According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (citing U.S. Department of Justice statistics), about 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year. The Polly Klaas Foundation states 99.8% of these missing children are ‘taken’ by a non-custodial parent or wander off and get lost briefly or visit a friend and are brought home safely.
Violent or predatory stranger abduction/murders of children are exceedingly rare in the United States, accounting for only about 1 in every 10,000 reports to 911 of a missing child.
This is the tragic story of one of the one in ten thousand children.
These events are arranged in the order they took place based on eyewitnesses.
Holly Piirainen, a slender, 10-year-old blond-haired girl just out of the 4th grade, was a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and friend.
She had been staying with her father and two younger brothers for a weeklong vacation at her grandparent’s rural summer cottage on South Pond in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. It was August 5, 1993.
Holly’s dad, Rick Piirainen, took his kids out on the lake in a boat after breakfast to swim. They returned in time for Holly and her five-year-old brother Zach to walk up the dirt road from the cottages to the paved Allen Street shortly before noon.
The kids walked a couple hundred yards to a fence at the back of a neighbor’s yard to watch and, if they got lucky, play with some collie puppies to be let outside at noon.
A neighbor woman passing by in her car said she had seen Holly and “possibly” her younger brother standing by the fence close to noon. She said the kids were up on the shoulder of the dirt road by the fence of the house with the puppies about twenty feet from the hot-topped Allen Road.
At some point, Zach left to go back to the cottage, leaving Holly alone by the fence.
Everything seemed okay.
Right about the time Holly and her brother were waiting for the puppies, and less than two football fields’ distance away, two sixteen-year-old girl cousins walked down a nearby home’s driveway toward its mailbox at the edge of Allen Road.
Just before they reached the mailbox, a white or light brown pickup truck with a cap over its cargo bed came down the hill on Allen Road heading past the house where the cousins were staying in the direction of where Holly was seen on the side dirt street. The cousins noticed a lone, middle-aged-looking white man with facial hair and wearing a hat was driving the pickup.
When the pickup driver got close to the girls, he suddenly slowed his truck from about 40mph to “walking speed” and, according to the girls, stared at their bodies in a weird, lewd, menacing way. One of these girls later said she thought, “the man in the pickup was going to jump out and grab one of us.”
Frightened, both girls instinctively turned around and headed back up the driveway where their fathers were loading a boat to leave on a family vacation, unaware of what had just happened. The driver continued downhill on Allen Road and the girls then went back to the mailbox and found it was empty.
When the girls headed back toward the house, the same man in the pickup came back up the hill having turned around somewhere close by — most probably in the same dirt road where Holly was standing. The driver slowed down again near the bottom of the driveway and, once again, stared weirdly at their bodies. When the girls approached their fathers, the man drove up the hill and disappeared.
Back at the cottage, Holly’s father, Rick, was watching a late morning TV program when his five-year-old son Zach came in, sat down, and played with some toys. A few minutes later, Rick asked Zach, “Where’s your sister?” The child replied, “She’s waiting for the puppies.” The father sent his eight-year-old son Andy and Zach back up the dirt road to bring Holly home for lunch.
Uphill on Allen Road, one of the teenaged cousins went into the house and headed upstairs to a second-floor bathroom. Creeped out by what had just happened, she looked out the bathroom window, which had a view down the driveway to Allen Road. Later, she told investigators she was certain that she saw the same pickup and driver heading back up the hill past her house and away from where Holly had been standing. This eyewitness said that this time, “the pickup truck was accelerating and the driver was looking straight ahead and did not look up our driveway.”
Most likely, the man in the pickup had turned around again at the top of Allen Road and gone back down the hill towards where Holly Piirainen was standing.
Surrounded from her birth by adults who loved, nourished, protected, and educated her, Holly would have no reason to think the man in the pickup truck was any different. She was wrong. He was hugely different from all the other adults in her world and he would soon end her short life in the most terrifying way possible for a little girl. No one has yet come forward to describe exactly what happened between the time the man in the pickup disappeared up the hill from the cousins’ house and the time it was discovered that Holly was missing. It hasn’t been proven that the man in the pickup is the person who abducted Holly. What is certain is that someone grabbed her off the dirt road where she was waiting for the puppies.
Given the rural nature of the area and the extreme rarity of this type of incident in this quiet suburban town, The Four of Us are convinced that the middle-aged-looking man with facial hair and a hat on his head in the white or light brown pickup truck with a white cap over its cargo bed is the kidnapper and killer of Holly Piirainen.
In our opinion, no rational person who had the opportunity to visit this site, saw how close the cousin’s driveway is from the dirt road where Holly Piirainen was standing, understood how rural the area is, considered the disturbed and sexually compulsive behavior of the middle-aged-looking man in the pickup, noted the movement of his vehicle back and forth, and knew the timing and the extreme rarity of this type of crime in this area, would have a shred of doubt that the man in the pickup is the killer.
At just about noon, only Holly’s sneaker remained where she had been standing.
Shortly after twelve, a young man drove down Allen Road heading for his parent’s cottage to have lunch with his mother. Their cottage was near where Holly Piirainen and her family were staying. Later, he told his mother and the police he had seen, “The two young Piirainen boys standing by the side of the dirt road near Allen Road.” He also told her, “they seemed to be looking around.”
Ominously, minutes after their father had sent them to find Holly, the Piirainen boys returned with only Holly’s sneaker. Seven-year-old Andy, holding his sister’s sneaker, told his dad, “Holly’s been taken.”
Shocked, Rick Piirainen immediately put both the boys in the family car outside and returned to where Holly had been standing and where the boys said Holly’s sneaker was found.
Later, Rick told an investigator that, when he got to the spot, he didn’t see “a tire track or burnout” on the dirt road. The absence of this tire track evidence strongly indicates there was not an accident where a motorist slammed on their brakes and skidded to avoid hitting Holly Piirainen or “peeled out” to get out of the area after accidently striking the little girl.
No tire track or burn out on a dirt road strongly suggests that the kidnapper/murderer came in and stopped slowly by the child, then left carefully to avoid attracting attention.
Most likely, one of Holly’s sneakers had come off as she struggled to get free from the kidnapper as he lifted her off the ground and into his vehicle. Finding no sign of Holly at the intersection with Allen Road, Rick went to the house with the puppies to see if she was there. She wasn’t. Rick then drove the paved and dirt roads in the immediate area searching for his daughter. She had vanished. He returned to their cottage and called police 911 on a landline to report his missing child.
If there was an eyewitness to a vehicle stopped by a little girl on South Shore Road near Allen Road in Sturbridge, Massachusetts at noon on August 5, 1993, that eyewitness has never come forward.
Maybe it was fear or a reluctance to get involved or a hundred other excuses but the end result is that the person or persons who kidnapped and killed this little girl have not been arrested or prosecuted in the past twenty-seven years. You might be able to change that.
Within minutes after Rick’s 911 call, Sturbridge Police and Massachusetts State Police cruisers arrived at the scene of the kidnapping and, shortly afterwards, began a massive search of the neighborhood, lake, area houses, sheds, yards, and woodland. A state police helicopter and tracking dogs assisted the police and fire departments, civilian volunteers, and Boy Scouts in a widening search that lasted several days without success.
That was a logical response and first step in any missing child investigation simply because law enforcement experience over many years has shown that nearly every single child reported missing to 911 is brought home safety 9,999 out of 10,000 times. But this time, it was not to be.
A Kidnapping Investigation Task Force was formed as the ground and water search proceeded. State and Sturbridge Police detectives manned phone lines, taking information and tips from callers. Other law enforcement teams ran down leads and canvassed neighborhoods on Allen Road and roads around the lake, eventually extending their search into surrounding towns.
When police checked the home where the two teenaged cousins eyewitnesses had been accosted, there was no one there. The family had left the area on vacation. The search continued well into the fall, as summer’s warmth faded and winter began to threaten.
Seventy-nine days later, on October 23, 1993, five pheasant hunters with dogs in an Army Corps of Engineers flood control forest several miles away in Brimfield, Massachusetts discovered the skull and partial skeletal remains of a small human child. State Police were called to the scene and quickly located a small-sized t-shirt, dungarees, and one sneaker near the partial skeletal remains.
Holly Piirainen had been found.
The next part is very difficult for us to write and will be hard for you to read. But maybe this part of the truth will move you to action if you could help us Help Holly.
An autopsy and forensic examination of her clothing later established little Holly had been stripped naked, assaulted by her killer(s), murdered, and left completely exposed in the August heat to the insects, forest animals, and the countless billions of microbes of decomposition. She was abused, killed, and thrown away in the hope that she wouldn’t be found and no one would remember or care. Every part of that was wrong. She was found. We do remember. We do care. Do you?
The simple truth is if your own beloved child, our own, or anyone else’s little girl was standing where Holly Piirainen was waiting for puppies to be released on August 5, 1993 at noon, we would be working just as hard to seek justice for your murdered child and your family or anyone else in this tragic case.
To their credit, the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and their Massachusetts State Police detectives have never given up working to solve this case. They are working today following up leads.
What happened to that little girl was beyond evil and cruel. A grown man with perverted sexual urges found a victim too young to understand the danger, too small to defend herself, alone.
Holly was not the only victim. Her parents, brothers, grandparents and close relatives, classmates and friends, her entire community were shocked and grief-stricken when this abduction and murder happened. Those people closest to Holly Piirainen are beyond exhaustion serving a life sentence of anguish today with the certain knowledge of their little girl’s fate but no justice. The murderer is still out there, scot-free.
Make no mistake about this — if it had been your own little girl or granddaughter who was waiting for the puppies to be released into a field behind a neighbor’s house on this same day, she would have been taken.