The Murder of Molly Bish

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EARLY LIFE:

Molly Bish was born on August 2, 1983 to parents John Sr. and Magi Bish, a probation office and elementary school teacher respectively. The family, who had moved from Detroit, Michigan to Warren, Massachusetts, also consisted of Molly’s siblings, Heather and John Jr.

Molly was known for being outgoing and popular, as well as a bit silly. She was highly athletic, playing soccer, softball and basketball at the local high school, where she was also an Honours student. She had recently begun dating one of her classmates, with whom she had attended prom.

Molly had a dream of one day working with children. In the summer of 2000, she had gotten a job as a lifeguard at Comins Pond, a manmade pond surrounded by woods. The job had initially been held by John Jr., who had worked there for three years prior.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

At 9:00am on June 27, 2000, Molly and her mother had found out one of her soccer teammates had been hit by a car while biking to work and had been seriously injured. While she was upset upon hearing the news, Molly still chose to go to work that morning, as it was the summer’s first day of swim lessons and only her eighth day on the job.

At 9:50am, the two stopped at the local convenience store to grab some water bottles, something that was captured on surveillance footage. Afterward, they drove to the police station to pick up the required two-way radio. As there were no telephones or communications at Comins Pond, the radio was the only way the lifeguards could contact police or anyone outside of the area.

Molly and her mother arrived at the pond at 10:00am, and minutes later the first swimmers of the day arrived.

DISAPPEARANCE:

One of the first parents to arrive at Comins Pond noticed that Molly wasn’t at her station, yet the lifeguard’s chair, whistle and her sandals were. Her first aid kit was also open. Given she was sixteen years old, it was assumed she’d walked off with friends and one of the mothers assumed the position of lifeguard for the lessons, after which she informed Molly’s boss of her absence.

At 11:44am, Molly’s boss, via the two-way radio, reported to police that Molly had gone missing. The Warren Police Department didn’t take the report seriously, assuming she’d ditched work to hang out with her friends.

When 1:00pm rolled around and Molly still hadn’t returned to her post, the police notified her parents, where they were informed by Magi that her daughter had been dropped off at work earlier that day.

SEARCH & DISCOVERY:

Upon hanging up with police, Magi called Heather to inform her of the situation. Heather agreed with her mother that something was wrong, so they met at the police station, where they were told there was nothing to be concerned about. According to the authorities, Molly was probably upset about her friend being hurt and had gone to blow off some steam.

Magi and Heather set to work looking for their missing family member. They checked to see if anyone had visited her friend at the hospital and found Molly hadn’t been amongst her visitors. Heather also went to her boyfriend’s house, but he hadn’t heard from her all day. Like the police, he wasn’t too concerned.

Despite not being worried, Molly’s boyfriend and Heather drove to the pond to meet with Magi, where they wondered why Molly hadn’t taken her shoes with her if she’d gone off on her own. While there, Magi argued with police and said her daughter wouldn’t have left her post, as she’d been worried about the kids starting swim lessons.

After talking more with the family, the officers began to think they were on to something and thus called in the State Police to help, as they hadn’t much experience working on missing persons cases.

Upon being brought on, the State Police wondered if Molly could have drowned in the pond, something her family immediately disagreed with, as she was a strong swimmer. This theory upset John Jr., who ran into the water in search for his sister, only to be pulled out by authorities. A dive team and boats were brought in to search the pond, but after several hours they had found nothing and the search, along with the one of the woods, was called off until morning.

At 6:00am on June 28, law enforcement deployed all units, including a helicopter with infrared imaging and a mounted unit. As well, townspeople initiated their own search parties, and businesses printed and posted missing persons flyers on their storefronts.

Police began to look at a path that led from the beach at Comins Pond to a nearby cemetery, as they thought if someone had abducted Molly they could have exited the area through this path and not been seen.

As well, since Molly’s first aid kit was open, those investigating speculated that someone could have faked an injury and she was abducted while trying to help them. Upon hearing this, Magi realized that she might have seen who abducted her daughter, as she remembered seeing a suspicious-looking man at the pond the day before she disappeared.

According to Magi, the morning had started out like any other, but when she and Molly arrived at the pond they noticed a white vehicle parked in the parking lot. While Magi watched her daughter, she noticed the man in the vehicle was watching her too. As he appeared to be glaring at her, Magi stayed with Molly while she organized her station and only left upon the man eventually pulling out of the parking lot. Molly hadn’t been worried about him, thinking he was just another fisherman.

When asked for a description of the man, Magi described him as approximately 50 years old with salt and pepper hair. He had dark eyes, a moustache and had been smoking a cigarette. She worked with an artist to make a composite sketch of the unknown man, and when shown the image, John Jr. didn’t recognize him as a regular of Comins Pond.

Upon learning about the encounter, police set up a roadblock and asked townspeople about the vehicle, where they learnt it had been seen at the cemetery near Comins Pond a few days prior. As well, the District Attorney’s Office ordered a search of 125 white vehicles from the area, but given they couldn’t determine the type of vehicle Magi had seen, it didn’t result in any new leads.

Thousands of tips were called in from across the United States regarding the man, but they didn’t result in anything.

When police returned to Comins Pond, they found the scene had been contaminated by those who had first responded. There were too many new fingerprints and footprints, and they found a ton of used cigarettes. As such, they were unable to find any concrete evidence.

Since they had no evidence to work on, police began to think up theories about what had happened to Molly. One was that she could have voluntarily left, as there were reported sightings from across the country, but her family firmly believed she wouldn’t have left without telling them. Another was that she knew her attacker. While her boss and her boyfriend were considered persons of interest at first, the former had an alibi and the latter, while uncooperative with the investigation, passed a polygraph test.

Hoping to uncover some new leads, investigators looked into the area’s sex offenders. While they checked for alibis, that proved to be difficult, as many were not gainfully employed. Several were called in for polygraphs and some showed signs of deception. Detectives also ran through John Sr.’s old cases, in case someone could have taken Molly as an act of revenge, but most of those spoken to only had kind words to say about him.

In May 2003, two unrelated tips came in, saying Molly had been sighted in Miami, Florida. Investigators were prepared to make a trip down to Florida to follow up on it, until on May 16 they received a tip from a retired cop, who believed the missing girl’s disappearance was related to the 1993 abduction and murder of another young girl, Holly Piirainen.

In 1993, Holly and her brother were visiting their grandmother in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. While out with her brother, she disappeared and only her shoe was found. During the investigation into Holly’s disappearance, Molly had sent a letter to the Piirainen family, letting them know that she hoped Holly would return home safely. However, Holly’s remains would later be found by hunters in the woods near where she went missing. Her killer was never identified.

Given both girls were blonde and blue-eyed, were taken from isolated areas and were in close-proximity to each other, investigators looked into the possibility that the same person who murdered Holly was responsible for Molly’s disappearance. As such, hunters from the local area were interviewed, with one saying he’d seen something suspicious months earlier, but at the time had thought nothing of it.

Going off the hunter’s tip, police went to a wooded area in Palmer, Massachusetts and discovered a pierce of cloth that appeared to be part of a blue bathing suit, the same colour as the one Molly had been wearing when she disappeared. It was sent away to have DNA tests performed on it.

Upon discovering the piece of cloth, a massive search was done of the area, covering 500 areas. It was the largest search in Massachusetts history. Six days into it, DNA testing proved the suit to belong to Molly.

On June 3, 2003, police searching Whiskey Hill in Palmer discovered a human bone that belonged to someone aged 14 to 20. After more searching, a total of 26 more bones were recovered. DNA testing confirmed them to be Molly. However, the search brought up no evidence that would point investigators to her killer.

INVESTIGATION:

On August 2, 2003, Molly was buried on what would have been her 20th birthday.

After finding Molly, police believed their suspect to be a white male, between the ages of 18 to 50, who was known to the area through either hunting or fishing. He most likely had a history of violence against women.

In 2005, a Connecticut resident was charged with attempted kidnapping in Connecticut. For a time they were briefly under investigation in connection to Molly’s case.

In order to help bring in new leads, the Bish family hired private investigator Tom Shamshak.

In February 2008, a man named Rodney Stanger was arrested in Marion County, Florida for the murder of his girlfriend. The reason why he’d caught the attention of Massachusetts police was that someone had called the District Attorney’s Office saying he was involved in Molly’s murder, based on a conversation with his dead girlfriend.

During the time of Molly’s disappearance and murder, Stanger, who shared a resemblance to the composite sketch of the man Magi had seen, had lived in the Warren area and was an avid fisherman and hunter who fished at Comins Pond. He was known to have a violent history and had moved from Southbridge, Massachusetts to Summerfield, Florida about a year after Molly disappeared. His brother also owned a white Chrysler that looked similar to the vehicle Magi had seen.

Stanger was interviewed, but denied any involvement in Molly’s case. He would later plead guilty to his girlfriend’s murder and is currently serving time in prison.

In 2012, police searched Stanger’s home after his deceased girlfriend’s sister claimed to have found suspicious materials. Upon finding his Massachusetts-issued firearms ID, it was found he looked extremely similar to the mystery man Magi had seen at the pond.

A witness would later come forward to say they’d seen a man who matched Stanger’s description in the Comins Pond parking lot, just minutes before Molly and her mother arrived. A local worker also reported seeing a similar car parked at the cemetery that was down the path from the pond.

Stanger was also questioned in connection with the 1993 murder of Holly Piirainen. He has not been charged in relation to either case.

Police began testing the DNA of persons of interest against the DNA they’d gathered in the case and against some of the evidence. They’ve also asked people to voluntarily submit their DNA for testing.

In 2011, Gerald Battistoni was named a suspect in the case by private investigator Dan Malley. At the time he was announced as a suspect, he was serving time for raping a teenager in the 1990s, and he was initially a confidential informant for the Eastern Hampden County Narcotics Task Force. When police looked into his possible involvement in not only Molly’s case, but Holly’s as well, they found he’d been in the area where Molly’s remains were found and that he resembled the composite sketch.

After being named a suspect in the two cases, he attempted suicide. He would later die in prison in November 2014.

In 2013, a new racetrack was being dug in the area near were Molly’s remains were found, so investigators educated the construction crew on what to look for. They informed the crew on what Molly had been wearing and that they might find human remains, as not all of her bones had been found back in 2003. Cadaver dogs were brought in, to see if any scents were released into the air.

In 2014, a partially buried bag was found underneath a log in the woods near Nenemseck Sportsmen’s Club in Palmer by a private investigator. The area was across the road from where Molly’s remains had been found. Inside the bag were a pair of plaid boxer shorts that were similar to the ones Molly had been wearing the day she went missing.

Later that year, a judge dismissed a lawsuit brought forward by a former police officer against the Worcester District Attorney’s Office, who said he deserved a $100,000 reward for leading investigators to the remnants of Molly’s bathing suit back in 2003. He claimed to have learned about the bathing suit from a hunter who saw it, and his lawyer said some posters related to the case had indicated the reward money would be paid “for information leading to Molly”. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the posters were put up by an independent foundation, and law enforcement had made it clear that the reward was for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

In 2014, the Bish family held a campaign called “Just One Piece”, which resulted in four different people coming forward to identify a new person of interest in the case. While some of this information has been withheld, as to not jeopardize the investigation, what had been shared says that witnesses recalled seeing a man visit an old campground in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, just a few miles from where Molly was taken and had left the same day she disappeared.

According to the witnesses, he had returned the day after and his face was bloody and scratched. He had been yelling about something bad happening in the woods the night before, and six months later he was heard bragging about how he knew he was a person of interest in the case, but had never been interviewed.

The family eventually hired a new private investigator named Sarah Stein, who told them that authorities would be searching for the car Molly’s killer could have been driving. She’d received a tip that revealed a car that was similar to the one Magi had seen had been buried in a former campground site in the Brookfield area.

Investigators used ground penetrating radar to search for the car and found “compelling” anomalies at multiple areas of interest that led them to search the campground again a few days later. This has led Sarah to believe something is buried in the area.

In 2017, volunteers went to the campground to search for the suspected car. While State Troopers were present, it was not considered an official part of the all-volunteer search effort.

According to Heather, a man who physically resembles the composite sketch of the suspect still lives in the area, is a hunter and fisherman, and had access to the campground through a friendship with the property’s former owner. She also said that heavy construction equipment needed to bury a car was available at the campground around the time Molly went missing and has since been sold.

Investigators say Molly’s murder case is still open.

AFTERMATH:

Since her sister’s murder, Heather’s sense of trust has been rocked.

Molly’s case has been profiled on such shows as Disappeared, America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours.

Magi and John Sr. have since started the Molly Bish Foundation, which is dedicated to improving safety awareness and prevention for all children. It distributes child identification booklets, and they helped pass a law that brought the AMBER Alert system to Massachusetts.

In October 2018, Molly’s boyfriend died in a car crash.

John Jr. has since become an EMT in memory of his sister. He also cites his parents’ humanitarian work as an inspiration to him.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Molly’s disappearance, a vigil was held at Comins Pond.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Those with information regarding the case are being asked to contact the Massachusetts State Police at 508-453-7575.

Image Credit: Fox News

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