The Patriot Ledger

February 10, 2005

Haunted, but hopeful: Family wants N.H. police to do more to find Maura Murray, who disappeared a year ago

By Joe McGee

HAVERHILL, N.H. - Fred Murray rips down a worn blue ribbon from a tree standing off the side of a country road. It has been a year since his daughter, Maura Murray of Hanson, disappeared from this site on Route 112 in Haverhill. Murray puts up a new ribbon as a symbol of new hope.

‘‘I hope this will be the last time we have to do this,'' he said.

Maura, then 22, left the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on Feb. 9, 2004, and was last seen that evening on Route 112 after the car she was driving crashed off the road.

She may have wanted to get away from personal problems of some nature when she left Amherst and so she is officially listed as a missing person. But her family believes she was abducted after the crash. Credit cards and a cell phone were inactive and it is unlike her not to contact her family during a time of need.

After a year of waiting and wondering in anguish, Fred Murray and his family are tired of hearing questions about why Maura left school. They want to know what happened when she reached Haverhill.

‘‘They say she was suicidal and a runaway but there is no sign of it. The wrong guy picked her up,'' Murray said.

Murray brought this message directly to Gov. John Lynch yesterday when he entered the State House's executive chamber and interrupted a meeting to personally ask the governor to release records of his daughter's case. Murray believes the New Hampshire State Police were lax in their investigation and now feels it is his duty to follow all possible leads.

Lynch made no commitments. ‘‘I told Mr. Murray that I will look into the situation, and I promised to get back to him as soon as I possibly can,'' he said.

Murray said the meeting was a positive start toward repairing relations between him and investigators handling the case.

New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarniza said that if Lynch's office calls he won't be able to offer any new information even though his detectives have spent ‘‘thousands'' of hours investigating the case.

‘‘Contrary to what Mr. Murray says, this case continues to be a high priority,'' he said.

Music and prayer

Murray's State House appearance was followed later in the afternoon with a prayer vigil at the crash site.

A group of family and friends followed Murray from Concord north to where Maura was last seen. The trip along Route 112 (the Kancamagus Highway) winds through the White Mountain National Forest and along the Wild Ammonoosuc River in some of the most deserted areas of the region.

‘‘It's hard to come here. This place reminds me of her because I've been up here so many times to look for her,'' said Maura's brother, Fred Murray of Hanson.

Clergy read a prayer and a special song written for Maura by Jenny Brooks, a high school classmate, was played by the roadside.

‘‘We're haunted by the unknown but driven by hope,'' the Rev. Lyn McIntosh of Lisbon, N.H., said to the group.

The Murrays spent the last year traveling this rugged country on the weekends to search and investigate on their own. While some locals sympathize with the family, others are upset by their walking on private property, questioning of neighbors and the media attention the case has brought to their rural community.

Butch Atwood was the last person reported to have seen Maura alive. He offered her a ride to his home up the road where his wife and mother were that night. Atwood says Maura refused his help but he called police anyway.

Maura was gone when a police officer arrived. There were no footprints or any other markers to show where she was headed.

Atwood said he is tired of having his name associated with the case. He said reporters have continually questioned him and taken undesirable photographs that may lead some to believe he was a suspect. Police, however, said they questioned Atwood as a matter of routine but never considered him a suspect.

‘‘I'm irritated beyond irritation,'' Atwood said. ‘‘I only tried to help her. It hurts.''

A former Taunton, Mass. police officer, Atwood and his wife moved to New Hampshire in 1984. Because of his police background, Atwood said he has always been kind to stranded motorists.

Neighbors disagree

The owner of a general store near Haverhill feels the same resentment toward Fred Murray.

‘‘He's just wrong. He's not telling us everything about her and what he's done is turned neighbor against neighbor up here,'' Bill Matteson said.

But among the disgruntled townspeople are people like Gina Paye who said she lives on Route 112 with three young children. A Springfield, Mass., native, Paye said she has reconsidered her move to the area since Maura's disappearance. Now she doesn't let the children out of her sight.

‘‘It has made me very nervous about living here and I don't know if it's safe anymore,'' Paye said.

‘‘I don't want to down our police department but I honestly don't know if they searched enough. I don't care about her background or if she was drinking. My feeling is she was picked up and we need to know what happened.''

Murray said he won't rest until that question is answered.

‘‘I'm encouraged,'' he said after meeting with Lynch. ‘‘But I'll be more encouraged when I see a better response (from police).''

Joe McGee may be reached at