The Disappearance of Molly Bish

I’m eight years-old, watching the news while my parents talk when a report on a missing person comes across the screen. The room is quiet as the image of a young blonde woman, a few years older than my older sister, comes onto the screen and the reporters tell us her name: Molly Bish. She was 16 and worked as a lifeguard at a local pond, where she was last seen. This was the exact moment I realized the world wasn’t as nice as I hoped it was.

            Molly Anne Bish, born August 2, 1983, lived in Warren, MA her entire life with her father, John Sr, mother, Magi, and siblings, Heather and John Jr. She was working as a lifeguard at Comins Pond at the time she disappeared. According to her mother, Magi Bish, the day before Molly disappeared there was a strange man with a mustache in a white car parked nearby. He seemed unusual, but when she picked Molly up later in the day and dropped her off the next day he was nowhere to be seen. Another witness claimed to have seen the man just minutes before Molly was dropped off, parked nearby again.

The first signs that Molly was missing came when the first parents arrived for the day’s swimming lessons; her whistle, chair, and sandals were there and there was an open first aid kit, but no Molly. One parent took over the lesson and informed Molly’s boss, who informed the police at 11:44 AM. Her disappearance was not initially taken seriously, as many assumed due to her young age that she had likely walked off to hang out with friends. The Bish’s became aware of their daughter’s disappearance at 1:00 PM, when police informed them that no lifeguard had been found on duty at Comins Pond.

Magi Bish and Heather Bish headed to the hospital, where one of Molly’s friends was after being hit by a car, to see if perhaps she had gone to see her, and Heather checked with Molly’s boyfriend, who seemed just as unconcerned as the police. Her boyfriend joined Heather and Magi back at Comins Pond, where Magi had an argument with the police about whether or not Molly would have left her post. The police were eventually convinced and called in the State Police, who had more experience with missing persons cases.

The State Police posited the theory that she may have drowned, which the family disagreed with as she was a strong swimmer. This did, however, upset either John Jr or John Sr (reports differ on who), and he ran into the water to find her before being pulled back by officials. The pond was searched using boats and a dive team, but when there was no sign of her after hours of searching, the search in the pond and the surrounding woods was called off for the night.

The search resumed on the 28th at 6:00 AM; police units, a helicopter equipped with infrared imaging devices, a mounted unit, and the townspeople began the largest search in Massachusetts history. Local businesses printed out missing person posters and posted them on their work fronts. A path that lead from Comins Pond to a cemetery was searched specifically, and the theory that Molly had been helping someone with a faked injury when she was abducted was presented. This is what reminded Magi Bish of the strange mustached-man she had seen when dropping Molly off the day before she went missing. She described him as being roughly 50 years-old and having salt-and-pepper hair, with a mustache, dark eyes, and smoking a cigarette. A composite sketch was drawn up based on her description, but when shown the picture, John Jr, who had worked at Comins Pond before, did not recognize him as a regular at the pond.

The police set up a roadblock in an attempt to stop the man from leaving and found out, after speaking with the townspeople, that the car he was in had been seen near the cemetery near the pond just a few days earlier. The District Attorney’s office ordered the search of over a hundred white cars, but because the make of the car could not be determined from Magi’s description, there were no real leads uncovered.

The Comins Pond scene was compromised by the original responding team and could no longer be properly investigated. Too many people had been in-and-out of the area since the first report had been made; new footprints, new fingerprints, and even cigarettes were now covering the crime scene. This meant the police didn’t have much evidence they could really work with, so they began turning to theories. Tips were coming in from all over the country, including sightings of Molly, but her family firmly believed she would not have left like that.

Her boss and boyfriend were both considered suspects initially, but her boyfriend passed a polygraph test and her boss had an alibi that checked out. They began to investigate known sex offenders in the area, giving some polygraph tests, which resulted in some showing signs of lying, and trying to prove or disprove alibis. The alibis were hard to prove, as many sex offenders have a hard time finding steady employment. John Sr’s case files were also investigated, as the thought was that perhaps she was taken in revenge, but it seems that everyone they spoke to had nothing but kind things to say about him.

Tips continued to come in, in the coming years, including tips that she had been sighted in various places like Miami, Florida. In 2003, an officer who had retired called in a tip that he believed Molly’s disappearance may have been connected to the disappearance and death of Holly Piirainen in 1993. Holly disappeared while out with her brother on a trip to visit their grandmother in Sturbridge, MA; her body was found near where she went missing, by hunters. Her murder remains unsolved. It is worth noting that Molly actually wrote a letter to Holly’s parents to let them know she was hoping for her safe return.

Due to the physical similarities between Holly and Molly, both blonde with blue eyes, and the close proximity of their disappearances, police suspected that they may be looking for the same perpetrator. The hunters were interviewed, and while one felt he had seen something suspicious months before, the other felt that it was nothing.

            At 11 years-old, I watched the news break with my mother of remains being found and was reminded again of the girl I had seen on the news years before. In 2003, a hunter told Tim McGuigan that he had seen a blue bathing suit, like the one she wore, while out hunting in 2002. McGuigan reported this to police, resulting in a search of the area and the recovery of her remains on June 9, 2003. Her remains were found only five miles from her home. Initially, police found pieces of her bathing suit that they sent for DNA analysis. The suit was confirmed to have her DNA on it and they began a larger search of the area. A totally of 26 bones were recovered from the Whiskey Hill area of Palmer, MA and all were confirmed through DNA analysis to belong to Molly Bish.

            Molly Bish was buried on what would have been her 20th birthday, August 2, 2003. Police began to look for a white male between the ages 18 and 50 who may have a history of violence and probably knew the area for fishing or hunting.

            A man in Connecticut in 2005, who was charged with attempted kidnapping, was investigated briefly. Another man, Rodney Stranger, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend in 2008, in Florida. The police in Massachusetts were called based on a conversation he supposedly had with his deceased girlfriend. At the time of Molly’s disappearance and murder. Stranger lived in the Warren, MA area and fished and hunted at Comins Pond. He bore a resemblance to the composite sketch drawn up based on Magi Bish’s description of the man she saw the day before Molly disappeared. He resembled the sketch based on Magi Bish’s description of the man she saw the day before Molly disappeared, his brother owned a white car that matched the description, and he moved to Florida a year after Molly’s disappearance. He plead guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, but denied any involvement in Molly’s death.

            After receiving a tip from the sister of Stranger’s deceased girlfriend that he had some strange things in his home in 2012, the police performed a search. They found his Massachusetts Firearm ID, where they discovered he looked like the sketch. After this discovery, people began to come out with statements of seeing a man matching his description at Comins Pond right before Magi dropped off Molly, as well as the tip that the car had been seen near the cemetery at the time. He was also questioned in the disappearance of Holly Piirainen, but has not been charged with either.

            Another man who resembled the sketch was suggested as a possible suspect in 2011, by private investigator Dan Malley. The man, Gerald Battistoni, was initially an informant the Narcotics Task Force of Eastern Hampdon County and was in jail for the rape of a teenager in the 1990s. He was found to have been in the area at the time of Molly’s disappearance and was investigated for her disappearance and the disappearance of Holly Piirainen. He attempted suicide after being named a suspect in both cases and died in 2014.

            Police have begun testing DNA of persons of interest against DNA evidence from the crime scene and evidence collected over the years. They also brought in cadaver dogs in 2013, when a race track being constructed near where the bones they had had been found. They made sure to inform the construction workers on what to look for in hopes they could recover more of her remains. A bag with a pair of shorts matching the ones Molly wore when she went missing was found in 2014, under a long near Nenemseck Sportsmen’s Club Palmer, across the street from where her remains were found, by a private investigator. That same year, a lawsuit was filed by the man who brought the tip leading to Molly’s remains against the District Attorney’s office. He felt he should get the reward money offered for information leading to her remains, however, the judge dismissed the lawsuit as the reward was offered by an independent foundation and the reward was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her murderer.

            The Bish family also hosted “Just One Piece” in 2014, a campaign that lead to more people coming forward with possible persons of interest on the case. Information has been withheld to prevent any possible obstruction or issues with the case, but what has been shared is that a man was seen not far from where Molly disappeared, at a camp ground in West Brookfield, MA. He left the day she went missing. According to witnesses, this person of interest came back to the camp ground, face bloody and scratched, raving about something bad having happened in the woods. Approximately six months later, he was heard bragging about being a person of interest in a case despite never having been interviewed.

            The Bish family hired another private investigator, Sarah Stein, to take over the case from other private investigators they had hired. Stein believed the car may have been buried at a camp ground in Brookfield, MA based on a tip she had received and the investigators used ground penetrating radar to check the area. Several anomalies lead to the area being investigated more and Stein believed that there was something buried there. State police were present in 2017 when volunteers searched the camp ground, but this search was not considered officially part of the investigation. Molly’s sister, Heather, claims a man matching the sketch still lives in the area and would have had access to the camp ground at the time. She also claims the equipment that would be needed to bury a car was available at the camp ground at the time of Molly’s disappearance.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, the case has been featured on Disappeared, America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries, and 48 Hours. Her parents, Magi and John Sr, have started the Molly Bish Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the safety awareness and prevention for children. They distribute the children identification booklets that many kids fill out at school and helped pass the AMBER Alert system currently in place in Massachusetts. John Jr, Molly’s brother, has since become an EMT and her boyfriend died in a car crash in 2018. In 2010, on the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance, a vigil was held at Comins Pond.

            In 2019, it was announced that a new task force would be taking over several unsolved cases in Massachusetts. The unit consists of five seasoned homicide detectives who will work with the District Attorneys and the evidence already collected previously by investigators. The officers will work both as a team and individually, under the directions of the District Attorney of Jurisdiction. The cases being covered by this new unit will reportedly go back as far as the 1950s or 1960s.

            As of 2020, Molly’s sister, Heather, is backing a bill that would allow police to search for violent killers using DNA databases. This would be similar to the tactics used to hunt down the Golden State Killer, arrested in 2018.

            The case of Molly Bish’s disappearance and murder is officially still an open case. If you believe you may have information that could lead to the arrest of Molly’s murderer or the recovery of the rest of her remains, please contact the Warren Police at 413-436-9595.

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