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Killer eyed in Molly Bish murder fled Massachusetts to evade police, friend says

  • Molly Bish headshot.jpg

    Molly Bish, 16, of Warren, Mass., disappeared in June 2000 from a local pond where she worked as a lifeguard. Her remains were found three years later, but the case has never been solved.AP

  • Rodney Stanger.jpg

    Rodney Stanger, center, is pictured in a photo on an old Massachusetts Firearms Identification Card. The photo bears a striking resemblance to the sketches, left and right, of a suspicious man seen near the pond where Bish worked as a lifeguard.WFXT-TV

A convicted killer possibly linked to the murder of 16-year-old Molly Bish abruptly moved from Massachusetts to Florida to run away from investigators, according to a longtime friend of the man.

Rodney Stanger, 64, who was living in Southbridge, Mass., at the time, relocated to Summerfield, Fla., a few months after Bish was abducted from her lifeguard post in June 2000. Bish's remains were found in 2003.

Stanger's move came after police released a sketch of a mystery man seen hanging around Comins Pond in Warren the day before Bish disappeared. The image bears a striking resemblance to Stanger, who is currently serving a 25-year prison term in Florida for the 2008 stabbing death of his live-in girlfriend, Chrystal Morrison.

Michael Philbrook, Stanger's longtime friend, told Fox affiliate WFXT-TV that Stanger said he was moving to Florida to distance himself from police.

"He said, 'Oh the cops have been after me,'" Philbrook told the station. "'These young ones,' he said, 'They won't leave me alone.'"

"I think he's just about capable of doing something like that," Philbrook said. "I wasn't going to say anything, but as I look back, yeah, he's not like your ordinary man. You don't understand. He has no feelings, no emotions, you know?"

Stanger, who in 2000 was living in a Soutbridge home that was fully paid off, had no prior criminal record or any warrants for his arrest at the time of the move, according to the station. He had also renewed a Massachusetts Firearms Identification Card just two months before Bish's kidnapping. The photo on that card -- which was recently discovered inside Stanger's abandoned trailer home in Florida -- looks eerily similar to police sketches of a suspicious man seen near Comins Pond. 

The Worcester district attorney's office confirmed to FoxNews.com last week that Massachusetts authorities are traveling to Florida to re-interview Stanger in the Bish case. Stanger was already a "person of interest" in the case, partly because of a police tip from his girlfriend's sister.

After Morrison's death in 2008, the woman's sister, Bonney Kiernan, told cops about a cryptic phone call from her sister, in which the doomed woman implied Stanger may have been involved in murders in Massachusetts, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Morrison alluded to Bish and another girl, Holly Piirainen, who disappeared in 1993 in Sturbridge, a town adjacent to Southbridge.

Investigators have said that the abduction of Bish took less than 8 minutes. The teenager was dropped off at the rural pond in Warren, Mass., by her mother, Magi, on the morning of June 27, 2000. When swimmers arrived a few minutes later, the only signs of Bish were her water bottle, sandals, a police radio and an opened first aid kit.

After the largest search for a missing person in Massachusetts state history, Bish's scattered remains were discovered in 2003 about 5 miles from her family's home.

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin contributed to this report. 

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