On April 9, 2001, Robert Fisher, a churchgoing father of two, had spent
the day caring for patients at Scottsdale’s Mayo Clinic, where he worked
as a respiratory therapist.
At the end of his shift, he picked up his 12-year-old
daughter, Brittney, and drove her to the National Junior Honor Society
induction ceremony where she was to be honored for her outstanding
academic achievements. During the ceremony, Fisher grew impatient, and
the two left before Brittney could collect her certificate.
Meanwhile, Fisher’s 38-year-old wife, Mary, had
accompanied the couple’s 10-year-old son, Bobby, to a gun-safety class.
It is there that the known facts surrounding the
final days of the Fisher family end.
The murderous rampage that followed devastated family
and friends and left some of the nation’s top law-enforcement officials
confounded – searching for shreds of evidence amid a tragic tale
involving what outwardly appeared to be the all-American family.
When Mary returned home that evening, neighbors
reported having heard the Fishers arguing loudly. In the predawn hours
of the following morning, the family’s quaint three-bedroom south
Scottsdale home suddenly erupted in a violent explosion so intense that
it blew out portions of two brick walls and left the entire home
engulfed in flames.
When the smoke cleared, firefighters made a grisly
discovery among the charred remains: three bodies, each lying in a pool
The remains were identified as those of Mary and the
two children. Authorities then confirmed that the three had not died in
the fire, but shockingly had been the victims of a gruesome murder, all
having had their throats slashed and Mary with a bullet lodged in the
back of her head.
Mysteriously, Robert Fisher was nowhere to be found;
police confirmed that a number of his possessions were missing,
including clothing and his .38-caliber revolver.
Fire investigators would later learn that the
explosion was caused when someone unhooked a gas line, placed a candle
on a nearby table and poured fire accelerant down the hallway of the
Ten days later, police discovered Mary’s SUV on a
dirt road about 150 miles north of the Valley, at a trailhead located in
the Tonto National Forest. Curled up beneath the vehicle was Robert’s
beloved dog, Blue, dehydrated and covered with pine needles.
Aside from periodic unconfirmed sightings of Fisher,
the abandoned vehicle remains the last piece of evidence uncovered in
Today, Robert Fisher, once a portrait of a
churchgoing family man, remains the sole suspect in the murders and
holds a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, his picture set beside
the likes of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Despite a long and intensive manhunt, what remains of
one of the most notorious family murders in Arizona history is the
enduring mystery surrounding what actually happened that April night.
The past seven years have given rise to speculation among some about
whether Robert Fisher is even still alive.
Those close to the Fisher family have all had to
confront the fact that they had come to trust an evil man capable of an
unthinkable crime against his own children. The Times interviewed
several of those who had been close to the Fishers for this story,
including the mother and father of Mary Fisher as well as FBI
investigators still working on the case.
Did Robert Fisher Commit Suicide?
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s still out
there,” says Bill Cooper, Mary’s father. “When you know it’s a cold
case, that makes it even harder when you think about what he is doing
out there. Is he remarried? Is he still living double lives? We just
In the days and weeks following the discovery of
Mary’s SUV, there was suspicion that Fisher might have walked deep into
the wilderness to commit suicide.
The forested area near Payson was searched for weeks
in one of the state’s most intensive manhunts. Professional spelunkers
from Tucson crawled through the area’s vast network of limestone caves,
availing not one shred of physical evidence.
“I was thinking early on they would find some bones
up there where they found his truck,” says Lori Greenbeck, a close
friend of Mary’s and her former boss at H&L Medical Specialists in
Over the years, Fisher’s disappearance and lack of
any credible sightings have fueled speculation that he is dead, his
remains having possibly been carried off by wild animals after a
Each year, there are about 30 to 50 cases of a spouse
murdering their family – known as familicide to law enforcement. In over
half the cases there is a suicide or attempted suicide following the
murders, says Neil Websdale, a professor at the NAU Department of
Criminal Justice and author of several books on domestic homicide.
“But most of the suicides occur at the scene or very
close to the scene,” Websdale says. “It would be very unlikely that
someone would take off and kill themselves in a remote location.”
With no hard evidence supporting Fisher’s death, law
enforcement continues its search. FBI special agent Robert Caldwell says
he believes Fisher is one of the nearly 200,000 U.S. fugitives living
under a false name and that he is likely residing somewhere in the
United States, Mexico or Canada.
“Some say he’s dead, but we don’t believe that he’s
the type of guy who would kill himself,” Caldwell says. “He’s a very
egocentric, very introverted person, so we really don’t believe he would
According to those who knew him best, on the surface,
nothing about Robert Fisher made him seem like anything but a normal
family man. An experienced outdoorsman, Fisher was an avid hunter and
He had devoted himself to a career helping others,
working as a respiratory therapist at the prestigious Mayo Clinic.ç
At home, Fisher was dedicated to his children.
“He loved his kids. He talked well about his family.
He was well respected at his job,” says Adam Trahan, who worked with
Fisher for several years at Scottsdale Healthcare’s Shea Hospital.
Trahan describes Fisher as “just a normal guy.”
Robert Fisher grew up in Tucson. When he was 15, his
parents divorced and his father, who worked at a bank, gained custody of
Fisher and his two sisters.
After graduating from Sahuaro High School in 1979, he
joined the Navy, serving as a Petty Officer on the San Diego-based USS
Belleau Wood until 1982.
When he was discharged, Fisher became a firefighter
in rural San Diego County.
Soon after, at a Baptist Church social group Fisher
met a wholesome blonde named Mary Jean Cooper. Mary, born in Chicago,
was deeply religious. She was very close to her family and considered
becoming a mom one of her highest goals.
After marrying in 1987 the couple settled in south
Scottsdale and purchased a home near Mary’s parents’ house in the 2200
block of North 74th Place for $80,000.
Their daughter, Brittney, was born a year later,
followed by son, Bobby, in 1991. When the kids began attending school,
Mary went back to work part time for a friend’s small medical company.
Mary was a loving and involved mom who frequently
volunteered at the kids’ school.
“Mary loved those kids so much,” says Mary’s father,
Bill Cooper. “Brittney and Bobby loved the Lord. Both kids were very
Brittney was very intelligent and studious, and
despite a hectic school schedule, she remained active in sports,
including basketball and soccer. Bobby, who was close to his big sister,
enjoyed drawing and fishing with his father.
The Fisher family life revolved around church
activities, camping, quad riding, hunting and fishing.
“They were a completely normal family,” says Mary’s
friend Lori Greenbeck. “I can’t even say that Robert wasn’t normal. He
wasn’t a bully, but he was the king of his castle. That was just their
Even Bill Cooper remembers Robert as a dedicated
father. “He’d come over for Thanksgiving and Christmas and whatnot, and
you’d never know that anything was wrong,” he says.
Hunting for Fisher
According to officials, both local law enforcement
and the FBI still receive almost daily calls and tips on reported
sightings of Fisher.
Fox’s hit show America’s Most Wanted has featured
segments on the case on 10 separate occasions, which has generated
thousands of leads and tips.
Dozens of Robert Fisher look-a-likes have been
reported, and Scottsdale police have even traveled as far as Canada in
2003 to fingerprint one Robert Fisher doppelganger.
“As time goes on, a fugitive’s ability to stay on the
run gets better,” says Greg Howell, a producer for America’s Most Wanted.
“The ones that are gone a long time are the ones who manage to get out
of the country.”
Fisher was last seen captured in a surveillance photo
on the night of the murders withdrawing $280 from the ATM machine at the
Wells Fargo on Scottsdale and McDowell roads in Scottsdale. He was
wearing an Oakland Raiders baseball cap and driving Mary’s silver 2000
Toyota 4-Runner. Police later found the baseball cap left inside the
vehicle, though the other items missing from the home were never found,
fueling speculation that Fisher likely fled the scene where the vehicle
was found. A number of possibilities were suspected by police. One
theorized that Fisher might have had an accomplice who transported him
away from the site, though no physical evidence has ever supported that
scenario. Another supposed that Fisher may have hitchhiked or obtained a
ride that took him away from the scene.
“We know he didn’t walk away because the dog would
have followed him,” Caldwell says. “There are a lot of different things
that could have happened. But the dog stayed there, so obviously he was
Despite many unanswered questions, law-enforcement
officials remain certain that Fisher is still out there.
“He’s probably working some menial job where people
won’t pay much attention to him and he can get paid under the table,”
says Caldwell. “He may be that guy who’s right around the corner from
you that you never knew because he has changed his look enough.”
Police say that beneath Fisher’s loving father facade
was a cruel, controlling, violence-prone loner.
“There was definitely a Robert that absolutely nobody
knew,” Greenbeck says. “She protected him. She didn’t want people to
know what a jerk he was. She wanted everything to be as normal as
possible for the kids.”
According to interviews with Mary’s friends, police
say Fisher was very controlling of his wife and required her to ask his
permission before participating in even the most routine of activities.
In the weeks leading up to the murders, police say
Mary told several friends she had had enough and was going to divorce
her husband. Based on their investigation, law-enforcement officials
have concluded that due to events of his own childhood, divorce would
never be an option for Fisher.
“He vowed that he would never get a divorce,”
Caldwell says. “Robert had a big problem with divorce.”
Robert Fisher had a difficult time dealing with the
divorce of his own parents, who parted ways when he was a teenager.
Fisher had even refused to take his own children to Disneyland, the site
of his parents’ last screaming fight.
By 2001, Robert and Mary’s 14-year marriage was in
trouble. Fisher had had a one-night affair with a prostitute he had met
at a massage parlor and had confided it to his pastor.
Though Mary never came out and actually told
Greenbeck of the affair, Greenbeck says she thought something had
happened. “I knew when he had cheated on her,” Greenbeck says. “She said
there was some work Robert needed to do, but she said she was willing to
work on it.”
According to friends, in early 2001 the couple
appeared to be working things out. They were attending couples’
counseling at their church, and Robert had told a hunting buddy that he
was renewing his commitment to his faith and his marriage.
However, at the time of the murders, it was believed
that Mary had suspicions that Robert was having another affair.
“From my understanding she was getting ready to leave
him again,” Caldwell says. “We’re theorizing that in his mind it was
better off that the kids be dead rather than not be raised by him.”
It remains unknown whether it was the fear of divorce
that was Robert’s real motive or perhaps something more sinister.
“It’s difficult to get inside his head,” says Greg
Klein, creative producer for America’s Most Wanted. “Did he snap one day
and kill his family? Or did he methodically plan the murders to go on to
have a second life?”
Mary’s parents, Bill and Ginny Cooper, say they may
never know what actually happened the night of April 9, 2001.
Mary kept Robert’s dark side a secret, especially
“We never knew a thing,” Bill Cooper says. “She
didn’t want mommy and daddy to know anything she was going through. She
just took care of those two precious kids.”
In fact, at first the family had a difficult time
fathoming that Robert could have been responsible. They say they liked
him and thought he was a good husband and son-in-law.
“I remember my first interview at the fire, I pleaded
for Bob: ‘Where are you Robert? Please come home.’ We thought it was a
break-in. We didn’t know what happened,” Bill Cooper recalls. “Until
they started putting things together, then we realized what was really
Today the Coopers say they are certain Fisher is
still out there somewhere and believe he might have started a new family.
Still, instead of focusing on his whereabouts and the
tragedy, Mary’s parents choose to remember the good times, including the
last dinner they shared with their daughter and the kids just two days
before the murders.
In the Coopers’ memories and on the walls of their
Scottsdale home, Brittney and Bobby remain eternal children.
“Brittney, she was a super student. Some people
might have called her a nerd until they found out she was a pretty good
little jock too,” Bill Cooper says. “Bobby was just his own man; he was
just a neat kid. He would have graduated this year. We just wonder what
he would have been like.”
Robert William Fisher
DOB: April 13, 1961
Occupations: Surgical catheter technician, respiratory therapist,
Scars and marks: Fisher has surgical scars on his lower back.
Remarks: Fisher is physically fit and is an avid
outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman. He has a noticeable gold crown on his
upper left first bicuspid tooth. He may walk with an exaggerated erect
posture and his chest pushed out due to a lower back injury. Fisher is
known to chew tobacco heavily. He has ties to New Mexico and Florida.
Fisher is believed to be in possession of several weapons, including a
Reward: The FBI is offering a reward of up to
$100,000 for information leading directly to the arrest of Fisher.
What happened to Robert ?
Friends, family and law enforcement speculate on
Adam Trahan, Robert’s former co-worker
“I think if he is alive, one of the possibilities is
in Sierra Madre, Mexico. It’s known for its lawlessness. He could hide
in this area, very easily.”
Robert Caldwell, FBI special agent
Either he is still in the United States or has snuck
into Mexico or Canada. “I personally believe by now he’s hooked up with
somebody. The way he is, the way he was such a control freak with Mary,
I’m sure he’s found companionship. If he did find it, it’s probably with
a woman who he’s extremely controlling of.”
Greg Howell, America’s Most Wanted producer
“This guy has kind of vanished. (The police) feel he
could be somewhere in the U.S. or possibly parts of Canada.”
Bill and Ginny Cooper, Mary’s parents
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s still out
there,” says Bill Cooper. Mary’s mother, Ginny Cooper, believes Robert
has likely remarried.
Skylar Robinson, psychic detective
Fisher is living under a different identity in
Calallen, Texas, where he travels in and out of Mexico. “He lives in a
trailer. He’s gotten a little too comfortable in this town. He’s not
trying too hard to stay hidden.”