The Disappearance of Maura Murray

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EARLY LIFE:

Maura Murray was born on May 4, 1982 to parents Fred and Laurie Murray. One of five children, she lived the majority of her life in Hanson, Massachusetts.

Maura’s parents divorced when she was six. Despite the separation, she remained close with both, especially her father, who she frequently vacationed with. Her ability to create and sustain close relationships extended to her friend group, which she kept throughout her time at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School and while she attended college. A straight-A student, Maura was recruited to the United States Military Academy for her athleticism, having played many sports growing up.

While at USMA, Maura met boyfriend Bill Rausch, a fellow student. The pair began dating in 2001 and, according to Bill’s mother, she immediately became a member of the family. However, Maura’s time at the school would be limited, as a few semesters in she decided to change degrees and pursue nursing at the University of Amherst.

In 2004, Maura was 21 years old and a junior at UMass. While there, she focused heavily on her studies, landing on the Dean’s List, and was planning on doing her nursing internship in Oklahoma, where Bill had been stationed. In order to make some extra money, she held two jobs, one at a local art gallery and one with campus security. When not working or focusing on schoolwork, she could be found running with the university’s track and cross country teams.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

February 5, 2004 started out as a normal day. Maura was working the evening shift at her security job, where she spoke on the phone with her sister. During the conversation, Maura learnt of some news that didn’t sit well with her, and she was asked to leave work early due to how upset the phone call had left her.

A few days later, her father drove up to Amherst to help Maura look for a new car, as her 1996 Saturn was beginning to experience issues. They found one and made plans to purchase it the following weekend.

That night, Maura borrowed her father’s car, as he was staying at a local motel. While out, she struck a guardrail, causing $10,000 worth of damage to the car. Upset over the accident, Maura phoned her boyfriend, and after later speaking with her father was assured his insurance would cover the damage. All Maura would have to do was file an accident report. This would be the last time Fred Murray would speak to his daughter. The date was February 8, 2004.

Authorities and loved ones are unsure of Maura’s mindset on this day. Searches of her computer show she searched rental properties in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. She continued her search into the next day and even called the owner of a Bartlett, New Hampshire condo rental at around 12:55pm. While she had visited the area many times growing up, authorities are unsure why she was searching the area, as classes had only just started up again.

Further searches of Maura’s computer show she used MapQuest to look up directions to Burlington, Vermont. This was followed by a number of phone calls to various people that afternoon, including a hotel reservation line.

Maura also sent emails throughout the day. One was to Bill, where she said she loved him and would call him later in the day. She also apologized for not answering his previous calls. Another was to her professors, saying she’d be absent from classes the remainder of the week due to a death in the family and that she would contact them upon her return. However, as her family would later tell police, there had been no death.

Around 3:30pm, Maura left UMass Campus in her Saturn. On her way out of town, she stopped at an ATM, where surveillance cameras recorded her withdrawing $280 from her account, and a liquor store, where she purchased some alcohol, including a box of red wine.

At 4:37pm, Maura last used her cellphone to check her voicemail, and from there she continued her drive up to New Hampshire. It was early evening when she turned onto Route 112.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Around 7:30pm, Maura’s car veered off Route 112, in the Woodsville area, and into a tree. A dark and desolate area, the accident forced both front airbags to deploy and the windshield to shatter. The front was damaged enough to render the car inoperable.

Not long after the accident, a school bus driver came upon Maura, who was standing outside her car in a dark coat, jeans and a black backpack. He offered to call the police, but Maura declined his offer, saying she’d already called AAA. This struck the bus driver as suspicious, as there wasn’t cell service in the area, and he called 911 when he arrived home.

Police arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later, at 7:45pm. They noted the damage to the car, but found no sign of Maura. There was no one in the vehicle, no footsteps in the snow and aside from the accident there were no noticeable disturbances in the area. Their initial search brought up only a bottle of Coke under the car, which smelt like there had been alcohol in it.

SEARCH:

Maura’s family wasn’t notified of her disappearance until the afternoon of February 10, 2004. By then, Maura had been missing just under 24 hours. As they arrived in the area the next day, police began to ask about Maura’s mental state and her personal life. Upon hearing about the earlier accident, they began to worry she’d become depressed and possibly suicidal, a claim her father vehemently denied. According to him, she had put the accident behind her.

Maura’s boyfriend and his family also made the trip to New Hampshire to aid in the search. It was during Bill’s flight to the area that the last believed contact from Maura arose. Once his plane landed, he saw he had a voicemail, which featured a woman breathing and whimpering. According to Bill, it sounded just like Maura, a belief further backed up by the fact the call came from a prepaid calling card, which Maura had been known to use.

Maura’s family and friends set to work in their search. They drew up flyers, which were distributed around the accident scene and all along the New Hampshire-Vermont border. The state police were called in and utilized helicopters and bloodhounds. The use of bloodhounds in the initial search has been criticized by Fred Murray, as the police used a glove that had only recently been gifted to Maura, so her scent hadn’t enough time to settle. However, the bloodhounds were able to pick up on something, following the scent 100 feet from the accident site into the middle of the road, leading police to believe someone had picked up Maura.

There was no evidence Maura walked into the woods.

An item of potential interest was found by Maura’s sister. While searching the area around the car, she came across a pair of ripped women’s underwear. At first, it was believed these could belong to Maura, but after being sent for forensic testing it was concluded they weren’t hers.

After the search, a press release was sent to the media, which stated Maura was endangered missing and possibly suicidal, and that there was no evidence of foul play in her disappearance. When pushback was received from her family, it was said Maura was an adult and as such was allowed to go missing if she wanted. The family was interviewed by the media and pleas were sent out to the public for any information surrounding the case, as well as to Maura herself.

One place authorities thoroughly searched was Maura’s car, which was locked when found. Most of her possessions were still inside, with the only things missing being her cellphone and debit and credit cards, all of which haven’t been used since her disappearance.

In the car was found a bag with her clothes and schoolbooks in it; the aforementioned box of red wine, now spilt; and the book Not Without Peril. This was initially of great interest to law enforcement, given the book’s material – it covers the tragedy 22 climbers face in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range – but her father claims it isn’t related to Maura’s disappearance. It just happened to be one of her favourite books.

After close examination, Maura’s belongings were released to her boyfriend on February 13, 2004. It wasn’t long after this that her family returned home. However, they didn’t stop searching.

The FBI joined the investigation 10 days after Maura vanished and took the search nationwide. On the homefront, Bill and his mother took it upon themselves to examine Maura’s phone records in the days leading up to her disappearance. They called the numbers and discovered the owner of the condo rental in New Hampshire had never been contacted by police. Unfortunately, given the amount of time that had elapsed since the call  – it had been a few months since the condo owner had spoken with Maura – she was unable to recall much about their conversation.

A potential sighting of Maura was reported three months after her disappearance. A contractor approached police to say he’d seen a young person walking along Route 112, about four to five miles from where Maura’s car had been found, around 8:00pm to 8:30pm the night of her disappearance. They’d been wearing a dark jacket and light jeans. Investigators haven’t publicly stated whether they believe this to be Maura. When asked why he’d waited so long to share the tip, the contractor admitted he’d gotten the dates mixed up and didn’t put two-and-two together until he saw news coverage of the case.

As the investigation drew on, Maura’s father became increasingly frustrated with police. In his opinion, they were sharing, and doing, very little to help find his daughter, and thus he decided to launch a legal battle against the police department. He filed a lawsuit against the New Hampshire police in hopes of obtaining documents about the case, but the court ruled against him, stating the case was ongoing and the release of documents could hinder future proceedings.

Fred Murray also approached the Governor of New Hampshire on the one-year anniversary of his daughter’s disappearance. He managed to get a 10 minute meeting, where he was promised by the Governor that he would try to get as much information from the police as possible.

THEORIES:

1) Some believe Maura left because she wasn’t doing well in school. This has been widely disputed by those who personally knew her. Not only was she very serious about her schoolwork, but she was a member of the Dean’s List.

2) The theory held by Maura’s family and web sleuths is that Maura was picked up by someone near the accident site. This is corroborated by the bloodhounds in the initial search, who lost her scent 100 feet from the crash site. While this is the most wide-held theory, there are differing views on what happened to her after she was picked up. Some believe she is still alive, being held against her will, while others believe she is dead, possibly having been killed the night of her disappearance. Given the lack of evidence, and the lack of a body, it’s hard to tell if either of these views are true.

3) Police believe Maura left of her own accord, possibly because she was depressed and/or suicidal. They believe the accident in her father’s car made her depressed, so she wanted to get away and have a fresh start. They corroborate this with the fact Maura’s dorm room had been virtually packed up.

However, there are a few inconsistencies with this theory. The first is the aforementioned fact that Maura’s family wasn’t aware of any emotional issues at the time she vanished. There’s also the fact Maura’s credit and debit cards haven’t been used. If someone were running away, it would be assumed they’d need more than the $280 Maura had on her.

The final issue with this theory is the lack of sightings. If Maura moved away, someone would have seen her. However, there seems to be a lack of sightings in this case. That’s not to say she didn’t disappear of her own free will, it just seems a bit suspicious to those close to her.

4) Finally, there was a belief early on in the investigation that Maura’s disappearance was connected to that of Brianna Maitland, who disappeared in Montgomery, Vermont. The circumstances under which both girls vanished are similar, as both their cars were found abandoned in desolate areas and both cases remain unsolved. This was an angle the FBI investigated, but they concluded there is no connection. However, they haven’t completely ruled the idea out.

AFTERMATH:

In December 2004, Maura’s father appeared on The Montel Williams Show to help bring awareness to the case.

In 2006, the Molly Bish Foundation and the New Hampshire League of Investigators took up work on Maura’s case pro bono. Tom Shamshak, a private investigator and former police chief, believed this to be more than a mere missing persons case, and helped participate in a renewed search of the area for any clues. This search is one of many to have occurred in the subsequent years following Maura’s disappearance, but nothing of substance has ever been found.

In 2009, Maura’s mother passed away, and in the same year the case was given to the cold case division. According to police, there has been a lot of progress made, but they aren’t able to share said progress with the public at this time.

In May 2018, a GoFundMe campaign was launched by Maggie Freleng, who hosted an 2017 Oxygen special on the case. Money raised will go toward using ground penetrating radar in areas of interest in the case, as well as toward reward money for information. As of July 2018, a renewed search of an area of interest is underway using GPR.

Maura’s father has continued to be critical of the police investigation, believing more could have been done the night his daughter disappeared. In the years since Maura’s disappearance, her father has never stopped looking for her. He is constantly looking for her and asking about her case.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Maura Murray went missing in Haverhill, New Hampshire, in the Woodsville area of Route 112, on February 9, 2004. She was 21 years old and was last seen wearing jeans, a dark coat and a black backpack. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’11” and weighed approximately 120 pounds. She has light brown hair and brown eyes.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 36 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the New Hampshire State Police at 603-846-3333 or the Haverhill Police Department at 603-787-2222.

Image Credit: All That’s Interesting

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