Bradford Bishop

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William Bradford Bishop Jr.
Age progression sculpture by Karen T. Taylor of fugitive William Bradford Bishop at about age 77.jpg
Age progression sculpture of Bishop by Karen T. Taylor
Born William Bradford Bishop Jr.
(1936-08-01) August 1, 1936 (age 80)
Pasadena, California, United States
Disappeared March 2, 1976 (aged 39)
Jacksonville, North Carolina, United States
Status Missing for 40 years, 6 months and 24 days
Other names Bradford Bishop, Brad Bishop, Bradford Bishop Jr.
Known for Wanted for five murders
Spouse(s) Annette Kathryn Bishop
Children William Bradford Bishop III, 14
Brenton Germain Bishop, 10
Geoffrey Corder Bishop, 5

William Bradford Bishop Jr. (born August 1, 1936) is a former United States Foreign Service officer who has been a fugitive from justice since allegedly murdering five members of his family in 1976.[1][2][3]

On April 10, 2014, the FBI placed him on the list of its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.[4]


William Bradford Bishop Jr. was born August 1, 1936, in Pasadena, California.

He received a BS in history from Yale, and an MA in international studies from Middlebury College.[2] Alternatively, he has been reported to have a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Yale University and a master's degree in Italian from Middlebury College.[5] He also holds a master's degree in African Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.[6][7]

After his graduation from Yale in 1959, he married Annette Wels. He then spent four years in Army counterintelligence. Bishop speaks five languages fluently: English, French, Serbo-Croat, Italian and Spanish.[8]

After leaving the army, Bishop joined the U.S. State Department and served in the U.S. Foreign Service in many postings overseas.[2] This included postings in the Italian cities of Verona, Milan, and Florence (where he did post-graduate work at the University of Florence).[2] He also served as a foreign service officer in Africa, including posts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and in Gaborone, Botswana.[2] His last posting, which began in 1974, was at State Department Headquarters in Washington as an Assistant Chief in the Division of Special Activities and Commercial Treaties. He was living in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife Annette (age 37), three sons, William III (age 14), Brenton (age 10), Geoffrey (age 5), and his mother, Lobelia (age 68).[2]

By early 1976, Bishop was anticipating a promotion at work. Bishop and his wife were both psychiatric patients.[6] Bishop suffered from depression and insomnia and was taking the medication Serax.[9] On the afternoon of March 1, he learned he would not receive the promotion he had sought.


After learning of this career disappointment, Bishop told his secretary he didn’t feel well and left work early.[1] Shortly thereafter, police believe that he first drove from Foggy Bottom (the neighborhood where he worked at the U.S. State Department headquarters) to the bank where he withdrew several hundred dollars. He then drove to Montgomery Mall and bought a sledge hammer and a gas can at Sears.[10] He then filled the gas can and family station wagon up at a gas station next to the mall.[10] From there, he drove to Poch's Hardware, which at the time was located next to Safeway, at the intersection of River Road and Falls Road. This is where police believe he purchased a shovel and pitchfork.[10] He returned to his home in Bethesda, Maryland, at around 7:30 to 8:00 pm (19:30 to 20:00), after the children were put to bed. The police investigation shows that his wife was probably killed first.[2] His mother, who was returning home from walking the family's Golden Retriever, was killed next.[2]

Finally, his three sons (aged 5, 10, and 14) were killed while they slept in their beds in an upstairs bedroom.[2]

With the bodies loaded into the family station wagon, Bishop allegedly drove 275 miles (443 km), about a six-hour drive, to a densely wooded swamp off North Carolina Highway 94, about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Columbia, North Carolina.[10] There, on March 2, he dug a shallow hole where he piled the bodies, doused them with gasoline, and set them ablaze.[10] Later the same day, a North Carolina state forest ranger was dispatched by a spotter in a fire tower to an area where smoke was rising from the trees; the fire spread over three acres.[10] The ranger discovered the burned bodies along with a gas can, a pitchfork, and a shovel with a label of "OCH HDW", which was tracked to Poch's Hardware a week later.[10]

It was later confirmed that Bishop visited a sporting goods store in Jacksonville, North Carolina, that same day and used his credit card to purchase tennis shoes.[1] According to witnesses, he had the family dog, a golden retriever named Leo, with him on a leash and was possibly, but not certainly, accompanied by a woman described as "dark skinned".[11]

According to police reports, a week later, on March 10, a neighbor of the Bishops in the Carderock Springs neighborhood in Bethesda, grew concerned about the family's absence, claiming she hadn't seen them for about a week. The neighbor contacted local police, who dispatched a detective to the nearby neighborhood. After meeting the neighbor, who had a key to the Bishop home, the detective decided to enter the home to see if anything was wrong. As he approached the front door, he found droplets of blood on the front porch and entered the house to discover spattered blood on the floor and walls. The children's room was covered from ceiling to floor and wall to wall with blood, as well. The detective stated that in his 12 years as a police officer, it was the worst crime scene he had ever observed. In addition, it was stated that one of the most disturbing pieces of evidence were marks on the ceiling of a bedroom where two boys were sleeping in bunk beds of the hammer swinging and hitting the ceiling. Shortly afterward, dental records were used to confirm that the bodies found in North Carolina were of Bishop's wife, Annette, his mother, and three sons.[12]

On March 18, the Bishop family car, a 1974 Chevy station wagon, was found abandoned at an isolated campground in Elkmont, Tennessee[13] in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a few miles from the Appalachian Trail and about 400 miles (640 km) from the Columbia-area pyre.[1][10] The car contained dog biscuits, a bloody blanket, a shotgun, an ax and a shaving kit with Serax; the spare-tire well in the trunk was full of blood.[10] According to a witness, the car had been there since March 5–7. Police theorized that Bishop could have joined the flow of hikers on the Appalachian Trail. They attempted to follow his scent with bloodhounds, without success.

On March 19, 1976, a grand jury indicted Bishop on five counts of first-degree murder and other charges. Evidence included his disappearance, the sighting afterward in the vicinity of the bodies, and bloody stains inside the family home that matched both his fingerprints and the blood of his family members.[10]


Bishop had approximately one week of advance time before the authorities began looking for him and could have travelled on his U.S. diplomatic passport. Because of the methods of air travel and immigration in 1976 throughout much of the world, he could easily have avoided leaving a paper trail of any kind.

Since 1976 Bishop has been allegedly sighted numerous times in Belgium, England, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.[3] The three most credible sightings noted by the United States Marshals Service are as follows:

  • In July 1978, a Swedish woman who said she had collaborated with Bishop while on a business trip in Ethiopia, reported she had spotted him twice in a public park in Stockholm, Sweden during a span of one week. She stated she was "absolutely certain" and made it clear to herself that the man was Bishop.[3]
  • In January 1979, Bishop was reportedly seen by a former U.S. State Department colleague in a restroom in Sorrento, Italy. The colleague greeted the bearded man eye-to-eye, whom he personally believed to be Bishop; and asked the man impulsively "Hey. You're Brad Bishop, aren't you?" The man panicked suddenly and responded with an "Oh no," in a distinctly American accent. He then ran swiftly out of the restroom and fled onto the Sorrento alleyways.[3]
  • On September 19, 1994, on a Basel, Switzerland, train platform, a neighbor on vacation in Europe who knew Bishop and his family in Bethesda reported that she had seen Bishop from a few feet away.[3] The neighbor described Bishop as "well-groomed" and in a car.[14]

As of 2010, authorities believe he is alive, living in Switzerland, Italy or some other location in Europe. He may still be in the U.S. in California and may have worked as a teacher or been involved in criminal activities.[15] Although Bishop is legally American by nationality, it is widely believed that he may be living his life footloose in Europe as a place of refuge due to many more leads within this continent, compared with the lack of leads elsewhere.

Adding to the hypothesis that Bishop may be living outside the U.S. is the fact that Bishop was known to manage and create IDs and passports while working for the U.S. government. It is possible that Bishop fled the United States the week of the murders and created a new identity in a foreign nation. He may have used faked birth certificates and faked passports that he created before or during the week of the murders. If Bishop was shrewd enough, he may have illegally manipulated immigration and citizenship into a foreign nation. Bishop spoke five languages fluently and could have assimilated into the countries of Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia and possibly Romania without many obstacles or hurdles.

According to the FBI, Bishop may have had his father's Smith & Wesson M&P .38 revolver and his Yale class ring with him when he vanished in 1976 and could still be in possession of them today. He is also believed to have taken his diplomatic passport with him to leave the US easily. (The Bishop family diplomatic passports were all recovered from their home but Bradford's was missing.)

On October 9, 2014, the body of an unidentified man who resembled Bishop and was killed in a hit-and-run walking along an Alabama highway in 1981 was exhumed by the FBI in Scottsboro to have the DNA, teeth and fingerprints analyzed.[16] The DNA test indicated the deceased was not Bishop.[17]

In the media[edit]

After the initial national headlines, the Bishop case was the subject of articles in national publications like Reader's Digest and Time Magazine at milestone anniversaries. It was followed intermittently on an ad hoc basis by the Washington Post, the Washington Star, and the Washington Times as well as local Washington D.C. television stations. The case was featured on television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries, ABC's Vanished and America's Most Wanted. Bishop was profiled on America's Most Wanted website 33 years to the day since his family's bodies' were discovered, with a new age-enhanced bust of him with facial hair.

In 1978 the bluegrass group Coup de Grass recorded "The Ballad of Bradford Bishop," written by Steve Lasko and Steve Deady. It was featured in the album "Rhythm and Bluegrass." Carolyn Banks' 1980 Viking novel The Darkroom was based on the Bradford Bishop murder case.

Ballet dancer Jacques d'Amboise revealed in his 2011 autobiography I Was a Dancer that he became a close friend of Bishop's parents, who were ballet fans, while he was still a teenager, and that when he was 17 and Bishop was 14, he lived with the family for a while. He described Bishop as very intelligent, reticent and intense. Years later, D'Amboise and his wife Carrie were meant to spend the night of the murders sleeping over at Bishop's home, but he was injured in a performance a few days earlier and they had to cancel. D'Amboise stated that he has wondered ever since if their presence that night would have prevented the murders or resulted in them being killed as well.[18]

In 1997, two county investigators said they believed Bishop's prior spy training may have helped him evade detection.[19]

In 2010, U.S. Marshals released more information, revealing for the first time on America's Most Wanted that, before the murders, Bishop had been corresponding with federal prison inmate Albert Kenneth Bankston in United States Penitentiary, Marion.[15] It is unknown why or how they were in contact.[15] America's Most Wanted posted the last letter, sent the day of the murders, on their website.[20]

In 2011, WUSA aired a story there were reports that Bishop had died in Hong Kong and then in France, but police used fingerprints to confirm those reports were false.[21]

On April 10, Ronald Hosko, Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division, revealed the fugitive update sculpture done by Karen T. Taylor.[22]

In early April 2014, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., launched a webpage to display multiple investigative reports and extensive information on the Bishop case. This includes samples of Bishop's handwriting, fingerprints, dental records and previously unseen Bishop family videos.[23]

On July 27, 2014, the search for Bishop was a featured story on The Hunt With John Walsh on CNN.

2014 age-progression sculpture[edit]

Different angles of age progression sculpture
What Bishop may look like with glasses

At the request of the FBI, forensic artist Karen T. Taylor created an age progression sculpture to suggest Bishop's projected appearance at about age 77. Using Taylor's sculpture, several alternate images were created by Lisa Sheppard to show the addition of facial hair and glasses.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d "Bishop still wanted in family's death". The News & Observer. Feb 26, 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-10. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Bishop Murders". TIME. March 22, 1976. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Duggan, Paul (March 2, 2006). "Where Is Brad Bishop?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  4. ^ "New Top Ten Fugitive — 'Family Annihilator' William Bradford Bishop, Jr. Wanted for 1976 Murders". April 10, 2014. 
  5. ^ "FBI — FBI Adds William Bradford Bishop to Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List". FBI. 
  6. ^ a b "The Man Who Got Away". 
  7. ^ "Brutality Unsolved: The Bishop Mystery". Washington Post. 
  8. ^ "After 30 years, Bishop killings still a mystery". Baltimore Sun. October 14, 2006. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  9. ^ "Brad Bishop home sold year after five in family slain there". Washington Post. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tisha Thompson and Rick Yarborough. "Inside the Evidence Room in the Hunt for William Bradford Bishop". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Missing Bishop Car Found in Smokies", Donald Baker, Washington Post, March 19, 1976.
  14. ^ "William Bradford Bishop, Jr.". Reader's Digest. 1999. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  15. ^ a b c "William Bradford Bishop". America's Most Wanted. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  16. ^ "FBI exhumes body in hunt for ’10 Most Wanted’ fugitive search", by Andrew Russel, Global News.
  17. ^ Tisha Thompson. "FBI: Body Exhumed in Alabama Not That of William Bradford Bishop". Archived from the original on 16 Oct 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  18. ^ D'Amboise, Jacques. I Was a Dancer, Knopf, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4000-4234-0, Ch. 16: "A Close Call with Death", pp. 327-335
  19. ^ "They Have the Clues, So Where's Their Man?". LA Times/Baltimore Sun. August 11, 1997. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  20. ^ "Bradford Bishop Letter" (PDF). America's Most Wanted. 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  21. ^ "William Bradford Bishop Wanted In 1976 Bethesda Murder". WUSA (TV). Feb 23, 2011. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  22. ^ "William Bradford Bishop Added to FBI's Ten Most Wanted List". NBC News. April 10, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  23. ^ "The Decades Long Hunt for William Bradford Bishop". NBC News. April 9, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  24. ^ "Video - NBC4 Washington". 

External links[edit]