- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

A concerned police officer’s refusal to let a hit-and-run victim’s body remain unidentified three decades after his death might have been the key to ending the FBI’s long search for one of America’s most-wanted fugitives, authorities said Friday.

If DNA proves the body found along an Alabama highway in 1981 is that of accused killer William Bradford “Brad” Bishop Jr., it would be because of the remarkable confluence of two separate law enforcement agencies aggressively investigating two apparently unconnected cold cases nearly 700 miles apart.

Investigators said Friday that they would test DNA from the hitchhiker’s body and a decades-old cigarette butt linked to Bishop to see if they match.

The FBI also has detailed dental X-rays from a 1972 exam performed on Bishop, who was a State Department diplomat, and a set of fingerprints from Bishop’s time in the U.S. Army, authorities said.

The possible break in both cases had its genesis a year ago, when Scottsboro police Lt. Scott Matthews was so disturbed by authorities’ inability to identify the hitchhiker that he began a new campaign to publicize the case.

“There’s a family out there somewhere that’s missing someone,” Matthews said.

Police had found no identification on the man, just a phone number that belonged to a trucker who had once given him a ride, said Keith Smith, Scottsboro’s police chief at the time of his death.

The case of John Doe had grown cold.

“My thought was with social media as it is today, if we could get the story out there again, it would grow legs, it would travel,” Matthews said.

His work on the case resulted in a story in the local newspaper, the Daily Sentinel.

Meanwhile, the FBI was renewing an investigation of its own, into the disappearance of Bishop, who was accused of using a sledgehammer to kill his wife, mother and three sons in their Bethesda, Maryland, home in 1976.

Authorities later found the bodies burned in North Carolina and Bishop’s station wagon in the vast Great Smoky Mountains National Park south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Bishop was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in April. In July, his case was featured on the CNN program “The Hunt with John Walsh.”

The man who linked the two was Scottsboro resident Jeremy Collins, who saw the program and noticed striking similarities between Bishop’s picture and the hitchhiker’s picture. He called police and on Thursday, the body was exhumed from its grave.

“We wouldn’t have been there without him,” said Paul Daymond, an FBI spokesman in Alabama.

The process of identification could take a few weeks, Matthews said.

If it turns out that the hitchhiker is not Bishop, Matthews said his search will continue.

“You would think still a brother, a sister, a niece or a nephew might come forward,” he said. “I’m not going to give up.”

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