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.

My Visit to The Crash Site

I spent some time, today, at the site of Maura’s crash in New Hampshire. I will upload the video I took as soon as it transfers from my phone to my laptop. Of note was my conversation with Mr. Westman, which I will describe here.

Mr. Westman, shaking out a rug in his front lawn, was nice enough to answer some of my questions about his observations of the crash.

He had been in his office, with Mrs. Westman, when he heard a crash. In response, he and Mrs. Westman went to the kitchen, which is in the smaller section of the house.

Maura Murray

They looked out the side windows (the ones closest to the ribbon) and saw Maura’s car facing westward in the eastbound lane.

I asked Mr. Westman whether Maura might have impacted a snowbank in front of his house. He stated that she could not have done so; she “definitely” impacted by the trees near her ribbon. He explained that he had heard the impact and he was certain of its location.

I asked Mr. Westman about the red dot — what did he believe that it was? He stated that, originally, he and Mrs. Westman believed that it was a cigarette. Later, “a family member” of Maura’s “told” him that it was not a cigarette and that, instead, it was a cellphone charger.

I asked Mr. Westman why he and Mrs. Westman stopped watching the site. He stated that Mrs. Westman remained in the kitchen until the cruiser arrived, but acknowledged that she had not made it a point to watch the scene the entire time. He believes, however, that Mrs. Westman would have seen Maura traveling west had she done so.

Does any of this information alter your perceptions of the case? If so, how?

Lost and Found in the White Mountains

I read this today, and thought it worth reblogging.

Great Northern Ink Spot

(This story was written in May 2004 and published in the New Hampshire Sunday News.)

Image A Blackhawk helicopter in a search of Waterville Valley.

If nowhere is a place where no one has trod for decades, then Mount Kancamagus is in the middle of it.

A hiker found himself there last week on what the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide describes as a “trail-less mass of round, wooded ridges” and where he stumbled upon human remains.

Several law enforcement officials returned with the man the next day to retrieve them and earlier this week, dental records confirmed that they were those of Steven Romines, a Massachusetts man who went missing almost 20 years ago, in October of 1984. Investigators say initial reports had indicated that he was “distraught” at the time and while no cause of death was determined, it is likely that he committed suicide.

“From where…

View original post 1,572 more words

Perspective

By Tyler from Pittsburgh

Yesterday we had an opportunity to speak with blogger John Allore.

Tragically, John’s sister was murdered in 1978 in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. The unanswered questions surrounding the fate of his sister inspired John to start a crime blog in 2002. Over the years John has searched for answers for his sister, Theresa, as well as for other murdered and missing women — including Maura Murray.

John began covering Maura’s story shortly after she disappeared in 2004. As someone who had extensive experience investigating the unknown fate of a loved one, he reached out to the families of both Maura as well as Brianna Maitland.

“I was doing an investigation on my sister’s case,” he says, “from that I started to get pulled into these things more and more.”

John has corresponded with Helena Murray, among others. He even briefly exchanged emails with Maura’s father, Fred Murray, whom he put in contact with Canadian authorities.

Presently, John is surprised that so much interest has arisen with regards to the possibility that Maura may be in the province of Quebec.

“It was shocking to me to see that they had posted ‘have you seen this woman’ posters in the Eastern Township newspapers in Sherbrooke.”

He’s right. From our perspective, there is a lack of evidence that suggests Maura fled the country. That’s not to say turning over every stone isn’t valuable, but John told us a tale of what can happen when too much hype is focused on a single theory.

“I think it was the summer of 2005, someone put me in contact with Dateline NBC,” he recalled, “In the course of these conversations we were also talking about Maura and we were talking about Brianna. And the producer at Dateline was pushing us… To go on record as saying we think there is a link between Theresa’s murder and Brianna and Maura — we wouldn’t do it because there was no factual basis for it. So the segment didn’t air.”

That’s an extremely unfortunate situation. Who knows how much help a nationally televised segment could have provided any of the three disappearances. It’s an ugly snapshot of the free-falling quality of the news media.

“It’s like what’s happening in Malaysia right now,” John said, referencing missing Malaysian airliner Flight 370, “No one knows anything so they fabricate everything based on absolutely no evidence… Over time they [the media] start operating in their own interests. They were suggesting she [Theresa] was a runaway, she was a drug addict, she was a lesbian… My parents got so fed up with it that they began to worry about how it would affect me and my brother who were 13 and 17… So they just shut down and stopped talking to anyone.”

John’s perspective is a valuable one. It’s easy to view a situation from the outside looking in and make assumptions. Answers to questions that we often decide are complex are likely very simple. In the case of Fred Murray, it’s not hard to understand why after ten years of attention, he may simply feel the media does more harm than good in some cases.

Whatever you ultimately believe, don’t rule out the most simple explanations; explanations which have very solid evidence to back them up. It’s always fun to delve into the most exciting of theories. But there is a very strong possibility Maura rests somewhere not far from that bend in the road on Route 112 — just as John’s sister, Theresa, was eventually found less than a mile from where she disappeared.

Please visit John Allore’s blog at theresaallore.com

How I Think it Happened

By Tyler from Pittsburgh

– February 6, 2004.

Maura Murray felt helpless. Her eating disorder was out of control, she had been committing petty crimes and her relationship with her longtime boyfriend was in shambles due to infidelity by both parties. To top it all off, her latest local flame had just dumped her. Her life was falling apart. At her job as desk security at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she sat quiet; reflective. Maura began to break down. By the time her supervisor walked in, she was having a full-on panic attack. After mumbling an excuse as to why she had her cell phone with her against work regulations, Maura was relieved of her duties and escorted to her dorm room.

– February 7, 2004.

Maura’s father is in town for a visit. They spend time with each other and go shopping for a car. Maura picks out a vehicle she likes and her father agrees to the purchase. However, the price tag is a little more than he anticipated and they agree he will return to Amherst to buy the car at a later date.

– February 8, 2004.

Maura is feeling uncomfortable at a gathering of friends. It’s early in the morning, she isn’t in the mood to party and feels as if she may break down again. Her father had let her borrow his Toyota Corolla because Maura’s Saturn was in poor shape. Such bad shape in fact that she had recently shoved a rag deep into the tailpipe in order to prevent the vehicle from spewing smoke. As it were, her father felt safer letting her drive his car around for the weekend.

She attempts to excuse herself from the party several times explaining that she should return her father’s car. Her friends tell her it would be silly do so at such an hour. Eventually, Maura departs the group under the pretense that she will retire to her dorm room. In reality – she intends to follow through with her plan to drive to the hotel. Maura had been spending nights at her now ex-beau’s place since returning to school from winter break. And with her dorm still nearly entirely unpacked, dad’s hotel room is an inviting alternative.

It’s a short drive to the Quality Inn, but Maura is tired. She falls asleep; jolted awake just as the Corolla makes impact with a guard rail. The car is towed, and despite the possibility of alcohol in her system, the officer doesn’t arrest her. She appears to be a nice young girl who simply made a mistake. Maura is dropped off at her father’s hotel and spends the remainder of the morning there.

– February 9, 2004.

Throughout the day Maura spends time researching information on lodging in Vermont and New Hampshire. She tends to some personal calls and prints out directions to Burlington, Vermont. She feels like she needs to get away from it all for a while. Maura fabricates an excuse that will explain her absence in an email to professors. The trip up north will be a heavenly retreat from all the built-up stress which has climaxed in Amherst.

Maura embarks for Vermont. She stops at an ATM for some cash and purchases liquor — plenty of it. She’s enjoying the drive. Impulsively, she decides to take a detour towards an area she has always loved to visit — the White Mountains of New Hampshire; just for fun. She is driving well above the speed limit and drinking. Before she can realize the cause, she spins out, coming to rest facing the wrong direction in the wrong lane. Another accident. She can’t believe she has wrecked AGAIN. The weathered barn curve had come up on her so abruptly.

She fumbles around with her phone. Her boyfriend’s family had given her a AAA membership for Christmas. That will come in handy. Suddenly, Maura realizes that she has open alcohol in the vehicle. She knows what getting a DUI will mean for her future. She hurries out of the car and begins dumping the alcohol.

A bus pulls up. The driver asks if he can be of any assistance and mentions calling the police. Maura thanks him, but deceptively explains that she has already dialed AAA and sends him on his way. The bus driver continues to his residence just a short distance down the road. He parks his bus in an unusual manner in an attempt to get a better viewpoint of the accident. He informs his wife of the situation then returns to the bus. Nearby, several of his neighbors are also paying attention to the crash.

Maura makes quick work of the opened alcohol and tries to call AAA. No service. She walks around the Saturn in an attempt to get a signal. Nothing. She retrieves her backpack and puts the rest of the liquor and some other items inside, then begins walking towards the driveway where the bus driver had pulled in — she was going to need his help after all.

As Maura makes her way towards the man’s house, a vehicle rolls up next to her. She speaks with the stranger in the driver’s seat through his window and accepts his offer of a ride into town. It’s a godsend. She can handle the car tomorrow; after the buzz has worn off. Thanking him, Maura opens the passenger door and climbs inside — never to be seen again.

Police eventually obtain valuable information from local witnesses. Some of whom are instructed not to share their observations with the public.

– March 19, 2014.

Authorities believe foul play was involved in Maura Murray’s disappearance. But ten years later — she has not been located and no charges have been filed.