http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/411792.html Bishop still wanted in family's death Bodies were found in Tyrrell County Bishop disappeared after family members were slain. Jerry Allegood, Staff Writer The discovery of five battered bodies near the quiet riverside town of Columbia 30 years ago seemed as out of place as a murder in Mayberry. No one in town knew the two women and three boys from Maryland or why they ended up in remote Tyrrell County woods. Three decades later, they still don't have the answers. The victims found March 2, 1976, were the family of U.S. State Department employee William Bradford Bishop Jr. Bishop vanished, leaving questions for locals and authorities who pursued him in the United States and abroad. Darren Popkin, chief deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriffs Department in Maryland, said Bishop is still sought on five murder warrants in the death of his mother, wife and three sons. Federal authorities want him for unlawful flight. "This case was so intriguing," said former state Attorney General Rufus Edmisten, who was spokesman for the State Bureau of Investigation at the time. For years, he said, he received calls from people around the world who asked, "Whatever happened to Brad Bishop?" Bishop, 39 when he disappeared, has been featured on many nationally broadcast most-wanted programs, Popkin said. Bishop's visage in age-enhanced photos -- he vaguely resembles the actor Alan Alda -- continues to inspire unconfirmed sightings and tips every time it airs. "We may get 50 leads, and we check every one of them," Popkin said. Five corpses would create a stir in any community, but the gruesome find was particularly unsettling in Columbia, a town of about 900 about 170 miles east of Raleigh. The whole county, a sparsely populated area known for farming and fishing, hadn't had a slaying in about 40 years. Some people recall exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. "I was running a bulldozer about a mile away," said Tyrrell County Sheriff Fred Hemilright, who was not a law officer at the time. "I was shocked." People began locking their doors and eyeing strangers. "We were scared to death," Phyllis Jones of Columbia said recently. Ron Brickhouse, a retired state forest ranger, clearly remembers the day. A spotter in a fire tower dispatched him to a spot where smoke was rising from woods off N.C. 94, about five miles south of Columbia. He was checking out the scrub-covered area near a logging road when he saw what he thought was a pile of discarded hogs. "When you walk up expecting to see hogs and you find people, boy, your belly goes," he told reporters a day later. The two-man sheriff's department was soon swamped by reporters and a slew of investigators. Sheriff Royce Rhodes, who died a few years later, told reporters that he didn't think the victims lived in his county because he knew most everyone. A week later, attention shifted 300 miles north to Bishop's house, a gray-shingled split-level in an affluent neighborhood in Bethesda, Md. Investigators found a bloody crime scene but no bodies. Through dental records, the victims were identified as Bishop's wife, Annette; his mother, Lobelia; and his sons, William, 14, Brenton, 10, and Geoffrey, 5. Bishop had not been seen since he left work March 1, telling co-workers that he was not feeling well and might be coming down with the flu. A Yale University graduate, Bishop was assistant chief of the state department's special trade activities and commercial treaties division -- a mid-level bureaucrat. Investigators said the killer went from room to room, methodically beating the victims to death with a hammer. Then he drove six hours to a remote location, dumped the bodies and set them on fire. Bishop's credit card was used in Jacksonville, N.C., to buy $15.60 worth of sporting goods on the same day that the bodies were found. Employees didn't remember the sale. About three weeks later, Bishop's rust-colored 1974 Chevrolet station wagon was found in a parking lot near Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A blood-stained blanket, an ax and a shotgun were inside. Agents scoured the mountains, but the trail went cold. Over the years, the mystery grew. Bishop followers said his language skills and State Department training would enable him to slip out of the country and establish a life overseas. Police chased reported sightings in Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Popkin said a woman contacted authorities in April 2004 after she bought Bishop's diary at a yard sale in North Carolina. The last entry was well before the murders, he said, and there was nothing helpful. Investigators are still puzzled by a motive. There were reports that Bishop had been passed over for promotion and had been treated for depression. But that doesn't explain how someone could kill close family members. Edmisten, the former attorney general, said the killer apparently "flew into a demonic rage and just slaughtered those people." He said he thought that Bishop was still alive and might never be found. "I think that 30 years from now, we'll be saying 'what happened to Bradford Bishop?' " he said. Staff writer Jerry Allegood can be reached in Greenville at (252) 752-8411 or email@example.com.