Tag Archives: missing persons

My personal “top 10 takeaways” from reading the FOIA materials from the Maura Murray case

In January 2006, Fred Murray went to the Grafton County Superior Court to obtain the case files relating to Maura’s disappearance.  When his request was denied, he appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Although the court also denied his request, they did require the state to explain further about the nature of the evidence in their possession.  The following are my “non-expert” observations from reading the documents available from this proceeding as well as listening to available hearings from the NH Supreme Court, and the 107 Degrees Podcast episode 3.  

VERY QUICK BACKGROUND ON THE PROCESS

I am not a lawyer so I will try to start with a brief “easy to understand” overview of the process for obtaining information.  New Hampshire has a “Right-to-Know” Law (RSA 91-A) that functions in conjunction with the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  All of the FOIA provisions also apply to the New Hampshire law. The New Hampshire law has exemptions that center around personal privacy – in other words you can’t obtain someone’s school records, bank records, and other types of personal/confidential information.  Those exemptions alone would not go far in denying Fred’s request for information. However, “FOIA” has a key clause 7A exempting materials that could interfere with an ongoing investigation, specifically:  

“… to the extent that production of such law enforcement records or information . . . could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” 

In the end, Fred’s request was denied partly because it contained some of the personal information exempted by the New Hampshire law.  But his request was largely denied due to the FOIA exemption 7A. What does this mean? It means that they argued that it was an ongoing investigation and one that had a “reasonable likelihood” of leading to an enforcement proceeding (“reasonable likelihood” was determined to be the operative legal standard).  

RSA 91-A and FOIA:


TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM THE FOIA MATERIALS

Building on that background on RSA 91-A and FOIA, the following are my “Top 10” surprises or takeaways from reading the materials from the materials obtained through Fred’s legal case aka Frederick J. Murray v Special Investigation Unit of the Division of State Police of the New Hampshire Department of Safety et al.

1. THE MAURA MURRAY CASE FILE IS EXTREMELY LARGE

Maura’s case file appears to be a large one consisting of:

  • 2938 pages
  • 6 volumes
  • 66 law enforcement personnel narratives
  • 254 contacts
  • 106 witness interviews
  • 19 written witness statements
  • 3 transcribed witness interviews
  • 4 polygraphs

The online community has noted any number of gaps in the State’s investigation.  We can either conclude that their investigation has not been thorough OR that we are not understanding the focus of their investigation.

2. THE DOCUMENTS MENTION A GRAND JURY

At this point the notion of a grand jury in this case is fairly well known.  Art Roderick has told us that there were at least two grand juries that were “investigative in nature”.  However, we first learned of the existence of some form of grand jury process from these documents which state – among other citations: “There are Grand Jury subpoenas that are not public and which would pinpoint the focus of the investigation.”  

We know a Grand Jury was held prior to April 2007 due to the record of a hearing on the Fred Murray matter on April 13, 2007 and subpoenas submitted as early as March 15th.  We can also reasonably conclude that there was no indictment coming out of any grand jury in this case. Some legal experts have stated that the function of a New Hampshire grand jury is to indict an individual in a criminal proceeding and thus, it seems unusual or improbable that these would be investigative in nature.  

3. THE INVESTIGATION IS OVERWHELMINGLY FOCUSED ON NEW HAMPSHIRE  

Although this is hardly breaking news, it is worth pointing out that – if we go by the affiliations of the law enforcement personnel – the investigation centered on New Hampshire.  In other words, it was not national, it was not international. The investigation only tangentially ventured into other states (this will be covered in the next bullet). For what it’s worth, there is nothing in Oklahoma or Ohio or Canada or Florida or Tennessee – a few jurisdictions that have been discussed.  The investigation in Massachusetts seems focused on Amherst/Hadley.

SUMMARY OF LE UNITS INVOLVED BY NUMBER

  • NHSP 44 (5 of these Major Crimes Unit)
  • Haverhill PD 9
  • UMass PD 7
  • Rochester PD 3
  • VSP 3
  • FBI 2
  • NH Fish and Game 2
  • Sullivan County DOC 2
  • Amherst PO 1
  • Exeter PD 1
  • Grafton County Sheriff 1
  • Hadley PD 1
  • Oxford County ME 1

4. THERE WERE SOME UNUSUAL JURISDICTIONS INVOLVED

Some LE units jump out as unusual although we are able to find explanations in most cases:

Rochester: this is accounted for by a sighting of Maura that “went nowhere”

https://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/another-search-for-maura-murray-turns-up-little/article_fd431ff6-8918-5a0a-ba11-59d59d3a131b.html

Exeter: mentioned briefly as a place searched (same article)

https://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/another-search-for-maura-murray-turns-up-little/article_fd431ff6-8918-5a0a-ba11-59d59d3a131b.html

Oxford County, ME: Oxford County Maine is where Bill went to check the hospital in Norway/Paris but this reference is still not fully understood or explained.

Sullivan County DOC.- there is a nearby Sullivan County in NH; Sullivan County in NY has a prison – but this is unexplained.

5. THE STATE LISTED 20 CATEGORIES OF EVIDENCE

To respond to Fred, the State provided a page with 20 categories of evidence.  (See the documents for the full description of each of these categories)

  1. Phone Records
  2. Subpoenas (including search warrants)
  3. Credit card information
  4. Criminal record checks
  5. Narrative reports by investigators
  6. Witness interviews (tapes and transcripts) – 19 written statements; 3 transcribed interviews
  7. Polygraph examinations (4)
  8. Possessed property reports
  9. Lab reports
  10. Policy/dispatch call logs
  11. Photographs
  12. Correspondence
  13. Attorney notes
  14. One-party intercept memoranda
  15. Maps and diagrams
  16. Investigative duty assignment (nothing in this category)
  17. Tax records
  18. Employment personnel files
  19. Medical records
  20. Military records

6. WHAT IS A ONE-PARTY INTERCEPT MEMORANDUM?

One of the more interesting details in the list of 20 is the “one party intercept memorandum”. We understand that this refers to either the wiretapping of a phone or someone “wearing a wire”.  In New Hampshire, wiretapping is governed by RSA 570-A

https://law.justia.com/codes/new-hampshire/2010/titlelviii/chapter570-a/

But what is the “memorandum” noted?  We find the answer to the memorandum question with the approval requirement specified  in section II(d):

(d) An investigative or law enforcement officer in the ordinary course of the officer’s duties pertaining to the conducting of investigations of organized crime, offenses enumerated in this chapter, solid waste violations under RSA 149-M:9, I and II, or harassing or obscene telephone calls to intercept a telecommunication or oral communication, when such person is a party to the communication or one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception; provided, however, that no such interception shall be made unless the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, or an assistant attorney general designated by the attorney general determines that there exists a reasonable suspicion that evidence of criminal conduct will be derived from such interception. Oral authorization for the interception may be given and a written memorandum of said determination and its basis shall be made within 72 hours thereafter. The memorandum shall be kept on file in the office of the attorney general.

In other words, if a law enforcement officer wants to record someone, they must get prior approval in the form of a memorandum.  That said, the memorandum noted in Maura’s case would seem to give LE approval to go forward with recording someone. However, we don’t know if it was executed and we don’t know the target.

7. THE ATTORNEY FOR THE STATE INDICATED THERE WERE SUSPECTS UNDER CURRENT INVESTIGATION

Despite telling us “we can’t rule out that Maura may have left at her own volition” we do learn that there are suspects currently under investigation:

Prosecutor Nancy Smith … “revealing anything about Landry’s investigation, even in general terms, might identify suspects from a small community …” … “The people – the identity of those people is fairly well known.”

Ervin: “Is the investigation into those individuals currently ongoing?”

Landry: “Yes”

What can we conclude from this?  We might conclude that the investigation into this potential crime is focused on individuals currently (then) living in New Hampshire or in the broad vicinity of the accident site.  I am not sure what to make of the “fairly well known” identities. Does this mean that they are known to their community or that they are the names actively discussed? We don’t know.

8. WHAT IS AN “ACTIVE INVESTIGATION”?

The State insisted that the case was an active investigation but provided little clarification as to what that meant.  It was noted that there was a detective “monitoring the case each day” and that the records were “actively being used”.  They discussed such things as “following up on leads”. To me the investigation sounded less than proactive but as we don’t know the nature and focus of the investigation we can’t draw conclusions.

9. THE PHRASE “WOULD PINPOINT THE FOCUS OF THE INVESTIGATION” IS USED CONSISTENTLY

The documents consistently note that revealing x or y would “pinpoint the focus of the investigation”. Because the phrase is used consistently, each specific usage seems to provide little insight.

10. 75% CHANCE OF WHAT?

Strelzin ultimately quashed Fred’s request by stating that there was a 75% likelihood of a future enforcement proceeding. 

Specifically:

Q: You indicated in responding to Attorney Ervin that you could give him a percentage that you have in mind of likelihood. What is that percentage regarding likelihood of this results in a criminal case?

A: I mean….I’d say it’s probably 75%.

Q: Pardon?

A: I’d say it’s probably 75%.

The transcript can be found in this link:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7_atAFvowRhMU0xOWNTRTY0WEk/view

The question becomes: was Strelzin speaking in generalities about the likelihood of bringing “this type of case” to a criminal case or was he speaking specifically about the Maura Murray case?

According to Fred Murray:

“The judge asked the assistant attorney general what was the percentage of bringing charges, and he [Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin] rolls his eyes, looks at the floor and then says, ’75 percent.’ He pulled it out of his back pocket (ass),”

“My question now to the [assistant] AG is, what is 75 percent of nothing? You said 75 percent two years ago. You made that up. Nothing has happened,”

One poster on reddit summed it up as:

75 % chance of eventually having enough information to convict.

As in 75% of the time we get one of these cold cases, it works out.

Parts sold separately.

Some assembly required.

And another explains:

“Strezlin and company were trying to argue in generalities, because quite frankly, they were getting their butts kicked in court. The judges were not buying the reasons that police wouldn’t release the records because they hadn’t established that a crime had taken place by a long shot.

So instead, Strezlin and company turned to prosecutions in general. they brought up other cases (one was like 20 years old where they finally got a conviction) to show the court that since a crime can’t be ruled out in maura’s case, it is possible (no matter how much time passes) that they can still convict. so that is why they shouldn’t release anything to fred.”

I don’t think that it was an abstract number.  The preceding question was “What is that percentage regarding likelihood of this results in a criminal case?”.  At best Strelzin was playing on the ambiguity of the situation. According to one source, Strelzin bragged outside the courtroom that there was a 75% chance he would be filing charges – then turned his back when a grand jury failed to indict (no body).  That’s hearsay but to me it has an air of truth.

Sources used:

Murray case – NH Supreme Court (3 parts)

Reddit Maura Murray Evidence 

107 Degrees Podcast episode 3

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.