Why Arizona fugitive Robert Fisher was removed from FBI Ten Most Wanted list

Robert William Fisher, FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive poster
Robert William Fisher, FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive poster

After 20 years, Arizona fugitive Robert Fisher has still not been located, but he has been removed from the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

The FBI Phoenix Field Office said Wednesday that Fisher remains at large, but he no longer fits the criteria for the famous list.

One of the criteria for being on the list is that publicity will help locate and capture the subject. Since his disappearance in 2001, there have been no confirmed sightings of the fugitive, who is accused of killing his family and blowing up their Scottsdale home.

"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 in a statement.

The investigation will continue, the FBI said.

Fisher would now be 60 years old, if he's still alive.

Still missing: Inside the Robert Fisher fugitive case 20 years later

He is accused of murdering his 38-year-old wife, Mary, and two children, 12-year-old Brittney and 10-year-old Bobby, in their beds. All three had their throats slashed. Mary had a bullet in her head.

Police believe Fisher, a former firefighter, then rigged their Scottsdale home to catch fire to cover up the crimes. The victims were found after crews extinguished the flames on April 10, 2001.

A neighbor told police she heard Robert and Mary Fisher arguing around 10 p.m., the night before the fire, and Robert Fisher was last photographed later that evening, at 10:45 p.m., at an ATM a half-mile from the family's house.

Police believe he may have been on his way out of town after killing his family, though it's possible he returned to commit the murders after visiting the ATM. Video from the bank shows the family's Toyota 4Runner in the background, and Fisher appears to be alone.

Still on the Fisher case: The clues he left behind

He has been missing ever since. Ten days later, the vehicle he was driving was found abandoned in the forest east of Payson. Authorities found Fisher’s dog, Blue, a 2-year-old Queensland Heeler mix, nearby.

The FBI put Fisher on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list on June 29, 2002. Inclusion on the list isn't scientific. The FBI chooses fugitives based on two main factors: The person must be dangerous or have a record of serious crimes, and the FBI must believe nationwide publicity will help find the suspect. Those factors helped put Fisher on the list.

For subscribers: Robert Fisher: Why he's still being spotted, 20 years after the murders

Scottsdale police Detective John Heinzelman, the lead detective currently assigned to the case, told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday that the FBI has been debating whether to remove Fisher from the list and replacing him with someone else. He said the FBI informed him last week Fisher was going to be taken off the list soon.

"I said, 'OK, that’s fine by me.' It doesn’t really change anything I’m doing," Heinzelman said.

He still receives two to three tips a week, or about 100 leads a year. Heinzelman said he had received another tip as recently as Wednesday morning, just moments before an Arizona Republic reporter called him, asking about Fisher's removal from the FBI list.

"We’re still looking for him, no different than before," he said.

Thousands of tips about Fisher lookalikes have come in from nearly every state and around the world, including two high-profile sightings that were ultimately deemed false: one in Canada in 2004 and another in a Denver suburb in 2014.

There are three main theories about what happened to Fisher:

  • He is living somewhere under an assumed identity.

  • He killed himself, and his body has not been found.

  • He was on the run for weeks or years but has since died, and his remains have not been found or identified.

The Arizona Republic spent three months researching the Fisher case earlier this year for the 20th anniversary of the case, conducting interviews with friends and unearthing police reports and court records that shed new light on one of Arizona's most enduring mysteries.

Many people have speculated that Fisher killed himself after the murders and his body was simply never found. His friends say he threatened suicide once before, three years before the murders, while despondent over his marriage.

A manhunt in the forest east of Payson was called off after a few days because of bad weather and lack of evidence.

Earlier this year, the FBI investigators in charge of the case told The Republic that they are most interested in hearing from people who knew Fisher or how he vanished. Investigators hope that anyone with knowledge will come forward so that the relatives of Robert and Mary can have closure.

"We don't know exactly what happened," said FBI Special Agent Taylor Hannah. "And I think their families, both Robert and Mary's, deserve that information at this time."

People who have information on Fisher's whereabouts are advised to call Scottsdale police at 480-312-5000.

Fisher is still listed on the FBI website under the section for people accused of murder.  The FBI replaced Fisher on the Ten Most Wanted list with fugitive Yulan Adonay Archaga Carias, who allegedly controlled criminal activity in Honduras for MS-13, an international crime gang. The 39-year-old fugitive faces federal drug and gun charges.

The FBI says he is allegedly responsible for supporting multiton loads of cocaine through Honduras to the United States and for ordering the murders of rival gang members.

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8072. Follow her on Twitter @anneryman.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona fugitive Robert Fisher removed from FBI 10 Most Wanted list