Brad Bishop seemed to have a life most people would envy, having lived in three different continents, he was Yale-educated and had a high-paying job as a United States Foreign Service officer. Married with three sons, and living in a beautiful home in Bethesda, Maryland, Bishop appeared to be living the American dream. But appearances are all too often deceiving.
Brad Bishop was a ticking time bomb and he exploded on March 1, 1976. That evening, the respected government employee committed an act that would make him one of the government’s most wanted. The man who seemed to have it all traded his life of envy for a life on the lam. In some respects, the horrific crime Bishop is said to have committed has been overshadowed by his eluding capture. Bishop is one of the FBI’s most frustrating cases as a global manhunt now into its fourth decade has failed to produce his capture.
William Bradford Bishop II grew up in Pasadena, California. After graduating with a history degree from Yale University in 1959, he married his high school sweetheart Annette Weis. Three years later, Bishop earned a Master’s Degree in African Studies from UCLA.
Bishop then joined the Army and spent four years working in counterintelligence. He also learned to speak four foreign languages fluently: Italian, French, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish.
After leaving the Army, Bishop joined the U.S. State Department and served in the Foreign Service. He received his Master’s degree in History while stationed in Italy, and he also served overseas in Ethiopia and Botswana. In 1974, somewhat to his disappointment as he loved living abroad, Bishop was brought back home to work at the State Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as an Assistant Chief in the Division of Special Activities and Commercial Treaties.
By 1976, life seemed complete as the 39-year-old Brad and 37-year-old Annette had three sons; 14-year-old Bradford III, 10-year-old Brenton and 5-year-old Geoffrey.
Brad’s 68-year-old mother Lobelia lived with them as she had helped them purchase their upscale home in Bethesda, Maryland.
Bishop had become the State Department’s Director of Commercial Practices and Trade. He worked as an assistant chief in the Division of Special Activities and Commercial Treaties. He was rising through the state department ranks but not, in his opinion, quickly enough.
On the afternoon of March 1, 1976, Bishop’s colleague Roy Harrell encountered him outside of the State Department. Bishop was upset over not getting a promotion he had sought. He told Roy he was not feeling well and was leaving work early. As Roy hailed Bishop a taxi, he told him to get some rest and to return only when he was healthy. Bishop nodded in agreement.
On the following day, March 2, a State Park Ranger in Columbia, North Carolina, 282 miles south of Bethesda, Maryland, responded to a report of a brush fire in a remote wooded area. As the flames were suppressed, he saw the calling cards of an arsonist—an empty gas can and a shovel. Those discoveries, however, were only the beginning.
As the smoke cleared and the heat subsided, the Ranger made a chilling discovery. Interred in the ashes were the remains of five partially charred bodies buried in a shallow grave. The bodies were those of three young boys and two women. Two articles of the victims’ clothing bore the labels of department stores in Bethesda, Maryland. The shovel was also shown to have been purchased at a hardware store in Bethesda.
The Bethesda Police Department were baffled as they had no reports of missing persons report of which they could link to the bodies. Six days later, however, a gruesome discovery would provide the answers.
On March 8, Bethesda police responded to call from one of the Bishops’ neighbors. She was worried because she had not seen any member of the family for over a week. The Bishops traveled frequently and often for extended periods of time. When doing so, they told the neighbor so she could pick up their newspapers, mail, and water their plants. This time, though, they had not contacted her.
When police arrived at the home, the neighbor gave them the key to gain entrance. As a detective approached the home, he saw no signs of forced entry. However, he did see several newspapers lying outside of the door, some nearly a week old. Upon seeing several blood drops leading out of the door and into the driveway, he realized this was not going to be a routine check on a missing person. Several blood drops leading out of the door and into the driveway suggested that bodies had been dragged out of the house.
Upon entering the home, the detective saw more blood drops leading from the doorway through the foyer to the stairs leading to the upper bedroom. The upstairs wall and ceiling were also coated with blood. Bloodstains of all members of the Bishop family were found. The detective described the house as the most gruesome crime scene he had ever seen.
On March 18, almost three weeks after the murders, a Ranger at Tennessee’s Great Smokey Mountains National Park discovered an abandoned station wagon. The ranger saw what appeared to be dried blood in the back of a car parked at the Elkmont Campground near Jakes Creek Trailhead. It appeared as though the car had been abandoned for several days. A check on the license plate showed the car was registered to Brad Bishop of Bethesda, Maryland.
When police searched the car, they found a blanket and spare-tire well in the trunk. Each was covered in blood. They also found dog biscuits. Bishop’s dog Theo had disappeared along with his master.
Bethesda police now knew the identities of the charred remains. The five bodies found the previous week in North Carolina were those of Annette, William III, Brenton, Geoffrey, and Lobelia Bishop. Noticeably missing among the discovered bodies was one William Bradford Bishop II.
The following day, a grand jury indicted Bishop on five counts of first-degree murder, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Investigators believe they have pieced together Bishop’s activities leading to the murders. On March 1, after leaving the State Department saying he was not feeling well, Bishop withdrew several hundred dollars from his bank account in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington, D.C., the neighborhood where he worked at the U.S. State Department Headquarters. Bishop is then believed to have gone to a local hardware store where he purchased a small sledgehammer, shovel and gasoline can. His next stop was a gas station where he filled the can.
Police believed he returned to his home, arriving between 7:30-8:00 p.m. Probably around 9-10 p.m., after the children had gone to bed, police believe Bishop began committing familicide. Annette was probably killed first as she was bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer as she was reading a book. Bishop then proceeded upstairs to slaughter his children as they slept. Last on the killing list was his mother Lobelia, who was beaten to death when she returned home from walking the dog. All five victims were beaten to death with the sledgehammer and none had an opportunity to defend themselves. The dog’s life was the only one spared by Bishop.
After slaughtering his family, police believe Bishop loaded the bodies into the back of his Chevy station wagon and drove the 282 miles south to the sparsely populated countryside of Columbia, North Carolina, where he dug a shallow grave, tossed the remains inside and set them on fire.
Using his credit card, Bishop then purchased a pair of tennis shoes at a sporting goods store in Jacksonville, North Carolina, 145 miles southwest of Columbia. A witness said he had his dog with him and may have been accompanied by a woman he described as “dark-skinned.”
Brad Bishop was not seen for two years. In July of 1978, a Swedish who had collaborated with Bishop while he was stationed in Ethiopia, reported she had spotted him twice in a public park in Stockholm during a span of one week. However, the sightings were not reported until several months afterward because she did not know at the time that he was wanted for murder in the United States.
The following year, a nearly surreal chance encounter occurred. Roy Harrell, the last person to see Bishop before the murders, was vacationing there was vacationing in the tourist town of Sorrento, Italy. He had gone to the Piazza Tasso Square to board a train bound for Rome but first went to the men’s room. As he was washing his hands, he saw a bearded, disheveled looking man enter the restroom. He is certain the man was his former State Department colleague, Brad Bishop.
Upon seeing Roy, the man he believed to be Bishop ran from the restroom and disappeared in the landing where the boats went to Capri. As unlikely as the chance encounter seems, the FBI believes the sighting is credible because Bishop and Annette had previously visited Sorrento and he was known to be very fond of the area and had spoken of wanting to live there.
The next and last sighting deemed credible of Bishop was 15 years later in 1994, when a former neighbor vacationing in Basel, Switzerland, believes he saw a clean-shaven Bishop getting into a car.
Bishop had a week’s head start from the time the murders were committed to when the bodies were identified. Police believe he may have had one or more false identities secured before the murders enabling him to get out of America and travel between countries. As a State Department employee, he would have known how to create false papers. Obtaining and using fabricated documents to hop from country to country was a lot easier in the 1970s that it is today.
Approximately a month before the murders, in early February of 1976, Bishop traveled to northern Italy on business. Several people reported seeing him at a ski lodge in the company of a dark-skinned, possibly Caribbean woman. Shortly after the murders, a similarly-described woman was seen with Bishop in a Jacksonville, North Carolina, clothing goods store and several other sightings of Bishop and the woman were reported in the Jacksonville area in the days after the murders but before the bodies were identified.
Whether the woman seen with Bishop in Italy and North Carolina are one and the same is not known. She has never been identified.
In 2010, the FBI announced that prior to the murders, Bishop had been corresponding with Kenneth Bankston, a federal prison inmate in Marion, Illinois. In total, police believe there six letters exchanged between Bishop and Bankston. In the last letter, dated March 15, 1976, two weeks after the murders, Bankston references a woman about Bishop had apparently inquired. Bankston says he is almost positive the woman is in the North Carolina state prison system but he does not name her. Investigators believe the woman mentioned in the letter could be the same unidentified woman seen with Bishop on two separate occasions on two different continents. However, a check of the women incarcerated in North Carolina at the time has failed to produce any legitimate possibilities.
The FBI does not know how Bishop and Bankston knew each other. Bankston worked in the oil industry prior to his incarceration. Bishop’s father had owned an oil company, but police have not been able to find any evidence that Bankston worked for him.
Both Bankston and Bishop served in the military, but in different branches; Bankston served in the Air Force and Bishop served in the Army. The two men were never stationed near each other.
The letter also mentions a second inmate named David Allen. His involvement, as well, is a mystery. Both Bankston and Allen had died before the discovery of the letters.
In October of 2014, authorities received a tip that an unidentified man killed in a hit-and-run accident in Alabama in 1981 bore a strong resemblance to Bishop. DNA testing determined the man was not the long-sought fugitive. The Alabama man remains a John Doe.
In April of 2014, the FBI placed Brad Bishop on their Ten Most Wanted List. It was an unusual move to place a fugitive on the Top Ten list so many years after the crime had been committed. Bishop was removed from the list in June of 2018 to make room for a “dangerous fugitive.” Despite the removal, the FBI considers the apprehension of Bishop to still be a “major priority.”
Brad Bishop’s motive for murdering his family has been debated almost as much as where he may be hiding. Some State Department workers, including Roy Harrell, said Bishop was constantly chastised by Annette and Lobelia as being inadequate and not advancing fast enough in his career.
Friends of the couple say Bishop was unhappy with his desk job and wanted another foreign post but that Annette did not want to live abroad again. She had begun to study art at the University of Maryland and was seeking work despite, friends say, for her husband’s desire for her to remain a stay-at-home mom.
In the 43 years since the slaughter of his family, sporadic sightings of Brad Bishop have been reported across Europe. Among the countries believed to have been visited by one of America’s longest and most infamous fugitives are Belgium, England, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Spain, and the three most credible sightings mentioned earlier in Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland. His fluency in four languages would allow him to blend into any of those countries.
The FBI says they have no evidence that Bishop is dead and they are continuing the global search for him. William Bradford Bishop II would today be 82-years-old.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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