March 18, 2006
Serial killer behind 'disappearing' women? - Frustrated parents of 2 girls suspect cases connected, killer on the loose
By H. P. Albarelli
Brianna Maitland - On a freezing cold March 19, 2004, night at 11:20 p.m., 17-year old Brianna Maitland clocked out of her job at the historic Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery Center, Vermont.
Maitland had to get up early the next morning for her second job as a waitress in nearby St. Albans. Business at the Black Lantern had been bustling that night, and earlier that day she had spent several hours shopping with her mother Kellie. She was tired, she told fellow workers, and couldn’t stay for an after-closing dinner.
Less than two hours later, her car was spotted a mile from the inn, backed into the clapboard siding of an abandoned, roadside farmhouse. The vehicle, with its headlights still on, was empty except for two un-cashed paychecks and personal items on the front seat. Brianna Maitland had vanished.
Five weeks earlier, and 90 miles south of Montgomery Center, on a cold, snowy Feb. 9 evening at about 7:20 p.m., Maura Murray, a 21-year old University of Massachusetts student, drove her car into a snow bank on a sharp curve on Route 112 near Haverhill, N.H.
Maura Murray * Within a few minutes, a school bus driven by Butch Atwood stopped alongside Murray’s vehicle. Atwood, who told reporters he is a former police officer, asked Murray if she was okay and if she wanted him to alert local police. Murray, according to Atwood, said that she was fine and that she had already used her cell phone to call AAA for assistance.
Still concerned, Atwood continued up the road to his house, only about 100 yards away, and, once inside, telephoned police to report the accident. About 10 minutes later, a Haverhill police officer, and then a New Hampshire State Police trooper, arrived on the scene. Maura Murray’s car was empty and she had vanished.
The still unsolved disappearances of Brianna Maitland and Maura Murray have caused widespread feelings of insecurity among women throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, and have renewed fears that a serial killer may be on the loose.
The disappearances have served to shatter the long-standing reputations of the two states as geographically safe and tranquil havens from the ills of urban America. Both disappearances also have created deep concerns about law enforcement response procedures, as well as friction between the families of both missing women and the New Hampshire and Vermont State Police departments.
No longer safe
Throughout the 1900s, Vermont and New Hampshire were at the top of the nation’s list of states that were near-free from violent crimes and murder. Indeed, in the 1950s and early 1960s, Vermont experienced murder rates that were in the low single digits, sometimes escaping annual counts without any recorded killings. All that began to slowly but steadily change in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1970s and 1980s, murders doubled and tripled in the two states. In the 1990s, and thereafter, violent crime and murders rose astronomically, and much of it was directed at young women.
From 1970 to 2004 nearly 30 women vanished in the tiny states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Of that number, 10 eventually were found, most having been brutally murdered. In total, 19 women remain unaccounted for between the two states. By most authoritative counts, there are over 60 unsolved homicides in Vermont and New Hampshire that occurred during that period.
Over the past several decades, law enforcement authorities in both states repeatedly have claimed that the murdered and missing are the victims of a wide variety of causes, including runaways, domestic violence and crimes of passion and sexual predators. Law enforcement officials argue there is no evidence a serial killer is on the loose, but many people take exception with this.
These people point to the series of young women murdered in the two states during the 1970s and 1980s by a person the media dubbed the “Valley Killer.” The Valley Killer, who never has been apprehended or identified, is responsible for attacking at least seven women and for murdering at least six women. Included in the Valley Killer’s death count are several young women, who physically resemble Maitland and Murray.
With the recent disappearances of the two women, police continue to insist there are “no reasons to believe that a serial killer is on the loose.” Police maintain the unsolved cases are not connected in any way. But many people remain skeptical of that claim.
Says Maitland’s father, Bruce, “Just because there isn’t any evidence is not a reason to close the door on that theory, or any other. If you look at the vital statistics on all of these missing women, you’d see right away that most are startlingly similar. If none are related, then that means there are a good 100, or so, individual murderers out there roaming about free to do anything they want.”
‘She had a special charisma’
By all accounts, Brianna Alexandra Maitland was an extraordinary young woman. Beautiful beyond her years, creative, caring and fiercely independent, she was the envy of many of the girls who knew her. Maitland was as good as any man at shooting skeet, riding a snow mobile or all-terrain-vehicle, and she could track a deer for miles through the woods.