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Robert William Fisher

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Robert William Fisher
Photograph taken in 1999
Photograph taken in 1999
FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive
Charges
AliasBobby Fisher
Description
BornRobert William Fisher
(1961-04-13) April 13, 1961 (age 61)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Height182 cm (6 ft 0 in)
Weight86 kg (190 lb)
OccupationSurgical technician, respiratory therapist and firefighter
ParentsWilliam Fisher
Jan Howell
Siblings2
Spouse
Mary Cooper
(m. 1987; died 2001)
ChildrenBrittney Fisher
Robert William Fisher, Jr.
Status
StatusUnknown
AddedJune 29, 2002
RemovedNovember 3, 2021
Number475
Removed from Top Ten Fugitive List

Robert William Fisher (born April 13, 1961) is an American fugitive wanted for allegedly killing his family and blowing up the house in which they lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 10, 2001.

Fisher served in the United States Navy and later worked as a firefighter and in the medical field. He married Mary Fisher in 1987, and they had two children, Bobby and Brittney. The Fishers had a difficult family life. Robert Fisher was described as displaying cruel and controlling conduct towards his family, and on many occasions was reported to have exhibited disturbing and violent behavior. He was unfaithful to his wife at least once. His own parents had divorced when Fisher was 15, and this was believed to have played a role in the difficulties that he later experienced. On April 10, 2001, the family's home exploded. Inside, Fisher's wife and two children were found dead. Their throats had been slit and Mary had been shot in the back of her head. Robert Fisher, along with Mary's car, was absent. Police named him as their only suspect in the killings. On April 20, Mary's car was discovered in a forest near Payson, Arizona. Robert Fisher's ultimate fate is unknown. On June 29, 2002, he was named by the FBI as the 475th fugitive to be placed on its Ten Most Wanted list.[1] On November 3, 2021, Fisher was removed from the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives List.[2] Despite his removal from the Top Ten List, Fisher remains a wanted fugitive.[3]

Early life[edit]

Robert William Fisher was born on April 13, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York City, New York.[4] His father was William Fisher, a banker, and his mother was Jan Howell. They had three offspring: Robert and two daughters. The parents divorced in 1976, when Robert was 15; after this, he and his sisters went to live with their father in Arizona. All three attended Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona. According to friends and relatives, the divorce was turbulent and had long-lasting effects on him. A friend from high school stated Robert was "very bitter" about it. Fisher reportedly spoke of his parents' separation with co-workers at Mayo Clinic Hospital close to the time of the murders, and once confided to an associate that his life would have been different had Jan not left the family.[5]

Adult life[edit]

Fisher enlisted in the United States Navy and attempted to become part of the SEALs, but was not successful.[6] He was an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and fisherman. Fisher worked as a firefighter in California but was forced to retire after a back injury. He then moved his family to Arizona and embarked on a career in the medical field. He worked as a surgical catheter technician, and respiratory therapist. Fisher was a surgical technician at a Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale at the time of the murders.[1][7]

Fisher married Mary Cooper in 1987.[8] He was described as a cruel and distant control freak toward his family. He and his wife fought about sex and money, with Mary taking a job that she told friends was a "security fund." Fisher once turned a garden hose on Mary after he perceived her to have spoken out of turn. Fisher was embarrassed that his son Bobby did not like to hunt or fish, and once tried to teach him and daughter Brittney how to swim by throwing them off a boat. Hunting partner Sandy Gillespie said, "They were crying, and Brittney was screaming, and he pulled them back in the boat and he said, 'Now there, how's that?'" Fisher would not allow the walls in the house to be painted anything other than white, and only a small number of pictures were allowed on the wall. "Several times her mother had made special things, like quilts," Mary's friend, Kimberly Sue Davidson, told police. "She was not allowed to hang them up. She had to store them in the closet. And then he would continually tell her, isn't it time you got rid of this stuff?"[9] Fisher nonetheless tried to hold on to an image as a devoted family man.[5]

Mary's mother, Ginny Cooper, told investigators, "Fisher didn't socialize often with family because of a fear of getting too close to people and losing them."[10] Fisher's mother Jan told investigators that she had been a "yes-sir" wife who did not stand up to Fisher's father. She added that she saw similar dynamics early in Fisher's marriage to Mary and that she had spoken to her about her concerns. A close friend of his stated that his family bore a striking resemblance to that of his childhood.[5]

Fisher had been an outdoorsman and a hunter since he was a young adult. Friends noticed him exhibiting disturbing behavior on hunting trips and other outdoor activities. In one case, after killing an elk, he began smearing its blood on his face.[6] On at least one occasion, he sneaked up behind a family that was picnicking and emptied his gun into the air.[9] Several years before his wife and children died, Fisher shot a stray pit bull. He claimed that he shot it because it attacked his labrador retriever, but police maintained that he orchestrated the encounter because he wanted to shoot the dog.[5] Fisher had been an active participant in the Scottsdale Baptist Church's men's ministry, but (in contrast to Mary) had begun to withdraw from these activities a few months prior to the murders.[10] In 1998, the Fishers went to the senior pastor for marital counseling. Fisher told coworkers about a one-night affair with a prostitute he met in a massage parlor. He fretted that Mary would find out that it was the cause of a urinary tract infection that left him ill for several days in December 2000.[5][9] According to some of Fisher's friends, Fisher spoke of committing suicide in around 1998 when he despaired over the condition of his marriage.[11] "They did not have a happy marriage," said Wade Rencsok, a former neighbor. "They screamed constantly. Everybody heard it. You could hear it in the house next door, and you never really heard him scream, which is kind of weird. I mean he had a way about him, but you never heard him scream. You always heard his wife screaming. Things like, 'You're worthless. I could have done better than you. We should get a divorce.'"[6]

Fisher told a hunting companion that he was renewing his commitment to his faith and marriage because he "could not live without his family", possibly hinting that he would consider suicide over divorce. According to psychologists, an intense fear of loss is not unusual among individuals who were traumatized by a divorce in adolescence.[5] Mary told several friends that she was going to divorce Fisher in the weeks before her murder.[9]

Triple homicide and arson[edit]

A neighbor reported hearing a loud argument coming from inside the Fisher home at 10 pm on April 9, 2001, approximately ten hours before it exploded into flames.[10][12] Police theorized that the murders took place between 9:30 pm and 10:15 pm. At 10:43 pm, Fisher was spotted on an ATM camera, where he withdrew $280. Mary's Toyota 4Runner was in the background.[6][13] It is possible that Fisher later returned to the house to commit the murders, but police believe that they had already taken place by then because he was using Mary's car.[12]

Mary Fisher was shot in the back of the head, and Brittney and Bobby's throats were slashed from ear to ear.[10] At 8:42 am, the house exploded. Firefighters were immediately alerted to the explosion, which was strong enough to collapse the front brick wall and rattle the frames of neighboring houses for one-half mile (800 m) in all directions.[14] Before firefighters arrived, neighbors used garden hoses to try to keep the flames under control.[7] Firefighters kept the 20-foot-high (6 m) blaze from spreading to other houses. A series of smaller secondary explosions, believed to be caused by either rifle ammunition or paint cans, forced them to keep their distance. One firefighter suffered minor injuries to his leg when he lost his balance and fell near the blaze.[14]

The gas line from the back of the house's furnace had been pulled. The accumulating gas was later ignited by a candle that Fisher had allegedly lit, waiting for the gas to accumulate and descend to the flame hours after being lit. This delayed fuse would have given him an approximate ten-hour head start in his successful attempt to evade law enforcement.[14] The decision to have the house explode is believed to have been an attempt by Fisher to conceal evidence of his crimes and possibly to cause police to believe that he had died.[6] The burned bodies of a woman and two children were found lying in bed in the burned-out remains. They were identified as Mary (age 38), Brittney (age 12), and Bobby (age 10).[10] Investigators theorized that Fisher murdered his family because he felt threatened by Mary's intention to divorce him, and did not want Brittney and Bobby to go through what he did as a child.[9]

Investigation[edit]

Age-altered images of what Fisher may look like years after his disappearance

Developments in investigation[edit]

Fisher, who disappeared at the time of the murders, was named as an official (and to date, the only) person of interest in the case on April 14, 2001, when Arizona Department of Public Safety officers were instructed in a statewide bulletin to arrest him. On April 20, the last physical evidence of his whereabouts surfaced when police found Mary's Toyota 4Runner in Tonto National Forest, near the towns of Young and Payson, Arizona, one hundred miles north of Scottsdale.[15][16][17] The family dog Blue was found outside the car.[7] It had taken shelter beneath the car and was in a hungry and agitated state.[12] An Oakland Raiders hat identical to the one that Fisher was seen wearing in the ATM footage was inside the vehicle.[17] A pile of human excrement was found near the passenger door.[9] Although police searched the area immediately around where the vehicle was discovered, they only searched one out of dozens of nearby caves. Some of these caves form a complex underground network, extending for miles beneath the surface. Several professional cavers have suggested that Fisher used them as a hiding place before either escaping, killing himself, or dying from low oxygen levels.[18] Professional cavers have visited these caves many times in the years since the murders, but no sign of Fisher has ever emerged.[7]

The Toyota was discovered less than a mile from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, an area which police never searched.[13] Police followed a set of footprints that led onto the reservation, but uncovered no sign of Fisher.[7] A couple reported seeing a man resembling Fisher walking along the nearby Young Road several days before the discovery of the car. According to them, when the woman saw him, she said to her husband, "That looks like Robert Fisher." However, they waited until after the vehicle was found to report the tip.[13] Lori Greenbeck, an acquaintance of the Fisher family, said that her husband had gone camping with Fisher in the area where the truck was found shortly before April 10. She said that her husband believed that Fisher was scouting the area. According to her, he was very familiar with the region.[13]

FBI-age-enhanced-photos-of-Robert-William-Fisher.jpg

On July 19, a state arrest warrant was issued in Phoenix, charging Fisher with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson. Subsequently, he was declared a fugitive and a federal arrest warrant was issued by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.[1] On June 29, 2002, Fisher was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the 475th fugitive to be placed on its Ten Most Wanted list. He was also on America's Most Wanted's "Dirty Dozen", the list of its most notorious fugitives, and was profiled on The Hunt with John Walsh. The FBI offers a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to Fisher's capture.[1] By April 2003, the FBI had received "hundreds and hundreds of leads."[19] However, all reported sightings of Fisher have been either inconclusive or false.[8]

In the years immediately following Fisher's disappearance, some people living in his old neighborhood reported seeing a man resembling him driving in the area. In February 2004, an individual with a striking physical resemblance to Fisher was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The man had a missing tooth where Fisher had a gold bicuspid, as well as a surgical scar on his back, as Fisher had. However, his fingerprints did not match. He was held by Canadian police for approximately one week, until a relative correctly identified him. Responding to speculation that his fingerprints had been altered, Scottsdale Detective John Kirkham said that there was no scarring on them to suggest this. The man's identity was not released.[8] The FBI alerted local law enforcement in 2012 that Fisher may have been living in the Payson area in Gila County, Arizona.[17] In October 2014, police raided a house in Commerce City, Colorado, after receiving a tip that he was hiding there. Despite arresting two occupants, they did not find any sign of him.[20]

In April 2016, FBI officials and Scottsdale police displayed new age-enhanced photos of Fisher during a news conference on the fifteenth anniversary of the murders.[21][22]

On November 3, 2021, Fisher was removed from the FBI Top 10 Most Wanted List. He was replaced by Yulan Adonay Archaga Carias, the alleged leader of MS-13 in Honduras, and the 526th addition to the Top Ten List.[11][23][24] "Because the extensive publicity Fisher’s case received during its nearly 20 years on the list has not resulted in his successful location and/or capture, the case no longer fulfills that requirement," the FBI said.[11] Despite his removal from the Top Ten List, Fisher remains a wanted fugitive.[3][11]

Theories and speculation[edit]

The murders allegedly committed by Fisher and his subsequent disappearance have attracted significant attention, and numerous theories have spawned about what ultimately happened to him.[7] Due in part to factors such as the length of time that has gone by since his disappearance, the small amount of money that Fisher is believed to have had with him, and the fact that he had spoken of ending his life before, there has been speculation that he committed suicide or died, probably somewhere in the wilderness where Mary's car was discovered, and that the body was never found. Others disagree and maintain that he most likely survived. It is thought that he may have started a new life under an assumed identity.[7][9][11][12][13][25] One possibility that has been spoken of is that he died after years as a fugitive but his remains were not identified.[12]

If Fisher did survive, it is thought possible that he hitchhiked out of the area or had aid from an accomplice.[12] There is a theory that Fisher may have used his survival skills to continue living in the wilderness near Payson where his wife's car was discovered, although police and survival experts are skeptical due to the difficulty of finding food and shelter in that environment as well as the fact that no evidence has ever emerged of someone living in the woods in that area.[6][7] "He could be living in a small town, where he gets paid cash and he works as a handyman," said Detective John Heinzelman. "Or he could be in a big city and blend in."[7] It was postulated that Fisher may have crossed the southern United States border; a hostile encounter occurred in Guatemala in 2009 between tourists and a man said to resemble Fisher. Fisher's disappearance took place before the September 11 attacks. With border security being more lax at that time than it would later become, police have considered this a reasonable possibility. Police have speculated that Fisher may have started a new family, and have cited the fear that he might eventually decide to leave and annihilate that family like he did his original family as one of their chief reasons for continuing to search for him.[7] Some police have however conceded that they may never learn what happened to Fisher. "Maybe this is the best we have, knowing he did it, and never finding him again," said Heintzelman.[13]

FBI agent Bob Caldwell's sense of his personality and habits is that he is "arrogant. He's cocky. He's a know-it-all...and a loner." Fisher has been known to chew tobacco and favors the Copenhagen brand. His look has been described as average, but he sometimes walks in an odd, erect manner with his chest out due to a back problem stemming from the injury that he suffered as a firefighter, and is an avid hunter and fisherman.[7][19] Fisher is considered armed and extremely dangerous and has ties to Florida and New Mexico.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Fisher was the subject of a documentary titled Where Is Robert Fisher?, released in 2011. It relied heavily on interviews with journalists and detectives, and also featured interviews with his sister and one of his neighbors. The documentary included home footage of Fisher taken by Mary, which was described as eerie and disturbing.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "FBI Press Release". Federal Bureau of Investigation. June 29, 2002. Archived from the original on April 11, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  2. ^ "New Top Ten Fugitive". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Robert William Fisher". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  4. ^ Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Robert William Fisher". Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Baker, Nena (June 18, 2001). "Slayings likely rooted in marital strife, divorce fears". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.[dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e f Patterson, Thom (August 12, 2016). "Police: Fugitive dad killed family, burned down house". CNN. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stapleton, Erica (April 12, 2001). "The Hunt for Robert Fisher: Man accused of murdering family, rigging Scottsdale home to explode still missing 20 years later". 12 News. NBC. Archived from the original on July 21, 2021. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Bittner, Emily (February 6, 2004). "Mounties got their man, but he isn't Fisher". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Zoellner, Tom; Slivka, Judd (August 7, 2002). "Report portrays suspect in family killing as cruel, controlling". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d e Zoellner, Tom (April 14, 2001). "Family in blaze slashed, shot". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d e Ryman, Anne (November 3, 2001). "Why Arizona fugitive Robert Fisher was removed from FBI Ten Most Wanted list". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Ryman, Anne (April 12, 2021). "Still missing: Inside the Robert Fisher fugitive case 20 years later". Arizona Central. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Whitney, Briana (November 8, 2019). "Robert Fisher: Dead or alive?". Arizona's Family. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Zoellner, Tom (April 10, 2001). "3 dead as explosion, fire destroy Scottsdale home". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  15. ^ Collom, Lindsey (June 30, 2002). "Fisher added to FBI list of most wanted". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  16. ^ Sackley, Mike (April 9, 2016). "FBI releases age-enhanced photos of Robert William Fisher". Archived from the original on July 23, 2021. Retrieved July 23, 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Osorio, Julian (April 29, 2013). "12 years later, hunt for Scottsdale murder suspect Robert Fisher continues". Arizona Central. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Loew, Morgan; Benson, Phil; Leitner, Tammy (November 9, 2011). "'5 Investigates' team goes underground in Robert Fisher search". Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  19. ^ a b Wagner, Dennis (April 11, 2003). "FBI still hunting for Fisher". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  20. ^ "Two arrested as police raid home in search of murder suspect". October 11, 2014. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  21. ^ "FBI to show new images of 'Most Wanted' fugitive Robert Fisher on 15th anniversary of Scottsdale killings". azcentral.com. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  22. ^ "Robert William Fisher". Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. Department of Justice. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  23. ^ "YULAN ADONAY ARCHAGA CARIAS". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  24. ^ "Leader of MS-13 in Honduras Added to the FBI's List of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  25. ^ Golfen, Bob (April 4, 2002). "Robert Fisher likely alive with new identity". The Arizona Republic. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  26. ^ Rubin, Paul (October 13, 2011). "Robert Fisher Murder Case Documentary: Great Story, Not So Hot Story Execution". The Phoenix New Times. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved June 19, 2020.

External links[edit]