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The FBI Gamified the Hunt For One of Its Most Wanted

The plan to catch a fugitive using a clay model of what he might look like 40 years after he went missing.
Image: FBI

The FBI just gamified its latest manhunt. As I was just scanning the bureau's many twitter feeds, I saw a couple of fresh tweets reporting that William Bradford Bishop, Jr. had just been added to the bureau's most wanted list.

When I clicked on the tweet that offered a photo gallery of Bishop, the 'Family Annihilator,' some studio-lit photos of this gallery-quality clay bust were far beyond the everyday mug shots I'd expected.


"Am I picking out which glasses my character in GTA will wear?" I thought as I looked at artist Karen Taylor's masterful 3D rendering of Bishop. Bishop is a man who has been a fugitive for almost 40 years (he's 77 now, and Taylor sculpted him to look that old) after allegedly killing his mother, his wife, and their three sons in Bethesda, Md. Bishop, a former Foreign Service officer for the State Department, is described by the FBI as "highly intelligent," and investigators on his case believe he could be hiding in plain sight.

Karen Taylor, a forensic artist commissioned by investigators works on Bishop's bust. Image: FBI.

When he disappeared in 1976, Bishop had about a week of lead-time to flee before investigators were able to begin a manhunt that continues today. It's believed he traveled to Europe by way of his diplomatic passport due to the ease of international immigration in the late 70s. In the earlier days of the search for Bishop, ex-colleagues and former acquaintances reported seeing him in Sweden, Italy, and other parts of Europe.

In September of 1994, on a train platform in Basel, Switzerland, a former neighbor of Bishop's (from Maryland), said she spotted him through the window of a train opposite of her just before it departed. She had no time to do act, but added that he appeared "well-groomed." The FBI believes he has lived in Sorrento, Italy, as recently as 2010.

But that's beside the point: Take the clay bust, the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, the token dental records, and a $100,000 reward, and you see my theory: The search for America's Most Wanted has become like a big game of Clue.

Forensic facial reconstruction is nothing new in law enforcement, and art in general. But the age-progressed clay model of Bishop's bust is new territory for the FBI's Most Wanted List.

"It's pretty unique for us," an FBI spokeswoman told me, and explained that commissioning an "amazing artist" like Taylor was a must in deploying the tactic.

Artist renditions of fugitives are often terrible, though they shouldn't necessarily be to blame for the failure to find them. Works like Taylor's could be the future of this sort of thing. The images draw in curious gamers, Tumblr enthusiasts, and the amateur Reddit detectives who will inevitably appropriate and share the images all over the place. What could be more tactically efficient than making the hunt for a criminal go viral?

I'm just waiting for someone to make Bishop a playable character in Grand Theft Auto.