Wed, 25 July 2018
PUPodcast, Episode 262: Bradford Bishop
Mar. 2, 1976. 12:40 pm. About 5 mi. south of Columbia, NC, which lies in the far eastern stretches of the state, out near the coast. A NC forest ranger on Highway 94 named Wilma Swain observes smoke in the distance and calls in authorities to help locate and contain the fire. Thinking it to be no more than a disposal fire, Ranger Ron Brickhouse goes in search of it.
Initially, he finds a pile of dirt, a shovel, and a red gas can, as if someone had started a fire and just left it to burn. However, in the hole near the implements, Brickhouse finds an arm, a leg, and shoes visible amidst the flames.
It looks as though there is a human body in the fiery pit. As investigators extinguish the flames and begin to extract the body, they find another body underneath. And then another. And so on. They keep going until they reach the bottom, and by then, they have pulled five human beings from the fiery wreckage. The state medical examiner finds the cause of death for the family members to be “blunt trauma to the head.”
No one can immediately identify the victims, and without a driver’s license or some other form of ID, the authorities struggle, at first, to get the investigation going. Judging by the ladies’ hairstyles — which do not match the ‘dos of the rural population — the investigators (correctly) assume they are from a more urban area. The only item that have anything to go on is a shovel left at the scene. At the base of the shovel, down near the blade, is a sticker with partial name for a hardware store on it.
The only letters visible on the handle are OCH[space]HD, which meant it was a hardware store whose name ended in OCH. This partial name was the only actual clue they gather to identify either the killer or the victims, and so they begin there.
Off to a bad start. Unhelpfully, not a single hardware store in NC ended in OCH, so Agent Lewis Young and another agent, travel up the NC coast into Virginia, looking for hardware stores matching the name from the abandoned shovel.
Mar. 7, 1976. Agent Young approaches the Metro Police in Washington, DC., and they are able to identify a store in Potomac, Maryland named Poch [like 2Pac] Hardware. They post a flyer of four of the victims in the hardware store (one of the victims was too badly damaged) and then, having no sufficient leads, eventually return to NC.
March 8, 1976. Bethesda, Maryland. The Bishop family — a mild-mannered “DC” family consisting of William Bradford, who is a foreign service agent, his wife Annette, Bradford’s mother Lobelia, and three sons Brad, Brenton, and Geoffrey — hasn’t been seen in days, and neighbors become suspicious after the front lawn piles up with newspapers.
Montgomery County MD Mike McNally receives a call to basically do a welfare check for a family living on Lilly Stone Drive in Bethesda, Maryland. Officer McNally gets inside the residence and finds a scene nothing short of horrendous.
Not a single member of the extended family is present in the home, but the excessive amount of blood speaks to the obvious presence of foul play. There is blood on the front porch, blood inside the home, blood leading up the stairs to the second floor, and gouts of blood cover the walls in the kids’ bedrooms.
Meanwhile, dental records from the crime scene are used down in North Carolina confirm the identities of the bodies in the fire pit. The five victims are the members of the Bishop family, which brings up two important questions: where is the husband, William Bradford Bishop, and how did the bodies end up on the coast of North Carolina?
A little background on Bradford Bishop. Though on the surface his life appears to be perfect — a Yale graduate with multiple degrees, a prestigious job, and a beautiful and caring family — the cracks beneath the facade reveal a much different picture.
While it is true that Bishop was a foreign service agent, with multiple posts across the world, it seemed as though his light was dimming. He’d recently been brought home from his most recent post and was being reassigned to a desk job, ostensibly ending the glamorous, jet-setting career he had been fostering since the mid-1960s. Living abroad, the Bishops had been able to live for free on the government’s dime, with limos and chartered cars spiriting them to all their destinations. That all came to a crashing halt when the family returned to America. Bishop’s $26,000 salary — along with the fact that Annette, Bradford’s wife, was barred from working — was not enough to make ends meet. They even had to take some money from Lobelia, Bradford’s mother, in order to buy their home in Bethesda.
The relationship, too, seemed to be under enormous strain at the time of the murders. Bradford had engaged in two extramarital affairs, and the difficult personality he brought to his coworkers in the State Department rose into prominence at home, and he and Annette began to have extreme disagreements over their quickly separating lives. It was yet another piece to add to the puzzle of what would come on that horrific night in March of 1976.
Lastly, the final piece that seems to send Bishop into deadly action: On the day of the murders, Bishop finds out he is not to receive a much-envied promotion — one that would seemingly put him back in the game — and he ducks out of work early as a result. On the way out, he meets a colleague who commiserates with him about not receiving a promotion, and that man would later testified that Bishop appeared fraught and nervous about his current circumstances.
After leaving work on March 1, sulking from his lost promotion, Bradford Bishop withdraws $400 from the family’s checking account, effectively zeroing it out, and goes home. He takes the family’s station wagon to a nearby SEARS and purchases a short-handled sledgehammer and a two gallon red gas can. He drives the car to a Texaco station and fills both the car and the can up.
My research is a little unclear on this point, but I’m pretty sure he then travels to a spot called Poch’s Hardware and buys a pointed shovel and a pitchfork. He then returns home and arrives at around 9 pm. The family has already eaten dinner and begun the process of winding down for the night.
Bradford’s mother, Lobelia, puts a leash on the family dog, a retriever named Leo, and heads out for a late-evening walk. A neighbor sees her walking up Lilly Stone drive around 9:30 pm, so we can be assured the time frame of the attack occurs sometime in this window.
Back at the Bishop residence, Bradford begins a step-by-step bludgeoning of his family. He descends to the basement family room, where he strikes his wife repeatedly in the head with the mini-sledgehammer. She has been studying art for a class she’s been taking and is unaware of the attack until it’s actually happening.
As he reached the ground floor, his mother Lobelia returns with Leo the Retriever. She seems something — maybe the blood on her son or the hammer dangling from his grasp — but she sprints for the bathroom and locks herself inside. He manages to get the door open and kill his mother right there in the bathroom. Afterwards, he treks upstairs and visits the same indescribable violence upon his three children.
He goes first to his eldest son’s room — this is Brad III — and bashes in his head while he sleeps. Bradford Bishop then moves across the hall to the bunkbeds where his two youngest children — Brenton (10) and Geoffrey, just 5 years old — and kills them too. Here is a quote directly from the book A Killer in the Family:
In what must have been a blind rage, Brad so violently attacked Brent, 10, in the top bunk that the coroner not only noted “multiple fractures” of Brent’s skull but “pulpefication of brain.” The furious backswing left scrape marks in the ceiling just above Brent’s head.
Little Geoff, 5, lay below in the bottom bunk. Asleep in his football-player pajamas he cannot have known what hit him; the coroner said any single blow of the hammer could have been fatal. Geoff’s blood ran into a blue pillowcase with white stars on it.
With the worst of the deed done, Bradford Bishop disposes of his bloody clothes and likely takes a shower. He then carries each of the five bodies — on different floors of the multi-level home — out to his Chevy Malibu station wagon and loads them in there, covering them with blankets when he is done. It should also be noted that besides himself, the only other living creature in the car is Leo, the family dog. Inexplicably, he’s left the family pet alive after this macabre and violent act.
Then, in the middle of the night, Brad Bishop drives away, setting forth on a 300-plus mile journey that will take down a good stretch of the eastern seaboard, through DC and down I-95 down into North Carolina. He reaches the town of Columbia at around 9 the next morning and veers off the beaten path onto State Road 1103, where this grim and senseless crime will become very public very quickly.
He digs for nearly three hours, giving up around noon, after he’s created a hole just under three feet in depth. He decides this is good enough and begins the process of dragging the bodies to the pit, beginning first with the smallest child, Geoff, and working his way up through the children, his wife, and then finally his mother, Lobelia, whom he places on the top of the pile. He pours nearly a gallon of gas on the bodies and throws a match on top.
It’s unclear how long Bradford Bishop stands there, watching his family burn, but by the time the forest rangers respond to the call, he is long gone.
He stops at a shop called Outdoor Sports in Jacksonville, North Carolina, just outside Camp Lejeune and buys a pair of Converse sneakers. What’s weird about this financial transaction is that the owner, John Wheatley, also reports having seen a woman with Bishop, whom he later describes as “about five-six, medium heavy-set” and “Caribbean.”
After that, he goes off the grid until March 18, 17 days after the murders.
On the 18th, Bishop’s Malibu is discovered at a campsite on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, just outside Gatlinburg. According to locals, the car had been there for nearly two weeks. In the car, they find some dog biscuits -- presumably for Leo -- maps of the US, including brochures advertising hikes, and lots and lots of blood. The trunk area had been soaked through in the stuff.
Three Credible Sightings
Here is a quote from A Killer in the Family:
Did Brad want the bodies to be found? Did he want the world to know that he had killed them? A tree falling in the woods is an unknown event. “He could have covered them up, thrown some branches on them, and it would have been years before they were discovered,” said Montgomery Co. Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Sean Songco. “He wanted them found.”
A Michigan forensic psychologist, Richard Walter, agrees. “It doesn’t count unless somebody sees them,” he told the CNN television show The Hunt with John Walsh.
Podcast Twitter: @pupodcast
Direct download: Ep_262_Brad_Bishop.mp3
Category: -- posted at: 7:29pm CDT