The New Hampshire Union Leader

January 9, 2005

Father wants police files on missing daughter opened

Stumped in his search for Maura Murray, missing since a cold night 11 months ago when her car went off a North Country road, her father said on Friday that he plans to consult with a lawyer and write a letter to New Hampshire's new governor, John H. Lynch.

Frederick J. Murray of Weymouth, Mass., wrote to Gov. Craig Benson last May, conveying his disappointment that police had been unable to determine what happened to his daughter, who apparently walked away at about 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2004, leaving her car alongside Route 112 in North Haverhill, its airbag deployed and the windshield cracked as if her head had struck the glass in the impact with banked-up frozen snow.

Murray said he never got a reply from Benson, although he has heard back from law enforcement authorities who have denied him access to their investigative records.

He has written to New Hampshire Safety Commissioner Richard M. Flynn; New Hampshire state police, the lead investigative agency; Grafton County Sheriff Charles E. Barry, and the police chief at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., where his daughter was a student. He requested copies of the radio dispatch logs, witness interview reports and "any records with any affiliated law enforcement agency and any information that pertains to Maura Murray and this case."

All the law enforcement authorities denied him access to their files, explaining that the investigative documents he sought were confidential and exempted from the public-records provisions of right-to-know laws.

The most recent response Murray got was a letter dated Jan. 3, from Thomas Andross of the Grafton County Sheriff's Department.

Andross wrote:

"The information requested is part of files that are investigative in nature and release would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy under (the right-to-know law). The release and disclosure at this time could interfere with an ongoing investigation."

Said Murray:

"I want to look in those dispatch logs to find out if there is anything that might indicate a direction that they might have overlooked that I might develop. . . . This is not a criminal investigation. This is a missing person investigation. So, why all this secrecy? What is it they don't want me to know?"

At state police headquarters on Friday, requests for comment on the status of the Maura Murray case were referred to Sgt. Thomas J. Yorke. Messages were left at the Troop F station in Twin Mountain for Yorke and Lt. John K. Scarinza. Both have been involved in the investigation, but neither was expected to pick up their messages until tomorrow.

Murray, who has traipsed the woods near the crash site on numerous weekends, followed tips to dead ends and listened to the theories of psychics, worked with relatives and friends to maintain a Web site and gather pledges backing a $40,000 reward offer, said he is now "on the verge of enlisting legal aid in my attempt to get information."

State law provides for a denial of records under the right-to-know law to be appealed to a Superior Court.

Mystery phone call

One piece of the puzzle that Murray believes is in the police records he seeks is the identity of the person who held a certain telephone number on the University of Massachusetts campus on the day his daughter disappeared. Murray said telephone records show she made a call from her cellular telephone to that number the afternoon of Feb. 9, 2004, but the current subscriber did not have that number last year.

"I want to ask the people who had that number what my daughter may have said when she called. I'm trying to figure out her frame of mind," said the frustrated father, remembering better days, when he and his daughter, whose 22nd birthday was on May 4, 2004, would get together on a weekend to hike a trail in the White Mountains.

The call to the phone on the UMass campus was not the only one Maura Murray made the day she disappeared: She talked with Linda Salamone who owns a condominium at the Seasons at Attitash in Bartlett.

(Haverhill, where Murray's car was found, is on the western edge of the state; Bartlett, on the eastern side. One way to get between the two towns is Route 112, which crosses through the White Mountains as the Kancamagus Highway.)

Condo rental call

Salamone, of Wakefield, Mass., did not know she had talked with Maura Murray until Sharon Rausch, working from the cell phone billing records, dialed her number in October. Rausch, of Marengo, Ohio, is the mother of Murray's boyfriend, Army Lt. William Rausch.

"Only then did it all clicked," Salamone said on Friday of how her conversation with Mrs. Rausch last October made her realize she was one of the last people to talk with Murray before she disappeared.

Salamone does not remember details of her conversation with Maura Murray, but presumes it had to do with renting her condo in Bartlett. Salamone said she likely told Murray that the condo was taken because people rent it months in advance of the ski season.

A New Hampshire state police investigator did not contact Salamone until after the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy, Mass., ran a story in November that reported she was among the last people to talk with the missing woman.

Salamone said the state police officer told her he was following up on an earlier call. "He said they had tried to contact me before, but had not left a message then and that their investigation had since taken a different turn." She said she explained to the investigator that the condo is booked months ahead and she could not remember what was said in the 90 seconds or so that she and Maura Murray spoke nine months before.

Family vacation spot

For Fred Murray, it's logical that his daughter would seek to stay at the condominium complex at Attitash, where the family had vacationed in the past, and disturbing that investigators did not follow through on the call until prompted by a newspaper story.

"There is nobody Maura knows up there. She was looking for a place to stay," Murray said, adding that his daughter had taken extra clothing with her and some school books.

"This indicated that my daughter had a purpose (in leaving school abruptly on a Monday to travel to New Hampshire.) The police never followed up on a phone call she made on the afternoon she left. If they were not going to do something as elemental as that, what makes you think they will follow through with a proper investigation?"

In past conversations he has had with investigators, Murray said, "They keep shifting from hypothermia, to, 'this is a case of a runaway,' to, 'it's a suicide.' . . . Anything to avoid Number 4, which is the 'bad guy' alternative. If it's a bad guy who came along when she was there alone that night, the onus is upon them to do something and they can't."