CHICAGO — Family, friends and community members gathered at a South Side park this week to pray for two sisters who have been missing for 10 years.
It was in July 2001 that Tionda and Diamond Bradley vanished from their apartment in the 3500 block of Lake Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. Since that time there have been a number of unsubstantiated explanations for the girls' disappearance, including a once-popular theory that they were taken overseas by one of the girls' biological father.
The Bradley case remains the largest-scale search ever conducted by the Chicago Police Department. Despite the worldwide media attention received by the case — it has been profiled on “America’s Most Wanted” and “Nancy Grace” — the investigation remains open, and authorities say they have no new leads. In marked contrast from previous years, no members of the CPD attended this year's prayer vigil.
“The police did question one of the fathers and cleared him,” said James J. Miller of Investigative Services Agency, a private investigation firm that has been working the case pro bono since the start. “We also have looked intensely at the Morocco theory in great detail. We were working with Moroccan authorities and INTERPOL, but that turned up no results.”
Over the last decade, questions have also been raised about the girls' mother, Tracy Bradley. At one point during the investigation she was arrested for disorderly conduct, and has reportedly refused to cooperate with investigators. When Grace came to Chicago five years ago to profile the case, Bradley sent a representative instead of appearing herself; she has also declined to answer direct questions from the media during press conferences, choosing instead to make brief, prepared statements.
Shelia Bradley-Smith, the girls’ aunt, has served as spokesperson for the family. Angered and emotional that her nieces have been missing for 10 years, she lashed out at those responsible for their disappearance and vowed to track them down. “I think it’s a damn shame that the original investigator on this case, Detective Farley, has since passed and we still have no answers,” she said. “That just shows how long it’s been. I know someone knows something. Please come forward with the information. And for the people who took them, we will find you.”
Bradley last saw her daughters at 6 a.m. on July 6, 2001, as she kissed each goodbye before leaving for work. When she returned at 11 a.m., the girls were gone and a note in Tionda's handwriting said they were going to the store and to play at a nearby school. Bradley searched for her girls all day, unsuccessfully; by nightfall, she called police for help.
In the years that have followed, police have searched the metropolitan area by air, on foot and along the shores of the lakefront by boat. Thousands of citizens have volunteered to look on their own, and the case remains the highest-profile unsolved mystery in the city’s history.
Bradley-Smith still believes a major clue in the case is a voicemail that was left on her sister’s phone at 8:30 a.m. on the day the girls disappeared. On the voicemail, Diamond asked her mother for permission to open the door for a man named “George.” George is the name of Diamond’s father and also the name of a neighbor in the building who sometimes babysat the girls.
“I want the police to look into this more,” Bradley-Smith said, overcome with emotion.
There is a $30,000 reward for information that leads to finding the missing sisters. Anyone with information is asked to call the Chicago Police Cold Case Unit at (312) 746-9690. There are also several web pages devoted to the case.