The Miami Strangler, Part 1

Brilliant thug Harrel Braddy has terrorized South Florida since 1984. The death needle awaits.

Harrel Braddy is menacing. He stands six feet tall and weighs 220 pounds. He shaves his scalp and walks like a lumbering heavyweight fighter.

When he enters Courtroom 4-5 of the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building on July 10, the room falls silent. Dressed in a red prison uniform, shackled by his hands and feet, Braddy takes a seat inside the jury box. A guard unlocks the handcuffs, and Braddy pulls a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket. He slips them on and then looks down with his large brown eyes at a sheaf of papers.

The 57-year-old Braddy is on trial for kidnapping and first-degree murder. Jury selection begins October 10. And Braddy, as intelligent as he is strong, has elected to represent himself.

Accused killer Harrel Braddy is a master manipulator
Trevor Aaronson
Accused killer Harrel Braddy is a master manipulator

Police and prosecutors allege that on November 6, 1998, the former bricklayer kidnapped Shandelle Maycock and her five-year-old daughter, Quatisha, and left both for dead — beaten and strangled — near the western Broward-Palm Beach county line.

Maycock survived the ordeal. Her young daughter did not. She was found floating in a canal near Alligator Alley with a fractured skull and one arm missing.

"Harrel Braddy is one of the most brutal criminals in South Florida," says Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin.

Rifkin has waited a long time for justice. For eight years Braddy has manipulated the system, dispatching ten attorneys and receiving continuance after continuance in an effort to avoid the death penalty.

Braddy is also part of an ongoing problem in Florida. Fourteen years before he allegedly killed the five-year-old, he had been charged with attempted murder, robbery, escape, kidnapping, and armed burglary and sentenced to 30 years of incarceration. But owing to the state's overcrowded prison system, Braddy was released in 1997 as a result of "gain time" through good behavior, having served less than half of his sentence.

The Georgia-born inmate's criminal history dates back to his days as a youngster in Liberty City. From September 1969 to December 1970, Miami-Dade Police arrested Braddy, then in his early twenties, three times for burglary. Each time, prosecutors dropped the charges — and then Braddy appeared to straighten out his life.

Over the next decade, he seemed to become a model citizen — a married father of four and the owner a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Opa-locka. He worked as a bricklayer, often supervising construction crews, and was known for his strength.

But in 1982 something seemed to stir in Braddy. During the two years that followed, police arrested him five times for burglary. On September 14, 1984, awaiting trial for the charges, he acted out of desperation. While being escorted to a courtroom, he grabbed corrections officer José Bermudez by the throat and dragged him into a holding cell. The jailer lost consciousness. Braddy searched him and took the keys. When Bermudez awoke, Braddy strangled him to unconsciousness again and then locked him in the holding cell.

Bermudez banged on a metal toilet for fifteen minutes to get attention. When the other guards finally rescued him, he was rushed to a hospital where he received an emergency tracheotomy.

Braddy had escaped.

A wanted poster went up at Miami-Dade Police headquarters in the fall of 1984. Cops from cities throughout South Florida were told to be on the lookout. For two weeks, he evaded capture.

Then came September 29, 1984.

That evening Joseph Cole, a 74-year-old from Italy, was watching television with his wife in their ranch-style house at 3330 Hayes St. in Hollywood. Suddenly there were noises and flashlights in the street. Cole went outside, found some police officers, and asked what was going on. He learned that the cops were looking for a fugitive — a man they'd captured hours earlier and delivered to Hollywood Memorial Hospital with numerous dog-bite wounds. He'd beaten two Broward Sheriff's deputies, stolen their guns, and escaped down a stairwell.

"Go home. Lock your door. Stay inside," police told Cole.

A few hours later, he went to bed. But his wife soon awakened him. She was hearing scratching noises from inside the hallway closet. It sounded like an animal, she said. Cole went to the door, turned the knob, and pulled. It wouldn't budge. He tried again. Stuck. On the third try, the door flung open. A large, shirtless black man wearing jeans burst out, pointing his gun at the floor. He was bleeding from his arms and chest. Bloody rags lay inside the closet.

It was Braddy.

"I don't want to hurt anyone," Braddy told the elderly couple. "I just want to get away."

They talked for a few minutes. "He was an intelligent man, very poetic," Cole later remembered in a deposition. "He could make a nice living at other things besides what he's doing."

Cole then had an idea he hoped would save his wife and himself. He faked a heart attack in the hallway and told Braddy he needed his angina medicine. The armed intruder allowed Cole to go to the bedroom, where he snuck out of the window and ran to a neighbor's house to call police.

Braddy asked Cole's wife for the keys to their new white Ford station wagon. She handed them over.

"Please take good care of it," she said.

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