This has taken longer to write than I planned. I cried a lot during this. It’s been almost ten years and I still feel the pain of it. I haven’t really dealt with her death. I’m sorry this was late for posting but it was very difficult to write.
WARNING! The picture at the end of this long blog post is graphic.
This is also a 50 Questions post that I have tried to write but I always break down crying and can’t finish it. So I am doing it for Leslie! Question #6: This the hardest thing I have gone through. This may be long.
I met Leslie when I was living in Tennessee. Our children went to the same school and I first saw her at a PTA meeting. She was across the cafeteria getting ready to sit down next to her husband while holding her youngest child at the time. I knew the moment I saw her that we were going to be close friends. I felt like I had known her before somehow. This is Leslie…
And we did! We became very close friends and through her, I also met Penny. We would get together sometimes to hang out. I had my two children, Leslie had her five, and Penny had her four. We three would play cards while all 11 children played.
We would talk about life and family and food and anything, really. One time we talked about how we thought we would die. Leslie always said she was going to die on Friday the 13th. Mine will have to do with fresh soil. I can see it but there is no explaining it.
That is also how I met the man that doesn’t deserve to be named. He and Penny were married at the time. He was abusive, controlling, and a complete asshole, generally. I witnessed his abuse to Penny and saw how it was behind closed doors. I felt for Penny but really, we all felt a bit helpless as there wasn’t a lot out there for domestic violence victims.
Penny finally got the nerve to leave his sorry ass and took the kids with her. She decided to file for divorce also. He got the papers and it was time for her to take the kids to his house for a weekend visit with the monster.
It was Friday the 13th, October 2006. It was a regular day for us but we had a looming fear following us that day. Leslie and I went to Wal-Mart and shopped and then I would babysit four of her five kids while she rode with Penny to drop off her kids with their dad in another county.
We got back to Leslie’s house from shopping and we talked about the trip to Polk county that was coming up. We heard that he had threatened Penny and we were both worried about Penny going there and never coming back. The police would not escort her to drop off the kids either. We felt a sense of being alone in this with little help or resources to get help.
Then Leslie had a stroke of genius. She said we should make a plan together just in case. The original plan was, if they didn’t get home by 8 pm, I would call the police. Then Leslie said something that would haunt my ears for years to come.
“No. Wait. Two hours is too long to be tortured.” She was in her kitchen when she said it. I remember the look on her face and the pain in her eyes when she said it. “Instead of that, I am going to call you every 30 minutes to hour and let you know how we are doing. If I don’t call, call 911 and send help. There is no cell service when we get off the highway so I will call you before we got off the highway and as soon as we get back to it.”
I agreed. Although I was worried, I ran through the plan in more details with her. Call no later than 8 pm, call if she didn’t call me, and we had a code for if she called but couldn’t say “send help”. If she said the statement, call 911. If I asked the code and she said yes, call 911.
I had the information of everyone going, the vehicle make/ model, license plate number, Leslie’s phone number, Penny’s phone number, the address where the monster lived, the kids names, birth dates… everything I needed to fully identify every one, the route they were taking there and back… I was set!
At one point I begged her not to go. She told me, “I have to go. It’s my destiny.” We both believed that you don’t mess with someone’s destiny. So, instead, I begged her to be careful and leave immediately if anything looked off. She agreed and stressed that she HAD to be there for Penny. She just knew she did!
We both were confident that this was the best plan. We didn’t know what else to do.
“… if I come home.”
That evening, Leslie left for Penny’s house. In hindsight, some of the things she said made it sound like she knew she wasn’t coming home. Like the destiny comment. At the first check in, we talked for a couple minutes. She told me where they were, how it was going, how far from the turn they were, etc. Then asked how the kids were doing.
I told her they were fine, I was about to get them ready for bed, but they were so cute playing. I told her I was playing with my new camera and took pics of the kids and I would show her when she got home. She got eerily quiet and so I changed the subject. I told her I forgot the package of toilet paper in the back of her van. She said not to worry that I would get it and I said, “Yea, I can get it when you get home. No biggy.”
Then she said, “… IF I come home.” I told her she WOULD come home. She wasn’t allowed to die and I would see her when she got back. she said, “Okay.” not like a “Okay, I believe you!” it was more of a “Sure. You keep thinking that.”
I figured out the time they would turn off the highway and made a note to check and make sure she called. We had discussed this all. I was ready.
At 6:20 (I think – it was 10 years ago, It’s a little hazy), she tried to call but it didn’t connect. That was right when she should have called for going off the highway so I waited for her to call saying they were back on the highway.
The kids were in bed. Some had fallen asleep, the others were giggling and whispering to each other. I busied myself by tidying up and checking on the kids and obsessively checked my phone every couple of minutes.
I sat outside and smoked a cigarette watching the minutes roll past. I called a friend and said, “I really need to talk to someone.” I think the sound in my voice made it clear that this was serious.
I did a quick run down of the plan and then told her about the check in and the call that was one the right time but I had a feeling… I felt like something was very wrong. It wasn’t time to call yet but I felt like something was seriously wrong. Then I had a moment of something I can not explain.
I was sitting there talking to my friend and explaining and suddenly, everything was black, then all I could see was gravel and I was looking under a car. I could hear muffled crying and a breath. Then everything started looking red at the edges and the red slowly covered everything and it was all black again. I’ve only told a few people this. But I know in my heart that I was seeing from Leslie’s eyes.
It was only a few seconds but it was terrifying and I suddenly knew that I had to call! I heard my friend on the other end of the phone say, “What is your heart telling you?” and I answered honestly and numbly, “I need to call the cops.” She said to call back when I was done calling them.
Calling for help
I first called the Sheriff’s office in our county and explained the entire thing. They gave me a number to Polk county Sheriff’s office and I called them too. I explained to the lady everything that is in this post and more. She said she would have someone go check on them and I said thank you.
I remember after I hung up I tried to call Leslie’s phone, then Penny’s phone. I left a message to call me and asked the code question in the message. Then I waited a minute. Then I called my friend again.
I also remember talking to my heart sister and talking to one of my brothers. It’s all a bit blurry. I can’t remember all that was said… or most of it.
Most of the night went like this: Call Leslie’s phone, Call Penny’s phone, Call dispatch and tell them I still can’t get a hold of them. (She tried too and couldn’t get a hold of them.) Then call someone else or wait ten minutes. Repeat.
Leslie’s husband got home and we both paced and called their phones. We waited and waited. It was the hardest thing to wait through. I began to wonder if I should have called earlier and then I would flop to the idea that I called early just not when I first felt anxiety.
I called dispatch every 15 minutes (I remember looking at my phone log and having a realization that I harassed the shit out of the Sheriff’s dispatch. I wasn’t giving up though! Those were my friends, it was one in the morning, and they weren’t back yet!
Officers Are At The Scene
It was a little after one a.m. when I contacted the dispatch lady for the last time. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and said, “Just tell me SOMETHING! Are we bailing someone out of jail? Looking for them at a hospital? Do we need to contact a morgue? Tell me something!” At that point, I was slowly losing my cool. I wanted to know what happened to my friends!
The dispatch lady told me, “We can’t tell you anything” as she had said in previous calls, “But listen to me carefully. Are you listening?” At this point I thought -okay, she is going to hint… and I suck at hints! but told her to go ahead.
She said, “There are officers at the scene now and someone will be by to talk to you shortly.” I couldn’t talk for a second. She didn’t need to hint. I understood it clearly. My throat felt like it was closing and I started feeling a bit numb. She asked if I understood and I said yes in almost a whisper.
I stood on the porch waiting for “someone” to come talk to me. And then I saw them… The Sheriff’s officer from our county followed by a car from the TBI (TN Bureau of Investigation). My heart sank.
Sheriff and TBI
I immediately ran inside and yelled for her husband that they were there. We both ran back outside and greeted them – half knowing what was coming but hoping for something else.
I remember his face. I remember his eyes. I remember the sadness as he told us, “There was an incident tonight and we’re sorry to inform you but, Ms Bradshaw has passed away.”
Her husband sobbed, I ran around to the back yard and sobbed. I have no idea why I ran there. I came back around and asked the Sheriff, “What about Penny and the kids? What happened to Penny and the kids?”
He said he didn’t have any information on them and I could tell by the worried look on his face that he really didn’t have any information yet. I cried some more saying, “Oh my god! He killed them too. I just know it.”
Her husband wasn’t handling the news well (who would?) and the Sheriff and TBI stayed with us for a little bit. I went inside and asked if I should call her sister and he said yes to please do so.
Just before that, Leslie’s daughter peeked her head out of the hallway door, I looked at her and she asked, “Dotchi, Where’s my mom?” I wanted to tell her and say something and hug her and hold her and tell her it was okay to cry… but I opened my mouth and what came out was, “Go back to bed for now, honey. Okay?” She said okay, closed the door… and I felt like I wasn’t actually the one that said that. I was weirded out by the experience and I felt horrible because I felt like she knew.
Calling her sister
I called her sister at 2:16 in the morning. I don’t know why I remember that time so clearly but I do. I didn’t know what to say when she answered. She sounded like I had just woke her and was a bit confused as to why I was calling at that hour. I finally took a deep breath and just spit it out. “Leslie went with Penny to drop of Penny’s kids with [asshole] and he killed Leslie and I don’t know where Penny and the kids are!”
I stopped because I couldn’t breathe for a second. It’s like my lungs just didn’t work. I couldn’t inhale as I heard her sad voice cry back into the phone at me, “Not my sister!” And I lost it and cried some more.
She said she would come get the kids for Leslie’s husband. She showed up and talked to TBI and the Sheriff (I think…) and then we packed bags of clothes for the kids and we cried in the laundry room together.
She told me, “You don’t know how much you mean to her.” and then I told her, “You have no idea how much she looked up to you.” And then we cried some more. She loaded the kids into her car and I cried as she drove away with them.
I got my kids up and told them to get in the van and I would explain what was going on when we got home.
Not My Leslie
When we got home, we all went into my room and sat on the bed. I told them that Leslie had died. The one who doesn’t deserve to be named killed her. We all sobbed in a pile of hugs and tears. I remember one of them bawling, “NOT MY LESLIE!” and then one of them asked, “Where is Penny and her kids?”
I told him I didn’t know. They didn’t have information on them but to be honest, we should hope they are alive but not get our hopes up yet. And then we cried some more until we fell asleep.
The next morning
Technically, it was the same morning. Saturday, I stood on the porch and cried some more. I went back in and hugged my kids when they cried and then went back outside on my porch and sobbed my heart out. I felt like the whole plan was in vain and the longer it was, the more I was convinced he killed them all.
Finally, my phone rang. It was Penny’s sister, Lisa. She asked me if I had heard. I told her what I knew and snot slobbered and bawled into the phone that I didn’t know what happened to Penny and the kids. She told me that Penny was in ICU in Chattanooga and the kids were in protective custody.
I found out the visiting times and for the first time that day, I wasn’t crying. I packed my kids into my car and sped to Nana’s house. We ran in and I told her I was leaving the boys with her, Penny was in ICU, and that I would be back. Just before that, she had seen the news on what was happening.
Seeing Penny and Realization
She said okay… and to this day, I still feel bad because I didn’t ask her to watch them, I TOLD her to watch them. I think I called her on the way. I don’t remember. But I felt so bad because that is not like me. But this was an emergency.
At the hospital, I got to see Penny. I cried when I saw her. I just knew she wasn’t going to make it. She woke up long enough to say that Leslie tried to call me. I knew she did.
Weeks later when Penny was moved to a room, I got to see her kids too. And that was when it hit me, what I did, I saved lives. That was Leslie’s whole goal. To make sure the asshole didn’t hurt her friend or her kids.
It was weird. That day I came to see Penny there were a lot of people there. Everyone kept asking, “Is that her?” and then hugging me and thanking me for calling the police. It was a bitter sweet moment because I lost my best friend but I saved five people too… No… Leslie saved five people with my help.
When I went into Penny’s room, it was full of people and her children were there. I hugged Penny and then sat in a chair while her kids talked to her. Someone mentioned me and I am not sure how it came up again but it was mentioned that Penny and the kids were alive because of me.
Penny’s oldest daughter turned to me and asked, “You’re the one who called?” I nodded and then she and her siblings came up to me all hugged me and thanked me. Her oldest daughter looked up at me with such gratitude and said, “You’re my hero!”
Oh my. My heart hurt so bad. No child should have to witness what they did or go through what they did. But here they were, alive and hugging me and calling me a hero. All I could do was cry and hug them. I was grateful Leslie’s plan worked and they were safe but it tore me apart inside because I lost my best friend too.
I got to see Leslie’s kids again. I still keep in touch with the older two. Penny’s children are growing up because of Leslie. Penny became a huge advocate for Domestic Violence Awareness. I helped a few other ladies escape dangerous relationships also.
Domestic violence shook my world. I never really dealt with Leslie’s death. I still cry for losing her. But I feel like it is time for me to share her story.
Because sometimes domestic violence looks like this
But sometimes, it also looks like this.