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Getting away with murder Manhunt: The 21-year-old search continues for a Bethesda man who murdered his family but kept the dog.

July 24, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Police believe he packed the five battered bodies into the back of his maroon Chevrolet wagon and headed south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, traveling through numerous toll booths along the way. The bodies were out of sight, hidden underneath blankets, says Keefer, the detective trying to track Bishop down.

"It had to be one morbid ride," Keefer says. "The bodies were in horrible condition."

The killer dug a grave in a forest near Columbia, N.C., dumped gasoline on the bodies, and set them afire. A forest ranger discovered the grisly scene after noticing the blaze from a nearby watchtower.

Police weren't able to identify the victims until a week later, since no one had reported any of the Bishop family missing. Their home was eventually searched and blood was found spattered in the foyer, where a violent struggle had apparently occurred, and in the bedrooms.

Unidentified woman

After disposing of the bodies, police and the FBI believe, Bishop drove his car 400 miles west to the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The car was found 16 days after the discovery of the bodies; police bloodhounds picked up a faint scent of Bishop near the park's tourist center.

The last confirmed sighting of Bishop was March 2 -- shortly after the bodies were dumped -- in a Jacksonville, N.C., sporting goods store where Bishop bought a pair of tennis shoes on his credit card. He was with an unidentified woman who held his dog, Leo, on a leash, recalls John Wheatley, who still runs the store.

"They seemed very much like a couple," said Wheatley, who said Bishop was polite and well-spoken. "The only thing I really remember is that she had on a beautiful dress, and she seemed to be Caribbean in nature. She was dark-skinned."

The woman is a tantalizing detail for Kight and Keefer. Find her, they say, and you take a big step toward finding the elusive Bishop.

Keefer uncovered a clue as to her whereabouts in 1992, when, while digging through Bishop's old files at the State Department, he found a March 15, 1976, letter sent to Bishop from a convicted bank robber that made a vague reference to a woman, passports, and the area where the bodies were discovered.

The numbered letter, apparently the sixth in a series, indicates Bishop may have been planning his family's murder for months.

"Now in answer to your question. Yes I am most sure she is in the North Carolina State penitentiary," wrote the bank robber, A. Ken Bankston. But he does not name the woman.

Undiscovered for 16 years

The letter went undiscovered in State Department archives for 16 years. Bankston died in 1983, before police knew of his connection to Bishop, going to the grave with whatever information he had of the Bishop mystery.

"It's just another frustrating piece of an incredible puzzle," says Keefer, his office packed with files and folders on the case.

Sightings of Brad Bishop -- or someone people think is him -- are common around the world. People who see wanted posters and "America's Most Wanted" seem to believe they've spotted him in car washes, libraries, and even posing as a janitor at a Southern California school.

CIA phone number

But none of the leads have panned out. In recent years, Kight has pursued the CIA angle, citing a series of bizarre clues that suggest there was more to Bishop than met the eye.

In his letters to the CIA, the sheriff mentions a clue found in Bishop's desk at the State Department -- a match book with a telephone number of a CIA office at the agency's Langley headquarters.

He also cites a document found in Bishop's security file at the State Department, which stated that the CIA had done a "damage assessment" of Bishop's knowledge of its activities after he disappeared. But the CIA concluded "that it does not consider Bishop as a possible espionage target," the report said.

Kight even took the unusual step for a law enforcement agency (( of filing a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA, telling them the Bishop case "leads us to believe there is involvement of some unknown entity with unlimited resources."

The CIA's response was succinct: "No records responsive to your request were located."

Family and friends still recall Brad Bishop as an exceptional person. He was trained as a pilot while living in Botswana. He liked to ski, motorcycle, swim and play tennis. He had advanced degrees in history. And when needed, he could be quite charming.

"I think he's probably in Croatia or Yugoslavia somewhere. He liked that area," said Weis, Annette Bishop's brother. "He'll probably never be found. But wherever he is, I hope his conscience finds him."

Pub Date: 7/24/97

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