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This story was originally reported July 27, 2014.
After living the life of an international diplomat at posts around the world including Italy and Botswana, Foreign Service officer William Bradford “Brad” Bishop Jr. settled with his family in the Washington, D.C. area in the early 1970s. Colleagues say the transition to a desk job was difficult for Bishop, a Yale graduate who spoke six languages and knew how to fly a plane. He, like a lot of his State Department colleagues, felt enormous pressure to be promoted.
Bradford Bishop, 78
“It’s up or out,” explained Foreign Service officer James Bruno. “If you don’t get promoted to a certain position in a certain amount of time, you’re out. We all take that very seriously in the Foreign Service,” he said, but Bishop “took it much more seriously than I guess the rest of us did.”
When Bishop, who was 39 at the time, learned he had been passed over for a promotion on March 1, 1976, he left his job at the State Department early, telling his secretary he felt ill. He went to a hardware store, where he purchased a small sledgehammer and a gas can before heading to his home in Bethesda, Maryland. That evening, police say, Bishop fatally bludgeoned his mother, his wife and their three sons – ages 14, 10, and 5 – with the hammer.
Police say that Bishop, after killing his family, loaded their bodies into the family’s station wagon and drove about five hours south to Tyrrell County in eastern North Carolina. There, in a heavily wooded area, they claim, he dumped their bodies into a shallow grave and set them on fire. Rising smoke alerted a ranger and authorities soon discovered the bodies. A massive manhunt ensued.
About 2½ hours south of the grave site, Bishop was spotted in a store near Jacksonville, North Carolina buying a pair of tennis shoes with his credit card, authorities said. The station wagon – still covered in blood – was found abandoned in a parking lot at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hundreds of miles west of where the bodies were found.
In the days before DNA profiling and the Internet, it took a lot of old-fashioned detective work to trace the bodies back to Bethesda. The only clue investigators had was a price tag on a shovel left at the grave site with the letters “OCH HD.” North Carolina state investigator Lewis Young said he and a colleague drove around the region looking for a hardware store with those letters in the name, and called law enforcement across the region for assistance. When they reached out to Washington Metropolitan Police, they learned there was a “Poch” hardware store in Potomac, Maryland. Not sure how to proceed, Young and his colleague headed to Potomac, where they posted a flyer with images of the unidentified victims’ faces inside the hardware store, before returning to North Carolina.
Around the same time, the Bishops’ neighbors had told authorities they hadn’t seen the family in a week, and mail and newspapers had piled up at the residence. When Montgomery County police entered the Bishop home, they found what officer Mike McNally described as a “horror house,” with blood everywhere.
Montgomery County authorities found the flyer that the North Carolina investigators left at Poch Hardware, and determined that the unidentified bodies found in North Carolina were the missing Bishop family.
McNally said he’ll never forget the hammer marks on the ceiling above the top bunk bed in one of the boys’ bedrooms. “The number of marks, you know, how many times he must have hit his son,” McNally said.
There have been three credible sightings of Bishop since he disappeared in 1976: a Swedish woman and former acquaintance said she spotted him in Stockholm in July 1978; a former neighbor said she saw him on a train platform in Basel, Switzerland, in September 1994; and a former colleague stood next to him in a men’s room in Sorrento, Italy, in January 1979.
“I thought he was a vagrant,” said retired Foreign Service officer Roy Harrell, who saw Bishop in Sorrento. “He was standing there and I came and stood right next to him, and for some reason turned. In my mind’s eye I stripped off the beard, and saw the Foreign Service officer I had seen in Washington, D.C. I just impulsively said, ‘You’re Brad Bishop, aren’t you?’ And he began trembling and shaking and said ‘Oh God, no’ and turned around. I have no doubt it was him.”
This year, the FBI added him to its Ten Most Wanted fugitives list and commissioned a forensic artist to create a bust of what Bradford might look like today as a man in his late 70s.