out it is a full-sized skull, about seven inches by five inches, missing the teeth and lower jaw.
He claims investigators showed him a much different skull shortly after hikers discovered the remains.
“My wife and I were shown a smaller, three-inch skullcap in or around 1986-’87 that the sheriff’s claimed was Laura’s skull,” he said. “The two skulls are totally dissimilar; they looked nothing like each other. I wonder now, what or whose skull they showed me then. And why?”
Bradbury has a report on tests that provided inconclusive results on whether the cranium was his daughter’s.
According to the report, only one of four DNA tests performed on the skull matched DNA samples from Laura’s mother’s blood. Even hair taken from Laura’s hairbrush did not match DNA with the skull, he said.
The two partial skull bones are the only remains Bradbury is aware of that are believed to be from his daughter.
“I am very anxious to put closure to this terrible period of my life,” Bradbury said. “All I want is justice for my daughter. That’s all I care about.”
Bradbury was told March 29 by sheriff’s department officials that a death certificate would be forthcoming, following a series of administrative actions.
“It’s always something,” a resigned Bradbury said by telephone. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I’m patiently waiting.”
Bradbury’s book chronicling the disappearance and search for his daughter, “Laura Ann Bradbury (Missing) A Father’s Search,” is available at amazon.com.
To learn more about the case, visit www.laurabradhttp://burymissing.com">burymissing.com.
An “e-mail us” link on the Web site allows people to leave messages, information or possible tips about the case.