The family of a sex offender named as a person of interest in the 2000 murder of Molly Bish demanded Friday that the Worcester district attorney immediately detail evidence linking him to the slaying — or stop mentioning his name and end the emotional harm felt by surviving relatives.
The half-sister of suspect Francis P. Sumner Sr., who asked to be identified only as Jackie, said she and the extended Sumner family provided DNA samples to the office of District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. 2½ years ago. Sumner, who died in 2016, provided a sample about four years after Bish, 16, was kidnapped and murdered in Warren in 2000.
“I am not trying to defend what he has done, and what he has done is wicked,” Jackie said of her half-brother, who was a Level 2 convicted sex offender. “What I’m interested in is DNA. Can Mr. Early produce a positive match between the DNA from Molly Bish and Mr. Sumner? That’s what we’re asking for. I think we’re owed that information.”
She added: “Sumner was out of jail, and they never came after him. Please show us once and for all the evidence that this is the man who killed Molly Bish ... now he is being the victim because he can’t speak for himself.”
The relative said Sumner’s surviving extended family — one record suggested he had eight children and two grandchildren at the time of his death — now have to face being publicly linked to a horrific crime allegedly committed by someone they had limited contact with when he was alive.
In a telephone interview, Early told the Globe that his goal is to find the person responsible for the murder of the teenager, and to provide surviving members of Molly Bish’s family — who turned their grief into activism and the Molly Bish Foundation — some sense of peace that has eluded each one of them since 2000.
“The Bish family has been through 20 years of hell,” said Early, sounding frustrated by the criticisms from Sumner’s relative. “I don’t wish to bring any family into this, but we deal with this investigation as best we can.”
Early said prosecutors and State Police have stuffed dozens of boxes with information, tips, reports, and studies about Bish’s death and the pursuit of her killer, which including examining some 50 registered sex offenders who lived in or near Warren at the of the killing.
After the possible break in the case, the Bish family on Friday thanked law enforcement officials who kept working Molly’s case over the years and family and friends for their support during the ordeal.
“Our hearts are heavy with our loss and the reality of what may have happened to our daughter, but we are hopeful that there will be resolution and that no one else will ever be harmed,” said the statement signed by Molly’s parents, Magi and John Bish. “We are proud of Molly’s legacy of keeping children safe, advocating for families, and we feel it most strongly right now, reflected in our community.”
Sumner’s name is among others, but the arrival of new information in the “past several months” shifted him from a possible candidate to a “person of interest,” he said.
Early acknowledged his office has both Sumner’s DNA and familial DNA from relatives. But he refused to say what the new evidence is.
“I can tell you this wasn’t information received two and a half years ago, it was received several months ago,” he said. “This one has led to corroboration and that’s led us to where we are today, and why he is a person of interest... That’s what put us over the top.”
Early said if his office had enough evidence to charge Sumner when he was alive, they would have done so, but did not have the evidence at that time. Now that Sumner is dead, Early said he recognizes that there won’t be any trial — except for the one the Bish family has endured since Molly disappeared on June 27, 2000.
“The thing that’s getting lost here is the Bish family and we’re not going to let that happen. They are not going to become anonymous,” he said.
Sumner lived in Central Massachusetts from 1960 until his death in 2016, operating auto repair shops in the Leicester, Spencer, and Worcester areas, according to prosecutors. Investigators are seeking tips on Sumner’s habits, work life, associates, vehicles, and travel.
Sumner was convicted in 1982 of aggravated rape and kidnapping and given concurrent sentences of 15 to 18 years on the rape charge and nine to 10 years on the kidnapping charge. He was paroled in 1998.