Edging back toward normal after 4-year 'horror show'


A few weeks ago, Marta Bradley came out of the shadows.

She opened the horizontal blinds that cover the windows of her North Laurel home. She left her car out in the driveway instead of inside the garage.

For four years, Bradley and her husband, Scot, had created a strange world for themselves, one full of coded entrances and shuttered windows and traps designed to evade the man they were certain had been stalking them, Marta's former co-worker, Frederick chemist Alan Bruce Chmurny.

Last month Chmurny, 57, committed suicide, swallowing a cyanide pill minutes after a Howard County jury convicted him of assault in an attempt to poison Marta Bradley with mercury.

The Bradleys are trying to let down their guard a bit.

"I don't have that god-awful, scared-that-today-might-be-my-last-day feeling," Marta Bradley said in a recent interview, breaking the silence she and her husband had maintained since Chmurny's arrest in the mercury case.

They say the life they lived was designed to provide at least some peace of mind for a family that felt itself under constant surveillance.

They installed a talking alarm in their house and a code on their phone. They wrapped a chain around the outside phone box. Scot Bradley trained a motion detector on the front yard and hooked it up to a small boombox in the couple's bedroom so that if someone approached in the middle of the night, even if the neighbors came home late, the radio would blare, drawing the Bradleys to the window.

If Scot Bradley, a trumpet player, had an engagement and wouldn't be home until late, Marta might take their daughter, Rhea, and sleep on a friend's couch.

When Marta Bradley, a bass player, returned from a job and picked Rhea up from the baby-sitter's house, she always asked someone to follow her home and wait while she walked through the house, searching every room and every closet. The Bradleys also considered homeschooling Rhea, now 2.

"I think you tell yourself this is going to end," said Marta Bradley, 33.

When the end did come, it left them uncomfortable. They're hesitant to publicly connect their new-found freedom to Chmurny's death, preferring instead to focus on his conviction. , They won't talk about his death except for Marta's comment that "it's just indicative of the disturbing things he's done for four years."

The relationship between Marta Bradley and Alan Chmurny began in friendship when both worked at Oceanix Biosciences Corp. in Hanover from 1995 until the spring of 1997, she as an administrative assistant, he as director of chemistry.

At first, she said, she viewed Chmurny almost as an uncle. He leaned on her shoulder, she said, and unloaded tales of marital and medical troubles.

The stories he told - of a girlfriend who died in an accident, of needing experimental treatment for cancer - seemed to stretch credibility at times, but she says she was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It wasn't until Chmurny pitched a fit when she said she preferred a co-worker's deviled eggs to his and later, when he gave her a mock performance evaluation that praised her looks and role in his life, that she became concerned about the nature of their relationship.

When she began to pull away from her friendship with Chmurny in early 1997, she said, life took a disturbing twist.

Every so often, her right front tire would be flat, but when Scot Bradley took it for tests, nothing was found to be wrong with it. Flowers in a foam plastic cup appeared mysteriously on the hood of her car. Two pieces of jewelry and lingerie she kept in a carton in her bedroom closet disappeared. There were signs that someone had broken into their home twice in April 1997. She said she occasionally caught Chmurny following her.

Chmurny later handed Marta Bradley an envelope containing three of her bras and the jewelry. He told her he had found the envelope in his mailbox.

Even after Chmurny left Oceanix in the summer of 1997, Bradley would arrive at work to find flowers in a beaker on her desk, Chmurny's habit when he worked there.

The Bradleys called police after the break-ins. From May 1997 to November 1998, Marta Bradley filed criminal charges against Chmurny claiming harassment, break-ins at her home and assault.

"I am always checking my rear-view mirror when driving, and I live with a cell phone and pepper spray and whistle with me at all times," she wrote in a harassment complaint in 1997.

With the exception of his conditional plea to a harassment count in early 1998, for which he was given probation before judgment, Chmurny was acquitted or the charges were dropped.

Then, in July 1999, Chmurny said in complaints in Frederick District Court that the Bradleys were harassing him, threatening to "blow me away" and calling him repeatedly in the middle of the night. He said he said he had saved the calls on his caller identification box.

Prosecutors in Frederick County dropped those charges. (The Bradleys say they did not make those calls and that they think Chmurny made them himself by tapping into their phone line through a box outside their house. The box cover was loose when they checked.)

Chmurny's family declined to comment for this article, but during his trial in the mercury case last month, the chemist's wife of 35 years, Gwendolyn Chmurny, testified that her husband kept a file on the Bradleys in their basement.

"The intent was to hire a private detective to find out who was doing what she was accusing my husband of doing," she said.

At one point during the multiple court proceedings, Marta Bradley begged court officials to keep Chmurny away from her. He had repeatedly violated a no-contact order and had left a bomb threat in her car, she wrote.

"Mr. Chmurny's harassing and obsessed behavior, mixed with his level of intelligence and his Ph.D. in Chemistry, is a threatening combination," she wrote on April 15, 1999. "I hope you understand why I feel it is necessary for my voice to be heard. Up to this point, I have been made to feel by Mr. Chmurny and his attorneys, that I am the one on trial."

A year to the day after she wrote that letter, prosecutors said, and jurors later agreed, that Chmurny had placed mercury, a metallic element that can cause death if enough is ingested or inhaled, in the air vents of Bradley's Ford Taurus station wagon.

By the end of May 1999, Marta Bradley was ready to give up. With her baby girl, then 9 months old, in her arms in the rocker, downstairs and with her husband sleeping, she gave into the despair, crying, pleading and praying.

"I lost it. I completely lost it," she recalled. "I prayed, 'Please, do something to make this stop. I cannot deal with it anymore.'"

As Rhea was drifting off to sleep that night, cameras the Bradleys and Howard County police had set up in the Bradleys' upstairs windows were recording the actions of a man lurking by the station wagon, opening the door and sitting inside for a few minutes. Keys to Marta Bradley's car were later found in Chmurny's house on White Oak Drive, and a bottle of mercury was found in his car.

That marked the beginning of the end of Marta Bradley's four years of living in fear of what her stalker would do next, of whether he had been in her home or car.

"It was a horror show what they have been through," said Jean Lancaster, a friend who worked with Bradley and Chmurny at Oceanix, now Novascreen. "Finally, I can say to Marta, 'It's over' and mean it. I can finally say to the two of them, 'You can have your life back.'"

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