CAROLINA SHORES, N.C. (WECT) - Kathy Gillcrist always knew she was adopted, but she had no idea just how different her life would’ve been if her birth mother hadn’t made the decision to give her up after she was born.
“I had the option to check a little box that says I was an adopted child and I would be interested in finding siblings or other relatives,” said Kathy Gillcrist, who took her first DNA test in 2017.
The 23andMe DNA test brought back a single match: her third cousin, Susan Gillmor, a successful genealogist in Maine.
“We were amazed that we were a lot alike,” said Gillmor. We both were English majors, we were both teachers.”
Since unlocking the secrets to ancestry is Gillmor’s profession, she decided to help Gillcrist get more answers. She convinced Gillcrist to take an Ancestry DNA test next, revealing more about their familial connection through Gillcrist’s mother. The hardest part of digging through Gillcrist’s lineage was finding her father.
“I’m looking at the surnames, I’m looking at names in common, I’m looking at geography-- and his name is William Bradford Bishop, Jr,” said Gillmor.
That was the problem. William Bradford Bishop Jr. has been wanted by the FBI since the 1970s. He’s accused of brutally murdering his wife, mother and three sons after missing out on a promotion at work.
“To be able to take a hammer to your children’s heads and faces while they’re sleeping, I think, really exhibits the brutality of the crime,” said FBI case agent Charles Adams.
The FBI says Bishop was an insomniac and had been under psychiatric care before the murders. After the attacks, authorities say Bishop drove what was left of his family over 300 miles from Bethesda, M.D. to Columbia, N.C.
“[He] dug a hole, a shallow grave and laid the bodies in that shadow grave and then proceeded to set them on fire,” said Adams.
Bishop’s car was later found at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and inside were maps and hiking information. The FBI characterizes Bishop as an avid outdoorsman with extensive camping experience, making him difficult to track. In 2014, he was named to the FBI’s most wanted list.
“[Gillmor] said ‘okay, I found your father. All I’m going to do is give you his name.’ I said ‘is it someone famous?’ She said ‘um, yeah,’” Gillcrist said, remembering the day she found out who her biological father was. “I just laughed. We have a great sense of humor in my adoptive family and I thought ‘of course, my father’s a murderer!”
If the DNA trail wasn’t enough, the pictures she found of Bishop and his children were.
“They look more like me than my own children do and when I look at the behaviors and characteristics it’s more than clear in my mind.”
The physical features weren’t the only traits Gillcrist believes to inherited from her father. Although she was raised by quiet and reserved adoptive parents, Gillcrist has always been the loudest one in the room and had a flair for theatrics. She later found that her father had the same driven personality and her paternal grandmother also had an interest in theater.
After discovering her family, Gillcrist reached out to her new sisters who were shocked to learn they had a sister they never knew. Gillcrist says it’s a reminder of how life-changing taking a DNA test can be and warns others that digging up family history might lead somewhere you least expect.
“It was traumatic for my half sister when she found that out about her mother,” said Gillcrist. “It took her about six months before she could actually respond to me.”
Gillcrist’s birth mother gave up three children for adoption. While DNA proves the connection between Gillcrist and her mother, she took the secret to her grave, never telling a soul about the child she gave up to give them a better life.
“We just wanted to have the opportunity to thank her, but she did not want to be forthcoming about any of this information, so we didn’t,” said Gillcrist. “But my birth siblings say ‘I think she knows and I think she’s smiling that we all accepted each other.’”
As for if Kathy’s mom knew of her father’s dark past, she isn’t sure. Gillcrist is just glad she didn’t find out until she was older and believes her birth mother would be happy with the family she’s found in her six half siblings.
The alleged killer was removed from the FBI’s Most Wanted list in 2018 to make room for another fugitive, but the FBI is still searching for him.
Bishop would be in his 80s today, but Gillcrist believes he’s still alive. He was multi-lingual and has reportedly been spotted in Europe, where Gillcrist believes he may have started a new life and even a new family.