The Most Debated Mystery Of Our Time: The Disappearance Of Maura Murray

The disappearance of Maura Murray is perhaps the most highly speculated case of the 21st century. It’s been called the “the first crime mystery of the social media age” due to Facebook’s launch 5 days before she went missing. There are numerous podcasts, websites, and docuseries dedicated to finding the truth. Nevertheless, the 16th anniversary of Maura’s disappearance has passed and it remains an unsolved mystery.

Maura Murray’s Background

Maura was born May 4, 1982 in Hanson, Massachuessettes. After graduating high school, she joined her older sister at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, where she studied chemical engineering. During her freshman year, Maura received an honor code violation for stealing makeup from a Fort Knox commissary. She wasn’t formally expelled and transferred into the nursing program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In November 2003, 3 months prior to her disappearance, Maura was caught ordering food with a stolen credit card. Her arrest record shows that the charge would be dismissed after 3 months of good behavior.

The Days Leading up to Her Disappearance

On February 5, 2004, Maura was working an evening shift at her campus security job. Following a phone conversation with her older sister, Kathleen, she was said to have burst into tears and a supervisor escorted her back to her dorm. When asked what was wrong, Maura simply responded, “My sister.” Kathleen claims the conversation was about her alcohol abuse. Kathleen had recently been discharged from rehab and admitted to Maura that her fiance had taken her to a liquor store.

On Saturday, February 7th, Maura’s dad, Fred, arrived in town to take her car shopping. According to her sister, Julie, Maura’s car was in very bad shape and she wanted something more reliable. That night, Maura borrowed Fred’s car and attended a party on campus. At 3:30 AM, as she was driving back to Fred’s motel room, she hit a guardrail and caused $10,000 worth of damage to the car. Cops arrived at the scene and drove her to the motel. There is no documentation of a sobriety test in the accident report. Fred rented a car and returned to his home in Connecticut on February 8th. He spoke to Maura on the phone around 11:30 PM to remind her to get accident forms from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The Events of February 9, 2004 – The Last Night That 21-Year-Old Maura was Seen

Just after midnight: Maura searched MapQuest for directions to the Berkshires and Burlington, Vermont.

1:00 PM: Maura emailed her boyfriend to say she hadn’t felt like talking to anyone lately. She promised to call him later.

1:00-1:13 PM: She made a phone call inquiring about a condo rental in Bartlett, New Hampshire. She was familiar with the condos as her family had vacationed there in the past. The phone call lasted 3 minutes and no rental plans were made. Maura then called a fellow nursing student.

1:24 PM: Maura emailed a nursing school supervisor to say that she would be out of town for a week due to a death in the family. (Her family insists there was no death.)

2:05 PM: Maura called a number that provides pre-recorded information about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont. The phone call lasted 5 minutes.

2:18 PM: Maura left her boyfriend a voicemail. The call lasted 1 minute and she said they would talk later.

Maura then packed her car with clothes, birth control pills, textbooks, and toiletries. Later searches of her dorm room found that most of Maura’s belongings were packed in boxes and her art was removed from the walls. Police found a printed email in the room between Maura and her boyfriend that indicated relationship problems.

3:30 PM: Maura drove away in her 1996 Saturn sedan. Classes that day were cancelled due to an impending snowstorm.

3:40 PM: Maura withdrew $280 from an ATM and picked up $40 worth of alcohol from a nearby liquor store. Security footage at both the ATM and liquor store determined she was alone at the time. 

Around 4:00-5:00 PM: Maura left Amherst. Her last recorded phone call was at 4:37 PM to check her voicemail.

7:27 PM: Faith Westman, of Woodsville, New Hampshire, called 911 to report an accident outside of her home. She heard a loud thump and saw a car along the snow bank on Route 112. The car was pointing west in the eastbound lane. Westman’s neighbors, Virginia and John Marrotte, also noticed Maura’s car out their kitchen window. It’s hazard lights were on and they noticed someone walking around the car. As the Marrottes were watching, another neighbor, Butch Atwood, pulled up to Maura in the schoolbus that he drove for work. Atwood got out of his bus and asked if Maura needed him to call the police. Maura said no, claiming that she had already called AAA. Knowing that the area didn’t have cell service, Atwood doubted her story. He offered to let her wait at his home until assistance arrived, but Maura insisted she was fine staying at her car. Atwood returned home and called 911. He said he initially had trouble getting through to dispatch because of busy phone circuits, but his phone call eventually connected at 7:43 PM.

7:46 PM: Haverhill Police Sergeant Cecil Smith arrived at the scene. He was dispatched at 7:29 following Westman’s 911 call. The car was locked and there was no sign of Maura. The airbags had deployed and there was a crack in the driver’s side windshield. Sgt. Smith saw a box of Franzia behind the driver’s seat and an empty beer bottle. There was red liquid on the driver’s side door, the car’s ceiling, and on the road. Later searches found a coke bottle filled with a red drink that smelled like alcohol. The Baileys, Kahlua, and vodka that Maura had purchased earlier at the liquor store were not found in her car. Her cell phone, wallet, and credit cards have never been located. Sgt. Smith went to the Westman’s to ask about the incident, then he stopped at Atwood’s to ask where the girl had gone. After telling the officer he hadn’t seen anyone since he left the vehicle, both Atwood and Sgt. Smith drove around the area looking for Maura. 10 minutes after Sgt. Smith’s arrival, EMS and a fire truck pulled up to the scene.

8:49 PM: The scene was cleared and Maura’s car was towed.

An APB was issued for Maura after 12:00 PM on February 10th and she was first considered missing at 5:17 PM. The following day, police dogs tracked her scent 100 yards east of where her vehicle had been abandoned before losing the trail. The FBI was called in 10 days after the disappearance and it became a nationwide search. The New Hampshire Fish and Game were also brought in 10 days later to conduct ground and air searches using a helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging camera. Although her family disputes these claims, police repeatedly expressed concern that Maura was suicidal. Many criticize the police for their lack of urgency during the initial days. Almost a full day had passed by the time Maura was announced missing, and even then, a search wasn’t immediately commenced.

The Theories

• Maura’s intention was to disappear that day. She was planning to meet up with someone, and that individual picked her up after the crash.

• She was abducted.

• She walked away from her car (possibly to flee the scene because she was scared of getting in trouble) and succumbed to the elements.

• Maura left that day to kill herself in the mountains.

To elaborate on the first theory, it’s worth diving into the claims of James Renner. Renner is an investigative journalist and the author of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray. He largely believes that Maura is still alive and planned her own escape, possibly because she was pregnant. (Maura had searched online for the effects of alcohol on a fetus. Some of her nursing school friends later said this was research for an assignment.) Renner reported that a friend of Maura’s emailed him and accused Bill, Maura’s boyfriend, of being abusive. Just last year, Bill Rausch was indicted by a Grand Jury on felony sex abuse.

It’s also rumored that Maura had been in a relationship with Hossein Baghdadi, an assistant track coach at UMass. Baghdadi has openly spoken about the situation and told detectives that Maura previously hinted to him that she might disappear. The UMass Outing Club owns a cabin in the White Mountains and some believe that’s where she was heading. There’s no reports indicating that Maura and Baghdadi were in communication in the weeks leading up to her disappearance.

On his blog, James Renner has not-so-subtly accused Fred of knowing what happened to his daughter, citing his unwillingness to be interviewed by Renner as “suspicious.” In a Boston Magazine article, Renner even states, “There’s nothing that would please me more than to depose Fred in court under oath.” In Fred’s defense, 16 years of non-stop searching for your daughter would wear anyone down and there are very few avenues that he hasn’t personally investigated.

Fred wholeheartedly believes that Maura was abducted. In late 2004, a man named Larry Moulton came forward with a knife that he thought could be the murder weapon. It belonged to his brother, Claude, who lived in an A-frame house roughly ¾ mile from the crash site. By 2006, Claude no longer lived there and the new owners allowed private investigators to inspect it. Cadaver dogs made a hit and carpet samples were taken for testing. Unfortunately, the chain of custody is unclear and the samples were lost. Moulton’s knife had been turned over to New Hampshire State Police, but results were never released.

In 2016, the Missing Maura Murray podcast returned to the A-frame. They found what appeared to be blood stains in a closet. Wood chips were turned over to a molecular geneticist who was able to confirm the presence of human blood. Unfortunately, the samples are too deteriorated to determine with 100% certainty whether the blood is Maura’s.

Another house near the scent dog’s trail was searched in 2019 after ground penetrating radar showed a disturbance in the home’s basement. Investigators removed concrete and searched several feet down, but no evidence was found.

The opportunistic killer theory may be statistically less likely, but it can’t be ruled out. One month after Maura went missing, 17-year-old Brianna Maitland disappeared in Vermont. Some feel it’s possible that both women fell prey to a serial killer. Law enforcement looked into a connection between Maitland and serial killer Israel Keyes, but this was later ruled out by the FBI. Many online sleuths still point to Keyes.

The biggest problem with this theory is how small the window of opportunity was for a murderer to take Maura without being seen. Even if Butch Atwood only spent a few minutes talking to Maura, she couldn’t have been alone for more than 10-15 minutes by the time Sgt. Smith arrived. And although the area is heavily wooded, it’s not exactly desolate considering at least 3 neighbors could see her from their homes.

Rick Forcier is another name that’s frequently brought up when discussing Maura Murray. Forcier was driving home from his job as a contractor on the night of February 9th when he spotted a woman walking in the woods that fit the description of Maura. Some find his story suspicious because he didn’t report the sighting until months later. He told police that he didn’t realize it was the same night until he went back through his work calendar in late April.

We already know that the Murrays are adamant that Maura wasn’t suicidal, but what about the theory that she wandered into the woods and died from the elements? Occam’s Razor is widely referenced by those who consider this the simplest explanation. If we subtract all the assumptions about the case, the absolute facts are this: a young woman crashed her car and was last seen outside in the freezing cold.

No matter which theory you believe, it’s astounding how many persons of interest have been named. Particularly for a case that lacks any true suspects. This unsolved mystery has more twists and turns than the route Maura set out on that fateful night. We can only hope that one day the record is set straight.

Horror, true crime, and real estate obsessed. Amateur sleuth.

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