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By Mike Hudson

The Jefferson Apartments on Rainbow Boulevard is home to many of the city's most prominent citizens. City Administrator Donna Owens lives there, as did former Niagara Falls fire chief Roger Melchior. Unsuccessful city council candidate and close personal friend of Mayor Paul Dyster, Alicia Laible, also calls the Jefferson home.

The venerable old building, erected in the then-popular Gothic Revival style back in 1926, might be the last place in this crime-ravaged city you would expect to find a murdered drug dealer lying on the floor of his apartment, but that's exactly what happened on the morning of Aug. 23.

That's when family members discovered the body of Antoine Bradberry, 41, and called the police. Bradberry had been murdered the night before, beaten and asphyxiated on his sofa with one of his own shirts. According to the testimony of two women implicated in the grisly slaying -- Teara D. Fatico, 22, and Chastity L. Wilson, 21 -- Bradberry was a big-time dealer of high-grade marijuana, a profession that allowed him to live in the spacious apartment he used as his drug headquarters.

The two women pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary charges before Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III last week as part of a plea bargain that will have them testifying against the accused killer, Matthew A. Davis, 36, formerly of Pierce Avenue, if the cops can ever find him.

"We don't know where he is," Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said.

Davis is no stranger to city police. In fact, he is what you might call a violent repeat offender, a category of vermin that makes up a larger and larger percentage of the city's population.

In 2000, he was charged with beating and robbing a man of $700, and in 2003, he was sentenced to one-and-a-half to three years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree assault for slashing three men with a razor in a brawl in the former Pharaoh's Bar on Oct. 30, 1999.

Davis also was accused of attacking a fourth man with a bottle in a home at Ferry Avenue and 20th Street later the same night.

Seaman said Davis, Fatico and Wilson worked out a plan to rob Bradberry, and the two attractive young women went to the Jefferson in order to distract the victim. Bradberry buzzed them in. When they arrived at the apartment, he served them drinks and rolled up some of his private stash for what he undoubtedly thought would be a swell party.

At some point, Fatico left Bradberry's apartment and went back downstairs, where she let Davis in through a security door. She never returned to the apartment.

Wilson admitted being in the apartment when the murder occurred, but said she was in another room at the time of the brutal slaying.

James Faso Jr. and Yvonne Vertlieb -- attorneys for Fatico and Wilson, respectively -- disagreed about who was more to blame. Vertlieb said that her client was "pretty much along for the ride" and that Fatico and Davis were the main culprits, while Faso said all three had entered into the plan collectively.

In any event, the plan went awry quickly, as homicide detectives looked at surveillance video shot by a plainly visible camera near the Jefferson's front door. The tape revealed Davis, Wilson and Fatico's various comings and goings on the night in question.

Once again, a heinous Niagara Falls crime was solved because the drug-addled culprits were simply not too bright to begin with.

Both women will be going to state prison for a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, but they could be sentenced to as long as 15 years when they return to court Feb. 2.

Bradberry, known as "Chip" to his family and friends, had been employed as program director by the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club. After receiving his associate's degree from Cazenovia College in 1990, he attended Niagara University, where he majored in business administration.

On Valentine's Day, 2007, he trademarked the name "Million Dollar Dreams Felony Nightmares" and "MDDFN" for a company that was to have manufactured a line of urban clothing products, including caps, sneakers, sweatpants, t-shirts, sweatshirts and jewelry. The plan apparently went nowhere.

His attorney at the time, Steven S. Fox of Buffalo, was unavailable for comment at presstime.

Like any old apartment building, the Jefferson has seen its share of death over the years, but as far as can be determined, Bradberry's is the first to be investigated by the Homicide Squad.

The building was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in a lavish 2006 ceremony held in its ornate lobby and attended by many of the city's self-appointed big shots, including then-mayor and current convicted federal felon Vince Anello.

In 2008, the Jefferson's owners -- Shawn Weber and Dave Giusiana -- received a $130,000 state grant to renovate several rooms in the building. Weber and Giusiana also own Wine on Third, a tiny saloon down Third Street from the Jefferson, which has benefited from nearly $400,000 in state and city grants and subsidized low-interest loans.

Criminal activity at the Jefferson has been relatively light, police records show. In November 2010, an attempted burglary was thwarted when the would-be burglar discovered his victim to be home at the time, and earlier this summer, several cars in the Jefferson's parking lot were the target of break-ins.

Crime in Niagara Falls, and particularly violent crime, is out of control. City Councilman Bob Anderson has argued for years that the city needs at least 100 more police officers on the street, arguments that have fallen on the deaf ears of Mayor Paul Dyster and former mayors Anello and Irene Elia.

This tawdry tale of drugs and murder wouldn't have raised an eyebrow had it occurred on 24th Street, Pierce Avenue, Jordan Gardens or any of the city's many other largely ghettoized slums.

But the fact that it occurred at the posh Jefferson Apartments, one of the most prestigious addresses in the city and a place where the elite meet, so to speak, shows that none of us are safe from the senseless violence and the scourge of drugs that are now synonymous with Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 29, 2011