A powerful explosion rocked a quiet residential neighborhood one morning in Scottsdale, Arizona. The force of the blast ripped through the roof of the house, causing it to burst into flames. Most of the home was destroyed before firefighters could contain the blaze.
The house was owned by Robert and Mary Fisher, who lived there with their two children: 13-year-old Brittney and 10-year-old Bobby Jr. When rescuers were finally able to get inside the house, they found the remains of Mary and the two children still in their beds. They appeared to have died in their sleep. But Robert was nowhere to be found.
Autopsies of the victims produced a stunning revelation: all three had been stabbed to death. Could Robert, the seemingly dedicated family man, have killed them? Detective John Kirkham of the Scottsdale Police Department was one of the investigating officers:
"Robert was a very private person. Outwardly, he was perceived as a good father and good husband, a church-going man. During the investigation, we found that Robert Fisher had a number of faces, a number of masks that he wore."
Most people took Robert Fisher at face value, like his sister Jean:
"My brother loved his kids and his wife. A year ago, there's no way I would have imagined any of this. I trusted my brother with my life. There's no way I would have thought he would be capable of this."
Robert and Mary met in high school and they'd been married for 16 years. Robert had served as a firefighter, until a back injury ended his career. Investigators learned that there had been tension between Robert and Mary following the injury. One day, Robert came to Mary with upsetting news; he was having an affair. Mary was shattered and asked Robert to leave.
Robert headed north to the forests where he usually went to hunt. When he returned a few days later, he and Mary decided to go to counseling at their church. Robert had apparently suffered deep emotional scars after the divorce of his own parents, and he was determined that his children would not experience that same emotional pain. Myrna Bitzer is Mary's sister:
"Robert had told my dad often that divorce was not an option. He would not be divorced like his parents were. Robert stated that several times."
But Mary may not have shared those feelings, as Det. Kirkham discovered:
"We spoke with a very close friend of Mary's and learned that she had confided in her that she was thinking about divorcing Robert."
Neighbors told investigators that on the night of the murders, the Fishers had a loud argument. Det. Kirkham believes that if Robert did, in fact, murder his family, it may not have been pre-meditated:
"I don't think that he planned that, 'On this particular day, this is what I'm going to do.' I think that it precipitated over a long period of time and there was that one thing that triggered it. And that could have been the argument."
Could Robert Fisher have murdered his wife and children rather than put them through the heartache of divorce? The crime scene investigation uncovered intriguing clues. A disconnected natural gas line, an out of place candlestick holder, and the residue of some form of highly flammable liquid were all discovered.
Detectives began to piece together a chilling scenario of what happened on the night of the murders. The stabbing wounds clearly could not have occurred during the fire. Investigators theorize that several hours before the explosion, Robert Fisher slashed the throats of each of his children, and then his wife. In addition to having her throat cut, evidence showed that Mary was shot. Also, the fire was too intense to be caused by a gas explosion, leading to the speculation that some other type of flammable material was used. Investigators believe that after spreading gasoline around the house, Fisher disconnected the line leading to the gas furnace. Det. Kirkham:
"As a source of ignition, we believe that a candle with a candleholder was used as a timing device in order to allow Robert time to leave the residence. Robert committed the arson in order to cover up the murders, believing that the bodies would be burned beyond recognition, covering up any sign of what had happened. But it didn't cover it up quite as well as expected."
A full-scale manhunt for Fisher initially turned up few leads. Then, ten days later, Mary's SUV, which disappeared on the night of the murders, was spotted by a hiker. According to Det. Kirkham, it had been abandoned near Fisher's favorite hunting area:
"It was clean. There was no dust on it. It was underneath pine trees and there were very few pine tree needles on top of the vehicle or in the vehicle, which indicated to us that it had probably been dumped there within 24 hours of discovery."
Investigators hurried to the remote area. But the landscape was riddled with hundreds of caves and days of searching produced nothing. But two theories did emerge. One, that a despondent Robert Fisher took refuge in one of the caves, where he eventually committed suicide. The other theory suggested that a cunning Fisher left the SUV behind to divert the attention of investigators and then vanished.
Robert's sister, Jean, is left to wonder what became of her brother:
"Where would he be? How could he have gotten to where he would be? He didn't take any money with him. And he would be in so much physical pain from his back. I don't know if he did this. I don't know how he could be alive, knowing how much my brother loved his family."
However, Det. Kirkham believes Fisher is still alive:
"The vehicle itself was about a quarter of a mile off an improved forest service road. It's a fairly active area with a lot of traffic. And there are various places that one could use a phone, catch a ride, that sort of thing. He has probably started a new life under an assumed identity."
Mary's sister, Myrna, also believes that Robert is alive:
"If Robert wanted to kill himself, he would have done it when he killed Mary, Brittney and Bobby, that's my belief. So I do believe Robert is alive."
Robert Fisher has been indicted for the murders of his wife and children.