Could Maura have wandered into the woods? An overview of searches done in the Maura Murray case

This post will attempt to provide an overview of the searches that have taken place for Maura Murray since she disappeared February 9, 2004.  It will focus on search efforts by land, air, and dog teams rather than, say, property searches executed by law enforcement or other investigative work. 

In summary, the following search operations have taken place:

– New Hampshire State Police through New Hampshire Fish and Game conducted 5 searches in 2004.

– The New Hampshire League of Investigators conducted three large searches, the first in 2006.

– Friends and family searched for the first few weeks after Maura’s disappearance.  A team involving Fred Murray, Rick Graves, and others, searched “every weekend” for the first year.

– Boots on the Ground has been conducting annual searches since 2017.

– Many other searchers have been going out formally or informally, individually or in teams or groups to search for Maura.

The Night of Maura’s Disappearance 2.9.04

There was a “cursory” search for the driver of the Saturn on the night of Maura’s disappearance 2.9.04.  Lieutenant John Scarinza of the New Hampshire State Police reports that police made a presumption that the driver of the Saturn wanted to avoid contact with the police:  

“… the initial accident investigation led police officers to believe this was simply a case of someone who had been involved in a motor vehicle accident and wished at least initially that night not to have contact with the police.” (ID Disappeared)

There were still some efforts to locate the driver of the Saturn by police (Cecil Smith), a NHSP officer (the aforementioned Lt. John Monaghan), local neighbors and some members of the Fire Department and Emergency Services.  In total the foot search that night covered the game trail, Old Peters Road, and up and down both sides of 112 and was conducted for “about an hour” (APN interview). Indeed, the Fire Department arrived at 7:56PM and left at 8:49PM.  

Resident Butch Atwood took his personal vehicle and drove a loop to Mountain Lakes for “about 15 minutes” (it is estimated he left around 7:55PM)..  Lt. Monaghan arrived at the scene, spoke to Cecil and then drove towards Swiftwater, into Woodsville, and looked at Mountain Lakes then ultimately drove off to attend to other matters.  I estimate that he left the scene around 8:02-5PM although this is up for debate. Cecil Smith was on the scene from his arrival (noted in the dispatch log as 7:46PM) until he was called to another case at Lime Kiln Road at 9:26PM.  During that time he took seven photos including the tire imprints in the snow in addition to other duties such as talking to neighbors and making several calls.

On Tuesday, February 10th after executing a search warrant of the Saturn, police identified Maura as the driver.  After later speaking to Fred Murray as well as Kathleen Murray Maura’s sister, the case shifted to one of missing endangered and a search effort was organized.  The large scale search effort began about 36 hours after her disappearance on Wednesday, February 11th.

OFFICIAL SEARCHES BY NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE POLICE (FISH AND GAME)

Starting Wednesday, February 11, 2004, the NHSP conducted five official searches for Maura.  The search operation was supervised by Lieutenant Jonas Todd Bogardus (“Todd”) of New Hampshire Fish and Game Law Enforcement Division out of Littleton.  Bogardus served as Team Leader for Fish and Game Law Enforcement’s Advanced Search and Rescue Team. In total these five searches covered “12 miles of roadway, 1-2 miles into the woods with dogs and even places up to 50 miles away that they knew Maura loved to visit.” (Oxygen)  They never found any trace of Maura or any item belonging to her.

Wednesday, February 11th

Official Search 1: Wednesday, February 11th (36 hours after Maura’s disappearance)

Personnel: Supervisor: Todd Bogardus of NH Fish and Game; NHSP bloodhound, helicopter equipped with FLIR, local and state police, state Fish & Game officials

Range: The NHSP bloodhound ran the track from the Saturn twice; helicopter covered 10 miles of roadway

On the morning of Wednesday, February 11th, the NHSP began its search supervised by Todd Bogardus of New Hampshire Fish and Game.  The team was brought in 36 hours after the crash on a clear cold morning. The temperature had remained steady since Maura’s disappearance and there was no new snow on the ground.  Bogardus reports on Oxygen there was “about a foot and a half to two feet of snow with a thin crust on the top”. He noted that anyone walking off the road would have easily left a footprint.

The team also used a helicopter equipped with a FLIR unit (forward looking infrared).  They searched the immediate area and “toned out” several miles away from the area. Bogardus notes: “had she been out there and giving off any heat signal we would have been able to pick that up.”

Bogardus indicates they covered the significant area at least 112 and outlying roads over probably 10 miles distance.  At the end of that day they had “no human foot tracks going into the woodlands off of the roadways that were not either cleared or accounted for”. Bogardus goes on to say that “at the end of that day the consensus was she did not leave the roadway”.

That same morning, a NHSP bloodhound was brought in to run the track from the Saturn.  The dog was given gloves as the scent article. The dog ran the track twice, both times ending down the road.  Bogardus notes that both times the dog ended “at the intersection of Bradley Hill Road which is just within sight of the crash site”.  (However, it is believed that the track effectively ended in the vicinity of the Atwood residence/see map). Bogardus notes on Oxygen “It’s possible she may have been picked up by a vehicle there.”  Indeed, according to multiple newspaper accounts, it seems clear that at the end of the first day of searching, the predominant theory was that Maura was picked up by a vehicle.

Could Maura have been missed by the helicopter and the additional search efforts?  On Oxygen Bogardus responds to that question:

  • Maggie Freleng: we’ve heard from people we’ve interviewed that it’s hard to find a body in these woods because they are so thick.  Do you agree with that?
  • Todd Bogardus: I do agree it’s hard but I can tell you I’m not a big believer in people levitating and going long distances.  So she had to have left the track for us if she went into the woodlands. I’m fairly confident to say she did not go into the woods when she left the area

Official Search 2: February 19th (10 days missing)

Personnel: Supervisor: Todd Bogardus of NH Fish and Game; 3 canine teams (2 New England K-9 Search and Rescue Group; 1 New Hampshire State Police); state police, fish and game officiers, helicopter

Range: 2 square mile area along the Wild Ammonoosuc River and Route 112; searched both sides of 112 within a half mile radius

(MF: in case they missed something a second search was organized 10 days after the crash to inspect the woods – this time with three cadaver dogs who were trained specifically to find human remains)

TB: yes – those dog teams went into the woodlines and searched (in) different segments on both sides of route 112 within the half mile radius … any time we’re searching we’re looking for people yes but more importantly we’re looking for clues

Burlington 2/20/04

Around the same time, police examined Maura’s computer and discovered that she had searched for directions to Burlington on her computer.  On 2.20.04, “Vermont State Police, Burlington police, and other local agencies have canvassed motels in Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester, Shelburne, and surrounding towns to see if she checked in anywhere around,” he said.”

April 2, 2004

On April 2, 2004, Gary E. Lindsley reported.“Although an official air and ground search was declared concluded by New Hampshire Fish and Game and Troop F State Police officials in February, K-9 teams from the Adirondack Rescue Dog Association will resume their search of the Haverhill area this weekend.” Rausch said one of the teams is Marilyn Greene, a team trainer and private investigator, and her K-9, Buddy, from Guilderland, N.Y. “This weekend, like last weekend, K-9 teams from the Adirondack Rescue Dog Association will conduct a search of the area surrounding the accident site.”

Official Search 3: May 8 (89 days missing) 

Personnel: Supervisor: Todd Bogardus of NH Fish and Game; 15 fish and game officers with 6 dogs from,New England Canine and Upper Valley Wilderness Response team; a helicopter

Range: Searched woods about  miles east of accident site on Route 112 (this followed the CW sighting)

On May 8, 2004, Mike Recht from the Associated Press reported, “About 15 Fish and Game officers, joined by the New England Canine and the Upper Valley Wilderness Response team with six dogs, searched the woods for Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts student, about five miles east of the accident site on Route 112.[This search was conducted in response to the construction worker’s report that he saw a hooded figure running along Route 112 near the location where it intersects with Route 116.]

“As a result of this new information, a search was conducted on May 8. Canine teams with six dogs and 15 Fish and Game officers searched the area where Forcier may have seen Maura running. No new leads were reported.” A dozen people resumed the search yesterday on foot and in a helicopter. Scarinza said that was more than enough manpower to scan the rural terrain. It was likely the last time a search crew will venture into the woods. If Murray had wandered off the road, finding her would be easy because there is about 1½ feet of snow on the ground, Scarinza said. and it has not snowed since Feb. 9.

Official Search 4: May 17th (98 days missing)

No information

Official Search 5: July 13th (156 days missing)

Personnel: Supervisor Todd Bogardus; 100 searchers including state police trooper ans conservation officers

Range: One mile radius of the accident with “line searches”

Nearly 100 people, including 60 state troopers from as far away as Exeter, conservation officers, and volunteers from search-and-rescue organizations, spent the day on line searches

“Another ground search was initiated on July 13. More than 100 searchers, including state police troop-ers and conservation officers, spread out across a one-mile radius of where Maura’s car was found. No reason was given for why this search was conducted except to say police were looking for anything Maura may have left behind, such as the black backpack she was believed to have been carrying when she left the scene.”

Searches by the New Hampshire League of Investigators

The New Hampshire League of Investigators, ten retired police officers and detectives started working on the case in 2006 pro bono.  In total they conducted three large searches. 

NHLI Search 1 of 3 – 10.21.06

The first NHLI search was a two day search (Saturday and Sunday, October 21 and 22, 2006).  They searched “within a few miles of the site of (the accident).”. They used dog teams from the Connecticut Canine Search and Dukes County Search and Rescue out of Martha’s Vineyard.  

They selected six areas including a wooded area near the search site, gravel pits, and the Mountain Lakes area.  One site was a sand pit not far from Maura went missing (I am not sure if this is the same as the gravel pit). It was noted that some of the site selection was based on “information Fred Murray and other people (had) provided.”  The A-frame was searched at this time, presumably as one of the six sites.

NHLI Search 2 of 3 July 2008

In July 2008, volunteers led another two-day search through wooded areas in Haverhill. The group consisted of dog teams and licensed private investigators

Additional Details Learned about the NHLI Searches

In 2018, Guy Paradee of the interview did an interview under the auspices of the 107 degrees podcast.  He reports that there was a hit by a cadaver dog down Old Peters Road “well within the 5 mile radius of the Saturn’s disappearance”. Guy reports that they found some items at the site of the dog alert and when neither the Haverhill police of the AG’s office responded, they dug and found some things, notably human clothing and some sort of rubber/latex square.

 We further learn from the interview that they did a grid search of the 5 mile radius.  He describes that they “took tape, did grids of the whole five mile area we were going to search.  The teams consisted of the dog handler and dog, one of (NHLI member who was armed), and each team had a video camera and still camera.

IIt was noted in 2019 by Maggie Freleng that:

Yes, back in the day Terry O’Connell and some of the NHLI searched French Pond with divers and sonar. The ammonoosuc river is actually not really a river, it is incredibly shallow, maybe 1 inch. I was there in the winter, same time Maura went missing, a body would be seen and dogs with GPR went all up and down the road that follows it for 5 miles. They would have smelled a body.

Fred Murray Team

Every weekend for the first year searching with Fred consistently.  Did a circle, moved out. Estimated searched about 15-20 miles perimeter around the crash site.  About 4-6 people including distant cousins/relatives who would go out to support. “beat the hell out of those woods – gravel pits, etc.”.

Almost every weekend since Feb. 9, he has made the eight-hour round-trip drive from his home in Weymouth, Mass., to the Woodsville section of Haverhill. He searches the vast forest or knocks on doors and questions neighbors who might have seen something. He also hands out fliers with Maura’s picture.

His daughters and Maura’s boyfriend, who is in the military, were able to help at first, and occasionally some volunteers join him. Last weekend, a couple from Vermont, the Maitlands, whose own daughter disappeared in March, searched with him.

During the winter, he searched the snow for footprints. The snow is gone now, so he searches the woods alongside the road. He even climbs through culverts under the road, head down, looking for any clue.

He even searched the Kancamagus Highway — one of her favorite places about 25 miles away — should she have contemplated suicide, though he is quick to point out, “I don’t think she did.”

Since February night, Murray has been searching fir his daughter, crawling through every bridge and culvert, pressing the police, checking bus stations and asking bus drivers if they saw his daughter. He has checked topographical maps to identify where a vehicle might have gone, checked with neighbors as to what was accessible, and searched.

1 thought on “Could Maura have wandered into the woods? An overview of searches done in the Maura Murray case

  1. TheRealFinn

    Please delete this – this is a reprint of my search paper without attribution and missing graphics. Wtf? Thanks, finn

    Reply

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