2021 | News

Woman discovers accused mass murderer from Bethesda is her father through DNA test, genealogy

William Bradford Bishop believed to have murdered his family 45 years ago

William Bradford Bishop, left, photographed circa 1970-1975, Kathy Gillcrist in a recent photo

Photos from Federal Bureau of Investigation and Kathy Gillcrist

A North Carolina woman who was adopted as an infant made a chilling discovery about her biological family when she went digging — her father was an accused mass murderer.

A DNA test and a relative who was savvy with genealogical research helped connect the dots from Kathy Gillcrist to William Bradford Bishop, who is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for allegedly murdering his mother, wife and three sons in Bethesda on March 1, 1976.

Authorities believe he murdered his wife, mother and three sons — ages 14, 10 and 5 — with a sledgehammer at their Bethesda home before burning the bodies in Columbia, North Carolina.

Bishop’s car was found abandoned in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and police and investigators were not able to trace his whereabouts. They did discover that he had purchased a gas can, sledgehammer, shovel and pitchfork the same day that he is believed to have committed the murders.

Bishop remains missing after the case went cold, but Gillcrist told Bethesda Beat in an interview Saturday morning she’s interested in finding out whether he’s alive.

Gillcrist, said she was adopted as an infant in 1957 after her birth mother put her up for adoption. She took a DNA test in 2017 through which she was able to immediately connect with a cousin, Susan Gillmor, on her biological mother’s side of the family.

Gillmor turned out to have a knack for genealogical research and helped Gillcrist look into her family’s history. Through that research, Gillcrist was able to discover that she had seven half siblings and her father was an accused mass murderer — not the heartwarming story she was expecting.

She also has an eighth sibling who was reported to be adopted but she has not discovered whether they share Bishop as a father.

Gillcrist found out about the connection when Gillmore called her in 2018, telling her that she had found Gillcrist’s father.

“She called me one day and said, ‘I found your father,’. … I asked, ‘Is it someone famous?’” Gillcrist said. Gillmore said she would let Gillcrist search his name on the internet herself.

When Gillcrist looked up his name, his FBI wanted poster immediately popped up, she said. “I laughed. I said, ‘Oh gosh. Of course he’s a famous murderer,’” she said.

As Gillcrist researched Bishop more, she discovered similarities, including their experiences with insomnia.

Gillcrist said she looks like Bishop and that his three sons looked “more like me than my own children did” with their straight blonde hair.

“My story is more than a murder mystery story but we’re 99% sure that he is my birth father,” she said. “I have asked if I can test [my] DNA against the DNA at the crime scene.”

She said the response she has received from the FBI and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has been that her DNA is not useful in finding Bishop and there may be legal issues involved with testing the DNA from the crime scene.

Gillcrist said one of the odd parts of the story that “sends chills up my spine” is that the same weekend that Bishop allegedly murdered his family, she was in a beauty pageant — “one of the probably the most wholesome things a person could do. … Meanwhile, on the other side of my family, my father is [allegedly] murdering people.”

Although Gillcrist was able to obtain a copy of her original birth certificate, she said her birth mother wrote down a different name for her father. She also wrote a different name for the father on the adoption agency records.

“Either she was really confused or was leading a life that involved keeping a lot of secrets,” she said. “There is a lot of mystery.”

Gillcrist said she plans on visiting Montgomery County to try to track down people who might have known him once she receives the COVID-19 vaccine

“My gut feeling is he’s alive and living in Europe,” she said. “Because he lived in Europe for a time. He had the means and cognitive abilities to get himself back there.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.