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My personal “top 10 takeaways” from reading the FOIA materials from the Maura Murray case

In January 2006, Fred Murray went to the Grafton County Superior Court to obtain the case files relating to Maura’s disappearance.  When his request was denied, he appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Although the court also denied his request, they did require the state to explain further about the nature of the evidence in their possession.  The following are my “non-expert” observations from reading the documents available from this proceeding as well as listening to available hearings from the NH Supreme Court, and the 107 Degrees Podcast episode 3.  

VERY QUICK BACKGROUND ON THE PROCESS

I am not a lawyer so I will try to start with a brief “easy to understand” overview of the process for obtaining information.  New Hampshire has a “Right-to-Know” Law (RSA 91-A) that functions in conjunction with the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  All of the FOIA provisions also apply to the New Hampshire law. The New Hampshire law has exemptions that center around personal privacy – in other words you can’t obtain someone’s school records, bank records, and other types of personal/confidential information.  Those exemptions alone would not go far in denying Fred’s request for information. However, “FOIA” has a key clause 7A exempting materials that could interfere with an ongoing investigation, specifically:  

“… to the extent that production of such law enforcement records or information . . . could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” 

In the end, Fred’s request was denied partly because it contained some of the personal information exempted by the New Hampshire law.  But his request was largely denied due to the FOIA exemption 7A. What does this mean? It means that they argued that it was an ongoing investigation and one that had a “reasonable likelihood” of leading to an enforcement proceeding (“reasonable likelihood” was determined to be the operative legal standard).  

RSA 91-A and FOIA:


TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM THE FOIA MATERIALS

Building on that background on RSA 91-A and FOIA, the following are my “Top 10” surprises or takeaways from reading the materials from the materials obtained through Fred’s legal case aka Frederick J. Murray v Special Investigation Unit of the Division of State Police of the New Hampshire Department of Safety et al.

1. THE MAURA MURRAY CASE FILE IS EXTREMELY LARGE

Maura’s case file appears to be a large one consisting of:

  • 2938 pages
  • 6 volumes
  • 66 law enforcement personnel narratives
  • 254 contacts
  • 106 witness interviews
  • 19 written witness statements
  • 3 transcribed witness interviews
  • 4 polygraphs

The online community has noted any number of gaps in the State’s investigation.  We can either conclude that their investigation has not been thorough OR that we are not understanding the focus of their investigation.

2. THE DOCUMENTS MENTION A GRAND JURY

At this point the notion of a grand jury in this case is fairly well known.  Art Roderick has told us that there were at least two grand juries that were “investigative in nature”.  However, we first learned of the existence of some form of grand jury process from these documents which state – among other citations: “There are Grand Jury subpoenas that are not public and which would pinpoint the focus of the investigation.”  

We know a Grand Jury was held prior to April 2007 due to the record of a hearing on the Fred Murray matter on April 13, 2007 and subpoenas submitted as early as March 15th.  We can also reasonably conclude that there was no indictment coming out of any grand jury in this case. Some legal experts have stated that the function of a New Hampshire grand jury is to indict an individual in a criminal proceeding and thus, it seems unusual or improbable that these would be investigative in nature.  

3. THE INVESTIGATION IS OVERWHELMINGLY FOCUSED ON NEW HAMPSHIRE  

Although this is hardly breaking news, it is worth pointing out that – if we go by the affiliations of the law enforcement personnel – the investigation centered on New Hampshire.  In other words, it was not national, it was not international. The investigation only tangentially ventured into other states (this will be covered in the next bullet). For what it’s worth, there is nothing in Oklahoma or Ohio or Canada or Florida or Tennessee – a few jurisdictions that have been discussed.  The investigation in Massachusetts seems focused on Amherst/Hadley.

SUMMARY OF LE UNITS INVOLVED BY NUMBER

  • NHSP 44 (5 of these Major Crimes Unit)
  • Haverhill PD 9
  • UMass PD 7
  • Rochester PD 3
  • VSP 3
  • FBI 2
  • NH Fish and Game 2
  • Sullivan County DOC 2
  • Amherst PO 1
  • Exeter PD 1
  • Grafton County Sheriff 1
  • Hadley PD 1
  • Oxford County ME 1

4. THERE WERE SOME UNUSUAL JURISDICTIONS INVOLVED

Some LE units jump out as unusual although we are able to find explanations in most cases:

Rochester: this is accounted for by a sighting of Maura that “went nowhere”

https://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/another-search-for-maura-murray-turns-up-little/article_fd431ff6-8918-5a0a-ba11-59d59d3a131b.html

Exeter: mentioned briefly as a place searched (same article)

https://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/another-search-for-maura-murray-turns-up-little/article_fd431ff6-8918-5a0a-ba11-59d59d3a131b.html

Oxford County, ME: Oxford County Maine is where Bill went to check the hospital in Norway/Paris but this reference is still not fully understood or explained.

Sullivan County DOC.- there is a nearby Sullivan County in NH; Sullivan County in NY has a prison – but this is unexplained.

5. THE STATE LISTED 20 CATEGORIES OF EVIDENCE

To respond to Fred, the State provided a page with 20 categories of evidence.  (See the documents for the full description of each of these categories)

  1. Phone Records
  2. Subpoenas (including search warrants)
  3. Credit card information
  4. Criminal record checks
  5. Narrative reports by investigators
  6. Witness interviews (tapes and transcripts) – 19 written statements; 3 transcribed interviews
  7. Polygraph examinations (4)
  8. Possessed property reports
  9. Lab reports
  10. Policy/dispatch call logs
  11. Photographs
  12. Correspondence
  13. Attorney notes
  14. One-party intercept memoranda
  15. Maps and diagrams
  16. Investigative duty assignment (nothing in this category)
  17. Tax records
  18. Employment personnel files
  19. Medical records
  20. Military records

6. WHAT IS A ONE-PARTY INTERCEPT MEMORANDUM?

One of the more interesting details in the list of 20 is the “one party intercept memorandum”. We understand that this refers to either the wiretapping of a phone or someone “wearing a wire”.  In New Hampshire, wiretapping is governed by RSA 570-A

https://law.justia.com/codes/new-hampshire/2010/titlelviii/chapter570-a/

But what is the “memorandum” noted?  We find the answer to the memorandum question with the approval requirement specified  in section II(d):

(d) An investigative or law enforcement officer in the ordinary course of the officer’s duties pertaining to the conducting of investigations of organized crime, offenses enumerated in this chapter, solid waste violations under RSA 149-M:9, I and II, or harassing or obscene telephone calls to intercept a telecommunication or oral communication, when such person is a party to the communication or one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception; provided, however, that no such interception shall be made unless the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or an assistant attorney general designated by the attorney general determines that there exists a reasonable suspicion that evidence of criminal conduct will be derived from such interception. Oral authorization for the interception may be given and a written memorandum of said determination and its basis shall be made within 72 hours thereafter. The memorandum shall be kept on file in the office of the attorney general.

In other words, if a law enforcement officer wants to record someone, they must get prior approval in the form of a memorandum.  That said, the memorandum noted in Maura’s case would seem to give LE approval to go forward with recording someone. However, we don’t know if it was executed and we don’t know the target.

7. THE ATTORNEY FOR THE STATE INDICATED THERE WERE SUSPECTS UNDER CURRENT INVESTIGATION

Despite telling us “we can’t rule out that Maura may have left at her own volition” we do learn that there are suspects currently under investigation:

Prosecutor Nancy Smith … “revealing anything about Landry’s investigation, even in general terms, might identify suspects from a small community …” … “The people – the identity of those people is fairly well known.”

Ervin: “Is the investigation into those individuals currently ongoing?”

Landry: “Yes”

What can we conclude from this?  We might conclude that the investigation into this potential crime is focused on individuals currently (then) living in New Hampshire or in the broad vicinity of the accident site.  I am not sure what to make of the “fairly well known” identities. Does this mean that they are known to their community or that they are the names actively discussed? We don’t know.

8. WHAT IS AN “ACTIVE INVESTIGATION”?

The State insisted that the case was an active investigation but provided little clarification as to what that meant.  It was noted that there was a detective “monitoring the case each day” and that the records were “actively being used”.  They discussed such things as “following up on leads”. To me the investigation sounded less than proactive but as we don’t know the nature and focus of the investigation we can’t draw conclusions.

9. THE PHRASE “WOULD PINPOINT THE FOCUS OF THE INVESTIGATION” IS USED CONSISTENTLY

The documents consistently note that revealing x or y would “pinpoint the focus of the investigation”. Because the phrase is used consistently, each specific usage seems to provide little insight.

10. 75% CHANCE OF WHAT?

Strelzin ultimately quashed Fred’s request by stating that there was a 75% likelihood of a future enforcement proceeding. 

Specifically:

Q: You indicated in responding to Attorney Ervin that you could give him a percentage that you have in mind of likelihood. What is that percentage regarding likelihood of this results in a criminal case?

A: I mean….I’d say it’s probably 75%.

Q: Pardon?

A: I’d say it’s probably 75%.

The transcript can be found in this link:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7_atAFvowRhMU0xOWNTRTY0WEk/view

The question becomes: was Strelzin speaking in generalities about the likelihood of bringing “this type of case” to a criminal case or was he speaking specifically about the Maura Murray case?

According to Fred Murray:

“The judge asked the assistant attorney general what was the percentage of bringing charges, and he [Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin] rolls his eyes, looks at the floor and then says, ’75 percent.’ He pulled it out of his back pocket (ass),”

“My question now to the [assistant] AG is, what is 75 percent of nothing? You said 75 percent two years ago. You made that up. Nothing has happened,”

One poster on reddit summed it up as:

75 % chance of eventually having enough information to convict.

As in 75% of the time we get one of these cold cases, it works out.

Parts sold separately.

Some assembly required.

And another explains:

“Strezlin and company were trying to argue in generalities, because quite frankly, they were getting their butts kicked in court. The judges were not buying the reasons that police wouldn’t release the records because they hadn’t established that a crime had taken place by a long shot.

So instead, Strezlin and company turned to prosecutions in general. they brought up other cases (one was like 20 years old where they finally got a conviction) to show the court that since a crime can’t be ruled out in maura’s case, it is possible (no matter how much time passes) that they can still convict. so that is why they shouldn’t release anything to fred.”

I don’t think that it was an abstract number.  The preceding question was “What is that percentage regarding likelihood of this results in a criminal case?”.  At best Strelzin was playing on the ambiguity of the situation. According to one source, Strelzin bragged outside the courtroom that there was a 75% chance he would be filing charges – then turned his back when a grand jury failed to indict (no body).  That’s hearsay but to me it has an air of truth.

Sources used:

Murray case – NH Supreme Court (3 parts)

Reddit Maura Murray Evidence 

107 Degrees Podcast episode 3

My personal “Top 10 Misconceptions” about the Red Truck in the Maura Murray case

A local resident (moniker robinsonordway “RO”) saw a red truck driving south (112-east) around 7PM on February 9, 2004, the night of Maura’s disappearance.  After the truck stopped at the Swiftwater Stage Shop, it continued in the direction of the Weathered Barn Corner. 

I’ve been researching the red truck for about a year and a half – initially as a project coming out of my facebook group to develop better baselines of key topics.  I wanted to add my personal “top 10 misconceptions” I hear about the red truck. In a few cases I have a personal opinion based on my interpretation of the evidence.  

As background, all of the available direct testimony of RO is found at the very end of this piece.

MY PERSONAL LIST OF TOP 10 MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE RED TRUCK

Misconception 1: RO was walking a dog

There is a clip floating around the forums in which RO is walking a dog and sees the red truck turn onto either Old Peters Road or Bradley Hill Road.  RO was not walking a dog and was over a mile away from the accident site. She would not have had any view of OPR or BHR.

This map illustrates the path RO walked to and from the Swiftwater Stage Shop.

Caption: RO lived at the east corner of Bunga and 112 (0.2 miles North of the Swiftwater Stage Shop – she would travel “east” on 112 to reach the store).  It is estimated that it took RO 7-8 minutes to make the walk (uphill, etc.)

This map provides the larger view of the area

Caption: RO home in relation to Maura’s accident site (the distance is approximately 1.1 miles)

Misconception 2: RO was unsure about the state on the license plate

RO has been extremely consistent about the Massachusetts plate – with one exception from 2007 where she states: “I could have been wrong about the plates – according to the pd.”   Otherwise she lists the “MA” plate as one of the top characteristics she recalls about the truck.

RO looked carefully at the plate and in fact memorized it.  She tells us that if she had been asked about the plate that night, she “probably could have given them the plate number”. 

In addition, this image shows a compilation of license plates.  Would she really have mistaken a MA plate for a NH temporary plate or any of these other options?  I personally don’t believe so. I would urge everyone to walk up to the back of a vehicle and spend 15 seconds trying to take in key details including the license plate. When I do this, I grasp the state instantly.

RO citations:

“I immediately looked at the plate and noticed it was from Massachusetts.”

“That was my first thought about it……..red, MA plates and delivered wood.”

“When I went into the store, I asked Wini if some people came in the store just now and she said no and I said well, there was a red truck that stopped in the hill with MA plates and then took off and was in your parking lot as I approached.”

“Now, the reason I was sure it was MA plates is because when it stopped in the hill, I looked at the plate and tried to memorize it (thinking to myself, oh great, I am going to get kidnapped or something). Obviously, a few days later the only thing I could remember was the MA plates. Hope this helps clarify things for you.”

“But please remember, I could have been wrong about the plates – according to the pd.”

“There was a back window in the truck where I could see the passenger turn around and look at me. I remember it to be oval shaped but I could be wrong. The truck was red. Have no idea the make. Square. Not rounded truck. I noticed it to be Massachusetts plates.” (2019)

“Also for those curious as to why I know it was mass plates is because they stopped in the hill – which freaked me out and I tried to remember the plate # in case something happened to me. Since I was walking alone in the dark.” (2019)

“If that night when the state cop stopped me and he had told me someone was missing I probably could have given him the plate number. I still kick myself for forgetting but he never told me what was going on.” (2019)

Misconception 3. The truck was following Maura (timeline)

Many scenarios suggest that the truck was perhaps chasing Maura or picked her up after the crash.  Although anything is possible, based on RO’s time parameters, assuming the truck continued on 112, it would have passed the Weathered Barn Corner ahead of the Saturn.

Here is a basic “order of events” timeline (RT: red truck; JM: Monaghan):

Around 7:00 – RO left home (walk estimated at 7-8 minutes)

Next – RT passed RO stopped briefly

Next – RO arrived at the store

Next – RT left store direction of accident

Next – RT would have passed accident scene if continued down 112

Next – RO observed police drive past store on way to accident (20-30 min after arriving)

8:00 store closed RO left to walk home 

8:02+ Ambulance stopped upon seeing RO on Bunga Rd.

Next – JM stopped to talk to RO, left and ambulance followed 

This image is my effort to understand when the truck passed (a) the Swiftwater Stage Shop and (b) the Weathered Barn Corner if it continued without stopping or turning off.  I conclude that the truck passed the WBC at either 7:18 or 7:12.


Misconception 4. The truck scared RO

This one is tricky.  RO tells us flat out “the truck didn’t scare me”.  However, she was “freaked out” when the truck stopped “(s)ince I was walking alone in the dark.”

In my opinion her fear was contextual – she recognized that she was walking on a dark road, alone, with no other vehicles passing, and thought of the possibility that something could happen.  But I see nothing inherently predatory in the actions of the truck.

RO citations:

“The truck didn’t scare me. My thought is that they/he/she thought I was someone else. That is what I was thinking that night. When I saw them sitting at the store, I again thought, they really think I am someone else. And as I got closer and I could see the driver moving around – I was thinking, there, I am not the person you are looking for, and he drove off.”

“I thought to myself that maybe they either 1) thought I needed a ride or 2) that I was someone else.”

“Also for those curious as to why I know it was mass plates is because they stopped in the hill – which freaked me out and I tried to remember the plate # in case something happened to me. Since I was walking alone in the dark.” (2019)

Misconception 5. The red truck has been tracked down

In True Crime Addict it is stated that someone tracked down the owner of the truck: “Someone got the license plate number and Graves was able to trace it back to a local man.  But nobody ever talked to him.” (Renner, 198).  RO did not remember the plate number and so it is unlikely that anyone tracked down the truck based on the license plate number.  Fred Murray mentions in an interview that he saw a truck matching the description and followed it but could never speak to the owner(s).  It seems that TCA is referring to this truck seen by Fred Murray. As far as I am aware, the red truck seen by RO has never been identified.  (Just to preempt any questions, it is my understanding that Fred is talking about the G brothers).

As an aside, Maggie Freleng posted on facebook in 2018 that police were taking the red truck seriously.  But RO is clear that they were not particularly interested in her account in 2004.

I will also add that we have at least one account of a red truck pulled over and searched in (I believe) May 2004.  In hindsight it is assumed that it was in the context of the official search of the area near the RF sighting which was going on at the same time.  So there is some evidence that there was interest in red trucks at some point.

RO citations:

“By the way, I searched weeks for that truck in the local area. Never found anything close.”

“I spoke to the police on the phone afterwards (a week later) and only because I called them. They didn’t really ask any questions and I can’t remember who I spoke with. They weren’t interested in what I had to say. But neither was Fred when I told him. He dismissed me quite quickly which never set right with me to be honest.” (2019)

Misconception 6. The truck was looking for Maura/looking for someone

RO does indicate that the truck seemed to be looking for someone.  But she also states that it could have been trying to help her. I value RO’s instincts and impressions and believe that it is possible that the inhabitants of the truck were looking for someone.  But there is no evidence that the truck was looking for someone much less looking for Maura. They may have stopped to try to help RO, to ask her for directions, or for some other reason. They might have stopped in the parking lot to use their phone or look at a map. There are other plausible explanations for the actions of the truck that night.

RO citations:

“… the lighting was poor there, and I thought to myself that maybe they either 1) thought I needed a ride or 2) that I was someone else.”

“I believe I caught the truck off guard as I was walking well off the road and as they passed I walked back on, which is why I believe they stopped completely. They could not see me without any street lights and maybe went to the store and waited for me to get up there to get a better look??? I don’t know. That is just how it seemed to me.”

Misconception 7. There was a suspicious red truck on Bradley Hill Road

There has been a story that there was a suspicious red truck on Bradley Hill Road.  I believe it was said to be parked in a desolate place with nobody in the truck. It was stated that a woman inside a house saw the truck and it was suspicious enough that she called the police.  However, the same person who told the online community about this witness later stated “there was no call about a suspicious red truck”. This one seems to be off the table.

Misconception 8. Police were pulling over red trucks all night

There was a brief spurt in the Grafton County log in the early morning hours of 2/10 (4:46AM-6:36AM) in which 4 trucks were pulled over – 2 red, one maroon and one green, in addition to a silver non truck:  Each resulted in a citation. 

Early morning pull overs (4:46-6:36 AM):

Silver 2001 Ford 2D Mustang

Red Ford PU F250 Red/NH temp reg red/white

Maroon 1998 Ford pu ranger

Green 2002 GMC pu sierra

Red 1996 dodge pickup (defective equipment)

According to a LE representative I consulted: “Is it unusual to stop this many red pickups in a given time? … There are other factors that should be considered.  Grafton County is over 1,700 square miles. The population as of 2000 was just over 80,000.” … “having a baseline of some of those stats would put the context of these three stops into sharper focus.” 

We have no evidence that anyone reported a suspicious red truck (RO reported her sighting a couple of days later when she heard about Maura’s disappearance).  We have no evidence of a BOLO issued for a red truck. And if there were a BOLO issued for a red truck – why a short spurt of stops?  Why stop a green truck? Why a silver hatchback? In my opinion, it is somewhat interesting that these trucks were stopped but there is no evidence that police were pulling over red trucks, and certainly not “all night”.

Misconception 9. The red truck circled back

There was recently a story that the truck was seen again at the Swiftwater Stage Shop later.  This was quickly debunked. We have no information or evidence that the truck was ever seen again.

Misconception 10. RO mentioned an eagle decal

It has been widely discussed that there was an eagle on the back of the truck.  When I pulled together all of RO’s narratives, I quickly realized that she never mentions an eagle.  Earlier this year fulkstop asked RO who stated that she “did not see a decal” There are still people in the community who feel certain that RO mentioned an eagle and I want to be respectful.  Personally I think that if she had seen something that distinct, it would be in the “top 5” characteristics she remembered. If anyone has evidence that she mentioned that the truck had an eagle/eagle decal, I welcome that information. 

RO citations:

“No I did not see a decal .” (2019)

(I have no citations where RO mentions an eagle)

FULL COMPILATION OF DIRECT TESTIMONY AND NARRATIVE BY RO (additions to this are welcome and encouraged).

Is there any credibility to the sighting reported a couple of months later?

I could make a strong argument that the NHSP have a person of interest in the Maura Murray case.  I can also make an argument – a little less strong – that they know what happened to Maura, but somehow lack the evidence to take the next step.  I’ll revisit this in another blog post. All of that said, I can’t make an argument that I have heard any solid, convincing evidence against this apparent person of interest (Forcier).  It seems that most everything we cite as evidence is either a rumor, a misunderstanding, or simply odd behavior.  I will grant you, he has been uncooperative, and probably worse. But without any knowledge of the official investigation, I have yet to see anything persuasive.

I will focus this post on one incident that seems to have put him on the radar of investigators – the sighting that wasn’t. 

On May 6, 2004, The Caledonian Record reported that a man had come forward with a potential sighting of Maura Murray on the night of her disappearance:

“There may be a break in the case involving 21-year-old nursing student Maura Murray who disappeared the night of Feb. 9 after she was involved in a one-car accident on rural Route 112 in Haverhill.  New Hampshire State Police Troop F Lt. John Scarinza said a witness has come forward with information he may have seen Murray about four to five miles east of the accident scene. Scarinza said a man, whom he declined to identify, was returning from a construction job in the Franconia area when he spotted a young woman matching Murray’s description hurrying east on Route 112, about an hour after her accident.

We later learned that this construction worker was local resident Rick Forcier who lived at the intersection of 112 and Bradley Hill Road. (In this post I will generally refer to him as CW: construction worker, adapted from Topix).

At the time, LE considered it a credible lead and a search was conducted in the area of the sighting.  However nothing was found and it seems that the CW then became a key person of interest in Maura’s disappearance.  Although we have heard that he had become a person of interest much earlier based on statements he made to LE and the media [that Maura had come to his door], I have been unable to verify that he made these statements.  From my own read of the timeline, he came onto the radar of the investigation with this sighting a couple of months later.

On August 3, 2011, James Renner offered an explanation on his blog of how the incident transpired:

I spoke to Diane and Rusty Cowles, who lived across from Forcier on Bradley Hill and still see him to this day. Forcier explained to them that it was only when he was going over his bills that he pieced together that he had been working in Franconia the night Maura vanished and must have been coming home about a half hour after the accident. He thought back on that night and figured it must have been the same evening he saw what he thought at the time was a teenage boy in a hoodie crossing the road quickly in front of him, near 116, several miles East of the crash site. He wondered if it could have been Maura.

Earlier on Topix (Jan 12, 2009), poster “White Wash” provided consistent information about the sighting:

CW and some neighbors where talking and he mentioned seeing someone running but wasn’t sure when and then he went to look at the missing poster and call NHSP. In the mean time this person told the Store owner who was in almost daily contact with Fred. It was my understanding Fred immediatedly contacted CW.The EX saw it in the news then she jumped on the ban wagon with the LE/PI’s.

It has traditionally been thought that the construction worker saw a female, wearing a dark coat and light colored hood.  Questions were raised about whether this matched the previously unreleased ATM footage. In other words: did this witness have information that had been “held back” by law enforcement?  And indeed, when the ATM footage was released we saw she was wearing a light jacket – did it possibly have a light hood consistent with the sighting? However, if we look more closely, there is no indication that he claims to have seen 1) a female; 2) a dark coat or 3) a light hood.  In fact, it seems that he described seeing what he thought was a “teenage boy” in a “hoodie”.

The Caledonian Record 5/6/04 calls the sighting “about an hour” after the accident, whereas the Boston Globe 5/7/04 notes “The witness said he saw Murray around 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, around the time she disappeared.”  Law enforcement verified his work records and a Topix poster indicated that it was confirmed that he left Franconia at 7PM.  If we estimate that it is a 27-36 minute drive from Franconia (generalized) to CW house, then this sighting would be around 7:15-25 and he would have arrived home at 7:27-7:36.  We can move these time estimates around to look at different scenarios.

We know that CW didn’t see Maura at 7PM or 7:15 or 7:25.  Now, he might have seen her at 810PM+ if we believe she was running at high speeds.  Or he might have seen her at 8:30-9PM if she was running at slower speeds. But if LE verified that he left Franconia at 7PM then we know he didn’t see her on his way home.  And if we believe that he left Franconia at 7PM, there is no reason to think he saw her after 8PM. In other words, he might have seen someone but there is no basis to believe that he actually saw Maura that night.

Many find it odd that he didn’t realize she went missing on Monday 2/9.  So the next question: would he have seen lights and vehicles when he returned home?  Given everything happening on 112, it would seem that he would have seen all kinds of activity as he pulled into his driveway.  But it turns out he parked on Bradley Hill Road – so it’s not clear that he would have seen much of anything. In addition, it wholly depends on the exact time he arrived home.  Some moments he might see Maura’s flashers. Other moments he might see police lights. But there are other times when he might see nothing at all. According to one person who is local to the area “I could easily see him going home and noticing nothing at all”.  So it begins to seem possible that he could have arrived home without seeing the commotion on the road. 

True it is odd that CW didn’t realize that Maura had disappeared on this particular night.  It would seem that quite a bit of activity was happening on the street – both that night and in the days to follow.  On Wednesday the NHSP ran the sniffer dog. The following Monday police set up a blockade to stop cars to see who was coming through on the same day (Monday) at the same time as Maura’s accident. But he might be extremely private, busy or whatever the case. We might find many of things a little odd. But none of this rises to the level of making him a suspect in a potential criminal disappearance.

Is there any chance that CW saw Maura that night?  I would say that if LE verified that he left work at 7PM it seems impossible that he saw Maura.  If he left at, say, 8PM then we might want to reconsider the sighting. The next question: did CW suspiciously come forward a couple of months later to divert attention from his own location?  That perception seems wholly incorrect.

What if the initial dog track was accurate after all?

I have been critical of the initial dog track that was done on Wednesday, February 11th.  And although I still believe there is significant reason to question the validity and integrity of that process, in this post I am going to propose: what if it was accurate?  I can’t concede that the track was absolute proof of anything, but it’s worth considering the evidence it would give – or negate – if it’s accurate.

On Wednesday, February 11th, 36 hours after the crash, a dog from the New Hampshire State Police was brought in to track Maura’s scent.  The track was ultimately run about 39-40 hours after her accident on a “clean clear morning” with no fresh or additional snow since the accident.  The wind speed was estimated at between 2 and 4 MPH – considered low (good) for tracking a scent as wind disperses scent particles.  On the other hand, running a track after 39-40 hours, on a paved road with cars possibly dispersing the scent, is less than optimal.

The bloodhound ran the track twice. Both times the dog headed east and stopped down the road “within sight of the accident site”.  This track has been quoted as being “under 600 feet” “100 yards” and “near Atwood’s driveway”.   But on the Oxygen show, Todd Bogardus of the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife, who was the supervisor in charge of Maura’s search in 2004 noted the dog track ended “at the intersection of Bradley Hill Road”.  However, the subsequent illustration done on the show references “Butch’s cabin” and the end of Butch’s driveway.  As you can see from the photo, the exact location where the dog stopped would be helpful to better understand the relation to the Atwood home, the Forcier trailer, and the relation to Bradley Hill Road. †

It has been widely quoted that the dog stopped “in the middle of the road” but on the Oxygen show, Bogardus didn’t specifically state that the dog stopped in the middle of the road. I can only find the reference to the “middle of the road” in the Conway article. [For now, I will assume that we don’t know if it was in the “middle” of the road.]

The NHSP dog was given a scent article – reportedly a leather glove that Maura had been given for Christmas.  Fred and others were disappointed in this choice since it was a new glove that Maura may not have even worn.  Another problem with the scent article: it was reported by at least 2 witnesses that the door to the Saturn was open after police arrived at the scene on February 9th –  with at least one witness reporting that police were “searching” the vehicle.  This should at minimum give us doubts about the integrity of any article taken from the car.

It has been proposed that the dog was actually tracking Cecil Smith who went over to Butch’s home after arriving at the scene on 2/9. This is another reason it would be helpful to know the exact location where the dog stopped. It would, of course, also be helpful to know if Cecil was in Maura’s car on the evening of 2/9 and may have touched the glove.

On the other hand, the NHSP dog was affirmatively tracking something.  The dog was not confused or meandering, did not give vague indicators and repeated the same track both times.  John Healy of the New Hampshire League of Investigators (who was not involved in the case at the time of the dog track) notes that the initial track didn’t give us anything probative aside from possibly “… the direction she chose to walk in”.  On the other hand, Bogardus the supervisor notes on the Oxygen show “… it’s possible she may have been picked up by a vehicle there”.  [We should obtain the full transcript of his interview to determine if this was his ultimate conclusion, or just the clip shown on the show that didn’t represent all of his thoughts on the topic.]  In any case, the lead supervisor of Maura’s 2004 search seems to believe it is possible or likely she went off in a vehicle.

Episode 8 of the 107 Degrees podcast featured an interview with Katharine Dolin, an Assistant District Attorney from Missouri.  Ms. Dolin has not worked directly on Maura’s case but comments based on her experience: “… if the dog sniff died – which it sounds like – in the middle of the road, from my experience it’s much more likely that that person was put into a vehicle or got into a vehicle.”  She notes that if (Maura) had walked to a home or trailer, the dogs would have tracked her there (to her final location) and not just stopped.  She concludes “It sounds much more like she was transported from a vehicle from the area“.

This leads to one of the more puzzling aspects: why didn’t Butch see her? At this point we can’t assume he did or didn’t. We don’t know if he was a reliable witness. Some of us assume he was covering up for RF, but I can’t think of any plausible scenarios where RF picked her up in front of his house and drove her 10 feet into his driveway.

​It is also important to underline this finding: the dog didn’t track her going up to someone’s door, or hiding behind a tree, or ducking in the woods.  This may be one of the more important findings: we can’t simultaneously claim that the dog track lends suspicion to RF when it doesn’t lead up to his door or trailer.  We really can’t have it both ways.

I’m skeptical of the initial dog track.  I think there are many reasons to call it into question.  But if it tells us anything, it seems to tell us that she got into a car. Maybe more importantly it does not support the theory that she walked up to someone’s door – at least not at that intersection.

Were police in the Saturn the night of Maura’s disappearance?

In an article published in the SOCO Magazine in April 2011 “What Happened to Maura Murray?” local resident Susan Champy reports driving by the accident scene the night of Maura’s disappearance and seeing the door of the Saturn open:

When she drove by, Champy remembered noticing that police officers had one of the doors of Maura’s car open. She recalled reading in the newspaper afterward that they’d obtained a search warrant the next day to search the vehicle, which made her wonder whether they should have had the door open without first getting a search warrant.

In 2018-2019, Erinn Larkin interviewed Champy again and she reiterated that the door was open and police were “searching through the car” and “searching for something”. (See the 107 Degrees podcast: Episode 16 – “Witness B” and a New Lead in the Case).

At least one additional witness, separately, also reports that the door was open. In episode 26 of the Missing Maura Murray podcast, Tim and Lance read an email from (now called) witnesses C:

Myself, my friend and my cousin drove by Maura’s car that night she went missing. I can tell you the car was on the wrong side of the road facing the wrong direction. I didn’t see anyone in or near the car I didn’t see any lights either. I can’t recall the exact time but I was driving to the jail to leave money for a friend. I don’t think they keep a record like that this long but I had to sign in the money. I wasn’t there that long as I do know it was past visiting hours so I would say I was there maybe 10 minutes. After I left I went back the same way I came and stopped at the Rite Aid maybe there 5 minutes and headed back to Lincoln. On my way back I saw a cop car not 100% sure if it was a sedan or SUV, fire truck and an ambulance.

In a reddit discussion, this clarification was added:

This just in: One of the followers of the case told me that there was disagreement among those witnesses and “it was determined that the ambulance and fire trucks were NOT at the scene when they drove by. Only the police sedan. ( Witness C ) was mistaken. Her passenger said she also remembered seeing The Saturn’s door open when they went by.

The timing of this second pass by witnesses C is unknown as it would have to be either very early (before fire and ambulance arrived at 7:56) or much later after these emergency vehicles left at 8:49PM. We can revisit the timing of this later – for the purposes of this post the interesting fact is that it reiterates Susan Champy’s assertion that the car door was open.

In the police report Cecil Smith notes: ” .. the vehicle was locked and there was no one in the area”. and “A later search of the vehicle indicated the driver was Maura Murray”.

In his Oxygen interview Cecil Smith notes again that the vehicle was locked when he arrived. and when asked directly by Maggie Freleng if he opened the vehicle he answers:

Maggie: Did you ever get the car doors of that vehicle open that night?

Cecil Smith: I did not, no.

I tend to believe these witnesses who saw a car door open in part because there were at least two, separately, describing the same thing. (The accuracy of the first BOL could also support the theory that the car was opened although that discussion is beyond the scope of this post). It may be that Cecil himself didn’t open or search the vehicle as he says “I did not, no.”. It could have been related to the tow truck although Susan Champy apparently tells Erinn Larkin that “police” were searching the vehicle.

The issue here is not whether or not they had the legal ability to open or search the vehicle. I believe it is likely that they could have opened the vehicle as one person states: “… the police do not need permission to search an abandoned vehicle and a crashed vehicle sitting alongside a state highway with no driver is considered abandoned.” (source: facebook Maura Murray official group). Rather, the issue is the discrepancy here. In any case, when police talked to Fred the next day, they requested his permission to open/search the car, further suggesting they perceived that they needed permission and certainly inferring that they hadn’t opened/searched previously.

What are the implications of such a search the evening of 2/9 if it happened?

  1. It could explain the accuracy of the first BOL put out 2/9 at 7:54PM accurately describing the missing person as a 5’7″ female
  2. It could further compromise the integrity of the initial dog track which relied upon a scent object from her vehicle
  3. If they were “searching for something” a logical question is – what and why?
  4. It seems to be a case where someone is not telling the full truth.

​In conclusion, I think they opened her car, searched it, and then later said they didn’t.

What is the linkage between the October 2003 trip and Maura’s February 2004 destination?

In October 2003, Maura and Fred took a trip to four sites: Mt. Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Owl’s Head, and West Bond. Two of these are near Stowe, VT and two are in the White Mountains. These sites link very closely to Maura’s web searches and phone calls prior to leaving Amherst. Last year I created a series of maps to lay out these linkages.

Without drawing too many conclusions, I wanted to note the following:

– Maura was looking at effectively two areas: Stowe/Burlington and The White Mountains. These “areas” are 135 miles apart.

– Maura had a map to Burlington, VT and a note card mentioning Burlington, VT (leading to or mentioning the Winooski VT exit 15 off of I-89) However, at some point she would have bypassed the exit to Burlington (Exit 108 near Lebanon) and continued north on I-91 (unless she went up 93, etc.). In any case, at least that night, she seemed to have made a choice to head to the White Mountains rather than Stowe/Burlington.

– She could have been choosing a single destination or she could have been planning a multi-stop trip. Or she could have had no destination or a “type” of destination. [I personally think the party or meet up theory is less likely given that she was calling places so far apart.]

– My own thought it that, these four locations would be worthy of further look.  My additional thought is that the map provides a powerful visual with the linkage to the prior trip – although I would stop short of drawing any conclusions about her psychology. I would say it indicates a lack of firm destination, and a very clear linkage to her prior trip.

– What do others see when they look at these maps? What would be next steps in looking into these locations?

Map : Larger map showing all calls, web searches, combined with the October 2003 trip

Map: More general route map

Thank you to Clint Harting for spurring my thinking on this and for many others who added to excellent discussions on Reddit.