Disappearance of Maura Murray
Maura Murray in 2003
May 4, 1982|
Hanson, Massachusetts, U.S.
February 9, 2004 (aged 21)|
Woodsville, New Hampshire, U.S.
|Status||Missing for 14 years, 6 months and 8 days|
|Known for||Missing person|
|Height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Weight||120 lb (54 kg)|
Kathleen Murray (sister)
Maura Murray (born May 4, 1982) disappeared on the evening of February 9, 2004, after a car crash on Route 112 in Woodsville, New Hampshire, a village in Haverhill. Her whereabouts remain unknown. She was a nursing student completing her junior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst at the time of her disappearance.
On the afternoon of Monday, February 9, before she left the university campus, she emailed her professors and work supervisor, writing that she was taking a week off due to a family emergency; this claim could not be corroborated by her family. At 7:27 pm, a local woman reported a car accident on a sharp corner of Route 112 adjacent to her home. A passing motorist who also lived nearby stopped at the scene, and asked the woman driving the car if she needed assistance; she declined, claiming to have called roadside assistance. Upon arriving home several minutes later, the motorist reported the accident to emergency services. At 7:46 pm, law enforcement arrived at the scene, but the woman had disappeared.
Police traced the vehicle to Murray, and initially her case was treated as a missing persons case, as investigators believed that she may have wanted to disappear voluntarily. This speculation was due to her travel preparations (of which she had not confided to friends or family) and no obvious evidence of foul play. In 2009, Murray's case was given to the New Hampshire cold case division, and authorities are handling it as a "suspicious" missing persons case.
In the years after Murray's disappearance, her case would receive media attention on 20/20 and Disappeared, and also garner significant speculation on Internet message boards and forums, with theories ranging from abduction to voluntary disappearance. In 2017, the case was the subject of a documentary series on the Oxygen network, which described Murray's disappearance as the "first crime mystery of the social media age”, having occurred days after the launch of Facebook.
- 1 Background
- 2 Monday, February 9, 2004
- 3 Search efforts
- 4 Significance
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
Murray was born May 4, 1982, in Hanson, Massachusetts, the fourth child of Frederick "Fred" and Laurie Murray. She had an older brother, Fred, two older sisters, Kathleen and Julie, and a younger brother, Kurt. Murray was raised in an Irish Catholic household. At age six, her parents divorced, after which she lived primarily with her mother.
Murray graduated from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, where she was a star athlete on the school's track team. She was accepted into the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, where she studied chemical engineering for three semesters. After her freshman year, she transferred to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study nursing.
Prior to disappearance
In November 2003, three months before her disappearance, Murray admitted to using a stolen credit card to order food from several restaurants, including one in Hadley, Massachusetts. The charge was continued in December to be dismissed after three months' good behavior.
On the evening of February 5, Murray spoke on the phone with her older sister, Kathleen, while she was on duty at her campus-security job. They discussed Kathleen's relationship problems with her fiancé. Around 10:30 p.m., while still on her shift, it was reported that Murray broke down in tears. When her supervisor arrived at her desk, Murray was "just completely zoned out. No reaction at all. She was unresponsive." The supervisor escorted Murray back to her dorm room around 1:20 am. When asked what was wrong, Murray said two words: "My sister." The contents of this call remained unknown until 2017, when Kathleen publicly explained the conversation: Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic, had been discharged from a rehabilitation clinic that evening, and on the way home, her fiancé took her to a liquor store, which caused an emotional breakdown.
On Saturday, February 7, Murray's father Fred arrived in Amherst. He told investigators he and Murray went car-shopping that afternoon, and later went to dinner with a friend of his daughter. Murray dropped her father off at his motel room and, borrowing his Toyota Corolla, returned to campus to attend a dorm party. She arrived at 10:30 pm. At 2:30 am on Sunday, February 8, she left the party. At 3:30 am, en route to her father's motel, she struck a guardrail on Route 9 in Hadley, causing nearly $10,000 worth of damage to her father's car. The responding officer wrote an accident report but there is no documentation of sobriety field tests being conducted. Murray was driven to her father's motel and stayed in his room the rest of the morning. At 4:49 am, there was a cell phone call placed to her boyfriend from Fred's phone. The participants and content of the phone call are unknown.
Later Sunday morning, Fred Murray learned the damage to his vehicle would be covered by his auto insurance. He rented a car, dropped Murray off at the university, and departed for Connecticut. At 11:30 that night, Fred called his daughter to remind her to obtain accident forms from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. They agreed to talk again Monday night to discuss the forms and fill out the insurance claim via phone.
Monday, February 9, 2004
Preparations and departure
—New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarinza
After midnight on Monday, February 9, Murray used her personal computer to search MapQuest for directions to the Berkshires and Burlington, Vermont. The first reported contact Murray had with anyone on February 9 was at 1:00 pm, when she emailed her boyfriend: "I got your messages, but honestly, I didn't feel like talking to much of anyone, I promise to call today though." She also made a phone call inquiring about renting a condominium in the same Bartlett, New Hampshire condo association her family had vacationed at in the past. Telephone records indicate the call lasted three minutes. The owner did not rent the condo to Murray. At 1:13 pm, Murray called a fellow nursing student for reasons unknown.
At 1:24 pm, Murray emailed a work supervisor of the nursing school faculty that she would be out of town for a week due to a death in her family; no one in her family had died. She also said she would contact them when she returned. At 2:05 pm, Murray called a number which provides recorded information about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont. The call lasted approximately five minutes. At 2:18 pm, she telephoned her boyfriend and left a voice message promising him they would talk later. This call ended after one minute.
In her car, Murray packed clothing, toiletries, college textbooks, and birth-control pills. When her room was searched later, campus police discovered most of her belongings packed in boxes and the art removed from the walls. It's not clear whether Murray packed them that day, but police at the time asserted she had packed between Sunday night and Monday morning. On top of the boxes was a printed email to Murray's boyfriend indicating trouble in their relationship. Around 3:30 pm, she drove off the campus in her black 1996 Saturn sedan; classes at the university had been canceled that day due to a snowstorm.
At 3:40 pm, Murray withdrew $280 from an ATM. Closed-circuit footage showed she was alone. At a nearby liquor store, Murray purchased about $40 worth of alcoholic beverages, including Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa, vodka, and a box of Franzia wine. Security footage again shows she was alone when she made that purchase. At some point in the day, she also picked up accident-report forms from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Murray then left Amherst at around 3:50 pm, presumably via Interstate 91 north. She called to check her voice mail at 4:37 pm, the last recorded use of her cell phone. To date there is no indication she had informed anyone of her destination or evidence she had chosen one.
7:27 pm: Report of car accident
Some time after 7:00 pm, a Woodsville, New Hampshire resident heard a loud thump outside of her house. Through her window she could see a car up against the snowbank along Route 112, also known as Wild Ammonoosuc Road. The car pointed west on the eastbound side of the road. She telephoned the Grafton County Sheriff's Department at 7:27 pm to report the accident. According to the 9-1-1 log, the woman claimed to have seen a man smoking a cigarette inside the car. However, she later stated that she had not seen a man nor a person smoking a cigarette, but rather had seen what appeared to be a red light glowing from inside the car, potentially from a cell phone. At about the same time, another neighbor saw the car as well as someone walking around the vehicle. She witnessed a third neighbor pull up alongside the vehicle.
That neighbor, a school bus driver returning home, noticed the young woman was not bleeding or visibly injured, but cold and shivering. He offered to telephone for help. She asked him not to call the police (one police report says "pleaded") and assured him she'd already called AAA (AAA has no record of any such call). Knowing there was no cellular reception in the area, the bus driver continued home and called the police. His call was received by the Sheriff's Department at 7:43 pm. He was unable to see Murray's car while he made the call but did notice several cars pass on the road before the police arrived. Another local resident driving home from work claims she passed by the scene around 7:37 pm, and saw a police SUV parked face-to-face with Murray's car. She pulled over briefly and did not see anyone inside or outside the cars, and decided to continue home. This witness's claim contradicts the official police log, which has Haverhill police arriving nine minutes later.
7:46 pm: Police arrival at scene
According to the official police log, at 7:46 pm, a Haverhill police officer arrived at the scene. No one was inside or around the car. The car had impacted the tree on the driver’s side of the vehicle, severely damaging the left headlight and had pushed the car's radiator into the fan, rendering it inoperable. The car's windshield was cracked on the driver's side and both airbags had deployed. The car was locked.
Inside and outside the car, he discovered red stains that looked to be red wine. Inside the car, the officer found an empty beer bottle and a damaged box of Franzia wine on the rear seat. In addition, he found a AAA card issued to Murray, blank accident-report forms, gloves, compact discs, makeup, diamond jewelry, two sets of MapQuest driving directions to Vermont, Murray's favorite stuffed animal, and Not Without Peril, a book about mountain climbing in the White Mountains. Missing were Murray's debit card, credit cards, and cell phone, none of which have been located or used since her disappearance. The police later reported some of the bottles of purchased liquor were also missing.
Journalist Joe McGee, writing for Quincy, Massachusetts Patriot Ledger, summarized the incident: "At a hairpin turn, she went off the road. Her car hit a tree. At that point, a person came along who was driving a bus. It was a neighbor. He asked her if she needed help. She refused. About 10 minutes later, police showed up to the scene and Maura Murray was gone."
8:00–9:30 pm: Alleged sighting
Between 8:00 to 8:30 pm, a contractor returning home from Franconia saw a young person moving quickly on foot eastbound on Route 112 about 4 to 5 miles (6 to 8 km) east of where Murray's vehicle was discovered. He noted that the young person was wearing jeans, a dark coat, and a light-colored hood. He didn't report it to police immediately due to his own confusion of dates, only discovering three months later (when reviewing his work records) that he'd spotted the young person the same night Murray disappeared.
The responding officer and the bus driver drove the area searching for Murray. Just before 8:00 pm, EMS and a fire truck arrived to clear the scene. By 8:49 pm, the car had been towed to a local garage. At about 9:30 pm, the responding officer left. A rag believed to have been part of Murray's emergency roadside kit was discovered stuffed into the Saturn's muffler pipe. Authorities would only refer to Murray as "missing" at 12 pm the next day, almost twenty-four hours after she was last confirmed as seen.
Initial investigation (2004–05)
At 12:36 pm the following day, February 10, a "Be On the Lookout" report for Murray was issued. She was reported as wearing a dark coat, jeans, and a black backpack. A voicemail was left on Fred Murray's home answering machine at 3:20 pm stating that her car had been found abandoned. He was working out of state and did not receive this call. At 5:00 pm, Murray's older sister contacted her father to tell him of the situation. He then contacted the Haverhill Police Department and was told that, if Murray was not reported safe by the following morning, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department would start a search. At 5:17 pm, Murray was first referred to as "missing" by the Haverhill police.
On February 11, Murray's father arrived before dawn in Haverhill. At 8:00 am, New Hampshire Fish and Game, the Murrays, and others began to search. A police dog tracked the scent from one of Murray's gloves 100 yards east from where the vehicle had been discovered, but lost the scent. This suggested to police she'd left the area in another car. At 5:00 pm, Murray's boyfriend and his parents arrived in Haverhill. He was interrogated in private, and then was joined by his parents for questioning. At 7:00 pm, the police said they believed Murray came to the area to either run away or commit suicide; her family believed this was unlikely.
Murray's boyfriend had turned off his cell phone during his flight to Haverhill. At some point, he received a voicemail that he believed was the sound of Murray sobbing. The call was traced to a calling card issued to the American Red Cross.
On February 12, Murray's father and her boyfriend held an evening press conference in Bethlehem, New Hampshire and the next day the first press coverage was published. At 3:05 pm, the police reported Murray might be headed to the Kancamagus Highway area and she was "listed as endangered and possibly suicidal". The police report also stated Murray was intoxicated at the crash site, although the bus driver had said she did not appear impaired. The Haverhill police chief said that, "Our concern is that she's upset or suicidal."
A week after Murray's disappearance, her father and boyfriend were interviewed by CNN's American Morning. Murray's family expanded their search into Vermont, dismayed that authorities there had not been informed of her disappearance.
Although missing person cases are normally handled by local and state police, the FBI joined the investigation ten days after she disappeared. The FBI interviewed family from Massachusetts, and the Haverhill police chief announced that the search was now nationwide. Ten days after her disappearance, New Hampshire Fish and Game conducted a second ground and air search, using a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera, tracking dogs and cadaver dogs. Murray's older sister discovered a ripped white pair of women's underwear lying in the snow on a secluded trail near French Pond Road on February 26, but DNA tests found that the underwear did not belong to Murray.
At the end of February, the police returned the items found in Murray's car to her family. On March 2, the family checked out of their motel, exhausted from the search. Fred Murray returned nearly every weekend to continue searching. In April, Haverhill Police informed him of complaints of trespassing on private property. The March 2004 disappearance of Brianna Maitland in Montgomery, Vermont, 66 miles (110 km) away from Murray's last sighting in Woodsville, drew comparisons from media and law enforcement due to the similarities in disappearances. However, state police have stated there are no links between the two cases.
In April and again in June, New Hampshire and Vermont police dismissed any connection between Murray's case and Maitland's. In a press release, they stated they believed, "Maura was headed for an unknown destination and may have accepted a ride in order to continue to that location", adding that they had discovered no evidence that a crime had been committed. They dismissed the possibility of a serial killer being involved.
July 2004–December 2005
On July 1, police retrieved the items found in Murray's vehicle from her family for forensic analysis. On July 13, a one-mile radius search was performed by nearly 100 searchers, including state troopers, rescue personnel, and volunteers. It was the fourth search around the crash area and the first search performed without snow on the ground. Authorities were most interested in locating the black backpack Murray had in her possession but not found in her car. Police stated the search discovered "nothing conclusive".
In late 2004, a man allegedly gave Murray's father a rusty, stained knife that belonged to the man's brother, who had a criminal past and lived less than a mile from where the car was discovered. His brother and his brother's girlfriend were said to have acted strangely after the disappearance, and the man's brother claimed he believed the knife had been used to kill Murray. Several days after the knife was given to Murray's father, the man's brother allegedly scrapped his Volvo. Family members of the man who turned in the knife claimed he had made up the story in order to obtain reward money in the investigation, and that he had a history of drug use.
In 2005, Fred Murray petitioned New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson for help in the search, and appeared on The Montel Williams Show in November 2004 to publicize the case. On February 9, 2005, the one-year anniversary of Murray's disappearance, a service was held where the car was found, and her father met briefly with New Hampshire Governor John Lynch.
In late 2005, Fred filed suit against several law enforcement agencies, with the aim of seeing files on the case. On November 1, 2005, a user named "Tom Davies" logged into a message board called "Not Without Peril," which was dedicated to discussion of Murray's disappearance, and claimed to have seen a black backpack behind a restroom at Pemigewasset Overlook, around 30 miles (48 km) from Woodsville. Murray had owned a black backpack. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin stated that law enforcement "was aware of the backpack," but did not disclose whether it had been taken for forensic testing.
Subsequent searches (2006–2010)
The New Hampshire League of Investigators, ten retired police officers and detectives, and the Molly Bish Foundation started working on the case in 2006. Tom Shamshak, a former police chief and a member of the Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts, said, "It appears...that this is something beyond a mere missing persons case. Something ominous could have happened here." The Arkansas group Let's Bring Them Home offered a $75,000 reward in 2007 for information that could solve her disappearance.
In October 2006, volunteers led a two-day search within a few miles of where Murray's car was found. In the closet of an A-frame house approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from the crash site, cadaver dogs allegedly went "bonkers," possibly identifying the presence of human remains. The house had formerly been the residence of the man implicated by his brother, who had given Fred Murray the rusty knife in 2004. A sample of carpet from the home was sent to the New Hampshire State Police, but the results were never released to the public. In July 2008, volunteers led another two-day search through wooded areas in Haverhill. The group consisted of dog teams and licensed private investigators.
Murray's case was one of many cited by proponents of a statewide cold case unit for New Hampshire in 2009. Her case was subsequently added to the newly established cold case unit later that year. In 2010, Fred Murray publicly criticized the police investigation for treating the disappearance as a missing persons case and not a criminal matter, and has called on the FBI to join the investigation. Jeffery Strelzin said in February 2009 that the investigation is still active: "We don't know if Maura is a victim, but the state is treating it as a potential homicide. It may be a missing-persons case, but it's being handled as a criminal investigation."
Further developments (2011–present)
In early 2012, observers of the Murray case began taking note of a YouTube user named "Mr112dirtbag", who posted a series of online videos that some believed contained cryptic clues to Murray's disappearance. Both Murray's family and professional criminologists dismissed the videos as a "cruel and hideous" ploy for attention.
In 2014, on the tenth anniversary of Murray's disappearance, Strelzin stated that "We haven't had any credible sightings of Maura since the night she disappeared." In an article published in the New York Daily News, on the tenth anniversary of his daughter's disappearance, it was reported that Fred Murray believed she was dead, and had been abducted the night of her disappearance.
On February 9, 2017, the thirteenth anniversary of Murray's disappearance, Strelzin wrote in an email to The Boston Globe: "It's still an open case with periods of activity and [at] times it goes dormant. There are no new updates to share at this time."
Murray's disappearance has been cited as "the first crime mystery of the social media age," and generated speculation from the media and the public, specifically on the Internet, in online forums and message boards. Writing for Boston magazine in 2014, Bill Jensen noted: "Now, at least online, it often seems as there’s no such thing as a cold case. But when Maura Murray disappeared, the social Web was in its infancy. There was no YouTube and no Twitter. On the day Maura went missing, Facebook was five days old. And so you can read the history of her case as a parable about the evolution of online sleuthing." In 2005, active discussion of Murray's disappearance was documented on websleuths.com, and in 2007, Facebook and Myspace pages were created dedicated to helping find her.
On the Internet, Maura’s disappearance is the perfect obsession, a puzzle of clues that offers a tantalizing illusion—if the right armchair detective connects the right dots, maybe the unsolvable can be solved. And so every day, the case attracts new recruits, analyzing and dissecting and reconstructing the details of her story with a Warren Commission–like fervor.— Bill Jensen, Boston (2014)
An episode of 20/20 compared Murray's case to that of Brooke Wilberger, who went missing in Oregon a few months after her disappearance and was later found murdered. Murray was referenced in two episodes on Disappeared, in both Season 1 (episode 6) and Season 4 (episode 7).
Maura's disappearance was the subject of the nonfiction thriller True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by author and journalist James Renner, in which he proposed the theory that Murray traveled into New Hampshire with a tandem driver and may have disappeared willingly and started a new life elsewhere or was murdered by someone she knew. Murray's father, Fred, and immediate family have disputed this theory. Fred Murray stated that he believes his daughter was abducted and is dead.
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Disappearance of Brianna Maitland, a Vermont teenager who went missing two months after Maura only 90 miles away under similar circumstances. Brianna's car was discovered crashed into an abandoned farmhouse on a desolate road and no trace of Brianna Maitland has ever been discovered. The two cases are not currently believed to be related, though they do share similar circumstances.
- Disappearance of Patricia Meehan, a Montana woman who also went missing after a car accident she had gotten in following a long drive from where she lived for reasons that are similarly unclear, in 1989.
- Jonathan Luna, federal prosecutor found dead of disputed causes after inexplicably driving from his Baltimore-area home to rural Pennsylvania one night in 2003.
- Disappearance of Asha Kreimer, a young Australian expatriate who disappeared in broad daylight en route to an Emerald Triangle restroom.
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