February 9, 2004: The Disappearance of Maura Murray









WHAT HAPPENED?


On February 9, 2004, American college student Maura Murray disappeared following a car crash near Woodsville, New Jersey. She was a 21-year-old nursing student in her junior year at University of Massachusetts Amherst.


On the afternoon of her death, she emailed professors and work supervisors that she would be gone for a week because of a death in the family.


At 7:27 pm, a local woman reported the accident on route 112 after hearing the impact from her home. A passing motorist asked if she needed help, but said no, as she had already called roadside assistance. By 7:46, when the police arrived, there was no sign of her.


The police traced the car to Maura and thought, because she had told no one about where she wanted to go and there was no evidence of foul play, that she may have wanted to disappear voluntarily. It has been handled as a "suspicious" missing person's case.


The case had its own Oxygen series, and has been known as one of the first crimes in the age of social media, having occurred mere days after Facebook launched.


BEFORE DISAPPEARING


Maura Murray was born on May 4, 1982 and was the 4th child of 5. She had an older brother, 2 older sisters and a younger brother. She was raised Irish Catholic, though her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived primarily with her mother.


In high school, she was on the track team. She graduated and went on to study chemical engineering at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. She was caught stealing less than $5 of makeup during her time there, a breach in the honor code. She was not expelled, and was thus able to transfer. She transferred to U Mass Amherst to get her nursing degree.


3 months before her disappearance, she admitted to using stolen credit cards to order food from several restaurants.


On the evening of February 5, she spoke on the phone with her older sister Kathleen while working at her on-campus security job. When her supervisor came in, she was completely zoned out and unresponsive. She was escorted to her room and when she was asked what was wrong, she replied "my sister." The contents of the call came to light in 2017. Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic, said she called her sister that night because she had been discharged from rehab, and her fiance took her to a liquor store. Nice.


On February 7, her father, Fred, came to Amherst and took her car shopping and then they went to dinner with her friend. She dropped him off after at his motel so she could attend a dorm party. She arrived at 10:30 and left at 2:30. At 3:30 am, on the way to her father's motel, she hit a guardrail, causing $10,000 of damage to her father's car. There is no evidence to show a field sobriety test was conducted.


She was driven to the motel. At 4:49, a call was placed from Fred's phone to Maura's boyfriend, but there is not clarity around who was involved in the call or what was said during it. Later that morning, Fred realized insurance would cover the damage to the car. He dropped her off at her dorm in a rental, once he got home, he called her to remind her to get accident forms filled out, and would call her the next night to fill them out together.


INTO THIN AIR


Midnight to 5:00 pm


After midnight in the very early morning of February 9, she used her computer to get directions to the Berkshires and Burlington Vermont.


At 1:00 pm, she emailed her boyfriend, saying: "I got your messages, but honestly, I don't feel like talking to much of anyone. I promise to call you today though." She also made a call shortly after, inquiring about renting a condo in Bartlett, New Hampshire, where she had stayed with family a few times. It was not rented to her.


At 1:13, she called a fellow nursing student. It is still unknown why.


At 1:24, she emailed a work supervisor and teachers to tell them she would be out of town for a week due to a death in the family. Her family has said that no one in their family had died.


At 2:05, she called a number that provided recorded information about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont.


At 2:18, she called her boyfriend, leaving a voicemail that she would call him later.


Her car was packed with clothing, toiletries, textbooks and birth control. The items in her dorm were packed up, though it is difficult to say when. All of the art had been taken down from the walls, and a printed email indicating relationship issues with her boyfriend was on top of the boxes.


At 3:30, she drove off campus. At 3:40, she stopped and withdrew $280 from an ATM, and then purchased $40 worth of alcohol at a nearby store. She was alone for both of these stops. At some point, she also stopped to pick up the accident forms her father had reminded her about.


With her errands complete, she left Amherst between 4-5. She called to check her voicemail at 4:37, which is the last reported use of her cell phone.


7:27 - 8:00 pm


After 7pm, a resident heard a loud crash outside of her house and saw a car against a snow bank on route 112. She placed a call to the police at 7:27, saying she had seen a man smoking a cigarette inside the car. She has since changed her story, saying that she didn't see the gender of the person, and the light she saw could have been from a cell phone.


Another neighbor, a school bus driver, was returning home and said that she driver didn't appear to be hurt, but seemed to be cold and shivering. He offered to phone for help but she asked him, some reports said she pleaded with him, not to call the police. She said she'd called AAA, though there is no record of this call.


The neighbor knew there was no cell reception in the area, so once he got home, he called the police. The police arrived at 7:46 pm, and she was gone. The car was damaged, with the windshield cracked and both airbags deployed. The car was also locked.


Police found red wine stains in and around the car and an empty beer bottle. They also found her AAA card, the blank accident forms, gloves, CDs, makeup, jewelry, driving directions to Burlington, Vermont, her favorite stuffed animal, and a book about mountain climbing. Missing were her credit and debit cards, cell phone, and some of the alcohol she had purchased.


8:00 - 9:00 pm


Between 8 and 8:30, a man returning from work said he saw a young person moving quickly on foot on route 112, about 4-5 miles from where her car crashed. He said she was wearing jeans, a dark coat and a light hood. He didn't report immediately, as he didn't realize for months that he saw this person the same evening as her disappearance.


By 8:49, the car was towed away and by 9:30, the officer left the scene. She was reported as "missing" at 12 pm the following day.


SEARCHING FOR MAURA


At 12:36 the next day, February 10, a "be on the lookout" report was sent out. A voicemail was left on her dad's answering machine explaining the situation, but he was out of state for work. His sister called him and told him what happened that evening.


On February 11, Fred returned and the New Hampshire Fish and Game team and her family began searching. Dogs followed her scent for 100 yard but then lost it. Some believe this could mean that she was picked up and continued on in another car.


At 5, her boyfriend and his parents arrived in town, and he was interrogated. He received a voicemail during his flight traced to a calling card issued to the American Red Cross which he thinks sounded like Murray sobbing.


On February 12, her boyfriend and Fred held a press conference. Later, she was listed as "endangered and possibly suicidal", though her family does not think she was suicidal. The police report also stated that she was drunk, but the bus driver who spoke with her said she didn't seem to be impaired.


Later in the year, a man gave Fred a rusty knife that he said belonged to his brother who was a criminal who lived close and had been acting weird the few days after her disappearance. His family claimed he was likely making up the story to get reward money for drugs.


Various searches continued over the next few years, turning up nothing.


In 2010, Fred criticized the police for treating the case as a missing person instead of a criminal mater, saying that he believed that she had been abducted and killed the night of the crash.


In 2012, a YouTube user named Mr211dirtbag ("dirtbag" is a word her family had used to describe who they thought may have taken her) posted videos online that looked like cryptic clues into her disappearance. Police and her family all believe it was a disgusting ploy for attention.


In 2014, after the FBI had gotten involved, agent Jeffery Stelzin said there hadn't been any credible sightings since the day she went missing.


On the 15th anniversary of her death in 2019, Fred reiterated that he thinks she was killed, and had suspicions about a nearby house that cadaver dogs had responded to. He thought his daughter might be there. The current owners refused to allow him to search, but once it was sold, the new owners allowed and nothing was turned up.


It has now been 16 years since the day Maura Murray disappeared, and no new sightings or evidence have been found since the night she went missing. The case has been covered in many types of media, including TV shows, books and podcasts. Though it was the first case in the age of social media, it continues to dominate media 16 years later.


REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Maura_Murray

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