The Patriot Ledger
February 8, 2006
Ledger Update: Where is Maura? 2 Years Later, Missing Hanson Woman’s Family Clings to Hope, Waits for Answers
By Joe McGee
Laurie Murray has had the same bedtime ritual every night for the past two years. She prays to the Catholic patron saint of lost things, hoping that she’ll awaken to good news. ‘‘What I do every night is pray to St. Anthony,’’ Murray said. ‘‘I have a statue right here.’’
It will be two years tomorrow since Laurie’s daughter, Hanson native Maura Murray, a student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, disappeared after a minor traffic accident in Haverhill, N.H.
Police, who have treated her disappearance as a missing persons case, stopped talking about leads long ago.
Even now, as the family clings to hope and waits for answers, they stand firm in their belief that wherever Maura went, she did not go willingly.
They are hoping renewed media attention and the work of a private investigator will yield results.
‘‘Someone doesn’t just disappear. ...She called me every night,’’ Laurie Murray said. ‘‘Something went horribly wrong.’’
A Web site, mauramurray.com, keeps her memory alive. It also has provided the family with tips and theories about the case, none of which has been confirmed by police. One tipster suggested that drug dealers in the rural area knew something about her disappearance.
Maura’s story has been mentioned on CNN, Fox News and ABC in reports about the mysterious disappearances of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway during a post-graduation trip to Aruba and honeymooner George Smith during a Royal Caribbean cruise. Maura’s story will be told again in a segment of ‘‘20/20’’ that the news program is calling ‘‘Vanished.’’
‘‘At this stage of the game, we have to put her in God’s hands and pray he’ll guide us to wherever it is to find her,’’ said Barbara McDougall of Weymouth, a cousin to Maura.
Tomorrow, while Laurie Murray is at church saying more prayers to St. Anthony, a private investigator will be retracing Maura’s steps from the time she left UMass on Feb. 9, 2004, to the time of the accident in New Hampshire that night.
‘‘You just go back and put yourself at the scene and imagine what could have happened that night,’’ said Tom Shamshack, a former Winthrop police chief and an investigative consultant to the Molly Bish Foundation who became involved with the Murray case in December.
Shamshack, -who says missing property often gets more attention than a missing person, - wants to interview those who were last in contact with Murray, including college friends, relatives and Butch Atwood, a bus driver who was the last to see her.
Atwood, who has since moved to Florida, was driving by in a bus that night and offered Murray help. He said she refused his help, saying she would call for roadside assistance with her cell phone even though there is no coverage in the area.
Atwood told New Hampshire newspapers that he went back to his home, about 100 yards from the accident scene, and called 911. Police arrived minutes later, but Murray had vanished.
Atwood said he saw other cars go by while he was calling for help, but that it was too dark to tell their makes or models.
Police found no footprints or other evidence to suggest Murray had walked away.
‘‘You just think about the different scenarios, number one being that she could’ve easily walked down the road to try to get cell phone coverage,’’ Shamshack said. ‘‘Somebody else could’ve driven by who nobody saw, and offered help. She got into that automobile and then left the scene and that’s it.’’
A New Hampshire Superior Court judge recently denied the family access to official police records, making it almost impossible to draw a timeline from when Murray left school to when she arrived in Haverhill.
But Shamshack said visiting Haverhill, a mountainside community of 4,400, would help him get a sense of where Maura could have gone.
The area of the accident scene, on Route 112 at a hairpin turn marked with a big red barn, should be the best source of what happened, he said.
‘‘I’m a Somerville guy and I have some understanding of what goes on on the streets, and my sense is what happened is right there in that neighborhood,’’ he said.
Murray’s boyfriend, Army Capt. William Rausch, said he still has a special place in his heart for Maura, the girl he planned to marry.
Still single, Rausch, 25, said he finds strength by dedicating himself to his job at Fort Sill, Okla., and staying close with friends from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he and Murray met. Some of his colleagues knew Murray from the year she spent at West Point and have fond memories of her, Rausch said.
‘‘It seems evident that whatever happened is concrete,’’ Rausch said, ‘‘but I still love her like many others do, and I feel lucky to have had what we had.’’
Joe McGee may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.