As Bradford Bishop is added to FBI list, ranger remembers finding family bodies in N.C.


The family of William Bradford Bishop Jr. is seen on this poster Thursday displayed at Montgomery County Police headquarters. Authorities say Bishop murdered his mother, Lobelia Bishop, 68; his wife, Annette Bishop, 37; and his three sons, William, 14; Brenton, 10; and Geoffrey, 5. (Dan Morse/The Washington Post)

So much of the story about Bradford Bishop involves time: 38 years since he allegedly killed his family with a small sledgehammer inside their Bethesda home, 38 years of the police trying to find him.

But for Ronald Brickhouse, a retired North Carolina forest ranger who found the partially burned bodies of the victims, the image stays with him as if it were yesterday.

“I still think about it often,” Brickhouse, 72, said in an interview Thursday night. “How can a man beat his young‘uns to death?”

Brickhouse was on duty the early afternoon of March 2, 1976, when a forest-service worker assigned to an observation tower spotted smoke coming from woods in Tyrrell County, N.C. Brickhouse was sent to investigate, driving his truck down a country road toward the smoke. He figured it was coming from people who were building a new house and had a bad habit of burning their construction debris.

Brickhouse kept driving, passing an old logging road to his right. Moments later, he arrived at the new home under construction. No smoke. No fire.


An age-progressed image of what William Bradford Bishop Jr. might look like today. He would be 77 years old. (Courtesy FBI)

He turned around, came back to the logging road and drove down it. That’s when he saw a hole, about the size of a bathtub. There was a mound of fresh dirt next to it. Inside the hole were two partially burnt bodies, which had been placed there face-to-face, Brickhouse recalled.

The fire was out in the hole, but flames were dancing above a nearby gas-can, which still held fuel, and the fire had spread to a half-acre of young pine tree seedlings. To Brickhouse it was immediately clear: Whoever had done this had done so only several minutes before.

“I believe I was that close to him,” Brickhouse said.

He put the lid on the gas can to stop the small fire there. He got on his radio: Send the county sheriff.

Later, when he stopped by the sheriff’s office, he learned more, horrifying details. The hole actually contained five bodies, three of them underneath the two bodies he had seen.

Brickhouse said he hopes the addition of Bishop to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list brings about his capture. Brickhouse believes that the old logging road, which is still around, is so out-of-the-way that Bishop likely had scouted it out well before the killings.

“I’d like to ask him: ‘Why did he pick this area?’” Brickhouse said. “’Why did he pick my county to come to?’”

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Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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