The phrase stranger danger was coined back in the 60s, but it was something that continued to be used well into my childhood in the 80s. There were cartoon things schools would show kids to make them all aware that strangers could be a danger to you so be wary of them. I don’t remember ever being shown the cartoon or hearing my mom say the phrase, but I learned about stranger danger in other ways.
As a very young child, I lived in a neighborhood that had cheap rents and not a good reputation. I only lived there for maybe 3 years but it cemented the sentiment behind stranger danger to me. If we kids wanted to play outside, multiple adults accompanied us “just in case”. We weren’t sure what “just in case” really was, but they were there “just in case.”
Riding our bikes down the street or in the shared parking lot between my building and the next meant that there should be at least one adult for every child. That didn’t always work out for reasons, but usually there were plenty of adult eyes on us as we played outside.
When we moved to suburbia, the stranger danger mentality followed. We rode our bikes in roving gangs of children, we were to be inside by the time the streetlights came on, and my mom had us in an after school program when babysitters were no longer available to keep us so that we would be safe. We didn’t stay home alone for long when I was young and we made sure doors were locked, that we didn’t answer the door if our mom wasn’t home, and we stayed in the relative safety of our neighborhood when we hung out with our friends.
As a teen, I was a loner and stayed home more often than I had as a kid. My nights home alone were filled with music, books, and writing. I had friends and sometimes we would go out in semblance to the roving gangs of kids on bicycles from my childhood. Only now we had friends who drove where we wanted to go and there were usually at least 5 – 7 of us at a go. We were safer in groups as a kid and we were safer as teenagers because nothing horrible could happen to us.
Stranger danger shaped my childhood in weird ways. But the overall sentiment, no matter how safe we tried to be, did not always work out in everyone’s favor.
The disappearance and murder of Molly Anne Bish probably should have rocked my entire world when it hit the presses. Molly was my age and she had probably been taught the same things about stranger danger as I had. Maybe she watched the cartoons in school when I didn’t. In any case, she probably had a general awareness of her surroundings at all times, locked the doors when her parents weren’t at home, and did all the good things people and organizations tell you to do so that you won’t go missing or wind up dead.
But even with all of that, Molly still disappeared from her job as a lifeguard at a local lake. Her mother had been dropping her off each day and paid close attention to Molly’s surroundings before bidding good-bye and “I love you” to her daughter. The day before Molly’s disappearance, her mother noticed a suspicious looking white vehicle with a strange man in the parking lot with her, but she ignored it instead of calling it in.
The next day, June 27, 2000, Molly went missing and her mother remembered that strange car and the strange man sitting in it the day before. She was last seen by her mother wearing a blue bathing suit. At least her mother got to say good-bye, something that doesn’t happen often in these types of cases, even if she didn’t know it was the final good-bye.
For three hours on that day of June 27th, families came and went with their kids to enjoy the cool water on such a beautiful day. They all noticed that the lifeguard was missing, but no one thought to ask themselves why the lifeguard had left their water and bag of things out in the opening – which included their lifeguard whistle – and why the first aid kit was left open by the lifeguard post. Someone even took it upon themselves to pull the whistle out of Molly’s bag and use it as they played fill-in for the missing Molly Bish.
The police were finally contacted and immediately began trying to find Molly. There was no usual story about being a runaway; it was clear that Molly had not left her post willingly. What teenage girl would leave her things behind? A search was immediately organized, purported to be one of the most extensive and expensive searches in Massachusetts history.
They came up empty.
The police cordoned off the lake and turned it into the crime scene it was, but the detectives admitted that the evidence they collected was contaminated. The woman who had taken Molly’s whistle had trampled some of her things. Someone put the first aid kit away. There was evidence taken from the lake, but too many had come through and trampled it for the evidence to be the solid lead the police needed to find out what had happened to Molly.
As usual, the police looked at Molly’s family and friends, hoping to find a jump start on the case there. The police looked into her father’s job – he was a parole officer – wondering if this disappearance was linked to a disgruntled convict under her father’s thumb. But it seemed that her father was well-liked.
There were some thoughts that maybe she had taken off: a friend of hers had been injured badly and there was fear that she wasn’t going to make it. But everyone knew that Molly wouldn’t have left without telling someone. Or if she had left at all, she would have made the journey with other friends and not on her own. They kept coming back to the bag of things she had left behind with this theory too. Why would she have left her things at the lake even if she had gone off to visit with one of her friends?
The one thing that the police and Molly’s mother kept coming back to was the white car with the strange man from the day before. Other locals had seen the vehicle too in various places around the lake: in the parking lot, down the street, and in a campground that was reachable through a path in the woods from the lake. But no one seemed to know who it was who had been driving that white sedan. Flyers asking people if they knew who it was to call in to the tip line went up.
Tips came in, but nothing concrete surfaced.
In late fall of 2002, a local hunter was walking through the woods about 5 miles from Molly’s parents place when they saw something blue in the distance. The something blue looked like a bathing suit. That man didn’t investigate what he was seeing for whatever reason, but when he shared this story with a friend of his almost half a year later, his friend put two-and-two together and notified police.
The police found Molly after an intensive search. Her body had been strewn about the area known as Whiskey Hill due to predation. No cause of death could be determined. All they knew was that a happy, healthy 16-year-old girl had gone missing and her body found three years later, almost to the day, with no understanding as to what had happened in between.
Since the discovery of Molly’s body, no less than four people have been interviewed as persons of interest. In each case, the family is given a modicum of hope only to have those hopes dashed.
It seems like every other year there is talk of some new lead in the case. Two years ago, twenty-six pieces of evidence were submitted for enhanced DNA analysis to a lab in Texas. The police on the case were quoted a year later as saying that there is “cause for optimism based on some of the things we’ve tested.” Last year, detectives began searching the woods where Molly was found after a tip about a buried car – possibly the suspicious white car her mother saw the day prior – in the area. They took ground penetrating radar in the hopes of finding the car, but no new updates have entered the local headlines since last year.
Molly’s family continues to fight, pushing however they can for justice for her. Her sister said that she will keep fighting, a sentiment echoed by Molly’s mother repeatedly over the years. They won’t give up, or give in. They’ve hired private investigators to aid the police in their investigations.
In addition to the above, Molly’s mother and family have humanized her in a way that not many victims with cold cases are able to do. The fact that Molly disappeared and was murdered only 18 years ago gives the case a more humane persona than Danny Croteau’s news articles ever conveyed. The articles are less sensational, more to the point. Molly was a human being and we were able to learn about who Molly actually was versus what the newspapers would like us to believe.
I don’t think Molly was any different than any other 16-year-old girl. She wrote a letter once to a local mother who had lost her daughter in much the same way that Molly’s mother would lose her. She belonged to clubs and had a boyfriend. She had worries and concerns; she had plans and a future. Molly probably could have been one of my friends if we had gone to the same schools.
The only difference between her and I is merely a matter of circumstance. I came home in June 2000 if I went out at all; she never did.
The word justice is a word that seems to have lost a lot of meaning. We hear it thrown around on true crime shows and fast paced drama TV shows. It’s in many headlines nowadays and all over the internet. It is justice that people speak of in situations like Molly’s where, for so long, we have wondered what happened and when someone will face charges.
But it isn’t necessarily justice that the family or those of us who have been heartbroken by the circumstances of this case that we’re looking for. The desire is to have the person responsible for this crime held accountable for their misdeeds and to pay for what they took away from the family when they took Molly from the life she had been cultivating for herself.
It’s been a little over 18 years and the family still holds out hope. They appear in the news about once a year, not always related to the possibility of new evidence or the re-hashing of old evidence. But they continue to spread a message of hope that one day, they will know what happened to their daughter and the person responsible will be held accountable.
We know it’s possible; the murder of a local teacher was solved just last fall and earlier this year, another murder case from the other half of the state was possible. With the changes in technology, it is absolutely feasible that the person who did this will one day be brought up on charges. But that day has been a long time coming and those who have held their breath, waiting for it to finally come, are still waiting.
I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Spell 85 of The Book of Going Forth by Day