The Republican

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Missing student search revived

By Holly Angelo

Northampton - A dozen private detectives from four states have teamed up with the Molly Bish Foundation in an attempt to help solve the case of Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts-Amherst nursing student who disappeared nearly two years ago in Haverhill, N.H.

About a year ago, the Molly Bish Foundation and the Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts Inc. partnered to offer free investigative services to families dealing with unsolved crimes. The Murray family, who live in various places in Massachusetts, is the latest to be helped.

"We'll be developing an investigative plan," Thomas P. Shamshak, an investigator with Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts and the public safety consultant for the Molly Bish Foundation, said yesterday. "We're going to reinterview everybody."

Shamshak said that means going back to the UMass-Amherst campus, where Murray, 21, of Hanson, was a junior nursing student. Before she disappeared on Feb. 9, 2004, she packed up her dorm room and e-mailed her professors to tell them she was going home for the week because of a death in the family, but there was no death in the family.

She disappeared on Route 112 in Haverhill after crashing her car into a tree. A witness told police Murray was unharmed after the accident, but when police arrived on the scene minutes later she was gone. Her car was undrivable.

"It really is a mystery. This young lady is seen, and in a matter of minutes she vanishes from the roadway," Shamshak said. "It's right up there with the Molly Bish case."

The foundation is named after Molly Bish, who disappeared from her lifeguard post in Warren in June 2000. Her remains were found in Palmer three years later, and her death remains unsolved.

The Murray family has been critical of the police investigation. Last week, Fred J. Murray, Maura's father, sued several state offices and law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire seeking the release of police reports and other information and items tied to his daughter's case. The family could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Lt. John K. Scarinza, commander of State Police Troop F in Twin Mountain, N.H., said several detectives continue to investigate Murray's disappearance daily. The investigation is technically titled a missing person case, but has been investigated like a criminal case.

"Certainly if anyone, whether it be a private citizen or anyone else, develops legitimate information that will help find Maura Murray, I welcome that," Scarinza said yesterday. "I think it's important people realize she left school voluntarily. She had a destination in mind. What we don't know was what that destination was."

Scarinza added, "It is also crystal clear the family's initial impression was she was in distress and was maybe considering suicide.

"May she be a victim of a crime? That's absolutely possible," he said.

Shamshak, who is the former police chief in Spencer, said he has spoken to Murray's friends, family, acquaintances and boyfriend. He said detectives from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine will use all public records associated with the case. He said the New Hampshire state police have done a "considerable amount of work" on the case, but the volunteer detectives have the time to re-examine leads.

"When things go cold, that's where we step in," Shamshak said. "Anything that is generated from us will certainly be passed along to law enforcement."