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 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.