Tag Archives: Homicide

The Unsolved Murder of Theresa Corley

Theresa Corley, 19, went missing in December 1978. She was missing for days before her body was found, nude and surrounded by her own clothing, in a ditch off Route I-495 in Bellingham, MA. From the state of the body, police concluded that Corley must have been carried to the site by one or more individuals and not dragged. Preliminary cause of death has been stated as strangulation, possibly using a ligature (Pasqualini 2019).

            The night Theresa disappeared, she had reportedly been out with friends celebrating her boyfriend’s birthday at the Train Stop lounge on Depot Street in Franklin, MA (Pasualini 2018). Another report indicates that the celebration could have been for a coworker and her boyfriend also attended with her (Croteau 2016). After drinking, Theresa was said to have left the bar after getting into an argument with her boyfriend. While Theresa asked a friend for a ride, the friend was not ready to leave, so she began to hitchhike home. According to witnesses, three young men were seen asking her if she needed a ride, but she turned them down (Pasqualini 2019). The men may have been at the Train Stop lounge and followed her out before either picking her up or taking her (Ward 2018).

            In her intoxicated state, Theresa supposedly agreed to join the three men at another party in the Presidential Arms Apartments in Franklin, MA. At the apartments, police theorize that at least one of the men who picked her up began to sexually assault her, and that the other men may have tried to join in. Theresa was able to fight back and escape, and left the apartment wearing one of the men’s shoes and one shoe of her own (Pasqualini 2019).  These men were questioned in relation to her death, but were never charged with anything (Trost 2016).

            Reports indicate that Theresa was spotted hitchhiking down Route 140, where she was picked up by a Garelick Farm truck driver, who dropped her off at the Bellingham Police Station. The driver does not know if she ever went inside the police station, as he dropped her off outside (Ward 2018). He indicated that she was clearly intoxicated, slurring her words, and had told him she had been sexually assaulted. Reportedly, the truck driver said, “She was mad as fire.” She was next seen at approximately 5:30 AM, hitchhiking once again by a Dairy Queen on North Main Street, not far from the police station. At 7:00 AM, Theresa’s sister, Linda, received a call from her mother about Theresa not coming home. This was out of character for the teenager, and her mother was understandably upset and worried that something may have happened to her. Unfortunately, her mother was correct (Pasqualini 2019).

            The discovery of her body was called into the general police department number instead of 911 by a man going by John Burlington, who claimed to be a businessman from Connecticut (Pasqualini 2019), on December 8, 1978 (Ward 2018). According to the phone call, he had stopped along the side of the road to relieve himself when he saw her remains. Police were unable to find John Burlington, and believe there was never an actual John Burlington (Pasqualini 2019). On the same day that her body was recovered, a man showed up to the police department to ask if the body found belonged to Theresa Corley, though he never gave his name. He, perhaps, should have been detained, as nothing had been released yet on a body being found. Police believe he was likely John Burlington, but he reportedly was never to be found again (Pasqualini 2019) or was identified but has since passed away (Trost 2016). If the man who passed away was the one who showed up at the police station that day, it is possible he was John Burlington or may have known who he was (Trost 2016).

            Bob Ward, of New England’s Unsolved, knew Theresa Corley and in a report in 2018 wrote about the last time he remembers seeing her. He was working his job at the Star Market in Franklin, MA when he saw her likely leaving for the day. She said a quick hello before leaving for the day; shortly after she began a new job. Months later, she was gone (Ward 2018).

            In 2016, Theresa’s remains were exhumed and fingernails were collected for DNA testing. The hope was that there would be DNA evidence that could lead to the killer under her fingernails, but DNA degrades over time and unfortunately for the family of Theresa Corley, the DNA did not result in a full profile. However, a sample taken from her jeans has yielded a DNA profile possibly belonging to her killer or someone who may have seen her that night, marking a major break in her case (Staff 2017). According to Bob Ward’s 2018 article, witnesses were also being approached at the time for DNA samples. A digital billboard was donated by Clear Channel Outdoor Boston on Route 140 in Franklin, MA in 2018 (Pasqualini 2019).

            According to one of Theresa’s sisters, evidence has been lost or destroyed in the decades since her death. There is understandable frustration from the family of Theresa Corley, as justice has been delayed in her death for far too long. Her family has set up a Facebook page, “Justice for Theresa Corley” to continue bringing attention to her case and hopefully encourage someone who may know something to come forward (Trost 2016).

            If you believe you saw something on the night of Theresa Corley’s disappearance, or that someone you know may know something, please contact either the Bellingham Police at 508-657-2863 or the Franklin Police at 508-440-2780. You can also email both departments, Bellingham at detectives@bellinghamma.org or Franklin at tips@franklinpolice.com (Pasqualini 2019).

Pasqualini, Kym L. “Unlocking Secrets: The 40-Year-Old Murder of Theresa Corley.” Medium, Medium, 21 Dec. 2019, medium.com/@kympasqualini/unlocking-secrets-the-40-year-old-murder-of-theresa-corley-5778ae773659.

Ward, Bob. “New England’s Unsolved: New Push for Evidence on 40th Anniversary of Teen’s Murder.” WFXT, 6 Dec. 2018, www.boston25news.com/news/new-englands-unsolved-new-push-for-evidence-on-40th-anniversary-of-teens-murder/883806185/.

Trost, Rachael. “Plea for Answers in Massachusetts Teen Theresa Corley’s 1978 Murder.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Feb. 2016, www.nbcnews.com/feature/cold-case-spotlight/plea-answers-massachusetts-teen-theresa-corley-s-1978-murder-n521916.

Croteau, Scott J. “Theresa Corley’s Murder Remains Unsolved Almost 40 Years Later.” Masslive, 13 Apr. 2016, www.masslive.com/news/worcester/2016/04/still_searching_for_answers_th.html.

Staff, Christopher Gavin Daily News. “DNA Gives New Hope in 1978 Corley Case.” Milford Daily News, Milford Daily News, 5 Dec. 2017, http://www.milforddailynews.com/news/20171204/dna-gives-new-hope-in-1978-corley-case.

The Death of Lisa Ziegert

            Lisa Ziegert, 24, grew up in Agawam, MA and worked as a special needs teacher when she was murdered on April 15, 1992. The day began normally for Lisa; she went to work at the school and at 4:30 PM she headed to her second job at Brittany’s Card & Gift Shoppe. Her sister, Lynne, stopped in around 5:30 PM and, according to her, left shortly after 6 PM.  When a coworker arrived just before 9 AM the next morning to open the shop, she found Lisa’s car and other belongings in the shop but no sign of Lisa herself.

            A customer who had been in around 9 PM the night before called in a tip later that they had been in, but no one had seemed to be around. They claimed to have heard movement of some kind in the back room, but left the store when no one came out. Investigators found blood traces and signs of a struggle in the back room, including foot prints on the door that suggested to them that Lisa had been lying on the ground and kicking it.

            A search was launched on April 16, 1992, and Lisa’s body was found on April 19, on Easter Sunday, four days after she was last seen. She was found in a wooded area off Route 75 and it is reported that she had multiple stab wounds around her shoulders and neck; the autopsy report would show that a single stab wound to her neck was the cause of her death. Her wake was attended by more than a thousand people.

            In the days following her murder, tips that were called in helped investigators build a timeline of events leading up to her death. There was the tip mentioned previously, from the customer who came in at 9 PM, along with two other important tips. A customer with a time stamped receipt from the shop at 8:20 PM also called in, as well as someone who worked near the gift shop. The final caller was on their way home around 9:15 PM and may have seen the killer’s car, as well as thought they saw a man and a woman struggling in the back seat of the car. They claimed to have seen the car pull off the road and head toward where Lisa’s body was later found.

            In 2016, a possible image of the suspect was generated using DNA phenotyping, which was a contributing factor in Gary Schara being put on the suspect list. Schara had been a person of interest since his estranged wife, Joyce McDonald Schara, contacted police claiming she believed he could have a connection to the case in 1993. He was arrested in September 2017 and charged in connection with her murder, kidnapping, and aggravated sexual assault. He plead guilty to the charges in September 2019, more than 20 years after the murder.

            The true endgame began when police got warrants for the DNA of suspects that had not given DNA previously, including Gary Schara of West Springfield, MA. Schara fled when he learned an officer had shown up at his residence while he was out looking to take a DNA sample and left his girlfriend three letters that she turned over to police. The letters included an apology letter to the Ziegert family, a written confession, and a last will and testament. Schara was arrested on September 16, 2017 at the Johnson Memorial Medical Center in Stafford Springs, CT, after seeking out treatment after an attempted suicide. Schara plead guilty to first degree murder; the charges of kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault were dropped due to the statute of limitations expiring. He has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

            The Ziegert family believed from the beginning that DNA would be the key to the murder of Lisa, and it was the DNA that lead to the arrest more than 25 years after her death. In 1995, Lisa’s parents, Diane and George, donated $1,100 to Agawam High School’s science department to teach classes on the then new science of DNA analysis.

Sources used:

https://people.com/crime/lisa-ziegert-cold-case-stabbing-murder-how-investigators-cracked-case/

https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/09/lisa-ziegert-case-gary-schara-agrees-to-plead-guilty-in-1992-agawam-murder.html

https://www.thereminder.com/localnews/agawam/gary-schara-admits-to-1992-murder-of-lisa-ziegert-/

The Death of Holly Piirainen

            On August 5, 1993, Holly Piirainen, 10, was visiting her grandparent’s cottage in Sturbridge, MA with her family when she disappeared. She had to a neighbor’s house with her younger brother, Zachary, 5, to see some puppies when she was abducted. Her brother returned home without her, prompting her father, Richard, to send both her brothers out to look for her. They returned with only a shoe, found in the road.

            Her father reported her missing immediately, which lead to a massive search including officials from local and state police as well as units from Rhode Island and Connecticut, and a sheriff’s department. Despite this massive search, it wasn’t until late October of that year that her remains were recovered.

            It was October 23rd of 1993 that hunters found Holly’s remains in Brimfield, MA, near Five Bridge Road. She was found just a few miles away from where she was abducted. There is now a small pink cross where her remains were found.

On January 3, 2012, Mark Mastroianni, the Hampden County attorney, announced that forensic evidence connected deceased David Pouliot, who died in 2003. At the time that Holly’s remains were recovered, police collected several items that could be evidence from the area and connected one of these items to Pouliot through forensics.  The specific item apparently lead police to feel that Pouliot and possibly others associated with him were in the area her remains were recovered at a time that would mean they may have information relating to her death or be involved with her death. While he was linked to the crime scene, Pouliot was not officially declared a suspect.

            Among the names on the suspect list police have, one name in particular stands out to many: Randy Stranger, the brother of Rodney Stranger, who is a suspect in the disappearance and murder of Molly Bish in 2000. Stranger was reportedly living in a tent in Brimfield, MA at the time that Holly was taken and cooperated with police when he was questioned about her at the time of her disappearance. At the time that Rodney Stranger was arrested in 2009, for the murder of his girlfriend, Randy was supposedly missing. He was found in Florida by Massachusetts State Police and they arrested him on an outstanding drug warrant. He spent a year in jail. When police investigating the disappearance of Molly Bish searched Rodney’s trailer on a top in 2012, an investigator on Holly’s case also joined them.

            Rodney Stranger has also been named as a possible suspect, along with serial killer Lewis Lent. Lent has confessed to multiple murders since being in jail for the murder of a 12-year old boy in 1990. He confessed to also killing a young girl in 1993, in New York, Jamie Lusher in Westfield, MA in 1992, and kidnapping a girl from Pittsfield, MA in 1994. A previous resident of Brookfield was also named, Robert Armes, by a police officer on “48 Hours” as being investigated in relation to Holly’s and Molly Bish’s deaths.

            Zachary, the younger brother Holly was with when she went missing, began to have flashbacks of a man’s face in 2005, that he was unable to place. A sketch was drawn up of the man he was seeing that bore an eerie resemblance to Randy Stranger. It is worth noting that the family was not shown a picture of Stranger until 2009, four years after the sketch was drawn up.

            As of February 2020, the abduction and murder of Holly Piirainen remains officially unsolved. It is possible that perhaps out there somewhere, someone saw something on August 5, 1993 that they may not have known was pertinent to the investigation. If you believe you may have information pertaining to Holly’s murder, you can call tips in to the Massachusetts State Police at 413-505-5993 or text CRIMES (274637) starting the body of the text with the word “solve” to text in a tip.

Articles used when compiling information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holly_Piirainen

https://www.boston25news.com/news/holly-piirainen-new-details-emerge-in-19yearold-murder-case/139232396/

https://www.masslive.com/springfield/2019/08/massachusetts-unsolved-murder-26-years-after-holly-piirainens-disappearance-and-killing-family-renews-plea-for-help-to-solve-case.html

https://abcnews.go.com/US/massachusetts-cold-case-linked-dead-man/story?id=15280841

https://www.telegram.com/news/20190805/family-seeks-answers-on-26th-anniversary-of-holly-piirainens-disappearance

https://www.boston25news.com/news/new-england-s-unsolved-holly-piirainen-25-years-later/823976673/

https://thisweekinworcester.com/holly-piiaranens-family-still-looks-for-clues-26-years-after-her-disappearance-death/

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.

Articles information was sourced from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Molly_Bish

https://storiesoftheunsolved.com/2019/04/10/the-murder-of-molly-bish/

https://www.telegram.com/news/20191002/molly-bish-slaying-to-go-before-new-state-police-unsolved-case-unit

https://www.westernmassnews.com/archives/new-person-of-interest-sought-in-molly-bish-murder/article_f8940308-dcaa-11e8-a049-0bfa98358e65.html

https://www.boston25news.com/news/sister-molly-bish-behind-bill-allow-police-hunt-violent-criminals-dna-databases/D42EBWRL7NE4NE5XKUHLAB2TIM/

http://www.geocities.ws/lizzietish2000/SuspectSketch.html