Colorado slayings highlight trend of increasing murder-suicides

Friday, April 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (AP) _ Despite his image as the father of a close-knit and caring family, John Bishop had problems that researchers say are part of the profile for murder-suicides.

Bishop, a 41-year-old telecommunications executive, was overwhelmed by financial problems and depression when he shot and killed his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself, investigators believe.

Donna Cohen, a University of South Florida-Tampa researcher who has been studying murder-suicide for 10 years, said depression combined with other difficulties, such as financial, health or relationship problems, often underlies murder-suicide.

She said murder-suicide cases are on the rise nationwide even as murder rates have fallen. Cohen estimates that murder-suicide accounts for about 1,500 deaths a year.

In about 10 percent of family murder-suicide cases, the husband or father fears he cannot provide for his family and doesn't want to trust their care to anyone else, she said. In murder-suicide cases where the relationships soured, the killers often believe no one else should be with their loved ones, she said.

``It's love and control seen through the dark glasses of depression,'' Cohen said.

While there are no official nationwide statistics for the category, Cohen said numbers of suicides and murder-suicides are increasing in the West, Southwest and Southeast, places that are generally less densely populated and where guns are more readily available.

In Colorado, 17 people were killed in murder-suicides last year, compared with 11 in 1999, said Corinne LeBaron, director of client services for Project Safeguard, which tracks domestic violence deaths statewide. In all but one of the cases, the killings were committed by men.

Investigators believe Bishop committed the murder-suicide on Sunday, two days before all five family members were found dead in their beds. The victims included his 38-year-old wife and their 9-year-old son and twin 6-year-old daughters. Autopsies were to be completed Friday.

Neighbors described the Bishops as the perfect family, saying they often played together in the yard and had taken ski trips during the winter. If there were problems within the family, they said, it didn't show.

``If it was (financial) it was hidden pretty well, along with a lot of other things,'' said Christina Hart, who taught Sunday school with the children's mother, Sherrill, a part-time teacher.

John Bishop's company had recently gone through a merger and he had been promoted. Relatives said he was being treated for depression.

Doug Legg, Sherrill Bishop's brother, said John Bishop loved his family: ``Believe me when I say that this was a family that was in every way shape and form a wonderful, warm, caring family.''