Who killed Molly Bish? Worcester district attorney names suspect

WORCESTER — A registered sex offender from Spencer who died in 2016 has been named a person of interest in the abduction and slaying of Warren lifeguard Molly Anne Bish in 2000.

Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said Thursday that Francis P. Sumner Sr., a man with a more-than-20-page criminal record, is being eyed in the case after a tip led detectives from his unresolved case squad to look at Sumner.

Early said he is confident that the case is moving in the right direction.

“He was someone, I know, that state police had considered … as they continued going on they were able to corroborate and verify some information,” Early said. “He’s out in the area, he’s got an extensive criminal record, he did time for an aggravated rape and a kidnapping as well as a couple of other things.”

Early said Sumner’s record “speaks for itself.”

Records show Sumner was placed on the state’s sex offender registry as a Level 2 sex offender after being convicted in 1982 of aggravated rape.

Sumner, who remained a Level 2 sex offender until his death, was well known to area police, having been arrested in Spencer and Rutland several times, including several in which he was charged with violating harassment orders and made threatening phone calls.

Early said tips come into his office weekly from people hoping to help solve the Bish case, and every piece of information is reviewed. He said the unresolved case squad, named because John Bish, Molly’s father, urged Early to refrain from using the term “cold case,” works on the case frequently.

Who is Francis P. Sumner?

In the announcement, Early asked people to look at the photographs of Sumner and to call with any information about him, whether they believe it is related to the Bish case. They are seeking information about where he may have worked.

He was known to operate vehicle repair shops in Leicester, Spencer and the Worcester area, Early said. He was born in 1945, and lived and worked in Central Massachusetts. Investigators are looking for clues about his habits, vehicles he drove people he may have known and his travel.

An anonymous tip line, 508-453-7575, is open for anyone with information, Early said.  

Sumner, who was survived by two sons and two daughters, was found dead inside his Spencer home May 4, 2016. His obituary states that he had enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard after graduating from South High School. He was the former owner of Sumner’s Auto Repair on Route 122 in an area known as Four Corners in Rutland.

In Rutland, news of the development reached police Detective Troy Chauvin, who had dealt with Sumner on several occasions.

“He ran a fly-by-night auto repair business in town and had cases of fraud filed against him,” Chauvin recalled.

Odd connection to Sumner

The detective also had an odd connection to Sumner.

“When I was a kid, I had a paper route and it was my neighbor who was the victim he raped,” Chauvin said, adding that he hopes Early’s office can find evidence to link Sumner to the Bish case and provide the family with some peace.

Spencer Police said Sumner was familiar to them as well. Chief David B. Darrin said state police have sought information about Sumner in the past and reviewed some of their records.

Heather Bish, in a social media post on Thursday, said several of her sister’s personal belongings were returned to her this week, just before the announcement about Sumner’s possible involvement in the case.

She videotaped the stack of photographs, a purse, cassette tapes and perfumes that detectives had held since she was abducted from Comins Pond in Warren on June 27, 2000, and talked about her younger sister.

Heather said her mother reacted to the photograph of Sumner with concern and said he resembled the man she saw sitting by the pond in a white car giving her a menacing look on the day before 16-year-old Molly disappeared.

Molly’s skeletal remains were found three years later, scattered along the side of Whiskey Hill about 5 miles from the pond and where the town lines of Ware, Palmer and Warren intersect. 

Heather said her family has been having mixed emotions, but she also feels confident in the new information.

“They have never named a person of interest,” she said. “I’m feeling, well, mostly I’m feeling grateful for the people who keep coming forward with all these tips. That’s the way to solve a case.”

Heather said she felt emotional seeing her sister’s belongings, but she also laughed thinking that, were she here today, Molly would likely still love her Bath & Body Works products and might still be listening to the same songs she enjoyed on the cassette tapes.

Close to resolving case

She also feels like she can breathe, knowing investigators are close to resolving the case. She said she misses her sister, whom she has not seen in “7,646 days.”

“I’ve been chasing a murderer for 21 years,” she said. “I’m a teacher. I just want to be a teacher … but I will never stop crusading for victims’ families.”

Early said he spoke with the Bish family and with former District Attorney John J. Conte, now 93, and told him of the development. He said Conte was grateful to hear the news.

The Bish family was also grateful, Early said, even though investigators still need to “connect more dots” in the case.

“But the thing they want, I can’t give them,” he said. “And that is Molly back.”

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