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Items reported stolen from Bradley's 'church'

September 15, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

The picnic table, crosses and flagpole that formed George Bradley's "church" on a grassy lot in Hagerstown have been stolen, marking another chapter in the Bradley epic that has included zoning fights, shootings and prostitution arrests.

"They stole my church," said the 78-year-old deacon of the Universal Life Church.

That church, however, is hardly a traditional house of worship. It is a small lot at West Franklin Street and Devonshire Road that is too small for a building.

But Bradley said his ministry operates periodically out of the lot, staging food giveaways for the poor. It had a flagpole, three crosses, a picnic table and a sign with the church's name emblazoned in lights. He estimated the value of the items at more than $800.

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A church maintenance man discovered the theft on Sunday, Bradley said. Bradley told police that a nearby resident told him the items had been missing since June.

"The place was just cleaned out. They didn't leave a thing on that lot," he said. "It just seemed strange to me that in a community of that size, it could be wiped out. It seemed like a deliberate thing."

Bradley said he suspects nearby residents, who waged a bitter but unsuccessful fight against him several years ago over his attempts to set up shop on the lot.

"It could be everybody or anybody. They put up quite a fight and lost. It might have been a hard pill for them to swallow," he said.

Hagerstown City Police, however, said they have no information linking the theft to area residents.

Capt. Robert Hart said chances of recovering the stolen items are slim "unless we come up with a lead of some type. We have no witnesses or anyone coming forward," he said. "I go home that way every day and I can't tell you when they were there and when they weren't. I guess you get used to seeing something and don't notice it anymore."

The lot and the man who owns it have a long and checkered history.

In 1989, Bradley rented the space to the Ku Klux Klan, which used it to hold demonstrations and sell Klan materials.

The following year, Bradley battled with neighbors over the right to erect crosses on the property. Residents argued the wooden crosses - two 8 feet high and the other 12 feet - violated the city's zoning ordinance against those kinds of structures on lots with no principal building.

Bradley ultimately prevailed, asserting his First Amendment rights, but he said the crosses have been vandalized several times since.

Bradley, himself, isn't a typical preacher. He has been arrested several times in the last two decades on charges ranging from prostitution to assault to bribery. He also battled authorities in three states over massage parlors that he and his ex-wife operated.

In March 1983, Bradley was shot and wounded during a holdup at his massage parlor in State Line, Pa.

Bradley said the crosses and other items can be replaced and took a shot at his longtime neighborhood opponents.

"The neighbors appear more interested in the beautification of their neighborhood than the beautification of their souls," he said.

As for the ministry's future, Bradley said he likely will follow through with plans to give away turkeys to the poor on Thanksgiving.

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