This is the story of the unsolved murder of 10-year-old Holly Piirainen, who would be abducted and murdered during a week-long summer vacation at her grandparent's home in Sturbridge, Ma. In August of 1993, she was taken from this small rural community while she was waiting near a neighbour’s home to see the puppies she was promised. Only one of Holly's shoes would be found by the side of a road - but no sign of Holly.
There would be a massive search launched to try and find the little girl - and 79 days later, a group of hunters would discover her body left in the woods. We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of Holly’s murder, and the monster who did this to her still has not been caught.
However, just this past week there was an update from this case provided to the public that could spark renewed interest and new leads. Police have released an image of a shirt that was discovered near Holly’s body - and are asking anyone who may have information about it, to come forward.
About Holly Piirainen
Holly Kristen Piirainen was born on January 19, 1983, in Grafton, Massachusetts to her parents Rick and Tina. She was the eldest child and a wonderful big sister to her two younger brothers, Andrew and Zachary. She was the kind of sister who mothered them and always made sure they were taken care of. Holly was also described as a very smart child who excelled in school and loved science and animals. For this reason, she dreamed of becoming a marine biologist when she grew up.
While Holly’s parents would divorce while she was little, they had an amicable custody agreement between them that worked well. She was very much loved by all of the adults in her life and had a happy childhood.
The Day of The Abduction
During the summer of 1993, when she was 10 years old and just passed the fourth grade, Holly was going to spend a week with her father and her brothers at her grandparent’s cottage in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. This was a rural area in a quiet suburban town with dirt roads. It was considered to be a very safe and quiet place to wind down. And, it was going to be a fantastic summer like any other, spent playing in the lake with her little brothers.
On August 5th, Holly’s father Rick would take his children out to the lake so that they could swim after breakfast. He remembers they had a great time, as Holly absolutely loved being in the water. When they were finished, they returned back to the cottage and Holly, along with her five-year-old brother Zach, walked over to the neighbour’s fence where they had been told they might be able to see some puppies. The neighbour, whose yard was located only a couple of hundred yards away from the family cottage, had collie puppies who were going to be let outside at around noon. Holly and Zack were very excited for the chance to see these puppies, like I mentioned - Holly loved animals.
Another neighbour who had driven by in her car would say that they remembered seeing Holly, along with another child who was possibly her little brother, at the fence with the puppies at around noon. They were standing on the shoulder of the road, looking down into the fenced yard with the dogs. This would be one of the last confirmed sightings of Holly.
Five-year-old Zack would return back to the family cottage, walking into the living room where his father was watching TV and sitting down to play with some of his toys. Rick noticed that Holly wasn’t with Zack, so he asked him where his sister was, to which Zack replied that she was waiting for the puppies. Rick wasn’t immediately concerned, he knew how excited Holly was to see the puppies, but it was nearly time to eat lunch so he asked his two boys to go get their sister and bring her home.
A few moments later, the two boys returned home but there was no Holly with them. Andy, who was only seven years old, was holding one of his big sister’s shoes in his hand, and he said “Holly’s been taken”.
Rick jumped out of his seat and ran outside towards the neighbor's fence where Holly had last been seen. He would later tell investigators that he didn’t see any tire tracks or burn-out marks on the dirt road, meaning that whoever had pulled up and taken Holly, had done so in a calm and careful manner. He called out Holly’s name, but no response. Rick checked the neighbour’s house to see if maybe she had gone inside to see the puppies, but she wasn’t there. He put the two boys in the car and they drove around the quiet rural dirt roads looking for Holly, but she was clearly missing. Once back at the cottage, at 12:50 pm Rick called 911 to report his daughter as missing.
Both local and state police, along with the sheriff’s department, would assist in the search for 10-year-old Holly. Her family, friends and neighbours would show up in droves to help look too. They went door to door, asking residents in the area if they had seen anything and if they could check their homes for Holly. Many times when there are reports of a missing child, the child is actually just hiding, oftentimes in their own home and yard. So they searched everyone’s yards, sheds, garages, and anywhere that a small child may be hiding.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case with Holly. She wasn’t simply hiding. She had been taken. The only thing she had left behind, was that one shoe - which her family believes she did on purpose, to leave behind a trail of evidence.
There would be a witness account that would give investigators a clue into what may have happened to the little girl that day. Two 16-year-old girls who lived nearby reported seeing something strange that day that creeped them out. As they walked down their driveway to get the mail at around the same time that Holly and Zach would have been waiting for the puppies near the fence, they noticed a white or light brown pickup truck come flying down the road. The drive was described as being a white middle-aged man who had facial hair and was wearing a hat.
The two teen girls noted that as his truck approached them, it slowed down to walking speed as the man gawked at them in an uncomfortable and inappropriate manner. One of the girls would later say that she really thought the man might jump out of the truck and take one of them, so they ran back up the driveway toward their house with their father. They got a really creepy vibe from this incident, but they didn’t really think anything further of it until they learned that Holly had been abducted. While it has not been proven that this man in the truck was the one who had taken her, it did give investigators a lead to go on. But unfortunately, this information was a dead end.
Holly is Found
The search for Holly would continue for 11 gruelling weeks, with her photo being posted to the front of every local paper and aired on every news channel.
And then, 79 days into the search for Holly Piirainen, a group of pheasant hunters who were out with their dogs discovered a skull and skeletal remains of what looked to be a small child. The gruesome discovery was made in an isolated area of an Army Corps of Engineers flood control forest which would have only really been known to locals in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Holly was found wearing a t-shirt, overalls and only one shoe. It became apparent quite quickly that this was the body of the missing child. She had been assaulted, killed and then left behind in the forest.
Her family, friends - and the community as large, were shocked and grief-stricken. To think that someone could do something so horrific to this beautiful little girl, and then leave her in a wooded area in the heat of summer, hoping that the evidence would be lost to environmental conditions and wildlife. It is lucky that these hunters crossed paths with her body when they did because it’s possible she may have never been found otherwise.
Investigators looked at several possible theories and scenarios that they believe could have happened to Holly.
One theory is that Holly just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and this was a crime of opportunity. She just happened to be playing by the road when the perpetrator drove by, and he decided to snatch her. The idea behind this theory is that the abduction happened during a time and at a place where Holly wasn’t typically. For this reason, they don’t believe that she was specifically targeted. However, it can’t be ruled out that the perpetrator did know that Holly would be there at some point that summer, because she had been there many summers before.
At the same time, many people think that the perpetrator had to be a local. This was a small community and where her body was discovered, was even lesser known. The idea is that whoever abducted her and then dumped her in the forest knew the area very well because they knew that this location was remote enough that likely no one would find her.
Police have remained very tight-lipped about the evidence and suspects they have in this case. One name that would come up time and again, is Randy Stanger. And this is where the murder of Molly Bish comes in.
Is Holly's Murder Connected to Molly Bish?
If you’re not familiar with Molly’s case, I’ll give you a brief overview. Molly was a 16-year-old girl from Warren, Massachusetts. During the summer of 2000, she worked a part-time job as a lifeguard at a local beach known as Comins Pond. Her mother would drop her off that morning for her shift, however, just moments later she would go missing.
Almost three years after her disappearance, a blue bathing suit would be discovered by a hunter in the wooded area a few miles from the pond. It would positively be identified as belonging to Molly. A week later, they would also find bone fragments identified as Molly’s, turning her missing person’s case into a murder investigation. After 23 years, the rest of Molly’s remains have never been found and her family still does not know what happened to her and who killed her.
Right off the bat, you can see the striking similarities between Molly’s murder and Holly’s - however, the connection goes much deeper than that.
When Molly was just 10 years old, the same age as when Holly was killed, she saw learned about Holly’s abduction on the news and decided to write her family a very sweet letter. This is an excerpt from Molly Bish's letter:
“I am very sorry. I wish I could make it up to you. Holly is a very pretty girl. She is almost as tall as me. I wish I knew Holly. I hope they found her.”
Signed — Molly Bish
Molly’s mother said that she was just so afraid after Holly went missing that she found a little bit of comfort in being able to reach out to her parents and express her condolences. No one had any idea that just six years later, Molly Bish would become a murder victim herself. Is that just some crazy coincidence or does it go deeper than that?
One of the earliest persons of interest identified in Holly’s abduction and murder was a man named Randy Stanger. Randy had been living in a tent in the very same woods where Holly’s body would later be found. Police spoke with him very early on to determine his whereabouts on the day of the kidnapping. He has denied having any involvement and has been mostly cooperative with law enforcement.
Here comes the Molly Bish connection.
A key suspect identified in Molly’s murder is a man named Rodney Stanger, which is Randy Stagner’s brother. Rodney looks identical to an eyewitness sketch of a man that was seen near the beach the day Molly was killed. He also has a violent criminal history and was charged with murdering his girlfriend in 2009. He still sits behind bars today for that murder but has denied killing Molly. Still, you have to ask yourself what the chances of these two suspects and two murders being so closely connected are.
Neither of these men has been charged with anything related to the murders of either Holly or Molly.
The years would pass and investigators would continue to collect tips and investigate where possible. They were busy working behind the scenes, but again kept all of the information very close to the chest. Then in 2012, they asked the police to provide them with any information they had relating to a man named David Pouliot. Forensic evidence had been found near Holly’s body that had been linked to Pouliot. The man also “had a strong and long connection to the area, hunting and fishing” around the time of Holly’s disappearance.
Pouliot died in August 2003 at the age of 49, and a death certificate filed with the city of Springfield shows he died of congestive heart failure and hypertension, with diabetes and cocaine use listed as contributing conditions. Since investigators couldn’t speak with him from beyond the grave, they asked the public to come forward with information related to his whereabouts and companions on the day the child Holly was abducted.
Whatever evidence they had connected him to the crime scene, was described as "significant evidence.", that was found in close, but not immediate, proximity to the body. If anyone has since come forward with information, we don’t have those details. He was never named a suspect, only a person of interest.
Updates in Holly's Case in 2023
Just this week on February 1st, 2023, the Hampden County District Attorney’s office revealed a new piece of evidence from Holly’s investigation to the public in hopes of moving the case forward. Even though it has been 30 years since the 10-year-old little blonde girl was killed, their team is just as committed and dedicated as ever to solving Holly’s murder and they believe that at this point it is just a matter of time.
They are now asking the public to take a look at this white tank top that has the word “BOSTON” written on it in blue, pink and purple letters. It doesn’t have a size listed or any brand tags, so they are hoping to learn what company manufactured it, where it was purchased and perhaps who owned it. This tank top is just one piece of evidence that was collected from the crime scene in 1993, however, investigators say they have a ton of evidence on file, including DNA. They are hoping that if someone can provide more information on the source of this shirt, it might be the final piece needed to finally solve the case and bring Holly’s family justice.
If Holly were still alive today, she would 40 years old. Her family has had to go all of these years carrying the pain of her death with them, and not knowing what happened to this beautiful little girl. Meanwhile, a killer has gone uncaught for the last 30 years.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call state police at 413-505-5946 or 1-855-MA-SOLVE (1-855-627-6583), or by texting the word "Solve" to 274637.
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