SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - For the first time, new theories are emerging about Robert Fisher's whereabouts.
Is he dead or alive?
Eighteen years ago, Fisher’s family was murdered in their Scottsdale home, and hours later, the house exploded into flames. Fisher was never seen again. He is, and has always been, the only suspect.
The question of whether Fisher is dead or alive has different answers, and nobody can agree.
So, Arizona’s Family went back to the exact GPS coordinates of Fisher’s last known location, in the middle of the Arizona woods, and retraced steps in the investigation, talking to those who have been closely involved, to try and get that answer. And this is what we found.
“I still go back to that phone call,” said retired Scottsdale Police Detective T.J. Jiran.
“It would be a perfect opportunity to not be found,” said current Detective John Heinzelman.
“He’s a monster. It’s that simple,” said Jiran.
We asked both detectives the big question.
“A lot of time, it’s the simplest answer is the answer,” said Heinzelman.
It was on April 10, 2001.
“911?” the dispatcher asked.
“It just like blew up!” the caller said.
“What’s on fire?” asked the dispatcher.
“The whole house,” the caller said.
The calls kept coming in.
“The whole house exploded,” said another caller.
“Were there people inside the house?” asked another dispatcher.
“Yes there were, and they’re probably dead,” the caller said.
April 10, 2001, was the beginning of a notorious piece of Arizona history.
It was 8:30 in the morning.
The Fisher family's Scottsdale home exploded into flames, with wife Mary, 12-year-old daughter Brittney and 10-year-old old son Bobby inside.
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Jiran was one of the lead detectives on the case and instantly found something was very wrong.
“Think we have a homicide here,” he recalled.
A natural gas line had been cut, and accelerant spread throughout the house and over the three bodies to cause the explosion.
But it wasn’t the fire that killed Mary, Brittney and Bobby.
“He slit their throats while they were sleeping in bed. He slit his wife’s throat, and then the ‘F you’ shot was the bullet in the head,” he said.
Instantly the search was on for the only person missing, husband and dad, Robert.
There were pictures of him the night before the fire at a nearby ATM.
“He took out $280. That’s an odd amount, and it’s not much,” said reporter Briana Whitney.
“Right,” said Heinzelman.
“What’s your insight on that?” asked Whitney.
“My personal thought is the ATM was what I’ll call a breadcrumb to us, to say that, ‘I’m not there. I’m smarter than you. I got away,'” he said.
Heinzelman said Robert likely had a 12-hour start ahead of authorities.
At that point, there was no other suspect. Robert was the only one. But how and why could he do this?
“I know Mary and Robert had some problems,” said longtime Fisher family friend Lori Greenbeck. “He was definitely controlling, definitely controlling.”
Greenbeck ’s daughter was best friends with Brittney. Mary also worked for Greenbeck's company. But despite a rocky marriage, Greenbeck couldn't believe the police were suspicious of Robert.
“They think Robert did this! And my husband and I were like, there is no way,” she said with disbelief.
As the days after the fire went on, Greenbeck's thoughts changed.
And then they found the SUV. Miles away in the woods near Young, Arizona, Robert's 4Runner was found a week later with his dog "Blue" guarding it. But no Robert.
Our team drove out to the wooded area to check out where the car was found 18 years later. It’s so vast, you could walk 100 yards in any direction and get lost from the place that you started.
But Greenbeck said Robert knew the area like the back of his hand, even in the dark. One week before the fire, Robert had taken Greenbeck's husband up camping and riding quads.
That remote location is where his car was ultimately found.
“It was the same area that your husband had been?” asked Whitney.
“Yep. Right where they had been,” said Greenbeck. “So my husband thinks now he was up there scouting it while they were camping.”
Authorities searched nearby caves with no sign of him.
But the two detectives said one place was never searched.
“The area where the car was found, the 4Runner was found, is less than a mile from the [Fort] Apache Indian Reservation and territory, and that is strictly no hunting, no trespassing area,” said Heinzelman.
“Why at the time did Scottsdale PD not talk to the tribe about searching that area?” Whitney asked Jiran.
“To be honest with you, Briana, I couldn’t answer that,” he said.
Jiran remembers the haunting phone call he got right after they found the 4Runner.
“I got a call from a couple that was actually up there a few days before we found the truck, and they were on the Old Young Road,” said Jiran.
The two saw a man walking toward the highway.
“And as she passed him, she looked at her husband and said, ‘That looks like Robert Fisher.' So, he walked out of there,” said Jiran.
For years, tips poured in. To this day, they still do. In 2004, a man in Canada was taken into custody with uncanny similarities to Robert.
“He had the missing tooth, he had the back scar from the surgery that Robert Fisher had years prior when he was in the Navy,” said Heinzelman.
But his fingerprints did not match Robert's.
“Can you change your fingertips?” Whitney asked Jiran.
“No,” he said. “You can’t change your fingertips. Fingerprints are life.”
No tip or lead has ever checked out.
Almost two decades later, time has gone on, but Greenbeck’s thoughts are as raw as ever.
“If Mary had ever had any idea, oh, she would have been out of there,” Greenbeck said as tears welled up in her eyes. “We loved her and the kids. It’s crazy after all this time how it’s still painful,” she said while crying.
After examining the case, we asked Heinzelman and Jiran that big question. “Do you think Robert Fisher is dead or alive?” Whitney asked Heinzelman.
“He went off into the woods and committed suicide,” he said.
“Do you believe Robert Fisher is dead or alive?” Whitney asked Jiran. “I lean that he is still alive,” Jiran said.
And if he is, for Jiran, the dread of danger looms. “Let’s say he is with somebody. Now he needs to leave again. What’s he gonna do?” he said with fear in his voice. “If he did it once, why not do it again?”
But that's just it. The unknown is the reality.
“Maybe this is the best we have, knowing he did it, and never finding him again,” said Heinzelman.
Questions still remain.
Will authorities ever search the Indian reservation? Can somebody live off $280 and never be seen or caught for 18 years?
Dead or alive, until remains are found, or Robert is found alive, this mystery continues. But his story ends in the Arizona woods, for now.