NE Unsolved: Worcester investigators update Molly Bish disappearance as 23rd anniversary approaches

WORCESTER, Mass. — Police are continuing to investigate a suspect in the 2000 disappearance and death of 16-year-old Molly Bish, Worcester District Attorney Joe Early said Tuesday.

Molly was just 16 years old on June 27, 2000, when she disappeared from her lifeguard job at Comins Pond in the central Massachusetts town of Warren.

Molly’s story grabbed the nation’s attention --She was older than typical abduction victims. She wasn’t considered a runaway. And she apparently vanished in broad daylight.

Police at the time looked without success for an older man with a mustache driving a white car.

But a lack of evidence tying several suspects over the years has failed to lead to any criminal charges in Molly’s death.

In 2021, DA Early identified Frank Sumner as a person of interest in Molly’s case.

Last summer, Molly’s sister Heather Bish claimed that DNA evidence failed to link Sumner to Molly’s investigation.

But Early told reporters Tuesday that Sumner is still a person of interest and suspect in the case.

Sumner was a violent sex offender who died in 2016.

“My gut told me that this was appropriate, this was clear, and it was very persuasive evidence to name him a person of interest in the case,” Early told Boston 25 Thursday. “And I actually called him the suspect. And we don’t take that lightly. We look at every one. There are a lot of suspects throughout the years. But the information that we got and I can’t say too, too much without jeopardizing the investigation, it did lead us to find something.”

Early said he has hope.

“I see how hard the state police detectives are working on this,” he said. “And I have every faith in the world that if this can be solved to 100%, 98% beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s going to be solved.”

“It was here before my getting here,” Early added. “It hopefully will be resolved before I leave office.”


Molly disappeared at a time without Amber Alerts or widespread video surveillance.

“The first 48 hours of a murder are crucial,” he said. “And one of the sad things that day was that the crime scene was just destroyed. Everyone treated it like a drowning.”

As people who weren’t detectives began looking for clues around Comins Pond, the crime scene became “contaminated,” Early said.

“A lot of people got there quick and a lot of people were all over the place,” Early said.

“There wasn’t a focus on preserving that crime scene in a pristine condition,” he said. “It was: ‘Get the chair, go through the bag, go through her box, go through her lifeguard kit. Had she gone over, what did she do? Where had she gone?’ You know, like, she’d typically get in there, she’d put a chair, she’d go over to the box that had the lifesaver, that had the different things that a lifeguard would use for life-saving.”

He added: “Where could she be? They went into the water. Things were moved around. So when I say contaminating or hurting a crime scene, you know, it was all because of good faith and good efforts. They wanted to try and find her and they thought she might have drowned in the water.”

Early said investigating the case was challenging from the start.

“It wasn’t till later in the day that the state police detective unit was notified that this may be a crime,” Early said. “And I think they get out there about 6:00 that night, she went disappearing about ten in the morning.”


Some of Molly’s bones were found three years later, in the woods of nearby Palmer.

A hunter had found a bathing suit similar to the one Molly was wearing when she disappeared.

Early said he can’t go into the nature of evidence pointing to Sumner – including whether the evidence is circumstantial or physical.

He said going into detail could jeopardize the case - even though Sumner is deceased.

But he said the information is promising.

Early says his office has gotten thousands of tips -- and still gets them and welcomes them.

“It’s not just DNA, though,” Early told Boston 25. “We use the tip line, we use the information we get, and we’ve received some great information.”

And he said investigators are still working.

“We have a lot of information that was grabbed from the scene that’s going to continue to be tested,” he said. “We’re going to use every resource we have with regard to that information, getting it tested, seeing if it helps us firm up some other information that we have.”

Advancements in science have helped investigators re-test decades-old evidence.

“We submitted things for testing years and years ago that we have resubmitted because of changes in the science,” he said.

“We’re going to be doing some more testing soon,” Early said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces in this case still. We’re looking at a lot of different things. There was a lot of evidence gathered. And when we send information, it doesn’t come back conclusive, it doesn’t come back giving us what we want, we send more information.”

Early said he supports legislation to make it easier for investigators to use familial DNA to solve tough cases.

Familial DNA was used to help track down the golden state killer.

“If you can help eliminate suspects, if you can have the safeguards in place, I wholeheartedly support it,” she said.


The Bish family has worked for years to raise awareness of child abductions nationwide.

Early said the parents’ impact has been widespread – including pushing for law enforcement to refer to unsolved cases rather than “cold cases,” and pushing parents nationwide to have identity kits on hand that include copies of their children’s medical records and photos.

And the family has never stopped pushing for answers about Molly.

For 23 years, Heather Bish has been left to wonder who is responsible for the loss of her sister Molly.

She says it would mean so much for an arrest to be made so her sister can finally rest in peace.

Bish told 25 Investigates that she wants another county to take it over so the investigation can have fresh eyes.

But DA Early defended his team and says the case is staying in his office.

“We have the best state police detective unit in the state,” Early said. “We have people come and go from the unit. So we do get fresh eyes on it from time to time. And I know this case is going to stay with the Worcester County DA’s office.”

DA Early said his office is passionate about solving the case.

“I know that the work that they’re doing is as good as you can get, and it’s going to stay here,” he said. “There’s people with a passion for this, that’s people that want to make sure that this is solved.”

The anonymous tip line for anyone with information about Molly Bish’s death is 508-453-7575.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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