We could know in just a few weeks if a body exhumed today in Alabama is that of William Bradford Bishop, one of the D.C. area's most wanted men.
The body was exhumed Thursday after a Scottsboro, Alabama man saw a photo of an unknown man who was struck and killed by a car in 1981. Authorities will now compare the body's DNA to samples of Bishop's DNA, which were taken from a cigarette found at the murder scene.
The man killed in Alabama had no identification, and he was buried in Scottsboro as a "John Doe." His identity was one of the very few cold cases remaining in Scottsboro, and a local newspaper published his picture recently in hopes that publicity would help solve the case.
When Scottsboro resident Jeremy Collins saw a photo of Bishop in August, he realized the photo looked a lot like the John Doe.
"You know, this looks a lot like the guy that was in the Daily Sentinel," Collins said, "and it looked too much like him not to do something about it."
"The similarities are just unbelievably close," said Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin.
Bishop is accused of using a short-handled sledgehammer to murder his wife, Annette; his mother, Lobelia; and his three boys, 14-year-old Brad, 10-year-old Brenton and 5-year-old Geoffrey, in their Potomac, Maryland home in 1976.
The family's bodies were found burning in a shallow grave off a logging road near Columbia, North Carolina. Two weeks later, investigators found Bishop's car in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Bishop disappeared after the murders.
The slayings horrified the D.C. area, and police have continued to investigate. In April, the News4 I-Team broke the news that authorities had added Bishop to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. Since then, the FBI says it has received about 350 tips in the case.
For decades, investigators thought Bishop might have used his State Department training to sneak off overseas, living the luxurious lifestyle in Europe friends said he always craved.
But the FBI’s Special Agent In Charge, Steve Vogt -- who pushed to get Bishop added to the 10 Most Wanted List -- said he’s always believed Bishop was broke and hiding in the United States.
"Ultimately it would be quite ironic ... that after all of these years, this is the way he ended his life. Really, as a homeless man. As a vagrant," Popkin said.
As similar as the two men look, Sheriff Popkin warns this might not be Bishop.
"If this is not Bishop, this determination will continue to find him," Popkins said. "If he's sitting at home watching and laughing at the fact this is not him, but we're down there and spending this time to do this, well, we're going to come and get him too at some point."
According to an Alabama Circuit Court filing, the FBI says "there is a very strong physical resemblance" between the John Doe buried in Scottsboro and William Bradford Bishop.
According to the paperwork filed Wednesday, the FBI says it is possible Bishop hid in the mountains for several years and could have hitchhiked 200 miles to Alabama.
"John Doe" had no identification except for a piece of paper containing the phone number of a truck driver who had picked him up while he was hitchhiking through Kentucky a few days earlier, the court records show.
The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for a tip that leads them to Bishop.
"We rely on the public and individuals like Mr. Collins to come forward and share what they know," said FBI spokesman Paul Daymond. "It's those little pieces of information. It may not seem like anything to you, but in the big picture it may be the one piece of the puuzzle we need to put it together."