Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

Published May 23 2018
Updated May 24 2018

After a prominent Hillsborough County developer died last month in North Carolina, word spread it was a heart attack that claimed his life.

But records from that state show the death of William "Bill" Bishop was much more complicated.

His 16-year-old son reported finding Bishop in their home April 18 with a dog leash wrapped around his neck, the dog still attached, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Durham, N.C.

Police there are investigating Bishop’s death as suspicious.

No charges have been filed. Several dog leashes were removed from the home, along with a computer and an iPhone belonging to Bishop’s son.

Bishop, 59, who helped develop several walkable suburban neighborhoods in Hillsborough County, including Westchase, had lived in Durham for several years. He was set to graduate this month with a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina.

His ex-wife, Sharon, told the Tampa Bay Times in April that Bishop died of a heart attack.

But an April 30 medical examiner report said Bishop had been strangled. Police noted ligature marks on his neck.

EPILOGUE: Dveloper Bill Bishop created ‘walkable communities’

Alexander Bishop, the son, called 911 just after 6 p.m. to report his father was unconscious and had no pulse, the document states.

Firefighters and paramedics arrived and found Bill Bishop slouched in a leather chair in a theater room. The boy and his father were the only ones home.

Bishop died at a hospital three days later.

The leash was not on his neck when first responders arrived, according to the affidavit.

But the teen told a firefighter the looped handle had been pulled all the way up his father’s right arm to the shoulder, the record said. He said the leash was wrapped around his father’s neck three times, with the other end still attached to the dog.

He said the dog was upset, and he removed the leash to check his father’s pulse, the document states. He noted that his father had recently been divorced and was having trouble with his new girlfriend.

The son told an EMS supervisor and police that his father had been emotionally abusive to him and his mother and he was "relieved that his father was gone."

"Alexander also told officers that he was extremely fearful for what his father would do if he survived," a detective wrote.

After his initial account, the teen was "brief and unclear" about the leash’s position, the document states. The firefighter opined that Alexander Bishop was "not acting as suspected if he had just found his father in this condition."

If the leash was on Bishop’s right arm, that raised a question.

Bishop had lost the use of his right arm after an accident several years ago, police learned.

Last month, Sharon Bishop told the Times her ex-husband severed the humerus off his right shoulder in 2011 while attending a Utah fitness boot camp.

Police attempted to interview Sharon Bishop, who is Alexander’s mother. She and Bishop were divorced April 6, according to Durham County records.

She agreed to be interviewed, as did his girlfriend, Julie Seel, the affidavit states.

But on May 2, Seel told detectives that she, Sharon Bishop and Alexander Bishop would not speak to them unless they were legally required to do so. That day, police obtained a warrant to search Bill Bishop’s home.

Tim Pulliam, a television reporter for WTVD-Ch. 11 in Durham, obtained a copy of the search warrant and reported on the death investigation late Tuesday, discovering the Tampa Bay Times obituary in which Sharon Bishop described the death as a heart attack.

Sharon Bishop did not return calls for comment Wednesday. Seel asked for privacy.

A Durham Police Department spokesman said Bishop’s death remains under investigation.

News of the bizarre circumstances was a surprise to Ed Turanchik, Bishop’s former business partner and a Tampa mayoral candidate. He, too, had heard that his friend died of a heart attack. He said he had spoken with Sharon Bishop about a possible memorial service in Tampa.

"Bill adored his two sons," Turanchik said. "I think Bill and Sharon were both happy to be moving on with their respective lives."

Another friend, Diane Egner, editor of the online 83 Degrees publication, said she had been aware of the investigation, but declined to talk about it.

"I was as shocked as you and probably everyone else was," she said. "I’m just waiting for the police investigation to move forward."

Times senior news researcher John Martin and staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.