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.
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.
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.