Albert Bradford: a/k/a Malik Hakim
The story of Albert Bradford, a talented and charismatic man who went to prison at the age of 17 with three life sentences for rape, transformed himself into an artist of note and a leader of men -- then committed his most heinous crime of all and beat the system.
(Ed. Note: One would think that Albert Bradford would be high up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, but it never happened – even though he owes the state of Missouri the balance of three life sentences, and is wanted for trial in a crime more shocking and brutal than the ones that earned him those life sentences. It is a strange and fascinating tale of how this man beat the system.)
On March 12, 1951, 17-year-old Albert Bradford entered the courtroom of Judge Harry F. Russell in St. Louis, Missouri. He was charged with two counts of rape and two counts of armed robbery. One of the two women raped by Bradford was white. Bradford might have expected a sentence of five, or even ten years, which at that time would be normal for a teenaged first offender.
When Judge Russell announced a sentence of life imprisonment, Bradford cried out, "Judge, have mercy on me!" while his mother and other female relatives began screaming. During the ensuing melee that broke out, with Bradford’s hysterical mother being ordered out of the courtroom, someone split the cheek of deputy constable Venable Slater.
Finally subdued, Bradford was sentenced to a second term of life imprisonment, at which point he cried out, "Oh, god!" and fainted. Bradford was still in a faint when the third life sentence was imposed.
As a 17-year-old black, Bradford normally would have had a hard time in the Missouri State Penitentiary, at that time the oldest and toughest state prison west of the Mississippi.
The prison was especially hard for black inmates – since all 800 of them were crammed into a single cellblock--A-Hall--built in 1869 and housing eight men to a cell. The cells in A-Hall were large, but eight men to a cell could, and did, create tension that led to brutal fights, rapes and murders.
Bradford had an older relative in the prison, however, and despite swooning in court he had the bearing and intelligence of a born leader, which he would soon become.
By 1957, Bradford had become part of a small group of artists operating out of the prison’s school. The art class had been founded by Samuel N. Reese, a death row inmate from St. Louis who’d been convicted of two murders and two robberies. While on death row Reese became a protégé of Father Charles Dismas Clark, the Catholic priest who founded Dismas House, and about whom the movie "The Hoodlum Priest" would eventually be made.
Father Clark secured a correspondence course in art for Reese. When Reese’s death sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment, he continued with his art and little by little an art class evolved.
Bradford was talented. The convict artists began to win awards, have exhibitions and garner a good deal of attention – with considerable backing from Jan Dickerson, art critic of the Kansas City Star, and George McCue, art critic of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In late 1959 the art class was disbanded when the warden and the education director began bickering over who should get credit for the success of the convict painters.
Reese and Bradford continued to paint, clandestinely – but Bradford also devoted a lot of energy to playing the saxophone, learning to read and speak Sanskrit, and became the prison’s leading Black Muslim.
However, Bradford was often a Muslim in name only. That faith preaches abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and does not condone indiscriminate sexual behavior. Yet Bradford did drugs, and always had a white "punk" (a passive homosexual partner).
His choice of white punks caused a lot of racial tension from time to time. In Jefferson City the races were strictly segregated, except for the workplace and the Yard. In the 1950s and 60s, St. Louis was about as racist as any city in America and the rural areas of Missouri were even worse.
In 1962 Bradford was sentenced to six months in solitary confinement for having Muslim literature in his cell – which merely elevated his prominence among the black convicts. Later the federal courts would order prisons to recognize the Muslim religion in prison, but in the early 1960s all courts steadfastly refused to intervene in the internal operations of prisons.
So Bradford’s Muslim activities were, of necessity, clandestine. There was no way of knowing how many Muslims there were in the prison, but it is known that Bradford could rally 50 young black convicts around him in a matter of minutes if he needed help.
For that reason Bradford was viewed as a threat by the prison officials. Bradford, however, was more interested in the quiet possession of power than in the outward display of it, so he managed to avoid further trips to solitary.
In 1964 the art class was started up again – and within months the convicts again were winning awards all over the state of Missouri and were widely exhibited.
Dr. Anne-Marie Hamburg de Moret, a prominent French poet – who was teaching at St. Louis University in early 1967 – came to the prison and took an interest in several of the convicts – including Bradford.
Dr. Hamburg arranged for the convicts to have an exhibition at Galery 79 in Paris – the most prestigious showing the convicts had ever had, and Bradford was part of it.
In 1967 Bradford was transferred to the medium-security prison at Moberly, Missouri, from which he was paroled on 4/30/68, partly through the assistance of Dr. Hamburg.
He went to work at the Brady-Drake Photo Copy Company in St. Louis County. By that August he had a one-man showing of his work at the Laclede Town Art Gallery in St. Louis. On the evening of August 25, 1968, he had dinner at the home of Dr. Hamburg.
The next morning he borrowed three dollars from his boss and went to the Arts International Gallery and put down $3.00 toward the purchase of a $28 painting. The clerk put the "will call" ticket, with Bradford’s name on it, beside the cash register. Bradford frequently stopped at Arts International, because it was one of the stores the convicts painters had routinely ordered their supplies from, and the gallery had several times displayed works by the convicts.
Later that day John Franklin March, who worked with Bradford on the camera equipment at Brady Drake, went to the manager and complained about Bradford’s work performance – saying Bradford was late getting to work, took long coffee breaks and was slow in setting up jobs. The manager then talked to Bradford – who, according to March, was sullen and silent the remainder of the day.
Shortly after quitting time, Bradford returned to the Arts International Gallery. He grabbed the 27-year-old clerk, put a knife to her throat and dragged her toward the back of the shop, saying: "I’ll kill you, you bitch." When the young clerk, a mother of two small children, started praying, Bradford shouted: "Stop that, I’ll kill you."
Bradford tied her up and raped her. Then he fractured her skull with a hammer and stabbed her repeatedly.
Bradford, later that day, called his mother and said he didn’t do what the police were saying he did, and that he needed to pull himself together so he could turn himself in to his parole officer.
Then he disappeared.
In May, 1971, Bradford was arrested in Boston. By then he was executive director of the Malcolm X Foundation in the Roxbury section of town. Massachusetts governor Francis Sargent signed papers allowing Bradford to be extradited back to Missouri, but thousands of Bostonians signed a petition on Bradford’s behalf – arguing that his work in the community proved he was rehabilitated. A Boston court threw out the extradition papers, ruling that St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Gene McNary had failed to demonstrate in the papers that Malik Hakim and Albert Bradford were one and the same.
It has never been explained why the state of Missouri didn’t seek extradition for violation of parole by virtue of absconding, which could not be disputed. By trying to extradite Bradford on the rape charge, McNary clouded the issue. Once back in Missouri for parole violation, McNary could then have tried him on the rape.
In any event, McNary presented new extradition papers to the Massachusetts governor, and Bradford held a news conference at the Malcolm X Foundation. At that time Bradford said: "No Missouri farmer is going to run me out. I’m not running, I’m not ducking and I’m not hiding."
In another unusual turn of events, when Gov. Sargent determined that he would sign the extradition order – instead of having Bradford arrested, he called Bradford’s attorney and told him that he would sign the order, because he feared that if Bradford were arrested, there might be violence.
Bradford ducked, ran and hid. Bradford’s attorney, Boston lawyer William P. Homans, later said: "My belief is he has not run away but is meditating. I don’t think he has the confidence in the system we have."
Bradford’s name would not surface again until November, 1978, following the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana.
A reporter for the now defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat picked up a tip from the FBI that Bradford was hiding in Guyana – that Bradford was, in fact, a lieutenant in the Guyana Defence Force (their army). This reporter told me he had verified Bradford’s presence in Guyana, and said Bradford was using a Swahili name.
When I called the FBI in 1980 and asked them about Bradford, they said they could not discuss him, because to do so would violate the privacy laws.
Bradford had picked the perfect hideout. Guyana had no extradition treaty with the U.S., and was racked with corruption.
The late Forbes Burnham was Prime Minister of Guyana, and maintained power through rigged elections that occasionally included violence.
One of the people providing that violence was David Hill, who’d absconded to Guyana while out on appeal bond from a 4-to-20 year sentence in Ohio. Hill arrived in Guyana in 1972 – presumably the same year Bradford did.
David Hill founded the House of Israel (using the name Rabbi Edward Emmanuel Washington), a religious cult which grew to more than 6,000 members. These members lived communally, turning over part of their pay to the House of Israel (which also operated the largest plantain chip business in the country). All members of the House of Israel were requires to study Swahili, Marx, Lenin and Hebrew.
Members of Guyana’s opposition Progressive Party claimed that Hill’s thugs broke up an anti-government rally in 1979, killing a Catholic priest in the process.
Ironically, while Guyana has harbored American fugitives, the U.S. has become Guyana’s largest trading partner, and has forgiven almost all of the debt owed to the U.S. by Guyana.
It wouldn’t surprise me if more than a few of those U.S. dollars ended up in Al Bradford’s pocket.