Today we are talking about the case of Molly Bish. She was the youngest of Magi and John Bish’s 3 children. Her parents had moved their family from the Detroit area to a small town in Massachusetts called Warren with a population of only 4,800 in 2000. I’m not super familiar with Massachusetts and the only place I really know there is Boston, so I mapped it out and it is a little less than an hour and a half west of Boston. They made this move when Molly was a year old. John Bish had actually grown up there which is how they knew the area. They made this move because they wanted to get away from the violence and crime in the Detroit area. I don’t have any kids, but I imagine that safety is something I would want to take into account if I were choosing a place to live with kids. Not to say that I don’t now, but I think it would definitely influence my decision more.
In June of 2000, Molly was 16 and had just finished her junior year of high school. She had started her first job as a lifeguard at Comins Pond. This pond is fairly isolated and surrounded by woods, but appears to have been a pretty common place for the residents of Warren to hang out in the summer. There was also a cemetery behind the pond with a path connecting the two.
On the 27th, her mom, Magi, gave her a ride to work as she didn’t have her license yet. They stopped at the police station on their way for Molly to pick up her two-way radio so that she could alert police if there were any incidents while she was lifeguarding. It was just before 10 in the morning when they arrived at the pond and Magi left her there. It was a big day as it was the first day of swim lessons, so the pond was going to be busy.
When parents started arriving about 20 minutes later, they noticed that there was a backpack, towel, sandals, two-way radio, and an open first aid kit at the lifeguard post, but no lifeguard. About an hour later, Molly’s boss, Ed Fett, arrived and she was still nowhere to be seen. Now, I do want to clarify that this part is reported differently depending on where you look. The articles I found that addressed this, all implied that he immediately alerted the police. However, in the episode that Disappeared did on her case, they said that he actually had gone back out and actually ran into John Jr, Molly’s brother. This is notable because he didn’t say anything to her brother about her not having been at her post. This makes it a little unclear on when exactly the police were alerted and how much time passed between Magi leaving and alarm bells being sounded for Molly.
By the time Magi was alerted that Molly was missing, it had been about 3 hours since she last saw her. They told her that there had been no lifeguard all day and that Molly’s belongings had been left there. They had initially thought that she had probably just abandoned her post since there were no signs of a struggle or foul play. The family immediately took action and after arriving at the pond John Jr actually ran into the pond looking for her. In the Disappeared episode, he said that he knew she wasn’t in the pond, but didn’t know what else to do and had to check to be sure.
Despite her brother saying he knew she wasn’t in the water, police thought she may have drowned. Her family didn’t think that’s what had happened as she was an athlete and a strong swimmer. Regardless, they had to make sure and so a dive team was sent to search the water. The search went on for hours, but turned up nothing. As it was getting dark and the rescue effort had not turned anything up, they decided to take a break for the night and made plans for a more extensive search in the morning.
So now it is June 28th and everyone is out looking for Molly. Since the search of the lake was unsuccessful they started to expand their search radius. Unfortunately, their focus on rescue the day before meant that they didn’t necessarily take the precautions that would normally be taken when foul play is being considered. This made it extra difficult to track footprints that normally could be helpful in tracking where someone may have gone in an area like this. Since so many people had come and gone through the area, they couldn’t make any progress with that method. They decided to use infrared and camera images to search the woods in addition to people looking on foot. At this point, we have local police, state police, and residents of Warren searching high and low for any sign of Molly. The whole town seemed to rally around the Bish family and do anything they could to help find her. Unfortunately, their efforts were fruitless and they didn’t find anything.
At this point, the police are becoming more and more sure that Molly had in fact been a victim of foul play. They were also still considering the possibility of her having run away, but this seemed pretty unlikely. So searching the pond, following tracks, and searching the woods have all been unsuccessful. What else can we look at?
If you remember, there were a number of Molly’s items that had been left by her lifeguard post. Typically, this would be something that could be helpful in figuring out what may have happened, but just like with the footprints, all this evidence had been contaminated. Now, that’s not to say that they didn’t look at these items at all. They did and actually had some suspicion cast on Ed, her boss, after this. His fingerprints were found all over her first aid kit. However, he was eliminated quickly as he had a simple explanation as to how his fingerprints had gotten there and he had an alibi for most of the day. As I mentioned earlier, he had run into Molly’s brother in town between the time Magi had dropped her off at work and police were called in. He was then present during search efforts and whatnot, so if he had done something he would have had a very small window and odds are they would have found her pretty quickly.
If it wasn’t her boss, who else could be involved? We all know that the significant other is always one of the first people looked at and this case is no different. Molly was dating a boy named Steve Lukas. They had been together for about 3 months and had gone to prom together just weeks before. When police asked around about their relationship, there were mixed responses. Some people said they seemed really happy together and others said they felt they were mismatched. This mainly came from the fact that Molly was extremely outgoing whereas Steve was more of a homebody.
Even though people around town obviously had opinions on the relationship, Magi said that she had no reason to dislike him. Although the relationship seemed fine, there were some red flags that police made note of. For one, he wasn’t cooperative with them which is a pretty common sign that something might be going on. On top of that, he didn’t participate in the searches for Molly. I don’t know about you guys, but if someone I knew went missing and their significant other didn’t help search for them I would pretty much have my mind made up that they were guilty. And as if this all wasn’t enough, he had a fresh cut on his lip and was missing his eyebrow ring. When telling people what happened, he was reported to have told people and police all sorts of things with no consistent explanation as to what had happened.
This all sounds pretty promising, and the police rightfully had doubts about him. However, the police didn’t have any evidence to tie him to the case. He also passed a polygraph, which if you’re familiar with you will know that polygraphs aren’t admissible in court so that doesn’t really say much to me. The lack of evidence, passed polygraph, and the fact that he was with the Bish family just a couple of hours after they learned of her disappearance caused police to move onto other options. The Bish family has also come out and said that they don’t think he had anything to do with it. I feel like there has to be something else that hasn’t been released that caused them to eliminate him as a suspect because in my eyes at least, the circumstantial evidence against him outweighs the lack of evidence and polygraph.
The next suspect is the one most commonly associated with this case. To understand, we need to jump back in time to June 26th, 2000, the day before Molly disappeared. Just like on the 27th, Magi drove Molly to work at the pond. When they arrived, there was a man in the parking lot that had given Magi a bad gut feeling. She said, “We pull up at the pond. And there’s a vehicle parked in the parking lot right next to our car. There’s a man sitting in there smoking. I somehow just feel uncomfortable. I looked at this man. He doesn’t nod and greet me. And I just felt uneasy. I did not want to leave Molly with this man.” Because of this feeling she decided to walk Molly down to her post and make sure she got settled, figuring that by doing this the man would be gone by the time she left. While she was at the pond with Molly, she noticed that there were a lot more men out there then she had expected. When she mentioned this to Molly, she reassured her they were just fishermen and that she was worrying for nothing.
She expected the man in the parking lot to be gone by now, but says “And lo and behold, I think I’ve been gone a reasonable time, but this man who was in this vehicle, is still there. I’m very upset that he’s still there. So I lock eyes with him. I am giving him a stare, trying, I guess, to maybe scare him away. He returns the stare and just boldly stares at me, just, cocky as all… He just squinted his eyes and he stared at me, and just kept smoking and he didn’t seem to care.” Because this man was making her so uncomfortable, she actually sat there and waited for him to leave before leaving herself.
Obviously, having hindsight, we could look at this and say all sorts of things and speculate about what we would have done or say Magi should have done more. But that’s a lot easier to say knowing that the next day Molly would go missing. I can’t tell you the number of times some random guy in a parking lot has given me the creeps and I told myself I was just being paranoid and told myself to move on and forget about it, so I don’t think we can cast any sort of blame on Magi for not reporting him or anything.
When she dropped Molly off on the 27th, she said the man was nowhere to be seen and there was actually a truck unloading sand for the beach. Magi said, “When I saw the sand truck I realized that they were businessmen in town and I felt that I could leave Molly and it would be okay.”
The police really dug into this lead and focused on identifying the man, thinking he was the most likely suspect. They spoke with one of the men that had been working on the sand truck who said that he had seen a car similar to the one Magi described minutes before they had shown up that morning. Another worker was reported to have seen the same car later that day as well. The thought is that perhaps he parked on the path that connected the pond and cemetery and waited for Molly and this is where she was taken from.
A composite sketch of this man was released, but unfortunately didn’t produce any solid leads. With no progress seeming to be made, the Bish’s took action and set up an email chain to try and get this out to more people. They hoped that somebody would recognize him, but the right person just hadn’t seen it yet. This email chain ended up extending to more than 35,000 people and a website was set up to keep track of all the tips, but despite all of this a year passed and there were still no solid leads. I do want to clarify that when I say no solid leads, I don’t mean nothing came from this. Rather there were so many tips that came in that it wasn’t really helpful. At one point, her dad actually said there were “too many suspects.”
So you might be thinking what else could they do at this point? Well, I have to say, if anything ever happened to me, I really hope someone would go to the lengths Molly’s family went for her. Magi decided that this sketch wasn’t working because it was too vague, so she contacted a sketch artist, Jeanne Boylan, to help her create a more accurate drawing of the man. Not only did she feel it was more accurate to how the man’s face looked, they also added his hand holding a cigarette and Magi says that when she saw the completed picture she had instant fear, it was so accurate.
Time continues to pass and in the fall of 2002, a hunter in the woods of Whiskey Hill in Palmer, which is right next to Warren, reported seeing a blue bathing suit. The bathing suit was sent to Quantico for DNA analysis and was confirmed to be Molly’s. A massive search was organized with 180 people and over 500 acres (the largest search in Massachusetts history). On June 3rd they found a human bone and also sent that to Quantico for DNA analysis. Over the next week they found 26 more bones and they are all confirmed to be Molly.
Unfortunately, this still wasn’t enough and years went by with no real progress. The Bish family hired a private investigator and police continued to sift through tips. In 2004, Molly’s parents established the Molly Bish Center for the Protection of Children and the Elderly at Anna Maria College, an organization devoted to promoting child safety through education and prevention. One of the things they did that has changed things forever was focus on child safety through child ID kits that help in locating a missing child. The kits include a current head and shoulder photo of the child along with a set of fingerprints. They did this because they did not have the kind of photos the police needed readily available when she initially went missing. They are currently focusing on getting act S1595 passed which would permit familial searching and partial DNA matches in investigating certain unsolved crimes. If you want more information on what this would mean or want to help, you can visit their website mollybishfoundation.com. We’ll also link it in the show notes on our website and Instagram post for this episode.
In October of 2008, Steve Lukas died in a car accident with no answers as to what happened to his teenage girlfriend. A few months later, in February of 2009, a man named Rodney Stanger was arrested for stabbing his girlfriend to death. Before he killed her, his girlfriend had made incriminating statements about things he had said related to Molly’s death. He had lived near Warren for 20 years, was a local hunter, and strongly resembled the composite. At the time of Molly’s disappearance, he drove a white car and both he and his brother moved about a year later. He pled guilty to the stabbing of his girlfriend, but denied any involvement with Molly’s case.
In June of 2021, so earlier this year, Francis Sumner Sr. was named a person of interest. His resemblance to the sketch is spot on. He was even a left handed smoker like the man Magi had seen. He operated auto repair shops in surrounding areas, so he would have likely had access to a white car. He also served time after being convicted of aggravated rape and kidnapping in the ‘80s and was released a few years before Molly went missing. After he was announced as a person of interest, dozens of tips came in and people seem pretty confident that we will finally be able to close this case. If it was Sumner, though, it will be a little tricky to confirm as he died in 2016. Police are working to solidify his connection to the case and if you have any information you can contact the DA’s anonymous tip line at 508-453-7575.
Disappeared Season 3, episode 3
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