The death of a Durham man whose son reported finding him unresponsive with a dog leash wrapped around his neck has been ruled a homicide, according to a medical examiner’s report.
Police started investigating the death of William “Bill” Bishop, a prominent Tampa, Florida-area developer, after his 16-year-old son called 911 on April 18 at 6:04 p.m. and said he had found his father “unconscious with no pulse,” Durham police Investigator T. Huelsman states in multiple search-warrant applications.
The son, a student at Durham Academy, said he found his father slouched in an oversized leather chair holding with his right hand a dog leash that was wrapped around his neck three times with the dog still attached. Bishop died three days later.
The son also told police that Bishop had recently gone through a divorce and was having problems with his new girlfriend, but he didn’t’ think he would harm himself, according to warrants.
The autopsy report said Bishop died from anoxic encephalopathy, due to resuscitated arrest due to ligature strangulation.
Anoxic encephalopathy is when brain tissue is deprived of oxygen and there is loss of brain function, according to emedicinehealth.com.
The autopsy report also states that Bishop had a severe injury to his right arm in 2012 that left his arm “largely functionless.”
Medical examiner’s report
An N.C. Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s report states that Durham County emergency responders said the 16-year-old son said he had taken the dog, a 60- to 70-pound yellow Labrador, out for a walk and returned home.
Another medical examiner’s report indicates that no drugs or alcohol were found in Bishop’s system.
Thirty minutes later, the son found his father unresponsive in the basement with a dog leash around his neck, the report states.
“The son called 911 but stated he was unable to perform CPR and stay on the phone because there is no cell service in the basement,” the report states.
Bishop underwent five rounds of CPR after EMS arrived, the report states.
“Of note, EMS states that during time at the house the son pulled one of them to the side to say, ‘I feel weird because I don’t feel bad he might die’ and ‘My dad is abusive to me and my mom.,” the report states.
Bishop and his ex-wife Sharon Bishop’s divorce had been finalized less than two weeks before he was found unresponsive, according to court documents.
The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer are not naming the teenager, one of Bishop’s two sons, because he hasn’t been charged.
In search warrants, Huelsman outlined circumstances he called “suspicious in nature,” as well as statements the 16-year-old made.
▪ The son told a firefighter he felt relieved his father was gone after being emotionally abused his entire life, according to the warrants.
“[The son] explained that there had never been anything physical to occur, just constant verbal abuse over minor things like dishes being left in the sink and homework not being completed,” a search warrant application states. “[He] also told officers that he would be extremely fearful for what his father would do if he survived.”
▪ A search of the son’s phone showed he searched for financial information, how to calculate the value of an estate, the value of gold, and how to transfer bank accounts after death, a search warrant states. In addition, he called his mother five times before he called 911, a warrant states.
Two weeks after Bill Bishop died, police searched the home on Dover Road in the Hope Valley neighborhood and found a locked room with a large safe. Huelsman contacted Sharon Bishop, who said she didn’t know the combination but that he might find it written on a file inside a filing cabinet.
“I followed Sharon’s instructions but I could not find a combination for the safe,” the detective wrote in the warrant.
Part of the paperwork seized during the search included a purchase order for $462,773 in gold, the warrant states.
According to another search warrant, Bishop’s girlfriend Julie Seel told police June 5 that there was at least $50,000 in gold, $75,000 in jewelry and cash inside a safe.
Seel told police she texted Sharon Bishop on April 20 and asked her to check the safe at Bishop’s house for will-related documents. Bishop was still alive, but doctors had said he had no significant brain activity.
“Finally got it open no documents in safe. Leaving house now,” Sharon Bishop texted back, Seel told police, according to a search warrant.