Whereabouts Unknown: The Disappearance of Maura Murray
Over 15 years ago, a young woman got into her beat-up Saturn on a cold winter night, drove away from her dorm room, and was never seen again. Maura Murray, 21, was a nursing student completing her junior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She vanished on the evening of February 9, 2004, in Woodsville, New Hampshire, a village in Haverhill.
At approximately 7:27 p.m., a local woman heard a loud noise outside her home, and through her window she could see a car up against the snowbank along the sharp corner of Route 112. A passing motorist who also lived close by stopped at the scene of the accident, asking the woman driving the car if she needs help, but the woman declined and told the concerned citizen that she had called AAA roadside assistance.
The individual decided to call and report the incident to emergency services, but at 7:46 p.m. when police arrived at the scene, the lady driving the vehicle had disappeared. The police traced the car to Maura.
Maura's Early Life
Maura was born May 4, 1982, in Hanson, Massachusetts, the fourth child of Fred and Laurie Murray. Raised in an Irish Catholic household, Maura’s parents divorced when she was six, and Maura primarily lived with her mother.
Graduating from Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, Maura was a star athlete on the school’s track team. After high school, she was accepted at West Point in New York where she studied chemical engineering for three semesters.
While Maura was a good student and gifted athlete, she allegedly had some improvements to make in her personal life. During her time at West Point, Maura had stolen about five dollars’ worth of makeup from a commissary that resulted in an honor code violation. However, Maura was allowed to leave West Point without getting expelled, allowing her to transfer to the UMass Amherst nursing program.
While her father pushed her to succeed, she had also been busted for stealing a credit card that belonged to another dorm student, using the card at several restaurants around town. The charge had been continued in December to later be dismissed after three months of good behavior.
Prior to Maura's Disappearance
On Saturday, February 7, Maura’s father Fred arrived in Amherst where Maura attended the university. He and Maura went car shopping that afternoon and later went to dinner with a friend of Maura’s.
Later that evening Maura dropped her dad off at his motel, borrowing his Toyota Corolla and returned to campus to attend a dorm party at approximately 10:30 p.m. Leaving the party at 2:30 a.m. on her way to her father’s motel, she hit a guardrail on Route 9 in Hadley. It is unknown if Maura had undergone field sobriety tests, but the officer wrote the accident report and dropped her off at her father’s motel. Her father left a short time after to return to Connecticut where he lived. They agreed to talk the following Monday night to discuss the insurance claim for the car.
After midnight on February 9, Maura used her computer to search MapQuest for directions to the Berkshires and Burlington, Vermont. The first communication Maura had with anyone was at 1:00 p.m., when she emailed her boyfriend. She also called the New Hampshire Condo Association about a condominium for rent.
At 1:24 p.m. Maura then emailed her supervisor at the nursing school notifying her that she would be out of town for a week due to sudden death in the family. Her family later confirmed no one in the family has passed away.
Maura’s then made a phone call to a number in Vermont that provides recorded information about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont. Her final call was to her boyfriend’s phone leaving him a message that they would talk later.
Maura then proceeded to pack her car with personal belongings, college textbooks, and birth-control pills. She drove off-campus in her 1996 Saturn sedan at approximately 3:30 p.m. Classes had been canceled that day due to a snowstorm.
When campus police later searched her room, they found most of her belongings were packed in boxes and pictures taken down from the walls. They also found a printed email to her boyfriend indicating they were having trouble in their relationship.
At 3:40 p.m., Maura withdrew $280 from an ATM. The closed-circuit footage showed she was alone. Maura then purchased about $40 dollars’ worth of alcohol, including Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kalua, vodka, and a box of Franzia wine. The security footage again showed Maura alone. At some point during the day, she also picked up the accident report from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Maura left Amherst between 4 and 5 p.m., probably headed north on Interstate 91 north toward Vermont. The police investigation revealed there is no evidence she told anyone where she was going, or whether she had even picked a destination.
According to the official police log, at 7:46 p.m. a Haverhill police officer arrived at the accident scene but didn’t find anyone in the car. The car had impacted a tree on the driver’s side, pushed the radiator into the fan and severely damaged the left front headlight. The vehicle’s windshield was also cracked, both airbags deployed, and the car locked.
The officer found red stains that appeared to be red wine both inside and outside of the car with a damaged box of wine in the back seat. He also found a AAA card in Maura’s name, a map to Burlington, Vermont, Maura’s favorite stuffed animal, and a book named Not Without Peril -150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire about climbing in the White Mountains.
Maura’s debit card, credit cards, and cell phone were all missing, with no activity since her disappearance. Police later reported some of the bottles of purchased alcohol were also missing.
At approximately 8:30 p.m. that evening, a contractor returning home saw a young person on foot traveling eastbound on Route 112 about 4 or 5 miles east of where Maura’s car was discovered. However, this lead would not be reported until three months later.
The day following Maura’s disappearance, a “Be on The Lookout” (BOLO) was issued for her. A voicemail was left for Fred Murray informing him that his daughter was missing, and her car had been found abandoned. When he called the Haverhill Police Department, he was told that if Maura was not found by the following morning, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department would initiate a search. With snow on the ground, the average temperature in Haverhill is 38 degrees during the day, plunging to 18 degrees at night.
The Search Goes National
The FBI joined the search within ten days of Maura’s disappearance and Haverhill announced that search had gone nationwide. Meanwhile, Maura’s father interviewed on CNN’s American Morning pleading with someone to come forward. Eventually, Fred was interviewed on the Montel Williams Show reaching millions.
New Hampshire Fish and Game had conducted a ground search in the days following, but 10 days after Maura’s disappearance they conducted a ground and air search utilizing a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera, tracking dogs and cadaver dogs. Maura's scent was picked up approximately 100 yards from the vehicle but suddenly stopped indicating to police she may have gotten into a passing vehicle.
Fred Murray returned to Haverhill nearly every weekend to search for Maura until police informed him that they were receiving complaints he was trespassing on private property.
What People Think Happened
Maura’s disappearance has been referred to as “the first crime mystery of the social media age.” Facebook was only 5 years old and Twitter and YouTube didn’t even exist yet. Now social media is one of the most popular methods of communication and now you can find websites and podcasts dedicated to finding Maura.
On online forums and message boards, you can find armchair detectives analyzing and sharing their theories, obsessively connecting pieces of a puzzle that remains a mystery.
While there is little evidence that suggests what exactly happened to Maura, amateur sleuths seem to join one of four categories; people think she went missing on her own and started a new life somewhere, Maura died of exposure, she committed suicide in the woods, or killed by a killer who preyed upon her at her most vulnerable time.
The most popular theory is that Maura was picked up by a killer possibly local to the area, someone who knew Maura, or someone just passing through town. This theory is based upon the dogs losing her scent in the middle of the road, not too far from her crashed vehicle.
With some, Occam’s Theory abounds meaning the “more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely the explanation, believing she simply died of exposure after becoming dazed as a result of crashing her car into a tree along a hairpin turn.
What Her Family Thinks Happened
Maura’s older sister Julie was very close to Maura. Julie told Oxygen News that her last conversation with her sister, 2 days prior, was about her upcoming trip to Myrtle Beach during spring break. When asked why Maura would leave school and potentially drive to the White Mountains, Julie's response was, “My guess would be to take a couple of days and clear her head but it doesn’t make sense to go up there alone.”
Maura’s father Fred thinks something bad happened to his daughter. He emotionally told investigative journalist Maggie Freleng his theory. “A guy grabbed her walking down the road and killed her. Probably that night.” He said his one wish is that he could just see her one last time. “I think she was really upset about something and drove there. I don’t know why she went,” said Fred.
Fred went on to describe his daughter as pleasant and funny. She was determined even as a little girl and a straight-A student. Now, over 15 years later, her father remains most determined to find her.