By Jonathan Kaminsky
(Reuters) - The unidentified body of a man dead for 33 years was exhumed on Thursday in Alabama in hopes of linking it to an FBI Top 10 most wanted fugitive suspected in the 1976 bludgeoning deaths of his wife, mother and three sons, federal authorities said.
The whereabouts of William Bradford Bishop Jr., who was added to the top 10 fugitives list in April, has confounded investigators for decades, with the latest potential break coming after the case was featured recently on a CNN program.
"Somebody who was watching put two and two together," said Amy Thoreson, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Baltimore, which is leading the investigation. "They knew we were looking for him and gave us a call."
It could take weeks for DNA tests to show if the unidentified man, who was walking down a highway in Scottsboro, Alabama, when he was struck and killed by a car, is in fact Bishop, Thoreson said.
There is a strong resemblance, she added.
Bishop is believed to have killed his family members with a hammer before driving their bodies from Maryland to North Carolina, burying them in a shallow grave and setting them ablaze, the FBI has said.
The last confirmed sighting of Bishop, a former U.S. State Department employee described by the FBI as highly intelligent and proficient in several languages, was one day after the killings, as he bought shoes at a sporting goods store in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the FBI has said.
The FBI has fielded hundreds of tips about Bishop over the years, with unconfirmed sightings reported as far afield as Italy and Thailand. Several leads seemed credible until they fell apart, Thoreson said.
"We've even a had couple people walking around looking like dead ringers for him and they're not him," she said. "We're cautiously optimistic this is him, but if it isn't, we'll keep plugging along."
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Sandra Maler)