Maura Murray disappeared the evening of February 9, 2004, after crashing her car on Route 112 in Haverhill, New Hampshire.
A nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Murray left campus earlier that afternoon after packing her car and emailing her professors and work supervisor that she was taking a week off due to a family emergency. No family emergency existed. Due to her preparations and no evidence of foul play, police investigators had suggested that she may have wanted to disappear and had treated her case as a missing person investigation, but some of her family and friends believe she was abducted.
Twelve years have passed since her disappearance and her fate still remains a mystery. New Hampshire authorities continue to handle Murray’s disappearance as a missing persons case.
– Prior to disappearance
In November 2003, three months before her disappearance, Maura was arrested for using a stolen credit card. The charge was continued in December to be dismissed after three months’ good behavior.
On Thursday, February 5, 2004, around 10:30 pm, Maura spoke on the phone with her older sister Kathleen while on break from her campus job. They discussed Kathleen’s relationship problems with her fiance. Hours later, still on her shift, Maura broke down into tears. Her supervisor escorted her back to her dorm room around 1:20 am. Maura apparently did not share with anyone the reason for her breakdown.
On Saturday, February 7, Maura’s father Fred Murray arrived in Amherst. That afternoon they shopped for a used car and later went to dinner with a friend of Maura’s. Maura dropped her father off at his motel room and, borrowing his Toyota Corolla, returned to the campus to attend a dorm party with her friend. At 2:30 am she left the party and drove the Corolla with the intention of returning it to her father. At 3:30 am, en route to his motel, she struck a guardrail on Route 9 in Hadley. The police questioned her but didn’t file charges or administer a sobriety test. She was driven back to her father’s motel and stayed in his room the rest of the night. At 4:49 am she called her boyfriend in Oklahoma to discuss the accident.
Sunday morning, Fred Murray determined the auto damage was covered by his insurance. He rented a car, dropped Maura off at the university, and departed for Connecticut. At 11:30 pm that evening, Fred phoned Maura reminding her to obtain the forms pertaining to the accident on Monday from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. They agreed to talk again Monday night to discuss the forms and together fill out the insurance claim over the phone.
– Preparations and departure
Around midnight, Monday, February 9, shortly after speaking with her father, Maura used her personal computer to search MapQuest for directions to The Berkshires and Burlington, Vermont.
At 1:00 pm Maura emailed her boyfriend: “I got your messages, but honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone, I promise to call today though.”
Around 1:00 pm she also made a phone call to inquire about renting a condominium in the same Bartlett, New Hampshire, condo association her family had vacationed at in the past. Telephone records indicate the call lasted three minutes. The owner did not rent the condo to Maura. Then Maura called a fellow nursing student for reasons unknown.
At 1:24 pm Maura emailed a work supervisor at the nursing school faculty that she would be out of town for a week due to a death in her family and that she would contact them when she returned. There was no family emergency at the time.
At 2:05 pm she called a number which provides prerecorded information about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont. She listened to this information for approximately five minutes. At 2:18 pm she telephoned her boyfriend and left a voice message promising him they would talk later. This call ended after one minute.
In her car she packed clothing, toiletries, and college textbooks. When her room was searched later, campus police discovered most of her belongings packed in boxes and the art removed from the walls. It is disputed whether she packed them that day or if they were merely still packed from her recent return from winter break. Around 3:30 pm, she drove off the campus in her black Saturn sedan.
At 3:40 pm Maura withdrew $280 from an ATM. Closed-circuit footage indicates she was alone. This withdrawal nearly emptied her bank account although she was due to receive paychecks in the coming days. At a nearby liquor store she purchased about $40 worth of alcoholic beverages, including Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa, vodka, and a box of Franzia wine. Footage also shows she was alone when she made that purchase. At some point in the day she obtained Registry of Motor Vehicle accident report forms, as they were later found in her car.
Maura then left Amherst, presumably via Interstate 91 north. She called to check her voice mail at 4:37 pm, the last recorded use of her cell phone. To date there is no indication she had informed anyone of her destination or evidence she had chosen one.
Some time after 7:00 pm, a Woodsville, New Hampshire, resident heard a loud thump outside of her house. Through her window she could see a car up against the snowbank along Route 112, also known as Wild Ammonoosuc Road. The car pointed west on the eastbound side of the road. She telephoned the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department at 7:27 pm to report the accident. At about the same time another neighbor saw the car as well as someone walking around the vehicle. She witnessed a third neighbor pull up alongside the vehicle.
That neighbor, a school bus driver returning home, noticed the young woman was not bleeding but cold and shivering. He offered to telephone for help. She asked him not to call the police (one police report says “pleaded”) and assured him she’d already called AAA. (AAA has no record of any such call.) Knowing there was no cell phone reception in the area, the bus driver continued home and phoned the police. His call was received by the Sheriff’s Department at 7:43 pm. He was unable to see Maura’s car while he made the phone call but did notice several cars pass on the road before the police arrived.
At 7:46 pm, a Haverhill police officer arrived at the scene. No one was inside or around the car. The car’s windshield was cracked on the driver’s side and both airbags had deployed. The car was locked. Inside and outside the car he discovered red stains that looked to be red wine. The officer found a damaged box of Franzia wine on the rear seat. In addition, he found a AAA card issued to Maura Murray, blank crash report forms, gloves, compact discs, makeup, two sets of MapQuest driving directions (one to Burlington, Vermont, another to Stowe, Vermont), Maura’s favorite stuffed animal, and Not Without Peril, a book about mountain climbing in the White Mountains. Missing were Maura’s debit card, credit cards, and cell phone, none of which have been located or used since her disappearance.
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.
Just before 8:00 pm, EMS and a fire truck arrived to clear the scene. By 8:49 pm, the car had been towed to a local garage. At about 9:30 pm, the responding officer left. A rag believed to have been part of Maura’s emergency roadside kit was discovered stuffed into the Saturn’s muffler pipe. Authorities would only refer to Maura as missing the next day, almost twenty-four hours after she was last seen.
– Early investigation
The following day, February 10, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) for Maura Murray was issued at 12:36 pm to Grafton County, Littleton, Haverhill, and Lisbon. A voice mail was left on Maura’s father’s home answering machine at 3:20 pm stating that the car was found abandoned. He was working out of state and did not receive this call until later in the day. At 5:00 pm, Maura’s older sister contacted her father to tell him that Maura’s car had been found abandoned. He contacted the Haverhill Police Department and was told that if Maura was not reported safe by the following morning, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department would start a search. Maura’s family members contacted the University of Massachusetts Police Department at 6:46 pm, and requested that her dormitory room be checked.
On February 11, Maura’s father arrived before dawn in Haverhill, New Hampshire. At 8:00 am, New Hampshire Fish and Game, the Murrays, and others began to search for Maura. A police dog tracked the scent from one of Maura’s gloves 100 yards east from where the vehicle was discovered, but lost the scent. At 5 pm, Maura’s boyfriend and his parents arrived in Haverhill. He was interrogated in private, and then was joined by his parents for questioning. At 7 pm, the police said that they believed Maura came to the area to either run away or commit suicide, although her family believed that this was unlikely. That evening, Maura’s boyfriend allegedly received a voice mail message, since deleted, that he believes was the sound of Maura sobbing. His cellphone had been turned off during his flight. The call was traced to a card issued to the American Red Cross.
Maura’s father and her boyfriend held an evening press conference in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, on February 12, and the next day the first press coverage was published. The Haverhill police chief said, “Our concern is that she’s upset or suicidal.” Maura’s father and boyfriend were interviewed by CNN’s American Morning a week after her disappearance. Maura’s family expanded their search into Vermont.
Although missing person cases are normally handled by local and state police, the FBI joined the investigation ten days after she disappeared. The FBI interviewed some of Maura’s friends and family from Massachusetts, and the Haverhill police chief disclosed that the search for Maura was now nationwide. Ten days after her disappearance, New Hampshire Fish and Game conducted a second ground and air search, using a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera, tracking dogs and cadaver dogs. Maura’s older sister discovered a ripped white pair of women’s underwear lying in the snow on a secluded trail near French Pond Road on February 26, but DNA tests found that the underwear did not belong to Maura.
At the end of February, the police returned the items found in Maura’s car to her family, and on March 2 Maura’s siblings checked out of their motel, exhausted from the search, her father also checking out after three weeks of searching, returning nearly every weekend. In April, Haverhill Police informed him of complaints of trespassing on private property. In May, based on a tip, New Hampshire Fish and Game conducted a ground search near where a young person was seen running the night of Maura’s disappearance, but no scent or leads were reported from the search. Her father petitioned New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson for help in the search. and appeared on The Montel Williams Show in November 2004 to publicize the case.
– Ongoing investigation
It has been speculated that Maura’s disappearance is linked to her improper use of a credit card, as both car accidents (in Hadley and Haverhill thirty-eight hours later) involved alcohol and occurred less than three months after the continuance. Her family disputes the connection.
Toward the end of 2004, a man allegedly gave Maura’s father a rusty, stained knife that belonged to the man’s brother, who had a criminal past and lived less than a mile from where Maura’s car was discovered. His brother and his brother’s girlfriend were said to have acted strangely after Maura’s disappearance.
On the anniversary of her disappearance, a service was held where Maura’s car was found, and her father met briefly with New Hampshire Governor John Lynch. In June 2005, police dismissed any connection between Maura’s case and that of Brianna Maitland, and retrieved the items found in Maura’s vehicle from her family. In July, another search was conducted around the area in which Maura’s car was discovered. In late 2005, Maura’s father filed suit against several law enforcement agencies, with the aim of seeing files on the case. The New Hampshire League of Investigators, ten retired police officers and detectives, and the Molly Bish Foundation started working on Maura’s case in 2006. Tom Shamshak, a former police chief and a member of the Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts, said, “It appears … that this is something beyond a mere missing persons case. Something ominous could have happened here.”
In October 2006, volunteers led a two-day search within a few miles of where Maura’s vehicle was found. In the closet of an A-frame house, cadaver dogs allegedly went “bonkers”, identifying the possible presence of human remains. A sample of the carpet was sent to the New Hampshire State Police. The Arkansas group Let’s Bring Them Home offered a $75,000 reward in 2007 for information that could solve her disappearance. In July 2008, volunteers led another two-day search through wooded areas in Haverhill. The group consisted of dog teams and licensed private investigators. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said in February 2009 that the investigation is still active. “We don’t know if Maura is a victim, but the state is treating it as a potential homicide. It may be a missing-persons case, but it’s being handled as a criminal investigation.”
An episode of 20/20 compared Maura’s case to that of Brooke Wilberger, who went missing in Oregon a few months after Maura’s disappearance and was later found murdered.
Maura’s disappearance is often compared to the disappearance of Brianna Maitland, who also apparently abandoned her car near Montgomery, Vermont, 100 miles (160 km) away from Maura’s last sighting, about a month after Maura’s crash in Woodsville.
She was referenced in two episodes on Disappeared, in both Season 1 (episode 6) and Season 4 (episode 7).
Maura’s case was one of many cited by proponents of a cold case unit for New Hampshire. Her case was added to the newly established cold case unit in late 2009.