Search warrants reveal details into investigation of death of Durham man
The girlfriend of a man whose son reported finding him with a dog leash wrapped around his neck has successfully sought temporary control of his estate, saying she needs to protect his assets worth millions of dollars.
Julie Seel has said she’d dated William “Bill” Bishop, 59, for about a year when Bishop’s 16-year-old son called 911 on April 18.
The son, a student at Durham Academy, said he found his father unresponsive, slouched in a leather chair and 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.
A medical examiner’s report ruled the death a homicide. In search warrants, police Investigator T. Huelsman, quoting statements by the son, called the death “suspicious in nature.”
The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer are not naming the teenager because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Seel, a clinical psychologist at Duke Integrative Medicine, was appointed July 20 as collector to oversee the estate. Collectors hold assets together until a personal representative or executor is appointed.
Bishop’s two sons and ex-wife filed documents to have her removed. They questioned her relationship with Bishop, saying the couple broke up before his death, and criticized her cooperating with police, talking to the media and demanding that they return the family dog, a yellow Labrador named Winston.
“It is intolerable for [the 16-year-old ] to be stuck in a relationship with [Seel] where [Seel] is supposed to be fair and reasonable towards him but where [Seel] instead has assumed his guilt without reason, is actively hostile to him and appears to be acting against him,” the sons’ filing states.
Bill Bishop was worth about $5.55 million, according to 2017 financial statement in Seel’s filing. He was a prominent developer in Hillsborough County, Florida, where he created numerous communities, according to an obituary in the Tampa Bay Times.
Bishop moved to North Carolina in 2008 to study city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was awarded his doctorate in May posthumously.
According to Bishop’s LinkedIn profile, he had been a principal at the Development Planning and Finance Group, a national real estate consulting firm, since 2014.
Sharon and Bill Bishop’s divorce was finalized, April 6, less than two weeks before the son’s 911 call.
According to Bishop’s will, property like household furniture and personal effects were to go to the boys. The rest of his assets were to be put in a trust and distributed in increments when the boys were 30, 35 and 40, or if needed in the interim.
In her petition, Seel states the 2003 will names three executors: Sharon Bishop, a Tampa attorney and a Florida bank.
The will prevents Sharon Bishop from being appointed as executor if she is divorced from Bill.
The Tampa attorney and the Florida bank, do not intend to serve as executor, Seel’s filing states. His two sons are minors, and his mother, the next closest relative, has renounced the appointment and nominated Seel, the documents states.
In the filing, Seel states that the estate needs to be protected until the police investigation ends.
While Bishop’s sons are the sole beneficiaries, Seel’s filing cites a state law prohibiting people convicted of murder from collecting from the victim’s estate.
The estate also needs to be protected, the filing states.
“Further, upon information and belief, valuable tangible personal property, including jewelry and gold bullion has already been removed from the decedent’s home,” Seel’s filing states.
According to a search warrant, 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.
‘On and off’ relationship
On July 30, Bishop’s two sons ages 16 and 17, and Sharon Bishop as their mother and representative, petitioned for Seel to be removed and a family friend to be appointed.
The filing states that Bill Bishop and Seel dated “on and off” for less than a year and were broken up at the time of his death.
“Five days before decedent was found unconscious … she had sent decedent an email ending their relationship, and placed all of his belongings that were in her house into her garage for him to pick up,” the sons’ filing states.
Seel, who declined to comment, has said in a statement that Bill Bishop was her “best friend” and “partner.” Seel wrote that they planned to take a trip to the beach in June, Cozumel in July and Disney in August.
David Moore, a longtime friend of Bill Bishop, wrote in an email that Bill Bishop was “very much in love” with Julie Seel, and they were planning a life together.
“In fact, he was happier than I had seen him in years,” Moore wrote.
The sons’ filing points out a number of concerns, including that Seel concealed her efforts to be appointed as collector of the estate until it was finalized.
The filing also states that Seel may have enticed Bill Bishop’s mother to nominate her as collector by telling her that the estate would allow her to keep her home, which Bill Bishop owned.
Bishop had been estranged from his mother for 20 years, and she didn’t attend his funeral and has only met his sons once when they were 3 and 15 months, the sons’ filing states.
‘Reprehensible, antisocial behavior’
From mid-May to early June, Seel’s communications with Sharon Bishop and her sons became “increasingly harsh, accusatory, insulting, hostile and threatening,” the sons’ filing states.
On June 5, Seel texted Sharon Bishop, “It looks like things are not going to work out for [the 16-year-old son], as I feared, premeditated murder is definitely what happened with Bill and only becoming clearer by the day,” the filing states.
The text also stated that Seel had not given not given a statement to police, the filing states.
“Before I do, I would just like to know if [the son] killed Bill out of greed, as it appears, or for a sincerely good reason, like self-defense,” the sons’ filing said the text stated.
On June 25, Seel texted Sharon Bishop stating that future communication would be handled by her lawyers, according to the filing.
“I have a full accounting of Bill’s belongings and the activity and will be prosecuting to the full extent of the law for criminal trespassing and theft to make his estate whole, to include civil suits, if everything to include Winston, is not returned real quick in excellent condition,” the filing states the final text said. “Reprehensible, antisocial behavior on all of your parts.”
The sons’ filing states that Seel should be acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the estate, including the 16-year-old, and shouldn’t involve herself in the police investigation unless she is legally compelled.
The first time the sons learned about Seel being appointed as collector was when her attorneys sent them a letter that demanded the dog, the filing states.
The filing states that the real reason Seel wants the dog is to give it to police to assist in their investigation and because she wants it for her and her 5-year-old daughter.
The filing calls the request “cruel” “particularly during their time of grief.”
The issue of who should be the collector will likely be addressed in a hearing next month before the Durham County Clerk of Court.