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.
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.
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.