Officer pursues fugitive in 1976 killings

Suspect in deaths of wife, mother, sons to figure on TV show

January 13, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Col. Robert Keefer has spent many years in the search for a man accused of a multiple killing in Montgomery County in 1976. Yesterday, Keefer -- now chief deputy at the Carroll County Sheriff's Office -- took another step to keep the unresolved case alive.

The vehicle: an ABC News crew, which was in Westminster yesterday to interview Keefer. He is a long-term figure in the international manhunt for William Bradford Bishop Jr., accused of killing his mother, wife and three sons.

"Bishop's out there, somewhere," said Keefer, who was interviewed in Westminster for a March episode of "Vanished," a television series that focuses on people who have disappeared. "Reader's Digest ran a story about our fugitive search in October, and we had hundreds of new leads to follow up.

"Maybe this new publicity will be seen by someone who knows where he is, and we'll finally get him."

Keefer became involved with the case in 1989 when, as a sheriff's deputy in Montgomery County serving warrants, he was asked to look into the dormant case. He hasn't stopped looking, even after his retirement from Montgomery County in 1998 and his appointment in Carroll County that year.

Bishop, who would now be 63, is a former U.S. diplomat wanted in Montgomery County in the homicides March 1, 1976, of his mother, Lobelia Amaryllis Bishop, 68; his wife, Annette Kathryn Bishop, 37; and sons, William Bradford Bishop III, 14, Brenton Germaine Bishop, 10; and Geoffrey Corder Bishop, 5.

He is wanted by the FBI and U.S. marshal's office on federal warrants for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, Keefer said.

Passed over at work

According to information gathered over the years by Keefer, Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight and John Cady, a retired Montgomery County detective working the case as a volunteer, Bishop apparently became upset at being passed over for a promotion.

They believe Bishop left work early and stopped on the way to his Bethesda home to buy a gasoline can and a small sledgehammer. That night, they allege, he used the sledgehammer to kill his family, stuffed the five bodies into his maroon Chevrolet station wagon and drove south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

They allege Bishop dug a grave in a wooded area near Columbia, N.C., poured gasoline over the bodies and set them ablaze. A forest ranger at a nearby watchtower saw the fire and discovered the gory scene, police said.

ABC News producer Paul Fine, who interviewed Keefer yesterday, praised the chief deputy for his drive to track down Bishop.

"Our story will not only be about Bishop, but the people like Bob Keefer who have formed a task force to track him down," Fine said. "Bob Keefer loves his family and his kids, but he is also seeing Brad Bishop's kids. He cares about them, too, and he loves the hunt."

Keefer says he thinks about the case often.

"I never thought I was obsessed with finding Brad," said Keefer, using a personal, first-name reference to Bishop. "My wife, Cindy, likes to tell of me sitting straight up in bed in the middle of the night, saying I just had an idea to follow up on a lead."

Effect on family

Keefer said he wasn't aware until two weeks ago how the hunt for Bishop had affected his family. Keefer said his daughter Patty, who is 15, heard him mention the Bishop case and dashed to the basement to boxes filled with school-related keepsakes.

"Patty came up and showed me this," Keefer said, presenting blue-covered, stapled pages called "My School Journal," which was written when she was in third grade.

In it, she wrote about her hope that her father and the other investigators "are going to nail Bishop in Mexico."

Keefer said his daughter's journal was an example of what he has witnessed whenever anyone hears about the Bishop case.

"They are caught up in wanting to see the guy caught," Keefer said. "Reporters write stories about it, and the case grows hot for a time as the leads come pouring in."

Keefer believes Bishop -- who speaks five languages fluently -- is alive, wealthy and living in Europe. Bishop reportedly was seen by a family acquaintance in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 1978 and in Basel, Switzerland, in September 1994 by a neighbor who knew the Bishops when they lived in Bethesda.

"I put a lot more weight on those sightings because the reports came from people who actually knew him," Keefer said.

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