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”:
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