The family of a 16-year-old lifeguard who was abducted and killed in 2000 believes an accused murderer sitting in a Florida jail may be the man relatives have been seeking for nearly nine years in connection with the girl's mysterious death.
Molly Bish's disappearance sparked the largest and most expensive manhunt in Massachusetts history, according to state prosecutors, and terrified parents nationwide. To this day, investigators told ABCNews.com, tips about the murder come in almost daily.
The latest tip led Massachusetts investigators to Florida to interview Rodney Stanger, 60, in connection with the Bish murder, according to Tim Connolly, a spokesman for the Worcester, Mass., County District Attorney's Office.
Bish was an active athlete who disappeared from her lifeguard post at Comins Pond in Warren, Mass., the morning of June 26, 2000. Her remains were found nearby three years later.
Both the Bish family and Stanger's former wife have said Stanger bears a striking resemblance to the composite sketches of a possible suspect drawn up after Bish's disappearance.
"It's hard to avoid looking at him as a viable person of interest," said Tom Shamshak, a private investigator who has worked with the Bish family for years.
Stanger, who was accused last year of butchering his live-in girlfriend in their Summerfield, Fla., home, has not made any statements regarding the Bish case, according to the Marion County, Fla., Sheriff's Office. Stanger has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.
In addition to the sketch evidence, the sister of the woman whom Stanger is accused of murdering told ABCNews.com she believes her sister was trying to tell her about Stanger's involvement in Bish's murder before she was killed.
Shamshak, who began looking into Stanger after a tip came in, said the connections are startling.
The composite sketch was created based on a description of a man Bish's mother, Magi Bish, reported seeing in a white Chrysler, smoking a cigarette, when she dropped her daughter off for work that morning. She has told reporters since then that she waited around until he left, uncomfortable with leaving her daughter there in his presence.
Shamshak said that while Stanger never owned such a car, his brother, who hasn't been seen since 2006, owned a 1985 white Chrysler matching Magi Bish's description.
Shamshak said Stanger's family told him he was also known to fish at Comins Pond and to hunt in the wooded area near where Bish's remains were found.
Her disappearance launched a massive statewide search that ended three years later when her skeleton and tattered bathing suit were found just a few miles away from the pond.
Though the discovery of the body brought some closure, Bish's family wants to find the killer. Her sister, Heather Bish, was 23 years old at the time of the murder and said the loss of the youngest Bish sibling left a gaping hole in the family.
"It's very difficult," Heather Bish said. "Not knowing, I think, is almost worse."
Stanger Not an Official Suspect
Connolly, the spokesman for the Worcester District Attorney's Office, said that while investigators had been down to Florida, Stanger has not been named a suspect and their investigation continues.
"We haven't called him anything," Connolly said, adding that his office still gets tips in the Bish case almost every day.
Connolly declined to say when his investigators visited Stanger in Florida, but Shamshak said he thought it was in November.
Stanger, who grew up in the Warren area, has been living in Summerfield since shortly after Bish's disappearance.
Marion County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jenifer Fisher said he's been jailed since Feb. 25, 2008, when police responded to a call from a child reporting that a man, later identified as Stanger, was choking his mother, a neighbor of Stanger's.
Inside his house, police found the body of 50-year-old Chrystal Morrison. She'd been stabbed "many, many times," Fisher said, and nearly decapitated.
In addition to the first degree murder charge in Morrison's death, Stanger was also charged with burglary and attempted murder in connection with the assault on the neighbor. He has pleaded not guilty.
Morrison's sister, Bonnie Kiernan, said she believed her sister had been trying to tell her that Stanger was responsible for the Bish murder in the days leading up to her slaying.
Kiernan told ABCNews.com that days before Morrison was killed the two sisters engaged in a series of strange, whispered phone conversations where Morrison would bring up the topic of murder and then repeatedly ask the name of Kiernan's bird -- "Molly."
Kiernan, who lives in Massachusetts and knew of the Bish case, said she called Massachusetts State Police the day after Morrison was murdered and was interviewed for several hours. She also contacted the Molly Bish Foundation, which is how Shamshak said he learned of the possible lead.
Ex-Wife 'Suspected He Was a Killer'
Deb Stanger, Rodney Stanger's second wife, also contacted Kiernan after hearing about Morrison's murder.
Deb and Rodney Stanger were married for four years in the late 1970s and early '80s. Deb Stanger told ABCNews.com that she fled to Minnesota shortly after the divorce.
"I always suspected he was a killer," she said. "But I never knew for sure."
Deb Stanger said seeing the Bish family's composite sketch of the possible suspect made her "90 percent" sure that her ex-husband was involved.
"My stomach just dropped," she said, adding that her former husband used to comb his hair back like the man in the sketch. "It looks just like him."
But William Miller, chief assistant public defender for the 5th Judicial Circuit in Marion County, represents Stanger and said his client's connection to the Bish case is purely speculative and "one of the most broadly circumstantial press junkets I've ever seen."
Miller said Stanger, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the Morrison murder, was declared mentally unfit for trial, but was deemed competent in the fall and has a "viable" defense.
Miller said he couldn't comment on any conversation's he'd had with Stanger regarding the Bish murder, but added that his client was innocent until proven otherwise -- of both the Massachusetts and Florida crimes.
"This is one of those circumstances when the press' take on it is taking a life of its own," he said.
'Racked With Guilt'
Heather Bish said the family has gotten its hopes up and had them dashed over many leads in the past that didn't pan out. Stanger, she said, is the first lead where all the pieces "kept coming together."
The family is desperately seeking closure, she said, and the answer to its biggest question -- "Why?"
"I think we've all been racked with guilt," she said.
Heather Bish said the girls' father, John, a former police officer, has been worried his daughter's death was some kind of retribution from someone he'd arrested or encountered during his law enforcement career. And Magi Bish spent the last eight years thinking she saw her daughter's murderer and couldn't protect her.
Whether Bish's killer turns out to be Stanger or someone else, Heather Bish said they want that person to know that the Bish family will "always wage a campaign to find him."