Nine years after vanishing, Tampa man declared dead
TAMPA - For Judy Williams, it seems like only yesterday that her son vanished. In fact, it has been more than nine years since Bradley Williams abruptly stopped calling his mother and became one of at least five gay men to disappear in the Tampa area between 2001 and 2003. Last week, a judge granted a petition from Judy and Danny Williams to declare their son dead. Just 31 when he seemingly dropped off the face of the earth June 7, 2001, Bradley Williams would be 41 now if he were still alive. "It was like really putting an end to his life," Judy Williams said of the brief court hearing she and her husband participated in by phone from their home in Michigan.But obtaining the death certificate was necessary. "I've got to clear these things up and get on with my life," she said. "I've had more than one person tell me to get on with my life. "It's never going to be out of my mind. I think about him all the time." It has not gotten any easier over the years. "It's like I'm numb," she said. The declaration also clears the way for the couple to receive the proceeds of a $5,000 life insurance policy, said their attorney, Laurie Ohall. Tampa police Detective Charles Massucci testified during the hearing that he and other investigators have continually searched for evidence that Williams might be alive - just recently running a credit check but finding no activity. When Williams disappeared, his savings remained in the bank. Most of the money has been consumed by bank fees, Ohall said. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Claudia Isom's ruling also allows the family to close the account. Massucci told Isom he suspects Steven Lorenzo was involved in Williams' disappearance, but the investigation has not been able to connect Lorenzo to Williams through forensic evidence. Lorenzo is serving 200 years in federal prison after being convicted of federal drug and conspiracy charges in the drugging and sexual torture of nine other men, two of whom died, Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz. According to evidence in Lorenzo's trial, including testimony from the seven men who survived the attacks, he lured gay men to his Seminole Heights home, where he slipped them the drug GHB and tortured them. Galehouse's body was never recovered, but investigators found his DNA in blood stains on the cobblestone floor of Lorenzo's garage. Lorenzo's co-defendant, Scott Schweickert, told investigators Lorenzo killed Galehouse and then dismembered him in the garage, throwing body parts in trash containers around the area. Schewickert is serving 40 years in federal prison for conspiring with Lorenzo. Galehouse's mother, Pam Williams, said she has no plans to ask a court to declare her son deceased, although December marks the seventh anniversary of his disappearance just before Christmas. "I don't have the money for a lawyer and all that stuff," said the Sarasota woman, who is not related to Judy and Danny Williams. Plus, she's waiting for Lorenzo to start talking: "I'm not going to declare anything until he comes down here and opens up about what he did to those boys." Lorenzo met most of the victims in local gay nightclubs, including the former Metropolis nightclub at Kennedy Boulevard and Himes Avenue, where Bradley Williams' car was found. Williams, a post office worker who lived in a South Tampa apartment, was seen in Metropolis the night he disappeared. But no one saw him leave, Massucci testified last week. During a search of Lorenzo's Powhatan Avenue home, investigators recovered restraints, rope, tape, photos of more than 20 men in various stages of bondage and an envelope labeled "Missing Guy Articles." The envelope contained newspaper clippings about Galehouse, Wachholtz and other men who had vanished around the country, but nothing about Williams. Evidence presented during the federal trials portrayed Lorenzo and Schweickert as kindred spirits in an underground sadomasochistic sexual subculture, preying on men, drugging them and carrying out the fantasies they discussed online - making their victims disappear forever. Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober has said for years that he is considering charging Lorenzo and Schweickert with murder. Ober has said the case has been delayed while prosecutors await guidance from the courts on an issue related to the form used to inform Schweickert of his Miranda rights before he was questioned. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the police, the Florida Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments again on the issue in December. Pam Williams is angry Ober hasn't acted. "I could just scream," she said. "I think he just doesn't want to do it because they're homophobic. I really do." Asked to respond to Williams' accusation, Ober's spokesman Mark Cox demurred. "Due to the legal issues related to the Miranda issues, we have an ethical obligation to proceed with caution," he said, declining further comment. Pam Williams said she couldn't get out of bed on Jason's birthday recently. "Now I have to go through Christmas and New Year's, and it's just a rough time for me." The suffering of the victims' families over the holidays was part of Lorenzo and Schweickert's fantasies. In one online conversation, Schweickert wrote, "Taking someone just before xmas is ideal tho." Lorenzo: "Why? Think it plays their minds more?" "Absolutely," Schweickert wrote. "Knowing the entire family is together and he will never be with them again." "Man you are sadistic," Lorenzo wrote. "I would do the same." Judy Williams said detectives have told her she will never find out what happened to her son Bradley unless Lorenzo starts talking. "I don't even think he knows if he killed more than the two guys," she said. "I don't think he's ever going to say anything." Her son "was just a soft-hearted, kind person. He would do anything for anybody." She said she goes to church every week and prays someone will find her son's remains. She asks God, "Bring him back to me."
Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837.