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A State Department employee murders his mother

William Bradford Bishop

William Bradford Bishop

A State Department employee murders his mother, wife, and three sons.

On March 2, 1976, a state park ranger in Columbia, North Carolina, responded to a report of a brush fire in a remote wooded area. As the ranger brought the fire under control, he found an empty gas can and a shovel. When the smoke cleared, the ranger also discovered the remains of five partially charred bodies in a shallow grave, three young boys, and two women.

The victims’ clothes had labels from expensive department stores in Bethesda, Maryland. The shovel came from a hardware store in the same area. However, the Bethesda police had no missing person’s reports that they could link to the bodies, until six days later. The call came from a neighbor of William Bradford Bishop, a respected economist with the State Department.   Lt. Joe Sargent of the Montgomery County Police Department was first to arrive at the Bishop home:

“There was a common driveway to the neighbor’s home and to the Bishop home. And I met the neighbor there to investigate the whereabouts of the family. It was rather routine to do an investigation like this. It’s not unusual. And I wasn’t overly concerned about it until I reached the front step of the home and I noticed there were blood drops on the front step. Upon opening the front door I saw blood droplets leading from the doorway thru the foyer and up a set of stairs that led to the upper bedroom level of the home. In going up the stairs I observed blood splatterings on the wall and in the one bedroom that I could see into, almost the entire ceiling and wall was completely splattered with blood. There was hardly a place you could put your hand where there wasn’t blood splatterings. I’d been a police officer for approximately 12 years and this was the worst scene that I’ve ever observed.”

Authorities were finally able to identify the five bodies: Brad Bishop’s wife, Annette, his three sons, and his mother. There was no sign of Brad Bishop. Was he also a victim?   Or was there a far more sinister explanation for his disappearance?

Police believe Bishop killed his family

Police believe Bishop killed his family

Bishop worked for the State Department as a director of commercial practices and trade. To most of his co-workers, he seemed to be on the fast track to a high level job. But a co-worker, Roy A. Harrell, saw a different side of Brad Bishop:

“Brad Bishop had extensive experience overseas. He liked the international scene from the time he was in the army in Italy. Brad’s career was very much on track.   Although he was exceedingly despondent about not getting a promotion.”

Roy ran into Bishop just outside the State Department on the day the annual promotion list came out. Bishop said he had been once again passed over for a promotion.   According to Roy:

“He said, ‘I think I’m getting the flu. I don’t feel well at all and it’s the reason I’m leaving work now.’ So I helped him hail a taxi and I watched him drive out.’

The next day Brad Bishop’s family was found dead and he had disappeared.

On March 18, 1976, almost three weeks after the murders, a ranger in Tennessee discovered an abandoned station wagon. In the back he found what looked like dried blood. The car was registered to William Bradford Bishop. Bishop was now the prime suspect in the slaying of his own family. Wiley D. Thompson was an assistant special agent with Baltimore FBI:

“The courts will have to determine whether Brad Bishop is guilty of killing his family.   But there was enough evidence for a warrant to be issued for his arrest for homicide, based on the fact that there appeared to be premeditation in connection with the events that occurred on March 1st.”

The authorities pieced together Bishop’s activities leading up to the murders. According to Lt. Sargent, on the day he left the State Department, Bishop withdrew several hundred dollars from his bank account and went to a local hardware store and gas station:

“And as far as we know, after that he returned to his home, probably around 7:30 to 8:00 at night, after the children were put to bed.”

He abandoned the car in Tennessee

He abandoned the car in Tennessee

Assistant Special Agent Thompson:

“Our investigation shows that Mrs. Bishop was probably killed first. She was found beside a book which she may have been reading at the time that she was killed.   The children were probably killed next, followed by Bishop’s mother. They were all killed with a blunt instrument and none of the victims had an opportunity to defend themselves.”

According to the FBI, Bishop loaded the five bodies into the family station wagon and headed 200 miles south to the countryside near Columbia, North Carolina.

According to Bishop’s co-worker, Roy Harrell, Bishop suffered from feelings of inadequacy:

“Brad Bishop felt, from the time I knew him, that there was something lacking in himself.   This feeling was nourished constantly by both his mother and, to some degree, his wife, who constantly told him that he was inadequate and washed up and wasn’t going anywhere in his career. And I think that he conceived in his mind that this was a way to, as he often said many times about other people, ‘This would be a way of putting them in their place.’”

After buying a pair of tennis shoes near the site of the fire, Bishop drove 400 miles to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee where his station wagon was found abandoned.

Brad Bishop successfully covered his tracks and was not seen for two years.

Then, in 1978, 5,000 miles away in Sorrento, Italy, a bizarre coincidence. Roy Harrell says he came face to face with Bishop in a bus station restroom:

“I was washing my hands and this bearded disheveled looking man came in. In my mind’s eye I took the beard and his grubby clothes off of him and I saw the Brad Bishop I had seen coming out of the State Department. I followed him and watched him disappear down the cliffs going towards the boat landing where boats go to Capri.”

Bishop is wanted by the FBI, Interpol, and the US Marshals. He has evaded capture for over 30 years. Authorities believe he is living in Europe.