One of the most mysterious cases of the last few decades is that of Maura Murray, a vivacious college student who suddenly emailed her professors about a non-existent “family emergency”, googled directions to a rental condominium in Vermont, and then disappeared forever after having a minor car accident in New Hampshire.
The circumstances of this case are so bizarre because of Maura’s unpredictable behavior in the days and hours leading up to her disappearance. None of her friends, family, or teachers have any idea where she was going or why she was taking a sudden break from school. At the time, it may have seemed like a fun adventure for Maura, but when she met harm along the way there was surely a moment of panic when she realized no one knew where she was going or where to look for her. Even worse, since her family thought she was at school and her friends believed she was taking time off for a family emergency, she knew people would not immediately realize she was missing.
This is the plot of Rust Creek, which is currently in Netflix’s top 10 of streaming content. In the movie, the main character, Sawyer, also leaves college without telling anyone where she is going. She tells her family that she is going to stay on campus for the Thanksgiving break and she tells her friends she is going home to celebrate with her family. When she exits her car on a lonely rural road and has a chance encounter with some nefarious locals, there’s no one to notice she goes missing.
Sawyer even gets lucky. Her car is quickly reported as abandoned and the local Sheriff goes out to investigate. When the police call in her vehicle registration, they reach her parents who have no idea why Sawyer was in that area. Meanwhile, Sawyer is hunted by criminals who are worried she has stumbled across their meth cooking operation and will turn them in unless she is killed.
People have long theorized that Maura Murray’s disappearance may have been a crime of opportunity caused by a fluke encounter with someone after she had a car accident in rural New Hampshire. Perhaps, like in Rust Creek a local spotted a girl alone on the side of the road and pulled over to offer “help” while actually having evil intentions. Maybe she had the bad luck of being stumbled upon by someone who has kidnapped women before. Maybe she saw something she shouldn’t have. Since witnesses saw her on the side of the road, Maura has never been seen again.
Interestingly, Rust Creek is actually based on a true story of its own. The film’s producer, Stu Pollard, had a back country close call of his own. When he was college-aged, Pollard says he “took off in my car to drive back home but didn’t tell anyone where I was going or to expect me. I drove into a terrible snowstorm in Maryland and realized no one had any idea where I was. It was a wake-up moment. For the first time I realized my own mortality.”
The movie has no connection with the real life Maura Murray case. I just was struck by the similarities while watching. Chance encounters do happen, and it’s possible Maura’s story is similar to the fictional Sawyer’s in that they were young women who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.