New Hampshire Sunday News / New Hampshire Union Leader

October 28, 2007

Missing Maura Murray - Four years and countless questions - What happened? Theories abound

By Nancy West

During the nearly four years since Maura Murray vanished, dozens of questions have been posed and theories weighed on Web sites and in various accounts of what may have happened in Haverhill on the night of Feb. 9, 2004.

There have been hundreds of pages of Web chatter in which amateur sleuths try to solve Maura's mystery.

Why did Maura, 21, pack her room at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., before heading for New Hampshire that night?

Did she call on a calling card sobbing and shivering to her boyfriend, Billy Rausch, 36 hours after she disappeared?

Why was a rag stuffed in the tailpipe of her crashed car?

Was Maura upset because of a hit-and-run accident that seriously injured a fellow student on campus days before she left?

Chatroom investigators have tried to dredge up fresh leads while the people holding the best information have remained tight-lipped because Maura Murray's case is now being treated as a potential homicide.

"It's an open, ongoing case, which limits our ability to say anything substantial," said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin.

"Part of the difficulty is people try to ascribe importance to different facts, and, realistically, the true importance won't be known until the case is solved. We may think a piece of information is not important and not know its impact until down the road, when it turns out it's done damage to the case."

If you know something

State Police are actively investigating every lead into the disappearance of Maura Murry and make an appeal to the public for any information by contacting New Hampshire State Police at 603-846-3333 or 800-525-5555.

Rag in the tailpipe

Some have speculated the rag found stuffed in the tailpipe of the black 1996 Saturn Maura crashed in Haverhill indicated either a suicide try by carbon monoxide or a predator's ploy to make the car stall.

But Mike Lavoie of Lavoie's Auto Care Center in Haverhill, who towed the Saturn that night, said he later spoke with Maura's father, Fred Murray, about the rag. Lavoie said it couldn't have been used in that manner as part of a suicide attempt.

"Her father said he told her to put it in, that it would keep the car from smoking. It didn't run that well," Lavoie said.

Dorm room packed

Although police believe the belongings packed in Maura's dorm room were another indication she had no intention to return, the mother of Maura's then-boyfriend has another explanation.

Sharon Rausch thinks Maura hadn't yet unpacked her things after a long Christmas break. During one of Maura's visits to the Rausch home, Mrs. Rausch tried to loan her an extra suitcase, only to discover it hadn't been unpacked.

That made Maura laugh, Sharon Rausch said.

"Maura said, You're just like me. I unpack as I use my things.' That's out of her own mouth. Maybe she just never unpacked."

Trembling message

After finally getting emergency leave to head north to search for Maura, Billy Rausch -- at the time an Army lieutenant stationed at Fort Sill, Okla. -- was going through airport security early Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2004, and had to shut off his cell phone.

When he turned the phone back on, he discovered someone had left a voice-mail, he later told his mother.

"He said, Mom, it's Maura. She didn't say anything. She's shivering and cold,'" Mrs. Rausch said.

Billy tried to return the call but found its source to be a prepaid calling card.

Since that time, police say, they have tracked that call to a Red Cross assigned to working on Billy's emergency leave. And the troubling sounds in the recorded message, they say, were merely the result of a bad connection.

That explanation doesn't make sense to Mrs. Rausch, who said she was working with the Red Cross on Billy's leave, and therefore any calls from the organization would have gone to her, rather than to her son.

Distraught on the job

Mrs. Rausch said Maura worked security late Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, into Friday morning checking students in and out of a UMass dormitory. Maura's supervisor that night said she found her sobbing at about 1:20 a.m. and had to help her back to Murray's room.

The source of her distress, Maura told the supervisor, was a phone conversation with Murray's sister.

Since married, Kathleen Carpenter remembers finishing a phone call with Maura at about 10:20 the night of Feb. 5, but doesn't recall talking with her sister in the early-morning hours.

Kathleen, who said she had talked about troubles with her husband-to-be during the nighttime conversation with Maura, said her sister didn't seem upset.

But, she added, Maura and Billy were having relationship troubles at the time. Kathleen said she takes sleeping pills at night and didn't remember a later call.

"We'd always talk about boy troubles. She was with Billy Rausch and every time they got into a fight or if had a fight with my (now) husband, I'd call her. It was girl talk, always late at night," Carpenter said.

She believes her sister went to the White Mountains to sort out her troubles with Billy.

"I think it was stress. I don't know what her and her boyfriend were going through," Carpenter said. "I kind of think that might have triggered it. They weren't getting along at that time.

"She wanted to go to a place that made her happy and look at the mountains, and something went terribly wrong."

Campus hit-and-run

A series of reports in Murray's hometown newspaper, the Hanson (Mass.) Express, raised the question of whether Maura could have been involved late that same Thursday night or early Friday morning when fellow student Petrit Vasi of Dorchester was injured in an apparent hit-and-run accident about 1?12 miles from the dorm where Maura worked.

Vasi's mother, Aprhodite Vasi, said her son has recovered but still doesn't remember what happened to him that night at about 12:20 a.m. Mrs. Vasi was told at the emergency room her son was involved in a hit-an-run accident, but there was never a follow-up investigation, Mrs. Vasi said.

Mrs. Vasi said Petrit remained in a coma for two months and remained hospitalized for a month after that. He had to cut short rehabilitation therapy, she said, because his insurance ran out.

"He doesn't know what happened, and nobody investigated for him," Mrs. Vasi said.

Sharon Rausch doesn't believe Maura was involved in the accident that injured Petrit. Murray couldn't have left her job long enough to be at the accident scene and return to the dorm, Rausch said.

Police also don't appear to be pursuing a Vasi-Murray link.

New Hamsphire State Police have stated that Maura was involved in only two recent accidents: the one in which she crashed her father's new Toyota in Hadley, Mass., and another that occurred about 40 hours later, when she hit a stand of trees in Haverhill with the black Saturn.