A fisherman came across James Jeffery Bradstreet's dead body floating in Rocky Broad River, which runs alongside the small village of Chimney Rock in North Carolina, at some point between lunch and dinnertime on June 19. When sheriff's deputies dragged Bradstreet's body to shore, they discovered a gaping gunshot wound in his chest.
Bradstreet, 61, was a controversial figure in the medical world for his alternative therapies for autism and theories that sought to link the developmental disorder with vaccinations. The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that Bradstreet died of a self-inflicted injury, and that a handgun was recovered from the water nearby. But Bradstreet's supporters and family have rejected these assertions, and are hinting that the death was a result of something far more nefarious.
Questions linger as to what exactly Bradstreet was doing at the 150-mile long tributary that Friday. The river itself is situated at least a three hour drive from his home in Braselton, Georgia, and even further from his practice in nearby Buford, Georgia. Some have suggested an unknown person murdered him while there to enjoy the nature walkway across stone bridges and Chimney Rock's rambling 1/8-mile trail.
In the days before his death, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents raided Bradstreet Wellness Center, multiple law enforcement officials told Georgia's Gwinnett Daily Post. The FDA did not immediately reveal why the agency searched the doctor's offices — or what they found.
Bradstreet's family has now set up an online GoFundMe account, "To find the answers to the many questions leading up to the death of Dr. Bradstreet," which so far has garnered more than $19,500 in funds to help launch an "exhaustive investigation into the possibility of foul play."
"[Bradstreet] was tirelessly dedicated to his family and treated his patients as family. He was a champion for the truth," his wife Lori Bradstreet wrote on the campaign page. "He was a fighter and would never just quit. His desire to be 'the voice for those had no voice' was evident in all he did. What we were told happened really does defy all reason. Thank you for all your help to find the truth."
Other supporters, including former colleagues and the relatives of autistic patients treated by Bradstreet — a former pastor — are also calling for authorities to dig deeper into his death.
"One of the best doctors my son had in 21 years," wrote the mother of one of Bradstreet's patients, Andrea Parker. "He did not kill himself! I simply don't believe it at all. He was super religious and had an autistic son himself. This looks really dirty to me."
"Self-inflicted does not seem normal when he could have used some kind of pills," another supporter wrote.
But to critics, Bradstreet was considered a quack who advocated patients be treated for "mercury toxicity" — which he based on the long-debunked theory linking the metal, which is used in vaccines, to the development of autism. The treatment he proposed involved giving autistic children an infusion of a blood product called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and can itself produce side effects such as muscle aches, hives, or even kidney failure in extreme cases, according to the National Institute of Health's Library of Medicine.
And while many medical practitioners disagree with the views and methods Bradstreet used to treat autism for nearly a decade, the question remains as to who would actually want to kill him.
While authorities continue to look into the case, Jamie Keever, an investigator with the Sheriff's Office told theDaily Post he was aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding Bradstreet's death.
"I've talked to some of those people," he said. "I don't know what to say. They have a right to their opinion."
On Monday, the lead investigator in the case, Detective Sgt. Jamie Keever, told VICE News there was nothing new to report in the case at this time and that a preliminary autopsy had only revealed Bradstreet died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields