In the first ~3 weeks following Maura’s disappearance, in addition to the official search headed by Fish and Game, a group of family members conducted their own search on foot and by car. They drove from Canada down to Massachusetts and from Vermont over to Maine – distributing flyers and checking hotels, motels, hospitals, bus stations, etc. Closer to the Weathered Barn Corner they drove and/or walked every road, trail and wooded are in the vicinity of her accident – with most focus given to 112 and Bradley Hill Rd. They searched east because of the dog scent and because, as Bill Rausch notes “police told us she was heading east”.
I have compiled two maps/graphics to provide an overview of this search.
This graphic shows an overview of the family search:
This graphic focuses closer to the Weathered Barn Corner heading approximately 5 miles to the east:
Overview of all searches for Maura “Why searchers don’t think Maura ended up in the woods”:
People talk a lot about “narrative steering” in this community. It seems to be shorthand for “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like your theory” or “I don’t like the topic of your recent post/blog/podcast”. Most of the time it’s used purely as an insult “he’s a steerer from way back” whereas other times it is used almost incomprehensibly “They are not “official” steerers, just clueless/illogical coincidence theorists that get triggered.”
The steerer designation also suggests that our discussions are very, very important. Whether or not the case is solved depends on stopping the steerers! Undoubtedly Cold Case is tracking us closely, ready to arrest any of us who say the wrong thing or make a post that tries to change the topic. But in fact, by all indications, LE doesn’t care much about our discussions calling them simply “not detrimental” to the extent we spread awareness of the case.
With that introduction, I jotted down my “top 10 reasons why police are not going to show up at your doorstep for “narrative steering” in the Maura Murray case” — and to be clear, I am not speaking of calling up someone with a fake lead but rather of the online discussions in the case:
MY TOP 10 REASONS WHY POLICE ARE NOT GOING TO SHOW UP AT YOUR DOORSTEP FOR “NARRATIVE STEERING” IN THE MAURA MURRAY CASE
1. Narrative steering as used in the MM community has no real or consistent meaning.
I scoured the professional literature for a definition of narrative steering and came up with very little. I acknowledge that in debate, politics and other fields we have various types of spin and propaganda. But in this community it has come to mean either “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like your theory” or “I don’t like the topic of your post/blog/podcast”. There might be relevant uses of the term (a recent episode of the Prosecutors Podcast had an interesting discussion in another case). But that is not this.
2. We have developed false dichotomies
One common use of the narrative steering insult in the community seems to be the dichotomy between Maura as “All American Girl” vs. Maura as an “extremely flawed person”. I think most people recognize that the truth is somewhere in the middle and that when Maura went missing she was a 21 year old college student with ups and downs in her life.
If we want to call those who see the good in Maura as “steerers” then we should do the same at the other extreme – those who are intent on exposing her skeletons, mistakes and family secrets.
3. UMass vs. New Hampshire is not a real thing
We also hear that there is a dichotomy between “Amherst” and “New Hampshire”. Somehow we are told that whenever someone tries to discuss “U Mass” they are met with significant pushback. But really, people who want to discuss UMass should discuss UMass. There are no rules of any group or sub as far as I know that “Amherst” is off limits. Simply go to a reddit sub and go to “create a post” and write about UMass and then discuss it. It’s really that easy. However, if you propose a theory you might be asked to back it up with evidence. And being asked to provide evidence for your theories is also not “steering”.
The truth is that many of the people accused of “steering” away from UMass have actually frequently discussed many aspects of Amherst and UMass.
I’ve seen suggestions that this dichotomy refers to people who think she was/wasn’t at the Weathered Barn Corner. I respect many people who make the case that we have scanty evidence that Maura was the driver, or that Maura left Amherst, or that Maura was seen by Atwood. Now I personally think that it was Maura at the WBC and that my time is best spent with thatassumption. These are complex decisions about how different people weigh and interpret evidence and use inference. But it’s not steering.
If you think it was not Maura in New Hampshire, then develop that case. I (as a surrogate here for the community) could be persuaded but reasserting over and over that there is no proof beyond the ATM video just keeps us at a standstill.
4. People have a right to disagree; people have a right to ask for your evidence
Here is the tricky part: people do not have to agree with you. I know that is a difficult concept. People are free to disagree with the theories of others. People may insist that you provide evidence for your theories. They may also provide evidence to contradict the theories that you put forward. This is not “steering”.
5. People have a right to talk about what they choose
Related to the previous point, people have the right to research what they think is important (and to NOT research topics they deem not important). If someone wants to talk about the accident timeline, they can. If someone wants to talk about Vasi, they can. If someone wants to talk about Butch Atwood (rest his soul), they can. But people do not have to engage with your post or podcast. There is no law that people interested in looking at search maps have to engage in a post about the damage to the Saturn.
I personally try to avoid discussions of the accident timeline and tree vs. snowbank. I figure that there are other minds on these topics combined with too much animus in getting in the fray. And my interests and aptitudes are elsewhere. I guess that’s my right. I also have personally eliminated/resolved many things in my own mind although I could reconsider if new evidence emerges or if someone offers a compelling new theory.
6. Don’t go “real life” here
In a different case, someone made a set of suggested guidelines for the community and one was “don’t go real life”. That statement is a joke in the Maura Murray community where we are gnawing at one another’s limbs in some perverted version of Dante’s 6th Circle . When I stumbled upon this case in 2017 I never dreamed that people would be friending me with fake accounts, scouring my personal photos, running credit and background checks, and far worse – and I am just me. One reddit poster had an interesting observation as to why this community has gone cannibalistic:
This is […} symptomatic of what seems to be happening in this community. Without very much to discuss regarding the actual case, people have to look elsewhere for drama/conflict/content to discuss. And if they can’t talk about the case itself, they turn to the next best thing–they look for drama and intrigue among the people talking about the case.
We probably could benefit from a good “community sociologist” to try to decode what is happening here. But investigating each other is just silly. Investigating the volunteers and posters is silly. Now, whether or not you can post these things depends on the specific guidelines of whatever group or forum or subreddit. But people can and will push back and that does not make them steerers.
7. No leads generated by the online community have panned out
We talk about narrative steering as if our discussions are extremely important to the course of the investigation. But in fact, Strelzin et al. indicated in Missing Maura Murray episode 27 “Questions and Answers” that no leads from the online community have actually panned out – at least by that time:
“The attention this case has garnered has generated some leads, although none have panned out when investigated. However, efforts to keep people’s attention focused on the case are not detrimental if they have the potential to generate new leads.”
Missing Maura Murray episode 27: Questions and Answers
Let me reiterate: no leads from the online community panned out when investigated. We’ve had family forums, topix, websleuths, facebook, reddit, twitter, and probably others not to mention tv shows and podcasts … and yet nothing panned out. And so where do we get the idea that talking about x vs y is a matter of top secret security clearance? I hate to break it to everyone but “not detrimental” doesn’t suggest that they take these discussions extremely seriously.
8. Law enforcement is not going to knock on your door for your topic of choice
Likewise it is inferred that law enforcement is watching us and will charge people guilty of narrative steering with obstruction. [I’m not speaking here of someone faking a lead or witness]. Again, I don’t get the feeling that law enforcement cares a whole lot about what we’re discussing. Who here has sent them an email? Did you get a response back? As someone pointed out: they didn’t even call Linda Salamone for 9 months – and we think they care that we are “steering the narrative” in 2020?
9. This community is not made up of professional steerers and CIA agents
I found one person who tried to list the types of steerers in the Maura Murray case – technically this person gave 3 but then mentioned the 4th so I added it:
1) circle of friends/professionals/DC people that run the steer for EL/BR and possibly other agencies
2) non-affiliated with EL/BR, and mostly just covering up upper agency “stand-down”.
3) Also it seems there are steerers that are not affiliated with each other, but are exercising their agendas (1 and 2) separately without knowledge of each other.
4) Then there’s a separate circle of clueless coincidence theorists obsessed with “civility” instead of truth.
No, this community is not made up of a network of professional propagandists. Some people have ties to the family. Some are interested in true crime. Some like puzzles. Some have other reasons for being involved. There are definitely all different types of people but … this is a missing persons case not a national security operation.
I used to live in DC but moved away over a decade ago. I somehow don’t think the National Science Foundation’s atmospheric science division is interested in “steering the narrative” in the Maura Murray case.
10. Keeping the conversation going is probably the most important thing
There IS value to the community. We might come up with a clue or lead. We might do searches and find Maura or one of her possessions. We might share a post that reaches someone who didn’t know they had a valuable piece of information. We might put pressure on someone involved in Maura’s disappearance. We might put pressure on LE to do more or release records. We might help the family simply by our interest, dedication and encouragement. There IS value but we are simply not as important as we think we are.
Someone I respect a great deal phrased it well:
This case should be a collaborative effort to help the Murray family find their missing loved one. A select few have lost sight of that principle. They’ve been blinded by hate, greed, and obsession. It’s become a circus of endless drama. Redditor 2020
Honestly, a post asking about Maura’s favorite color is probably just as valuable to the big picture as one looking at suspects. We are just keeping the conversation going in the hopes that it leads to something. Elevating our conversations to national security status is a little silly.
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 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 not seen anything persuasive.
I will focus this post on one incident that seems to have put him on the radar of investigators – the sighting. The origin of this post for me was last June 2019 when I wanted to compare the ATM sighting with the contractor’s description and realized that the information we had about the sighting was incorrect. This post will attempt to build on that finding.
Introduction to the sighting by the construction worker
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. (Note: his identity is confirmed in the Maribeth Conway article if nowhere else). According to the newspaper he reported the sighting on April 29th, 2004. [In this post I will generally refer to him as CW: construction worker, adapted from topix].
At the time, by all accounts, LE considered this a credible lead:
“Based on the description of what he saw, we believe it may have been Maura,” Scarinza said, referring to the witness seeing a young woman fitting Maura’s description about an hour after the accident. “Based on the place and based on the time, there is a good possibility the person he saw on 112 was Maura.”
To follow up on this lead, a search was conducted on May 8, 2004 involving 15 Fish and Game officers accompanied by 6 dogs (from the New England Canine and the Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team). The search was conducted by foot and helicopter “5 miles east of the accident site on Route 112” near the intersection with 116. However, nothing was found.
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.
However, it seems that the story about CW coming forward with this sighting was more complex than noted. On Topix (Jan 12, 2009) poster “White Wash” provided information on this point:
CW and some neighbors where (sic) 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.
On August 3, 2011, James Renner offered a similar explanation on his blog:
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.
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 Maura 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 CW 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”. By other accounts he did not know if it was a male or female but reported he saw “someone”.
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. A Topix poster indicated that it was confirmed that he left Franconia at 7PM however, I have no additional confirmation of this time. 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. 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 and drove at an average rate of speed without stops, 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 and a helicopter was flying overhead. The following week, police set up a blockade to stop cars to see who was coming through on the same day and 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.
Caledonian 5/6/04: “4-5 miles east; young woman “matching Murray’s description” hurrying east on route 112 about an hour after her accident
Boston Globe: 5/7/04: “The motorist, apparently a local contractor who commutes along the route every day, told police he saw the woman turn down a dirt road as he approached, said Laurie Murray” “State Police Lieutenant John Scarinza said the man reported seeing someone fitting Maura Murray’s description along the road in Haverhill, N.H., the Associated Press reported. The spot was 4 or 5 miles from where Murray had a minor car accident that disabled her vehicle just before her disappearance. Police said they will search that area this weekend. The witness said he saw Murray around 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, around the time she disappeared, police told the Murrays.
JR blog per neighbor Cowles: “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.”
DOE network: At 8:00 to 8:30 pm, a contractor returning home from Franconia saw a young person moving quickly on foot eastbound on Route 112 about 4 to 5 miles (6 to 8 km) east of where Maura’s vehicle was discovered. He noted that the young person was wearing jeans, a dark coat, and a light-colored hood. He didn’t report it to police immediately due to his own confusion of dates, only discovering three months later (when reviewing his work records) that he’d spotted the young person the same night Maura disappeared.
SOCO Article: “..New Hampshire State Police said that Maura was reportedly spotted four miles down the road shortly after her accident. A man reportedly saw Maura between 8 and 8:30 p.m. The person believed to be her was wearing jeans, a dark coat, and a light-colored hood.”
MMM podcast 76: “… there was a pretty publicized news story a couple of months after Maura went missing… a new witness came forward .. a young person wearing black jacket light hood moving quickly on foot wearing near the intersection of 116/112 which is 5 miles down the road approximately 30 minutes to an hour after
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.
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. Tom Shamshak who worked with the New Hampshire League of Investigators also mentions “middle of the road” in an interview on the 10 year anniversary of Maura’s disappearance.
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. The best scent articles are items that are very “close” to the individual such as sweaty clothes, a toothbrush, shoes, underwear. Therefore, and given that there were many other items in the Saturn, the choice of an unused glove seems unfortunate at best.
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.
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.
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.
The old blog was deleted shortly after Bill Jensen’s excellent article was published. Right now we’ve just started rebuilding; and your contributions will help.
First of all: Thanks, Bill, for writing such an accurate and informative piece.
I found three portions of the article particularly noteworthy.
1. “Maura’s 1996 Saturn … was ‘smoking something fierce,’ according to Fred Murray.’I said, “You can’t drive this car. The cops will pull you over in a heartbeat,”‘ he recalls. As a temporary fix, Fred says he suggested she put a rag inside the tailpipe to hide the smoke. He says he withdrew $4,000 over the course of eight ATM transactions and that on that Saturday he took Maura to purchase a car in Northampton. They ended up a couple of thousand dollars short, though, so Fred figured he’d go home, round up some more money, and come back another time.”
Fred’s recollection reinforces a portion of my theory from the blog: “On Saturday, Fred came to visit Maura as he had done in the past. He wanted to have a few drinks with his daughter, but he didn’t want her driving back to the dorm in her car. If Maura drove the Saturn back to campus, he thought, she would be practically begging for a DUI.[The police would] take one look at the car –— smoke coming from the tailpipe, a student sticker on the window — and she’d be done for. He insisted that Maura drive his car, instead.”
2. The article describes the items found in the Saturn. Significantly, it mentions “a MapQuest printout of directions to Burlington, Vermont” — there is no mention of the directions to Stowe reported by Maribeth Conway. This was one of the details that, admittedly, I obsessed over. See Jensen’s article (“[The items found in the car] would be obsessed over for the next decade”)
As reported on the blog, I contacted Helena Dwyer Murray. She recalled there being a single set of directions: to Burlington. I emphasized, to Jensen, the importance of addressing this detail. He said that he had contacted Maribeth Conway, that he hoped to speak with her and that he would ask her about the Stowe directions. It’s unclear whether he spoke with her. In any event, I am satisfied that Jensen investigated the issue and concluded that there was a single set of directions: to Burlington.
3. Jensen’s description of the Saturn accident does not appear to be consistent with James’ theory. Instead, it is somewhat ambiguous. Jensen wrote: “[Maura] took a shaky turn and crashed into a snow bank.”
I find this noteworthy because, in the past, I have disagreed with James Renner’s theory of the accident.