The New Hampshire Union Leader

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dad won't give up on the search

By Nancy West

Fred Murray of Weymouth, Mass., is a man on a sad mission.

Since his daughter, Maura Murray, 21, disappeared after crashing the 1996 black Saturn she was driving Feb. 9, 2004, in Haverhill, he has spent many weekends scouring northern New Hampshire for any hint of her fate.

"I think a dirt bag grabbed her. I said that right off the bat," Murray said.

A few weeks ago, he tracked down tips that Maura had been murdered and her body parts buried in a sand pit.

"It makes me pretty mad. This involves the same people who are my chief suspects and the cops say, 'We looked into that,' but I don't know what that means," Murray said.

Murray talks with people on the street, private investigators and psychics and goes to local bars to find any tidbit of information to lead him to a new search. Many have led nowhere -- like a stained knife someone turned over to Murray, and a search volunteer private investigators conducted of a vacant A-frame.

"That's been debunked," he said.

Murray has been to most surrounding towns on the prowl for "dirt bags" and "renowned dirt bags" in Littleton, Lisbon, Landaff, Bethlehem and Whitefield. He cruises rural roads, looking for turnoffs and secluded areas a killer might seek out.

Critical of police

Murray is critical of New Hampshire police, ridiculing state police Troop F as "F Troop bunglers." Murray is also blunt in his disdain for New Hampshire authorities and angry because he believes Maura would be alive if police had done their job properly.

A more thorough search on the dark, winter night she disappeared, leaving her car locked behind her and no solid clues to her whereabouts, may have meant the difference between life and death, he said.

Murray also heaped criticism on several newspapers, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, and accused them of conspiring to cover up mistakes he says were made by law enforcement.

But despite all of his suspects and tips, Murray is no closer to solving the case. That's why he wants access to police files.

"I don't know who grabbed her. All possibilities exist," he said.

He doesn't know why Maura left the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., without a word to anyone. He said the family spoke on the phone often and got together regularly on weekends; he and Maura especially liked to hike in the White Mountains.

"There must have been a series of nearly simultaneous things built up that bothered her, no one thing, maybe a handful of things taken together produced an effect of temporary desperation. I don't think there was one major thing, but a combination of events. It was so unlike her to do something like this," Murray said.

The fateful weekend

One thing that bothered Maura a lot was that she crashed Murray's new Toyota in Hadley, Mass., when her father was visiting her at school just 40 hours before she crashed the Saturn in Haverhill.

"On Sunday, she was hurting. She let dad down. I was over that by Sunday night in my phone call to her," Murray said.

Over the weekend, he had been helping Maura find a used car, because the 1996 Saturn was running so poorly. He was staying at a motel in Hadley, Mass., near the campus.

After dinner with her father and a friend at a local brewpub in Amherst, Mass., Maura dropped her father at the motel, took his new Toyota Corolla and partied in a dorm room.

Maura crashed his new Toyota into some guardrails Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at 3:30 a.m. on Route 9 in Hadley, causing about $10,000 damage. The accident report cited driver inattention.

After the crash, she got a ride from police to her father's motel.

"We handled the disposition of car repair. She was upset because she let her father down, in her view. My reaction is in 21 years, if this is the only trouble my kid caused me was a car accident, how lucky am I," Murray said.

Maura picked up the accident report forms from the Hadley crash and was going to go over them with her father the night she disappeared. Two copies were left behind in the Saturn.

"She was supposed to call me at 8 that night so I could help her go over them on the phone. She did pick up the accident reports. She had every intention of calling me," Murray said.

Murray doesn't believe his daughter could have been pregnant. "No, she was on birth control pills," he said.

And he doesn't think there were any big problems in her life.

Murray has re-filed his right-to-know appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, after losing his first fight to get access to police files on his daughter's disappearance. No briefs have been filed yet, and that will likely take months.

Murray has also appealed to Gov. John Lynch and his predecessor, Craig Benson, for help.

When Maura disappeared, Murray reportedly worked in radiology in Bridgeport, Conn., but he refuses to say what he does now, although he did say he has held his current job for 2 1/2 years. He said he splits his time between Weymouth and Cape Cod, and doesn't tell coworkers Maura is missing.

"People feel it's an awkward situation. They feel they have to say something like good luck. It's easier on people and myself," Murray said.

Still, every morning when he wakes up, it takes about five seconds before Maura comes to mind.

"I wake up. I know I've got to go to work, but wham," Murray said.

Sharon Rausch, the mother of Billy Rausch, Maura's boyfriend at the time she disappeared, praised Murray's dedication in searching for Maura.

She said she hasn't been as active in the search this year because of family commitments at home in Marengo, Ohio.

"Fred, he is still up there searching. God love him, he's just hurting.

"We've always been here for him," Mrs. Rausch said.

FBI help

Murray wants the FBI to take over the investigation. The FBI conducted some interviews with Maura's friends early on, but nothing substantial, he said, adding authorities should invite them to participate now in the full investigation.

"We need an organization to take a fresh look with an unjaundiced eye," Murray said.

Murray enjoyed spending time with Billy Rausch, who was dating Maura in a long-distance relationship when she disappeared. Rausch, now a U.S. Army captain, has been serving in Iraq for a year and a half and just recently returned to the states. He was stationed in Oklahoma when Maura disappeared.

Rausch and Maura met at West Point before she transferred to UMass.

"I want the kid to be able to get on with the rest of his life without carrying this as an obligation," Murray said.

If by some chance Maura is alive, Murray would want to say to her: "Miss you, kid. Get back home. You're not in trouble. We'll pick up from where you are ... I want my buddy back.

"She was my buddy; we hung around together," Murray said. After his divorce, when Maura was six, he was determined to see his children every day when they were growing up.

Murray has many fine memories of runs and hikes with Maura, but one of the best was the autumn before she disappeared.

"We were concluding our collection of 4,000-footers. I was doing the last three I hadn't done." One day, they hiked to Owl's Head; the next day 23 miles on three 4,000-foot peaks.

"Then she whipped out of her knapsack for finishing my 48th, a Long Trail Ale, and handed it to me on the summit of West Bond.

"It was typical Maura," Murray said.