March 28, 1980
John Bradford (53) is fatally beaten in his home
John and his wife, Priscilla Bradford (36), had had marital difficulties culminating with Priscilla filing for divorce. In her divorce suit, Priscilla alleged she had been the victim of spousal abuse during their three-and-a-half-year marriage. However, John filed a countersuit claiming he had been the victim, alleging he had been beaten, threatened, locked out of his home, and had his personal property destroyed. Along with the countersuit, John hastily wrote a new will, told employees at a car rental agency he believed someone was trying to kill him, and called his lawyer the day before his murder to say his orange juice tasted odd and “I think my wife is trying to poison me.”
On March 28, Priscilla lured John into the kitchen to look at some “beautiful steaks,” at which point he was ambushed by Priscilla and two other women: Joyce Cummings, 18, and Janice Gould, 34. John owned an optical business and employed both Cummings and Gould. The women struck John with various objects including a frying pan, apothecary jars, a wooden stool, and a cast iron bottle capper. John was struck with enough force by the frying pan to knock out its bottom.
After John was murdered, Priscilla called the police to report his death, claiming to have killed him in self-defense. To prove her claims, she showed cuts on her arms and her bloodied blouse. Until recently, blood testing was limited to ABO type which would have prevented any distinguishing between Priscilla’s or John’s blood as both were type A. Advancements in testing, however, meant investigators were able to prove the blood on Priscilla’s blouse belonged to John.
Priscilla, Gould, and Cummings were arrested in April, after witnesses stepped forward saying the three had been overheard planning John’s murder. The three attempted to have the witnesses killed to silence them, though their plan was stopped when a cellmate told prison officials of the conspiracy, stating Priscilla had tried to persuade the other women by saying, “We don’t have anything to lose anyway. We’re already going to the electric chair anyway.”
It was revealed in court the three women discussed ways to get rid of John, including cutting his car breaks and planting drugs in his car. One plan, poisoning his orange juice with amphetamines, was attempted but failed when John noticed the odd taste. The prosecution suggested the motive behind the murder was financial, with the hopes of gaining John’s optometrist business. This was substantiated by an inmate who heard Cummings say, “All we wanted is [sic] an all-female lab. The only reason we did it was for Bradford’s money. His money was in the lab, in the doctor’s office, and in his home.”
Priscilla originally entered a plea of not guilty, though she later changed it to guilty to avoid a possible death sentence and to prevent her 14-year-old daughter from needing to testify. She entered a 40-page confession which was officially sealed after her guilty plea was accepted. Priscilla was given a life sentence for John’s murder, plus an additional two 30-year sentences for conspiring and soliciting to have a murder witness killed, to be run concurrent with her life sentence. She died in prison on July 20, 2007. Cummings and Gould were each given similar sentences to Priscilla; Gould was paroled in 2011 while Cummings is currently incarcerated.
Florida Department of Corrections. Janice Gould. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/offenderSearch/detail.aspx?Page=Detail&DCNumber=150529&TypeSearch=AO
Florida Department of Corrections. Joyce Cummings. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/offenderSearch/detail.aspx?Page=Detail&DCNumber=150530&TypeSearch=AI
Florida Department of Corrections. Priscilla Bradford. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/offenderSearch/detail.aspx?Page=Detail&DCNumber=150523&TypeSearch=IR
Malone, Patrick. “New tests on blood aid police.” Tallahassee Democrat. November 19, 1980
“Widow changes plea to guilty in skillet murder.” Fort Myers News-Press. August 5, 1980
“Wife ‘guilty’ in skillet slaying.” Sentinel Star [Orlando, Florida]. August 5, 1980
Larson, Peter. “Trial in skillet murder case begins tomorrow.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester, New York]. July 14, 1980
“Women face charges they beat doctor to death with a skillet.” The Sun [San Bernardino, California]. July 14, 1980 (image source)
“Four Arrested in Beating Death of Florida Doctor.” The Sun [Flagstaff, Arizona]. April 13, 1980