Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘An Evil and Horrible Place’: The Baffling Death of a Drifter From Texas Who Sought Solace in the Emerald Triangle

Thaddeus “Tad” Keegan Bradley playing guitar, one of his passions [Pictures from his mother]

Only a few months before he was found dead along Highway 101 in a remote area of Mendocino County, Tad Bradley left a message on his father’s phone, “Hey, Dad, if you’re hearing this, I probably died. Don’t ever come out to Northern California, the Pacific Northwest. It is an evil and horrible place.”

When Thaddeus “Tad” Keegan Bradley was 18 years old, he was ready to get out of Texas and head to California to find himself. Just days after his birthday on June 21, 2012, he hit the road bound for the Pacific. He found himself immersed in the Emerald Triangle street kid culture bouncing between Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties.

Always a spiritual seeker, Bradley explored himself, and life’s purpose, and became acquainted with Eastern faiths. Eventually, he was drawn to the Hare Krishna movement.

Life on the road was hard and took its toll. Bradley fell into addiction and mental illness. Yet, every year he would return home to visit his mother Bradley Bagwell in the winter and spend time with his family

The road would call again and Bradley would return to the West Coast. This cycle went on for nine years. He kept in regular contact with his mother, giving her updates on his journey, sometimes with phone calls or a simple email or Facebook message he sent from public libraries.

In July 2022, his mother (whose legal name is Teri Bradly but asked we use her professional name of Bradley Bagwell in our reporting). She contacted the Arcata Police Department, the last city she knew him to be residing in, and reported him missing on July 26, 2022.

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This missing person report would provide law enforcement the link to tie a John Doe found alongside Highway 101 in Northern Mendocino County to the young Texan.

Now, Bradley Bagwell knows her son passed away along Highway 101. At first, she was told by law enforcement he had succumbed to the drug-infused lifestyle he had been living. Weeks later, investigators revealed his skeleton exhibited signs that he experienced physical trauma. 

At this time, law enforcement is not sure whether Tad died due to a criminal act of some kind. Though investigators were able to identify his remains, his family still seeks closure waiting to understand how their loved one lost their life.

On February 22, 2022, we published an article on a John Doe cataloged in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS). 

According to NAMUS, human remains were located by a man walking his dog near the intersection of Highway 101 and State Route 162 on September 21st, 2021. 

The body was found a stone’s throw away from a well-traveled pull-off known as the Moss Cove Rest Area down a roadside embankment near a culvert running under the 101. Investigators believed the deceased to be a twenty-something male with long brown hair. 

The remains were notable due to the fact the decedent’s dress included some articles of women’s clothing and a book by Alister Crowly, a known occultist author and figure, was found near the remains. 

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office investigators submitted a DNA sample to the California Department of Justice’s Jan Bashinski Laboratory and got a hit.

On April 18, 2023, MCSO announced the remains were none other than 27-year-old Thaddeus Keegan Bradley, the young man from San Antonio, Texas whose mother had reported him missing almost a year earlier.

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Tad Bradley’s movements were typical of a Northern California drifter traveling to and fro unpredictably.

The last time his mother heard his voice was in February 2021. She was concerned after not hearing from Tad for an extended period of time and reached out to the Arcata Police Department to keep their eyes open and conduct a welfare check if they came across him.

Arcata Police tracked him down and brought him into their station to call his mother.

Bagwell told us her son’s energy was manic. He spoke fast and his sentences trailed off. She could tell the road and the drugs were catching up with him.

This phone call would be the last time Bagwell heard her son’s voice. She remember he repeated, “I love you, Mom” dozens of times. He promised to call her the next day, which sadly he never did.

Looking back on the last phone call she had with her son, Bagwell said, “it was like he knew it would be our last conversation.” 

Though Tad’s movements were unknown to his mother after the February phone call, he had multiple verified contacts with several Northern California law enforcement agencies. 

MCSO Captain Greg Van Patten provided a timeline of these run-ins he compiled from Arcata Police’s missing person report and by reviewing MCSO’s records.

  • In April 2021- Tad was booked into the Humboldt County Jail for reasons unknown. 
  • June 25, 2021-Fortuna Police Department officers contacted Tad walking northbound on Highway 101 at the Fern Bridge. 
  • June 28, 2021- Tad was contacted in Weaverville by Trinity County Sheriff’s Office deputies, 120 miles east of where he had been three days previous.
  • July 18, 2021- Tad made it to Willits, a 240-mile journey from Weaverville if he took Highway 101.
  • July 25, 2021-One week after being contacted in Willits, MCSO deputies contacted him in Ukiah.
  • July 26, 2021- Deputies contacted him in the coastal town of Mendocino, the last known contact with him.
  • September 21, 2021- Tad’s remains were found along Highway 101.

Exactly one year after MCSO deputies interacted with Tad in Mendocino, his mother called Arcata Police Department to report her son missing 

While Bagwell waited for any news of her son, regional law enforcement kept their eyes open for the missing man unaware that his remains were in the custody of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. It would take a DNA breakthrough to finally connect the dots.

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A photograph of 27-year-old Thaddeus “Tad” Keegan Bradley taken on July 26, 2021, just months before his decomposed body was found dead north of Willits [Image from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office]

Tad’s mother told us she was contacted by a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant on April 11, 2023. He relayed to Bagwell that her son had died nearly two years before found on Highway 101 in a makeshift encampment. She learned investigators attributed his death to his drug abuse.

The interaction with the lieutenant troubled Bagwell. As the mother processed the death of her son, she told us the lieutenant was adamant Tad had fallen victim to the drug lifestyle.

Bagwell knows her son’s addiction and mental illness were intensifying in the months before he disappeared. She told us that he had been hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia during his travels.

Knowing her son’s struggles with addiction, she still felt MCSO the lieutenant prioritized closing the case over considering other possibilities.

Days after stating their belief her son died of a drug overdose, MCSO backtracked on its earlier findings. On April 27, 2023, MCSO issued a retraction of their initial cause of death assessment. Though toxicology results did identify methamphetamine in Bradley’s system, an anthropological examination of his skeleton showed signs of “perimortem injuries” suggesting some sort of significant injury at or near the time of his death. 

In mid-May 2023, Tad’s father came to the Mendocino County Coroner’s Office to collect his son’s remains. His mother sent us a photograph of her son’s skull his father took when examining the skeleton. One image shows Tad’s nasal bone caved in and two front teeth missing.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Captain Greg Van Patten told us that due to the ongoing status of the investigation, he could not go into detail about the perimortem injuries. He did say, “There could be multiple possible scenarios which could have caused them.” 

Captain Van Patten went on to say Bradley’s death “could or could not be directly connected to a criminal act, that is unknown at this time.”

Bradley was a known traveler and hitchhiker walking along roadways for long stretches. One possibility is an unknown vehicle struck him, causing the injuries that resulted in skeletal trauma, throwing him off the roadway, where he would later pass away.

Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall acknowledged that it is “never easy when a family loses a child.” In this particular case, Sheriff Kendall said, “We thought we had the facts, but we were premature in throwing it out there.” Sheriff Kendall acknowledged the error and said the new information, “Let us get a little closer to what happened.”

The families of Mendocino County’s missing and murdered people can lose faith in law enforcement as their loved one’s cases grow cold. Unfortunately, many cases aren’t easy to solve. Sheriff Kendall understands the impatience of families facing years of little or no answers but promised that his department will keep working to find justice.  He invited the family of Mendocino County missing and murdered people to reach out to his investigators anytime and promised they would be the first to hear if there are any breaks in the case. 

The last photograph Tad would take with his mother before he died in Mendocino County [Picture providded by his mother]

It’s been a little over a month since Bradley Bagwell learned of her son’s fate. She told us that everyone keeps concentrating on his choice of dress and the book found near his body instead of the life her son had lived. Bagwell told us Tad struggled with his sense of self, whether it be his gender, his spirituality, or his place on Earth. 

Tad’s mom said her boy was trying to find himself in the wilds of Northern California. He loved Arcata, he played guitar. She called him a “good person with a kind soul.”  Emerald Triangle travelers who knew Tad actually reached out to his mother offering memories of their friendship with him and his good nature.

Bagwell takes solace in the possibility her son passed away quickly after being struck by a vehicle. She knows that he “wouldn’t have any regrets” but losing him continues to “hurt my heart and soul.”

When Tad left home,  his mom said, “he was looking for something. I hope he found it.” His family has placed some of Tad’s ashes in the redwood forest where their loved one found solace.

Thaddeus Keegan Bradley’s death is still under active investigation. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office investigators are asking for information about his movements or location on or after July 26, 2021. 

He stood approximately 6′ 2″ and weighed approximately 175 pounds. His hair was brown, straight, and almost reached his shoulders. His mother said his eyes had shades of hazel and green. He was found wearing a dark-colored “Colorado Clothing” brand jacket, a black dress, a short sleeve shirt, black leggings, and denim jeans.

If you know anything that can assist investigators, contact the Sheriff’s Office Tip-Line by calling 707-234-2100 or the WeTip anonymous crime reporting hotline at (800) 782-7463.

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  1. The homeless in Mendocino County are brutalized by police every day. Mendocino County uses them to keep its court rooms and jail full at tax payers expense. Sit in any court room and see them file through while 5 to 10 paid county/state employees draw full wages watching this comedy. Wake up after dark with a flashlight in your eyes as police tell you you cannot sleep here. The homeless wander the streets after dark and commit crimes because they have zero alternitives. They light fires because they have nothing to lose. How many arsons will it take before we learn our brutal treatment is a failed experiment.

    • Perhaps if our governments -Federal, State and local actually spent taxpayer money on the people rather than the “Defense” Department and tax breaks for the wealthy, we could offer health care and residential assistance to our citizens. However, our nation has decided to go down a different road – one of war and the abandonment of human welfare. I think that we all know that such a decision will only end in tragedy for us all.
      Ask your legislators if they voted for war spending or the well being of our citizens.

    • The government , the police , drug businesses are all corrupt and run and cursed by the devil this world is evil , the people in it are evil , God is our only saviour to cast all this hell away !!

  2. I feel bad for his mother. They’re the only ones who will never stop loving us “unconditionally”… Also he was right. Mendocino county can be very peaceful & beautiful for your soul, but at the same time evil lurks in this fucken shit hole, we’re in the devils mouth.. I know. I was born here. You will either grow up to become someone successful earning a good living, or never make it out of poverty w/ the gangs & drug infested streets 🙁

  3. How many hundreds of these do you think police departments have to work year after year? It’s only going to get worse as our chemical based society grows with its feet firmly planted in air.

  4. I am sad for the family, as a person who has pick up many of those wandering people. I see so much pain in their eyes as they search for a place to belong. A kind word can go a long way. May this mothers heart find peace. Sad for her loss.

  5. It does seem like Mendocino County is a dangerous place. Why does his booking photo show him with cuts all over his face? Has anyone bothered to ask? Did the police/sheriff ask how he got them? Or did they already know (police brutality or at the jail?). It is not unheard of, as we all know, Mendo County or the city of Ukiah had to pay off a lawsuit against the police for severely beating up a guy in his own home. Also another lawsuit for physically assaulting a mentally ill man in Ukiah, not to mention cases of rape and physical assault against women committed by law officers.
    Why is Mendo a dangerous place? Look at our history, many years of ripping off cannabis growers, harassing dispensary owners, and criminal activity by officers that was never called in.
    There is an underbelly to our culture, with lots of funding for questionable projects and little oversight over who is appointed/voted in to watch over our county, cities and finances, or even over who is to carry out the responsibilities of the plum jobs this funding facilitates.
    This event is tragic and yet sickening at the same time. Victimization of a mentally ill homeless guy who should have been helped.

  6. My heart breaks for whatever this young man went through. I know the heartache his mother and father feel, as I’ve lost my son due to drugs. As much as we love our children, the drugs are killing so many of them. Not only that, we need more places to help those with substance abuse addictions and those who have mental issues from drug usage. We need affordable health care for them. Anybody who hurts them intentionally are monsters and have obviously never had love for their children, because if they did, they wouldn’t hurt another person’s child. Thaddeus had a mother he dearly loved and who loved him back, he was a human being and I’m sure he was kind to those he knew and met throughout his journey. May he rest in peace.

    • People should not have to feel afraid to have children, for the worry that they will be victimized by drugs, thrown on the heap of people abandoned by the “powers that be” and end up in dire circumstances. Here in Mendo we had the opportunity to create an ideal place to raise kids but instead it became…this. We need to look at how we got here and how to get back to better options for our kids and grandkids. Very sorry for your loss, and all others who have suffered or will experience this worst of terrible experiences. We should all take heed, even if it is too terrible to look at or consider happening to our loved one(s). Only then will we get incensed enough to do something about it.


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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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