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Country Justice


Ready, aim, fire: John Bradley.  

"Several members and friends have received a report from Ulster County that our esteemed librarian, John Bradley, has been polishing his country-squire manner with the help of a truncheon and several lawsuits," it reads, adding that Bradley should improve his behavior before "his various vendettas hit the press."

Bradley strongly suspects Hoelterhoff is behind the letter. She just as strongly denies it. "How could I get a mailing list for the Knickerbocker, which doesn't even include women?" she sniffs.

On a Saturday morning in July, Bradley is playings coutmaster at his spectacular property, Awosting Reserve, in the Shawangunk Mountains. It includes, by his own count, approximately 3,000 acres, eight waterfalls, and 22 miles of carriage trails. In the center of this wilderness sits his splendid, if slightly lugubrious, 1884 American chestnut log cabin. The "provisional junior members" of the Minnewaska Trail Club, a nature club he founded, are splashing around in his Olympic-size swimming pool as his pet parrot Thisbe climbs the walls of his outdoor cage and a box turtle he saved from becoming roadkill suns itself contentedly on the gravel path.

Architect David Rockwell, who rents a bungalow from Bradley, is in attendance. So is Jules Kaufman, the associate general counsel for Colgate-Palmolive, whom the landowner introduces proudly as a "Harvardian."

A conversation with Bradley may start with something like his legal battles, but it swiftly takes wing and turns into a story about how he lassoed a runaway horse, or reinvented the eco-park, or commissioned an indigent artist to do a bust of Pope Paul VI back in the sixties and then persuaded Time magazine to run it on its cover by offering a scoop about His Holiness.

"You cannot conduct a reasonable conversation with this man; he is a monologuist," Hoelterhoff observes of Bradley. "Hitler was also a very narcissistic personality."

One might betempted to view his claims with skepticism, except that Bradley -- a management consultant who describes his firm, Atwater Bradley, as a "mini McKinsey" -- seems to have accomplished at least some of what he says and to know the luminaries whose names pepper his patter.

James B. Stewart recently found himself lost in Bradley's wilderness when the landowner pulled up in an SUV. "He said, 'Let me introduce you to my friend Bob,' " the writer remembers, "and Robert De Niro popped out of the passenger seat."

Bradley's critics contend that while he can be charming and gracious to those he considers peers, he's much less patient with those whose credentials don't impress him.

"It's not like he picks on people who can defend themselves," says Scott Hadam, a college student who grew up in the shadow of Bradley's compound. "He picks on people who can't afford an attorney." Hadam remembers riding his horse as a 10-year-old across Bradley's property with his father when the landowner appeared in a jeep with two shotgun-toting employees and threatened to shoot their horses out from under them if they didn't get off his land immediately.

Bradley dismisses the claim -- "I have never carried a shotgun or threatened anyone," he says, going on to point out his efforts on behalf of biodiversity, horses included. And he characterizes his local opponents, some of whom showed up in court to watch him squirm when he pleaded guilty to smashing Gottesman's windshield, as "outlaws."

"If I was on the other side, maybe I'd believe he was a monster, too," says Bradley's daughter, Camilla, 25, a clothing and accessories designer who goes by the name CK Bradley. "It's inevitable when you have such a large amount of property. He sometimes doesn't let me drive a car on the property. He's stiff about liability."

Bradley's late wife, Marilyn, an English beauty and by all accounts a woman of exceptional taste and talent, and his two other children, twin sons, were killed in an auto accident in 1978. "Losing your wife and children, you never get over it," Bradley says. "Maybe it even makes me a little short-tempered -- like Ms. Hoelterhoff."

The ruler of awosting reserve seems less frightened by Hoelterhoff than flummoxed. A woman of such obvious professional triumphs should be his friend, a houseguest, even, not an enemy. "The woman is a talent, "he acknowledges. "She got a Pulitzer Prize at one point."

Indeed, Hoelterhoff -- who is 51 and has had a house in the area for twelve years -- and Bradley might well have co-existed peacefully, if not become bosom buddies, were it not for Patricia Reller. The story of how Reller lost her house -- a modest cottage on Tillson Lake, just down the road from Awosting Reserve and a couple of miles from Hoelterhoff's house -- is long and convoluted and doesn't say much for her business acumen. Hoelterhoff even considered writing an article for SmartMoney magazine about her friend's financial missteps. "They have a section about people who do stupid things," she explains.

The flight attendant had bought the property with an acquaintance about ten years ago. When their relationship soured, he wanted out of the partnership, and she declined to pay his part of the mortgage, she says. At that point, foreclosure proceedings started, and a judge ultimately ordered that the property be put up for auction.

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