On February 9, 2004, University of Massachusetts (UMass) student Maura Murray got into her Saturn Sedan and made a mysterious trip up north. Several witnesses spotted the vehicle coming into a crash in a wooded area in Haverhill, New Hampshire. When a bus driver named Butch Atwood approached the beat-up Sedan, he found a seemingly uninjured yet anxious Murray on the car seat. She quickly told him not to call authorities, as she had already contacted AAA and didn’t need his help. However, Atwood phoned police anyway, and it was later discovered that no such call to the AAA was made on Murray’s part. When state patrol arrived, Murray was nowhere to be found.
Nobody knew where Murray was headed to in the first place. She had only informed her university professors that she was taking a week off due to a death in the family. When the investigation began, Murray’s family was not able to confirm any death.
So what happened to Maura Murray? How could a seemingly happy and smart young woman disappear from the face of the earth? Thirteen years later, the Maura Murray case has only raised more questions than answers.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray
Who is Maura Murray?
Maura Murray was the perfect embodiment of an “all-American girl.” She was smart, athletic, and excelled in almost everything she did. Before becoming the subject of one of the most baffling cases of the twenty-first century, Murray was a young woman with a dream. The 22-year-old studied at West Point University, one of the most prestigious military academies in the United States. She later transferred to UMass at Amherst to pursue nursing and had her heart set out to marry longtime love, Billy Rausch. At the time of her disappearance, Rausch was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Prior to disappearance
According to several accounts, Murray had been dealing with some personal problems in the days leading to her trip. During her time at UMass, Murray got into trouble with the law and was charged with credit card fraud just three months before her disappearance.
On February 5, Murray called her older sister Kathleen while she was on duty at her job campus-security job. The two reportedly discussed some difficulty in Kathleen’s relationship with her fiancé. On the same night, Murray suffered a tearful breakdown, which was witnessed by her duty supervisor, Karen Mayotte. According to the supervisor, Murray offered no further explanation for her breakdown, only uttering the words “my sister.”
On Saturday, February 7, Murray got a visit from he father, Frederick Murray. The two went car-shopping and later had dinner together. After dropping her father at his motel room, Murray asked if she could borrow her father’s Toyota Corolla to attend a dorm party on campus. Murray left that party at 3:30 a.m., but before she reached her father’s motel, she crashed into a guardrail and caused $10,000 worth of damage to the vehicle.
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Murray managed to evade arrest after the accident, but she was visibly upset over what had happened. According to Fred, his daughter felt as though she had disappointed him once again. On February 8, Fred left Amherst and told Murray on the phone that the insurance company was going to cover the costs, assuring her that there was no need to worry. The two agreed to talk again on Monday to discuss the insurance claims through the phone.
On the day of her disappearance, Maura e-mailed her boyfriend, stating, “I got your messages, but honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone. I promise to call today, though.” She later looked into renting a unit in the Bartlett, New Hampshire, condominium her family had vacationed at before. Before leaving UMass, Murray sent her work supervisor another e-mail to notify her that she would be out of town for a week due to a death in the family. However, Murray’s own family confirmed that no one had died.
At 3:30 p.m., Murray drove off UMass in her black Saturn sedan. Aside from the e-mails and rental inquiry, investigators found out that Murray had been searching for directions to Berkshire in Burlington, Vermont.
The accident and the disappearance
Murray was last seen that day in the White Mountains hamlet of Haverhill, New Hampshire. Her car was stuck in the embankment, but Murray appeared uninjured from the accident. She declined help from local bus driver Butch Atwood and said she called AAA already. However, Atwood knew that this was a lie since there was no cell reception in the area. He proceeded to call authorities not long after.
When a police officer arrived at the scene, Murray had vanished. The impact had pushed the car’s radiator into the fan, completely breaking it. Authorities found red stains, which were believed to be red wine, all over the Saturn. They also recovered an empty beer bottle and a box of Franzia wine. Other curious items were found inside, including a pair of gloves, makeup, jewelry, two sets of MapQuest driving directions for Burlington and Stowe, and a book about scaling the White Mountains. Murray’s debit card, credit card, and cell phone were all missing. In the days after her disappearance, there were no records of her cards being used.
Investigation and leads
On February 10, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) report for Murray was issued. She was described to be wearing a dark coat, jeans, and a black backpack. Murray’s whole family were informed about her disappearance, and they arrived in Haverhill the next day with her boyfriend, Billy Rausch.
A police dog managed to track the scent from one of Murray’s gloves 100 yards from where her vehicle was discovered but lost the scent.
On February 12, Fred Murray and Billy Rausch held a press conference after the story garnered significant media attention. At 3:05 p.m. that day, police reported that Murray could be headed to the Kancamagus Highway area. She was listed as “endangered and possible suicidal” due to her past actions.
The FBI joined the investigation when Murray’s missing case stretched to ten days. This was a new move for authorities, considering how missing person cases are normally handled by state police. The FBI once again interviewed the Murray family and announced that they were expanding the search nationwide. Helicopters equipped with thermal cameras, tracking dogs, and cadaver dogs were deployed to aid in the search for Murray.
The plot thickens . . .
When Murray disappeared, police explored different angles of her life, starting with her relationship with Rausch.
En route to Havenhill, Billy Rausch was said to have received a voicemail that sounded like Murray crying. However, Rausch had deleted the message before police could investigate the call even further.
Another possibility was that Murray had walked away from the scene and hitched a ride with a passerby. She could have dropped off at a bus station and fled, or she may have been abducted. One witness even came forward, stating that he saw someone matching Murray’s description running quickly on foot in nearby Franconia. Unfortunately, he reported this to police too late due to his own confusion of the dates.
Some have suggested that Murray may have wandered off into the woods and was overcome by the elements. But because dogs couldn’t trace her scent and there were no footprints in the fresh snow, that possibility was later eliminated.
A serial killer on the loose?
A month later, a young woman named Brianna Maitland disappeared. Her car was found crashed and abandoned outside a Vermont farmhouse, 100 miles from where Murray was last seen. Like Murray, Maitland was never found, and the eerie similarities prompted the belief that the two cases were related. But with no leads to the missing women, the case went cold.
Other theories about Maura’s disappearance
Investigative journalist and author James Renner delved into the Maura Murray case last 2011. His non-fiction book titled True Crime Addict gained significant attention due to the mind-blowing—and somewhat scandalous—theories about Murray’s disappearance, including one that stated that she was pregnant with her track coach’s baby. Renner claimed that Murray “ran away to survive. To protect herself and, if the police are correct, her baby. And talk about a motive to remain quiet for 11 years, can you get anything better than protecting a kid? What wouldn’t you do? That’s certainly one way to avoid any custody troubles.”
The family has since slammed the book, criticizing Renner for being way out of line. Fred Murray has been particularly outspoken about his displeasure with Renner and has refused to speak to the author ever since.
Murray’s story reopened in 2017
Maura Murray’s case drew in renewed interest last February, the 13th anniversary of her disappearance, when The Disappearance of Maura Murray premiered on Oxygen. The TV series chronicles Murray’s final steps as well as the people all connected to her baffling story.
In a startling twist, the show has revealed that the authorities have refused to release any CCTV videos or photos taken during the day of Murray’s disappearance. This only begs the question: Why has the New Hampshire police been so tight-lipped about her case? Isn’t it police protocol to release CCTV images of a missing person’s last-known steps?
Overall, Maura Murray’s story is a heartbreaking one, especially for the family. Fred Murray, who has been pointed as a suspect himself, told reporters that he hasn’t given up his search for his missing daughter.
“The case has to stay alive,” Fred told the Globe in February. “That’s the only hope I have. I can’t help Maura now. The only thing I can do for Maura is to grab the dirtbag who grabbed her. That’s all I can do. I must find her and bring her home.”