MELBOURNE, Fla. – Liz Bradshaw was convinced the man who raped her as a child in 1990 had died.
For more than three decades, Bradshaw said she believed the family acquaintance had committed suicide a few months after sneaking into the 11-year-old’s bedroom and sexually battering her.
“My mom told me that my rapist killed himself,” said Bradshaw. “I had no reason not to believe her.”
That’s why Bradshaw was so horrified last fall when she said she came face-to-face with her attacker inside a Brevard County gas station.
“I hadn’t seen him in over 30 years, and I knew who he was. My whole body just kind of froze,” said Bradshaw. “I was crying, and I kept trying to tell myself he was dead.”
Bradshaw, who is now in her 40s, raced home and began researching the man on the internet.
Besides confirming her alleged rapist is very much alive and still residing in Brevard County, Bradshaw discovered he had never been arrested or prosecuted for the crime.
“I was 11. He was in his 20s,” said Bradshaw. “That is capital sexual battery. There’s no statute of limitations. And it carries a minimum mandatory life sentence.”
But when Bradshaw pressed law enforcement to resume their investigation into the decades-old child rape case, she said police told her all physical evidence collected from the crime scene back in 1990 is now gone, including a sexual assault evidence “rape kit.”
“[Police said] it was ‘purged without record’,” Bradshaw told News 6. “It means that, for reasons that nobody can explain to me, an officer of the Melbourne Police Department destroyed evidence in the active rape case of an 11-year-old child.”
Without that physical evidence, which also included Bradshaw’s semen-covered panties and nightgown, investigators are unable to confirm the rapist’s identity using modern DNA technology.
“I empathize with Mrs. Bradshaw that the case is not able to be prosecuted,” Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said in a written statement. “I have met with Mrs. Bradshaw to listen to her concerns, and I understand her frustration.”
Gillespie has ordered an “audit” of his agency’s case in an attempt to locate evidence or provide additional details about what occurred during the 1990 sexual battery investigation.
“Nobody should experience this and then find out that the rapist got away with it,” said Bradshaw.
11-year-old told police she was raped by a family acquaintance
Bradshaw was 11 years old in November 1990 when she said she was sexually battered by a man related to her mother’s then-boyfriend, who would occasionally get drunk and sleep over at the family’s Melbourne home.
News 6 is not identifying the man since he has not been charged with the crime, but police records confirm Bradshaw told officers his name the night of the rape.
Bradshaw said she was awakened by the man lying on top of her in her bed. After raping her, Bradshaw said the man left their house and drove away.
“I sat in my room and cried for I don’t know how many minutes,” said Bradshaw. “At first my mom didn’t believe me because I didn’t know the right words. I was 11. So I told her in 11-year-old words what had happened.”
Bradshaw’s mother called the Melbourne Police Department around 2 a.m. and officers were dispatched to the family’s home, records show.
“I had to change clothes,” said Bradshaw. “I had to go to the hospital, and they did a rape kit.”
According to Bradshaw, that was the last time she remembers speaking with police about the rape.
Roughly a year later — Bradshaw does not recall exactly when — Bradshaw learned from her mother that her attacker was dead.
“She told me that the man who raped me had killed himself,” said Bradshaw. “She said she was told this by an officer, but she doesn’t recall who.”
Bradshaw said the family’s lack of further contact with law enforcement or prosecutors bolstered her belief that the suspected rapist had committed suicide.
“I never went to court about the rape. I never had to deal with the police officers,” said Bradshaw. “So we never had any reason to question that he was dead.”
Victim encounters suspected rapist at a gas station 32 years later
Bradshaw and her grandson were returning home from the Brevard Zoo in October 2022 when they stopped at a nearby Wawa gas station for snacks.
While inside the convenience store, Bradshaw said she recognized the man she said raped her in 1990.
“I came unglued. It was the absolute wildest moment of my life,” Bradshaw said. “I grabbed my grandson and I ran to the truck and I proceeded to have kind of a mental breakdown.”
Bradshaw does not think the man saw her and doubts he would have recognized her as an adult.
“I was actively trying to convince myself I was crazy because that was a better option than him being alive,” said Bradshaw.
When Bradshaw returned home, she researched online court records that revealed the man was still alive but had never been prosecuted for sexual battery.
“I called the Brevard state attorney and they verified that they had no record of my rape,” said Bradshaw. “So I called the Melbourne Police Department and did an official records request. About a week later they sent me the records of my rape.”
Police records detail sexual battery investigation
Twelve pages of records related to the sexual battery investigation provided to Bradshaw and News 6 by the Melbourne Police Department include the original incident report documenting the officers’ November 1990 visit to Bradshaw’s home.
Although the suspected rapist’s name, address, phone number and physical description appear in the police report, there is no indication he was ever questioned about the crime.
“The suspect was not located or contacted,” the 1990 police report stated.
The report noted that police collected several pieces of physical evidence in 1990 including a pair of green panties, a nightgown, and a blanket and sheets from Bradshaw’s bed.
That physical evidence, along with vaginal swabs from Bradshaw’s rape kit, was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab in Orlando, records show.
In October 1991, nearly one year after Bradshaw was raped, FDLE mailed lab results to the Melbourne Police Department.
That lab report confirmed the presence of semen in the rape kit and on Bradshaw’s clothing.
“It says right there in black and white, 11-year-old little girl covered in sperm. I could not have done that to myself,” Bradshaw told News 6. “And they did nothing.”
Melbourne Police have not yet explained why the agency declined to arrest the suspected rapist three decades ago.
“I was absolutely disgusted,” said Bradshaw. “There was absolutely no reason to not go after him the night I was raped, or at the very least the day they got the rape kit results back. None.”
After Bradshaw contacted the agency’s current administration in October 2022, a detective from the Major Crimes Division was immediately assigned to follow up on the case.
“The detective attempted to retrieve evidence, reports and records from the case,” the police chief said in a statement. “The detective also conducted additional investigative steps including interviewing the suspect, who denied involvement.”
Bradshaw confirmed she took part in a so-called “controlled” phone call during which she spoke with the suspected rapist as a detective secretly listened in on the conversation.
“He didn’t admit anything and hung up on me,” Bradshaw said.
State unable to prosecute suspected rapist due to missing evidence
Bradshaw initially hoped law enforcement might be able to extract DNA from the rape kit to confirm the suspect’s identity using technology not available when the evidence was collected in 1990.
But according to Bradshaw, police have been unable to locate the rape kit and other physical evidence, including a large blanket from the victim’s bed that was not initially tested for the presence of semen.
“It disappeared without a trace. ‘Purged without record’,” said Bradshaw. “They can tell me it shouldn’t have happened. They can tell me that’s not supposed to happen. But nobody can tell me who did it or why.”
Melbourne Police have not yet publicly discussed what their former colleagues may have done with the evidence from Bradshaw’s case over the past three decades.
“I ordered the staff inspections supervisor of the Professional Standards Unit to conduct an audit of the case, in an attempt to locate evidence and/or be able to provide additional details about what occurred with the investigation in the time frame when the incident occurred,” Gillespie said. “Until the audit is concluded, I am not able to provide further comment.”
The Melbourne Police Department presented the case to the office of State Attorney Phil Archer earlier this year, but prosecutors were unable to file criminal charges, citing multiple reasons.
“The circumstances surrounding this incident are heartbreaking, and we share the victim’s disappointment in not being able to bring this offender to trial,” said state attorney spokesperson Todd Brown. “While we strive for the desired result in every case, this isn’t always possible. Our attorneys and advocates try hard to explain the complex legal issues that produce these outcomes, but also understand the frustration and deeply personal response felt by victims and their families.”
According to Brown, every criminal complaint received by the state attorney’s office undergoes a “careful and thorough review” by experienced prosecutors to determine if they reasonably believe the alleged crimes can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
“In this instance, there are several evidentiary and legal issues for the State to overcome to reach the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard,” Brown said in a statement. “Most significant is the inability to obtain contemporary DNA analysis on the offender standards (sexual battery evidence kit) collected at the time of the offense, as those materials were purged by the investigating agency and are no longer available. As a result, there is no physical evidence to present at trial.”
Although there is no statute of limitations in Florida for sexually battering a child under the age of 12, Brown said the amount of time that has passed since police initially identified the suspect now poses an obstacle to filing criminal charges.
“Well-established constitutional due process law requires the State to move forward with a known offender within a reasonable period of time,” said the state attorney spokesperson. “In this case, the offender was known to law enforcement, remained available to be arrested, and there is no legal justification for the more than 30-year delay in presenting the case.”
“We have a good faith belief that the trial court would ultimately grant a motion for dismissal based on this constitutional challenge, legally barring us from any effort to pursue prosecution now,” Brown said.
Bradshaw believes there is no excuse for law enforcement failing to arrest the suspected rapist in the 1990s or disposing of the evidence before someone could be prosecuted.
“There’s no doubt what happened to me. And they acknowledged that,” said Bradshaw. “And they also acknowledged that they screwed up. But they won’t do anything about it.”
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: