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The way Things used to be

The year 2004 was a year of social and cultural events, like years past and the years that would come. Facebook would launch and become one of the biggest social media platforms across the globe. The Iraq war would be in full effect, marked by the Battle of Fallujah. The Boston Red Sox would win the World Series, and George W. Bush was reelected as president of the United States. For many, this year would be like any other, passing by like the changing of the seasons. For one family, though, it would be marked by tragedy, marred by a missing family member, that would grow into one of the biggest mysteries New England would ever know.

Media Pressure Podcast. Aired 2/5/2024

First, I want to thank Shayna, from Light the Way Advocacy, for connecting myself with Maura’s family. I also want to thank Julie Murray, the sister of Maura, for taking the time to speak with me about her sister’s case, her time was much appreciated. Julie has been unstoppable in the fight for answers. I am beyond honored to write a story for Maura’s family, in hopes of shedding light on the facts about her disappearance.

Maura Murray was born May 4, 1982, to parents Frederick and Laurie Murray. Fred and Laurie had four children, with Freddy being the oldest and only child until he was seven. The Murray family grew with the birth of Kathleen, then followed in quick succession was Julie and then Maura. Years later when Fred and Laurie divorced Laurie had another child Kurt, in her new marriage. The Murray family lived in the small town of Hanson Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, holding just over 10,000 residents in the current day. As Julie made a joke only New Englanders would understand, “there was only one Dunkin Donuts”, that is how small it was. Hanson is famous for the cranberry industry that was established in 1912 that would later form to be the well-known Ocean Spray Corporation.

Julie & Maura

Fred and Laurie both worked in the medical field. Fred was a medical technician and Laurie, a nurse. As time-consuming as it may have been, with long hours, the parents always made time for the family. Fred and Laurie did not make a lot of money, which is important later. Growing up in a small town, USA, Fred always hoped his children would fall in love with a sport, any sport. Julie and Maura took quick to many different activities but running became both girls’ passion. This is something Julie shared was her best memories. Julie and Maura frequently trained together and to pass the time they shared life events and young adult problems that were oh so devasting to a young mind. To Fred this was great because he was also a runner, running in nine Boston Marathons, one of the most popular marathons in the world. This made it easy to be able to train his daughters. Aside from their shared love of running, the Murray family could often be found outdoors. Camping and hiking were a big deal in the family. This was great to keep the kids active but also cost next to nothing to do. They often camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire almost every year. The siblings bonded over breathing in the great outdoors.

Aside from bonding over sport, both Julie and Maura bonded over academics as well. Both knew they had to do well in school to create the best life for themselves. Since money was tight, Julie and Maura knew it was unlikely their parents would be able to pay for college. They had to be the best to have college paid for by scholarships. This was a mindset, and this made the sisters push and strive harder to these goals. Julie described her sister Maura as fun, laid-back, and goofy. She was always quick with a joke and held her own. She picked up math and science effortlessly. She was a very smart girl, and a quick thinker, talented both as an athlete and in the classroom. She was very humble and never felt like she was better than anyone else. Most importantly she was her own worst critic.

Maura graduated from Whitman-Hanson High School. With her overachieving success Maura had her choice of colleges. She had many options but ultimately chose to join her sister Julie at the prestigious United States Military Academy, West Point. During Maura’s second year at West Point she decided West Point was not in the cards for her anymore. She transferred her studies to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she intended to pursue a career in nursing just like her mother, Laurie.

On Friday, February 6, 2004, Maura was at her evening job as a lower-level security guard on campus. During her shift she received a call from her eldest sister Kathleen just after 10PM. Kathleen was struggling at the time with alcohol addiction. Kathleen was recently released from a treatment facility. Although it is unknown exactly what was said during this phone call, Kathleen informed Maura that Kathleen’s then fiancé took her to a liquor store. As you can imagine, this would be upsetting news to anyone. A few hours later Maura’s supervisor witnessed her crying, almost uncontrollably. The only words she could muster when asked what was wrong was “my sister”. Her supervisor escorted her back to the dorm room, offering to come inside to keep her company. Maura declined her offer. Keep in mind between the call and Maura’s supervisor interacting with her span hours. Is it possible that Maura was not crying about her sister at all when her supervisor came into contact with her.

On Saturday, February 7, 2004, Fred Murray arrives at UMASS to take Maura car shopping. Maura had been having troubles with her vehicle, a 1996 black Saturn sedan. According to Fred the car had blown a gasket and was running on three cylinders, causing issues like her vehicle smoking at times. The day as planned was unsuccessful as the goal of finding a new car was not accomplished. Fred was staying at a local hotel for this day trip, but he and Maura decided to grab dinner before he headed back to the hotel. They are joined by Maura’s good friend Kate Markopoulos. During this dinner the girls either learn of or discuss plans for a small party. After dinner Maura drops Fred off at the hotel while he allows Maura to take his car, a Toyota Corolla, to the party. Very little is known about the party, but it was held in one of the dorm rooms and it was quite small. There were approximately 7-8 people in attendance including Maura and her friend Kate. Maura and Kate knew the host of the party, a woman named Sara Alfieri. Later Alfieri stated she was asleep most of the time and could not provide any information as to what if anything that happened in her small dorm room party. Julie has tried to contact Sara over the years, but she has never received anything back. On February 8, in the early morning hours Maura leaves the party, alone. On the way back to the hotel her father was staying in, she was involved in a car accident with his vehicle. A tow truck driver gave her a ride back to the hotel all the while Maura was crying in the passenger seat. Maura arrived at the hotel at the 4o’clock hour. The front desk agent called Fred to inform him his daughter was there. Maura explained everything to Fred and emphasized how sorry she was for any trouble this would cause. She explained she did drink at the party but stopped drinking hours ago. Maura was never given a field sobriety test, typical of when there is suspicion of drinking while operating a motor vehicle. Fred, suggesting they sleep on it and discuss it in the morning after they had some rest. Once emotions had subsided in the morning Fred told Maura even though this was a major accident, totaling about 10k in damage, the insurance would cover any damages. Maura felt some type of relief but was still devastated, she never wanted to disappoint her father in the slightest. Again, she was her own worst critic. Fred told Maura she would have to pick up paperwork regarding the accident in the next couple days. Maura agreed to do so.

On Monday February 9, in the early morning hours, Maura started seeking information about renting a place to stay in Bartlett, New Hampshire. She made phone calls and conducted internet searches in hopes of finding one she could book. (Note, Julie has stated staying up late like this was not uncommon for Maura). She never spoke to anyone on the phone. Back in 2004, you could call a line that was a call center and that would have automation to let you know what was available. She also called a line 1-800-GO-STOW, these locations were in Stow VT. Maura never booked anything on the phone or on the internet. On the afternoon of February 9, Maura played phone tag with her boyfriend, Bill Rausch. Bill was in Oklahoma as he was in the Army, stationed in Fort Sill. Maura and Bill never ended up connecting but she did send him an email that she was not up for chatting, but she would call him later. Maura also submitted her nursing homework online. She sent her professors an email letting them know she had a “death in the family” and, would be away for about a week to take care of everything. (There was no death in the family). She then returned some borrowed clothing back to a friend, without seeing her but leaving the items in front of the friends’ dorm room. Maura grabbed some schoolbooks, clothing, and toiletries. At 3:00PM that day Maura jumped into her car and drove away from campus.

Shortly after leaving campus Maura stopped at an ATM at 3:15PM and withdrew $280, nearly everything she had in her account. She also stopped at a liquor store which she purchased $40 worth of alcohol, timestamped receipt of 3:43PM. A detail that was only recently learned, she cashed in some cans.  Almost three hours later at 7:27PM and over 100 miles away in Woodsville (Haverhill), New Hampshire a call came into the police department. This call was made by Faith Westman, a local resident, who resided on Wild Ammonoosuc Road, reported a car crash on the road just outside her home. She reported she heard a loud noise and when she looked out her window, she had seen the car off the side of the road and said she saw a man outside the car, smoking a cigarette. A short time later a neighbor of Westman, Butch Atwood, was driving his school bus home, just around the bend when he came across Maura and her wrecked vehicle. He stopped and offered her help. Butch asked her if she wanted to come with him to his home just up the road to keep warm, but Maura declined his offer. Butch then asked if she needed him to call for help, Maura declined again and told Butch she already called AAA. Butch, a long-time resident knew the cell reception in the area was nonexistent. Leaving Maura with her car he proceeded up the road and backed his bus into his driveway, calling the police at 7:42PM.

"Weathered Barn"

At 7:46PM the first officer arrived on scene. Maura was gone. Officer Cecil Smith noted the vehicle facing West on the side of the road. The vehicle was locked but upon peering inside noticed a box of red wine behind the driver’s seat as well as staining on the ceiling and door. He checked with the first callers, the Westman’s, with just a simple question, “where is the girl?”. The Westman’s did not know about a girl or where she could have gone. After that brief exchange Cecil proceeded to Butch Atwood’s residence asking him for assistance. He suggested Butch drive west, up some of the back roads in and around French Pond. EMS did respond but were quickly dismissed as there was no one to treat. Eight firefighters also responded, they helped search around the accident scene, with no luck. What is important to note is that night not one person reported searching East of the crash site.

The Crash Site

The following day Laurie was notified by Cecil Smith of the crash and that her youngest daughter Maura was missing. Cecil explained the abandoned car was locked and they needed a search warrant to enter the vehicle. Which he had just received. This search of the car gave them information to Fred but when calling the police department in his town, they gave Cecil Laurie’s information. Laurie was at home with an injury that prevented her from leaving her home, but she did contact her children. When Kathleen found out the information, she called Fred. Julie was away on base as she was to shortly deploy. After work that day, Fred attempted to spring into action but could not get in contact with the Haverhill Police Department. It wasn’t until 8PM that evening that officer Cecil Smith returned Fred’s call. Smith relayed the information that had transpired the night prior and they hoped to get a search going the following day. Early the next morning on February 11, Fred set out on the trip that would change his life forever, only he did not know it yet. The drive took forever with his mind racing with confusion and fear, but when he got closer, he knew to look for the infamous, “weathered barn”. He seen it, just up ahead. Turning the sharp curve, he saw the marks in the road and in the snowbank where Maura’s car once came to a stop two days prior. Maura’s vehicle was not there of course but neither was anyone else. Fred was overwhelmingly puzzled as he assumed there would be a search underway for his missing daughter. From this every moment the relationship between the Murray’s and law enforcement would be plagued with tension. Police did search later that day with K9’s using a new glove that was part of a set that Maura received from her boyfriend Bill as a gift. The dog tracked “Maura’s scent” from the crash site, East to the corner of Bradley Hill Road and abruptly stopped. Julie doesn’t understand to this day why they chose the gloves to use for Maura’s scent because no one is even sure she wore them yet.

While that search was being conducted the police at the station attempted to convince Fred that Maura would eventually show back up. After all they have many cases where a driver, driving while intoxicated, gets into an accident, and then flees the scene. They usually turn back up in a day or two. The problem was that it had already been days and there had been no contact or sighting of her. In the days following the police quickly changed their assumptions, the police or more specifically Jeff Williams, the chief of police in Haverhill offered up the fact that Maura was suicidal. They concluded this based on what they found in her dorm room. For starters, Maura’s room seemed to be packed up, they found a printed email from Bill confessing to cheating on her. That coupled with Maura crashing Fred’s car just days ago and her actions of drinking while driving. These details were easily explained however as Maura had just moved into her room a little over a week prior so actually, she didn’t pack up but had failed to unpack everything. The email from Bill was dated two years prior. The accident in Fred’s car was actually not that serious, Fred wasn’t even mad about it. And as to drinking and driving being connected to suicidal thoughts, well it looked like one of Haverhill’s very own may have had them if anyone wants to make that connection. Even though the Murray family denied any of these details could mean that, police continued to believe this, as per the first press release on February 12, 2004. The Haverhill Police department stated Maura may be suicidal. The snowball effect started and Fred became more and more suspicious of the police but tried his best to have an open line of communication with officials. Fred felt that they were not doing enough to aid in finding his daughter. He believed from the beginning Maura, his little girl, was in danger. Fred pleaded with the public to come forward with any information regarding his daughter. One witness did come forward with information. In fact, just days after the crash when she seen a news report of the Maura. For many years she was referred to as “Witness A”. Now known by her true name, Karen McNamara.

Maura's car at the tow yard

Karen’s story has never changed from day one. She left work that evening of February 9, 2004, at about 7:15PM. She always called home before getting to the area of Route 112 where there was no cell reception. She then always made a call when she is through the “dead area” near Beaver Pond. Around Swifter Road Karen saw a police SUV coming up behind her with its lights on, as it passed her on Goose Lane, she noted the SUV with the marker 001 on the back. She continued, not thinking twice. Only a few minutes later, once she made it down the road that turned into Route 112 the SUV 001 passed her again. This now raised her eyebrows, the same police vehicle with lights on going at a high rate of speed. They were both heading East on Route 112. When Karen got to the area of “The Weathered Barn AKA the Red Barn” and when she turned the sharp curve, she saw the police SUV 001 nose to nose with another car, a dark colored sedan. She passed the scene without seeing any people. She stopped her car a short distance away near Bradley Hill Road, looked back wondering if she should help. Karen had an instinctual feeling she should turn around to go and help but that feeling turned into thoughts of reason. What is she going to do? The police are already there and the scene, whatever was going on, seemed minor. She continued. Once she arrived near Beaver Pond because that is where you get the first cell service after miles of absolutely nothing. Reaching that point Karen made a call at 7:52PM, this call was routine to let her family know she was safe. The distance from the accident site to Beaver Pond is 11 miles. Based on her speed of travel the earliest she would have passed the accident scene would have been at 7:35PM. This stretch of road is very desolate and dark. It is in anyone’s best interest to take it slow as the road is narrow with many frost heaves from the cold winter air. Cecil Smith, the first responder arrived on scene at 7:46PM. A couple of days later Karen saw a news story about a missing young girl who disappeared the same night she witnessed all of this. The answering officer took Karen’s statement but surprisingly they called Karen back and asked, “Are you sure that is what you saw?”. Karen unwaveringly said yes but confused as to why. She had no real grasp of what she witnessed and the magnitude of just how important this sighting was. You see the SUV 001 was only driven by the chief. In this case Chief Jeff Williams. On that particular night Chief Willaims was not on duty. This was a planned day off for him. When this eyewitness story broke, Cecil Smith responded to it with a simple explanation. He was driving 001 that night and all of this must be a big misunderstanding. Once again there was a problem, because earlier in the evening Cecil Smith pulled over a driver for speeding and wrote the driver a ticket. The driver came forward to state Cecil Smith was not driving a SUV but a sedan. Searching deeper, the most common thing to look to is the police logs, only that specific incident was not logged. Furthermore, at the same time this driver was getting ticketed by Cecil Smith the SUV 001 was being pulled out of a snowbank on the other side of town completely wiping out Officer Smith’s story of driving the SUV 001. It was uncovered later that Chief Jeff Willaims was in fact driving the SUV 001 when the vehicle went into the ditch and was being pulled out. New Hampshire investigators looked into a report regarding Chief Willaims. This report expressed concerns Chief Willaims was driving while intoxicated that same evening and that’s why his SUV was in a ditch. He eventually leaves his post because he was later arrested for drunk driving. This account makes everyone really wonder was there someone at the accident scene before 7:46PM?

Original Poster circa 2004

Since 2004, the name Maura Murray became a household name and for good reason. The story of Maura is drenched in mystery. The earlier days and years were filled with harmful deflections of Maura’s mental state but evidence from day one has proven otherwise. Her email to her professors, submitting her assignments when they were due, taking clothing and other items she took with her, along with her schoolbooks leaving very little room for the plot of suicide to thicken. Not to mention she planned on filing out the paperwork her father requested, for the insurance claim, as those were found in her car. Another assumption was that Maura was concerned about the crash of her car, topped with drinking and she took off into any wooded area nearby. The problem is there was over two feet of snow on the ground that evening, it would have been next to impossible to trench though it and to stay hidden for so long. If she perished in the nearby woods, a search team at some point throughout the years would have come across her or her belongings. Her black sports backpack along with her cellphone, wallet, keys and the two bottles of missing liquor were not located in the car. The most controversial of all the theories, she ran away to start a new life. Put forth by a man I will not name but never once helped the Murray family, only destroyed their quest to find her. The internet ran with the assumption that a so called “tandem driver” was involved and the two ran to Canada to start a new life together. Not to mention the outrageous claims of Fred harming Maura. Disgusting, but let’s just call the past, the past. There is again no evidence that Maura intended on leaving her life better yet with someone else. Maura’s actions that day, although at times perplexing, paint a picture of a young girl wanting to go somewhere, anywhere, to get her mind off all the things she was dealing with, to just breathe but still accomplish some things like her studies, but with a different scenery. It is possible she could have been meeting with an acquaintance just to have some sort of company. Maybe this person has not come forward for the simple fact that everything about Maura’s case blew up so big that they were too scared. Or perhaps it was an old childhood friend, and she knew where they lived but never touched base with them and had a plan of just showing up, unannounced, hoping to crash for a few days. Maybe some of the alcohol was a gift to show some appreciation for letting her stay and unwind. In the Oxygen series (The Disappearance of Maura Murray) the investigative team put together a timeline for Maura’s steps on February 9, 2004. They found that from campus to the crash site, minus some time for her stops at the ATM and the liquor store there was a gap in missing time. Still to this day the missing time is a huge mystery. However, as unexplained as it may seem, there are some reasonable explanations for it. If Maura stopped for gas, (her tank was nearly full) coupled with grabbing a bite to eat. Maybe she sat in her car just thinking about life, taking in the surroundings. The White Mountains, where she shared so many memories with her beloved family. All the theories and wild speculation put forth over the past two decades are not factual. It seems too clear Maura wanted space from her day-to-day life as a nursing student, she made plans spur of the moment but when her car crashed around the bend near the weathered barn all her plans changed. Something happened in a very short amount of time when no one was watching. Sometimes the simplest of clues are front and center, you just must figure out what the missing piece is. No matter what happened, the family wants and deserves answers as to what became of Maura that night. Who or what senselessly took her out of the lives of her loved ones. Her family now only has photographs, that hold memories of the way things used to be.

Join Julie Murray's TikTok account where she frequently updates the public on Maura's case.

Julie has also joined the podcasting world, giving a different perspective on Maura's case.

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I hope they find answers soon. No one should have to be lost forever.

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