Disappearance of Maura Murray
Maura Murray in 2003
May 4, 1982|
Hanson, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Disappeared||February 9, 2004 (aged 21)
Haverhill, New Hampshire, U.S.
|Status||Missing for 12 years, 9 months and 26 days|
|Known for||Missing person|
|Height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Weight||120 lb (54 kg)|
|Parent(s)||Frederick and Laurie Murray|
Murray was a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The afternoon of February 9, before she left campus, she emailed her professors and work supervisor that she was taking a week off due to a death in the family. No one in her family had died. Police initially treated her case as a missing-person investigation; investigators initially thought she wanted to disappear, due to her preparations and no evidence of foul play.
Prior To Disappearance
In November 2003, three months before her disappearance, Murray admitted to using a stolen credit card to order food. The charge was continued in December to be dismissed after three months' good behavior.
On the evening of February 5, Murray was at her campus-security job while speaking on the phone with her older sister, Kathleen. They discussed Kathleen's relationship problems with her fiancé. Around 10:30 p.m., while still on her shift, Murray broke down in tears. When her supervisor arrived at her desk, Murray was "staring straight ahead into empty space. A nursing book lay open in front of her. 'I don’t know how to explain it. She was just completely zoned out. No reaction at all.'” The supervisor escorted Murray back to her dorm room around 1:20 am. When asked what was wrong, Murray said two words: "My sister." She apparently did not share anything else with anyone about the phone call or the reason for her breakdown.
On Saturday, February 7, Murray's father Fred arrived in Amherst. He told investigators he and Maura went car-shopping that afternoon and later went to dinner with a friend of Murray's. Murray dropped her father off at his motel room and, borrowing his Toyota Corolla, returned to campus to attend a dorm party. At 2:30 am, 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 the car. The responding officer wrote a report but did not administer a sobriety test. She was driven to her father's motel and stayed in his room the rest of the morning. At 4:49 am, she called her boyfriend in Oklahoma.
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 Murray 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.
Preparations and departure
At 1:00 pm Murray 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 at 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 she 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, she 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'd 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 Saturn sedan.
At 3:40 pm, Murray withdrew $280 from an ATM. Closed-circuit footage showed she was alone. At a nearby liquor store she purchased about $40 worth of alcoholic beverages, including Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa, vodka, and a box of Franzia wine. Footage also 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, 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.
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. 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 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 cell-phone 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 phone call but did notice several cars pass on the road before the police arrived.
At 7:46 pm, a Haverhill police officer arrived at the scene. No one was inside or around the car. The impact 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 an AAA card issued to Murray, blank accident-report forms, gloves, compact discs, makeup, diamond jewelry, two sets of MapQuest driving directions (one to Burlington, Vermont, another to Stowe, 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.
At 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 the next day, almost twenty-four hours after she was last seen.
The following day, February 10, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) report for Murray was issued at 12:36 pm. She was reported as wearing a dark coat, jeans, and a black backpack. A voice mail was left on Fred Murray's home answering machine at 3:20 pm stating that her car was 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 that Murray's car had been found abandoned. He 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, New Hampshire. 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 was 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, New Hampshire. At some point he received a voice mail that he believed was the sound of Murray sobbing. The call was traced to a calling card issued to the American Red Cross.
Murray's father and her boyfriend held an evening press conference in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, on February 12, and the next day the first press coverage was published. At 3:05 pm the police reported Murray may be headed to the Kancamagus Highway area and was "listed as endangered and possibly suicidal." The police report also stated Murray was intoxicated at the crash site, although the bus driver never said she was impaired. The Haverhill police chief said, "Our concern is that she's upset or suicidal."
Murray's father and boyfriend were interviewed by CNN's American Morning a week after her disappearance. 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 friends and family from Massachusetts, and the Haverhill police chief disclosed 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.
In April and again in June, New Hampshire and Vermont police dismissed any connection between Murray's case and that of Brianna Maitland, a Vermont woman who disappeared one month after Murray was last seen. 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 they had discovered no evidence a crime had been committed. They also dismissed the possibility of a serial killer being involved.
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."
Toward the end of 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.
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 the car was found. In the closet of an A-frame house, cadaver dogs allegedly went "bonkers," identifying the possible presence of human remains. A sample of the carpet was sent to the New Hampshire State Police, but results were never released. In July 2008, volunteers led another two-day search through wooded areas in Haverhill. The group consisted of dog teams and licensed private investigators.
Fred Murray has repeatedly criticized the police investigation for treating the disappearance as a missing persons and not a criminal matter and has called on the FBI to join the investigation. Senior Assistant Attorney General 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."
In 2014, on the tenth anniversary of Murray's disappearance, Strelzin stated, "We haven't had any credible sightings of Maura since the night she disappeared."
Murray's disappearance is often compared to the disappearance of Brianna Maitland one month later, who apparently abandoned her car near Montgomery, Vermont, 66 miles (110 km) away from Murray's last sighting in Woodsville. State police have stated there are no links between the two cases.
- Disappearance of Brianna Maitland, a woman who disappeared a month later in a similar manner 66 miles (110 km) away (speculated to be a related case).
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
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