Brad Bishop in March 1976 killed his family in their Maryland home, fled the state and ditched the family station wagon in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Without a doubt, Kathy Gillcrist’s father is a mass murderer.
She suspected for several years she was the illegitimate daughter of William Bradford Bishop and wrote a book about it, “It’s In My Genes,” in 2020. WBIR featured Gillcrist’s story, “The Mass Murderer’s Daughter,” in February.
But it wasn’t formally and scientifically confirmed until this summer, when the FBI collected some of her DNA and compared it to crime scene evidence.
A special agent from headquarters called her with confirmation: She was indeed a genetic match to the diplomat who in March 1976 bludgeoned his three sons, wife and mother in their suburban Washington, D.C. home and disappeared into oblivion.
To this day, the fugitive Foreign Service officer and Yale University graduate is a wanted man, even though he’d be in his 80s if he’s still alive.
“People ask me a lot, Aren’t you afraid he’s going to come forward? I say, What would be the benefit of that except making contact with his daughter, you know?” the 64-year-old said.
It’s been a memorable year for Gillcrist.
As public awareness has grown about her story, she’s done an increasing number of TV and newspaper interviews, signed a deal for a possible documentary, met relatives she didn’t know she had and fielded inquiries from people who swear they’ve met her father during his decades on the run.
She’s always had a flare for the dramatic. She’s recently gotten business cards stamped, The Murderer’s Daughter.
A quick history of the Bishop case: The California native worked for the State Department and had ambitions of rising through the ranks of the Foreign Service. After getting disappointing job news in early 1976, he murdered his family in their Bethesda, Md., home , loaded their bodies into the family station wagon, drove to remote eastern North Carolina woods, burned the corpses and eventually fled to the Smokies.
He abandoned the Chevy at Elkmont Campground in the national park — why, we don’t know — and authorities have been trying to find him ever since.
He was 39 then; he’d be 85 today if he’s still alive.
At various times he’s supposedly been spotted in Italy and the western United States. It’s possible Bishop fled to Europe: He was a Europhile and had spent diplomatic time in various countries on the Continent.
Investigators even dug up a dead man in Alabama in 2014, hopeful it might be Bishop. It was not.
He remains a wanted man, and the sheriff of Montgomery County, Md., has sworn that so long as he draws a breath he’ll try to find Bishop and bring him to justice.
WBIR has covered the Bishop case extensively as part of its Appalachian Unsolved crime series because of its ties to the Smokies.
But we knew nothing about Kathy Gillcrist until she sent us one of those emails in January 2021 that started something like, “I wanted to let you know…”
Gillcrist, a gregarious, mischievous retired drama teacher, was born in 1957 in Boston to an unwed woman who gave her up for adoption. She grew up with a loving adoptive mom and dad named Sidebottom whose personalities were nothing like hers.
She’s known for a very long time that she was adopted, but she knew little about her blood history until a few years ago when she retired. She formerly lived in Georgia and today has a home with her husband in coastal North Carolina.
Gillcrist spit into a tube and sent it off to 23andMe, the genomics and biotech company that tests your DNA sample and reports back what it finds. It can help users find blood relatives, links in their family tree, and learn insights about potential genetic variants in their overall health.
23andMe asks customers who are adopted if they’d like to find out any blood matches in their database. Gillcrist said yes and quickly learned about a third cousin named Susan Gillmor who lives in Maine.
Gillmor is a skilled genealogist. She soon set about trying to figure out her cousin’s birth mother and father.
Any time you start rummaging in the genetic closet, you’re liable to find surprises.
Gillcrist got a big one when Gillmor called to tell her what she’d learned about Bishop.
Still, doubts lingered. Gillmor is very good at what she does, conducting laborious research through databases to build family trees. But there was no hard, actual confirmation of what both women believed to be true.
And then the FBI came calling. They’d heard about her story.
Gillcrist said she was out of town in May of this year getting a COVID-19 shot when her husband called to alert her that two agents had stopped by and needed to see her about a matter of some urgency.
They wanted a cheek swab to run DNA tests to see if indeed she was related to Brad Bishop. Authorities already had Bishop’s genetic material.
Gillcrist happily complied, and then waited and waited in obvious anticipation.
“It took months, and meanwhile my cousin Susan was terrified that she would be wrong, that they would prove that the whole thing was a hoax,” Gillcrist said. “We were really nervous about that because we thought, We’re just going to be giant frauds.”
FBI Special Agent Karen A. Cody got back to her in June with confirmation: She was indeed a blood relative of Brad Bishop. Cody also went up to Maine to meet with Susan Gillmor to discuss how she’d deduced that Gillcrist was Bishop’s daughter.
Gillcrist said she’s also heard this year from a cousin on Bishop’s side of the family who has seen her and decided she is indeed family. The cousin took a DNA test and she and Gillcrist are indeed a match, Gillcrist said.
“She tells me she remembers Brad very well, although Brad was her older cousin, you know, her mother was Brad’s cousin,” she said. “She says Brad didn’t have anything to do with us. But he was very much the golden child. And she said, I do remember learning the word narcissist in high school. And she said, I immediately raised my hand and said I know someone who’s a narcissist and she says that was Brad.”
Gillcrist suspects her father met her birth mother in fall 1956 while down in Boston on a trip from Yale. So by the spring of 1957 the birth mother would have been very pregnant.
In May 1957, Bishop left Yale for what he told everyone was a family emergency back home in California, Gillcrist said. But Gillcrist said she’s learned from her cousin that there really was no emergency.
More likely, he was lying low after impregnating a young woman.
Gillcrist was born the following month — June 1957.
This year she’s heard from many people — people who are curious and people who think they may have information to share.
In September a man who had been an EMT messaged and offered that he may have treated Bishop a couple years ago.
A man also contacted her certain that Bishop had lived in Wisconsin as a hermit in the woods. But he told her Bishop burned the cabin down and died.
Gillcrist said she hasn’t been able to verify what he told her.
She’s also been the subject of numerous newspaper and TV stories since WBIR spoke with her, including NBC Washington, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Charlotte Observer.
She’s been on a podcast called the Ivy League Murders talking about her father. She’s also signed on to be part of a planned documentary. And she’s had those business cards made.
“My adoptive brother always says, When are you going to stop? Make this stop and go away. And I say, Well, you know, it’s not hurting anybody. And another one of my cousins said to me, Kathy, you trained your whole life for this,” she said.
She’s embracing whatever comes as a result of this strange new infamy.
Gillcrist thinks her father probably is still alive. There’s longevity in the family.
It was creepy, she admits, when the FBI confirmed her heritage.
“It did make me pause for a minute and say, Wait a minute, this is scary. But, I still think there’s things people can learn. There’s still an old teacher in me that says, you know, there’s a lot to learn about the story, too.”
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