In 1976, officials say, a 39-year-old father bludgeoned his wife, mother and three sons to death in their Maryland home, drove their bodies to the coast of North Carolina, buried them in a shallow grave and set it on fire.
Then he disappeared.
William Bradford Bishop Jr. was believed to have killed his entire family that night before reportedly ditching his red station wagon in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and vanishing for the next four decades.
It wasn’t until a 63-year-old woman in North Carolina started hunting for her birth family that the truth was revealed — he’d left one behind.
‘Of course my father is a murderer’
Kathy Gillcrist lives in Carolina Shores on the South Carolina border in Brunswick County. She grew up in Stoughton, Massachusetts, the adopted daughter of Jack and Norma Sidebottom, WBIR reported.
Gillcrist told the TV station she didn’t know much about her birth family, just that her biological mother had given her to the New England Home for Little Wanderers shortly after she was born.
Sixty years later, Gillcrist said she was ready to know more and submitted a DNA test to 23andMe, WECT reported. That’s how she found her third cousin, a woman named Susan Gillmor who is a genealogist from Maine, according to the TV station.
Gillmor first helped Gillcrist find her mother, who was also from Maine and got married at 17, WBIR reported. She had one child with the man before they divorced, then several more — all of whom she reportedly gave up for adoption.
According to WBIR, the woman eventually married, settled down in New England and had three children. But they never knew about their mother’s other kids until Gillcrist tracked them down, the TV station reported
Years later, Gillmor eventually found Gillcrist’s father: William Bradford Bishop Jr.
“She goes, ’OK I found your father. All I’m going to do is give you his name,’” Gillcrist told WECT. “I said, ‘Well is it someone famous?’ And she said, ‘Um, yeah.’”
By that point, Bishop had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list since 2014.
Gillcrist was born in June 1957 — two years before Bishop married his high school sweetheart Annette in 1959, The Washington Post reported.
“I laughed,” Gillcrist said, according to WECT. “We have a great sense of humor in my adoptive family. And I thought, ‘Of course my father is a murderer.’”
Hiding in plain sight
According to the FBI, Bishop was born in 1936 in Pasadena, California. He went to Yale University and later Middlebury College in Vermont, where he got a master’s degree in Italian.
He learned to speak five languages, including French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Spanish.
Bishop was a counterintelligence officer in the U.S. Army and eventually entered the Foreign Service, The New York Times reported. He served in Botswana, Ethiopia and Italy before he was stationed at the State Department in Washington, D.C.
On March 1, 1976 — when Gillcrist was 18 years old and living in Massachusetts — Bishop left work early after he was passed over for a promotion, according to the television show “Unsolved Mysteries.” A coworker reportedly walked him out.
On his way home to his family in Bethesda, Maryland, The Times reported, Bishop bought a “large hammer,” which he allegedly used to kill his wife Annette, mother Lobelia and his three sons — 14-year-old William Bradford III, 10-year-old Brenton and 5-year-old Geoffrey.
Bishop is accused of piling the bodies into the family car and driving nearly 300 miles south until he hit Columbia, North Carolina, in rural Tyrrell County. The town of less than 1,000 sits just west of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a pocket of dense wetlands before the Outer Banks.
The FBI says Bishop buried his family in a shallow grave there and lit them on fire before taking off.
According to “Unsolved Mysteries,” the bodies were found March 2, 1976, when a park ranger responded to reports of a brush fire. After putting it out, he found gas cans 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,” “Unsolved Mysteries” said. They were all reportedly wearing clothing from “expensive department stores in Bethesda, Maryland.”
But Bishop and his family weren’t reported missing until six days later, when a neighbor called the police.
By that time, the 39-year-old had bought a new pair of tennis shoes in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and driven 400 miles west to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Investigators found his station wagon abandoned at “an isolated campground” on March 18, 1976, The Times reported.
The FBI says Bishop “was, and may still be, an avid outdoorsman, camper, and hiker.” He enjoyed being outside and had his pilot’s license and was also a “longtime insomniac” who had been taking medication for depression.
He has been “described as intense and self-absorbed, prone to violent outbursts, and preferred a neat and orderly environment,” according to the FBI. Bishop was given the nickname the “Family Annihilator” when he was added to the Most Wanted list.
“There is no indication that Bishop is dead,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Vogt said at the time.
People have reported seeing Bishop as far away as Italy. Investigators believe he may be hiding in plain sight, possibly overseas or somewhere in the United States.
If he is still alive, Bishop would be 84 years old.
“No lead or tip is insignificant,” Vogt said. “If Bishop is living with a new identity, he’s got to be somebody’s next-door neighbor.”