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A North Carolina woman’s search for her biological parents led her to an unexpected place: The FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Kathy Gillcrist learned her biological father is a fugitive who's been on the run for decades after allegedly bludgeoned his mother, wife and three sons to death in 1976 before burying and burning their bodies.
Gillcrist made the surprising discovery after taking home a DNA test in 2017, according to local station WECT.
Gillcrist, who knew she had been adopted as an infant in 1957, was able to use the test to connect with several distant cousins, including Susan Gillmor, an amateur genealogist living in Maine, who is a third cousin.
“We both felt like we’d just connected with someone we’d known forever,” Gillmor told Fox Television Stations. “We’ve been friends ever since and have managed to meet in person twice.”
Gillmor also volunteered to help Gillcrist find her birth parents and urged her to take a second DNA test, this time a test kit from Ancestry DNA. The test revealed more about Gillcrist’s connection to her biological mother’s side of the family, but it took longer for Gillmor to track down information about her biological father.
“It took almost a year for me to definitively discover which twig of my tree contributed a parent to Kathy's heritage. There were dozens and dozens of possible candidates and I was checking out all of them," Gillmor told the news outlet.
She was ultimately able to determine that Gillcrist’s biological father was William Bradford Bishop Jr., a man who was named to the FBI’s Most Wanted List in 2014 for the brutal massacre of his family.
According to the FBI, Bishop is suspected of bludgeoning to death his 37-year-old wife Annette, 68-year-old mother Lobella, and three sons — 14-year-old William, 10-year-old Brenton, and 5-year-old Geoffrey — in Bethesda Maryland on March 1, 1976. Authorities believe he took the bodies to Columbia, North Carolina where he buried them in a shallow grave and “lit them on fire.”
“To be able to take a hammer to your children’s heads and faces while they are sleeping, I think really exhibits the brutality of the crime,” FBI case agent Charles Adam said in a 2014 video about the case.
Authorities said Bishop, who had worked for the U.S. State Department, carried out the grisly murders after he was passed over for a promotion that day at his job.
After burying the bodies, the FBI said he was seen the next day buying tennis shoes with a woman his age and what may have been the family dog. His car was found abandoned at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
After making the grim discovery, Gillmor was tasked with telling Gillcrist what she had uncovered.
“She called me one day and said, ‘I found your father,’. … I asked, ‘Is it someone famous?’” Gillcrist recalled to Bethesda Magazine.
Gillmor told Fox Television Stations that after she shared the news, Gillcrist “went silent for a goodly amount of time” before she opted to approach the situation with humor.
“I was raised by people with a great sense of humor … and I laughed,” Gillcrist told the news outlet. “Of course that’s why he’s famous. … He was a murderer.”
Bishop has never been found and would be in his 80s today. Gillcrist believes her father is still alive and said she’d be interested to learn where he is.
“My gut feeling is he’s alive and living in Europe,” she told Bethesda Magazine. “Because he lived in Europe for a time. He had the means and cognitive abilities to get himself back there.”
Authorities have said he had “extensive camping experience” and was known to be a avid outdoorsman and hiker. He also spoke several languages, including English, French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Spanish—which could have aided in his ability to assume a new life.
The FBI described him as a “longtime insomniac” who had reportedly been under psychiatric care before the murders.
“Bishop was described as intense and self-absorbed, prone to violent outbursts, and preferred a neat and orderly environment,” officials said.
Gillcrist was ultimately able to identify seven half-siblings and the identities of both her biological parents through the use of DNA ancestry technology—but she still isn’t sure whether her biological mother ever knew the later allegations to surface against Bishop.
"That’s the million-dollar question right now," Gillcrist told Fox Television Stations. "My birth mother had kept my existence a secret for 62 years."
She’s written about her unconventional journey to discover her roots in the book “Its In My Genes,” but cautioned that DNA ancestry searches may lead to some unexpected results.
"These DNA tests are fun, and they’re fascinating and they’re interesting, but they need to be taken with a real sense of responsibility," she said. "If I had discovered the information I had discovered when I was a younger person, it really would have affected me differently."
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