The New Hampshire Union Leader

October 29, 2007

Family: No way it was suicide

Second of three parts

By Nancy West

Whether Maura Murray came to northern New Hampshire Feb. 9, 2004, to end her life is an emotional question for her family.

Her loved ones say it is far more likely she was abducted and killed that night after crashing her 1996 black Saturn into trees about 7:30 p.m., that they were simply all too close for Maura to have been secretly despondent to the point of considering taking her own life.

Authorities are calling Maura's disappearance a potential homicide, keeping most of the records closed in a criminal investigation file.

"A lot of things about the case are unique and troubling," said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin.

But, he cautioned, the puzzle simply hasn't been solved yet, so there is no way of knowing the truth about the fate of the 21-year-old nursing student from Hanson, Mass.

Maura's case has seemingly headed in several directions -- from police leaning toward the theory that yet another drunk tourist abandoned a crashed car to avoid drunken driving charges that night to potential homicide.

Nothing has been ruled out for certain, including the theory that Maura has gone away to start a new life, although that seems the least likely.

Almost four years later, it is still a mystery, but the suicide theory has been hard for the people who love her to even think about.

Early on, her father, Fred Murray, briefly considered Maura may have committed suicide.

When police assembled the Murray and Rausch families to brief them on the investigation, Maura's father "moaned and rubbed his head and said, 'Oh, no,' " according to Sharon Rausch, the mother of Billy Rausch, Maura's then-boyfriend.

"I remember Fred said, 'I always have told the kids when I got old and worthless I was going to climb my favorite mountain with a bottle of Jack Daniels and drink myself to death.' That was emotional. He thought what if there was something he didn't know about," Rausch said.

She said authorities thought the alcohol and Tylenol PM Maura brought may have been indications she was going to kill herself. "That's what people do, they drink, take a bunch of pills and die peacefully," she said.

But Rausch doesn't believe that was Maura's plan. The Kahlua, vodka and Bailey's Irish Creme Maura reportedly brought with her would likely have been about a week's worth of the drinks Maura liked, Mudslides, Rausch said.

When visiting the Rausch family in Marengo, Ohio, Maura would add Bailey's to her coffee in the morning and drink Mike's Hard Lemonade with lunch, she said. Maura and Billy always had their stash of alcohol because Rausch doesn't drink, but she said Maura didn't drink excessively.

Private get-away

She believes Maura left the University of Massachusetts without telling anyone why or where she was going to have a private getaway to think things over.

Rausch believes Maura had all her school books in the car to keep up with her school work while she decided whether to leave school and go to work to pay for the damage she had done to her father's car after crashing his new Toyota the previous weekend.

She said Billy was upset after arriving from Fort Sill, Okla., where he was stationed.

"Fred arrived in Haverhill early Wednesday. We arrived Wednesday around 7 p.m. They interviewed Billy. He was a prime suspect. He was totally distraught. I'll never forget the look on his face. He said 'I feel as dirty as Scott Peterson. They think I've got something to do with it.'" Rausch said.

Fred Murray recalls that meeting with police, but remembers talking about a movie he had seen in which an old Indian woman walks off to die when she felt she was too old to go on.

"I hadn't talked about suicide," Murray said. "No, I gave them the analogy of the old Indian woman off the bat," he said. "I remember discussing the old Indian ... It was a freaking nightmare. They just dropped the ball."

For the next two weeks, both families believed Maura was alive, that she had broken into a cabin because she was a survivor, was in excellent health and ran five miles a day, Rausch said.

Book lead

The book "Not Without Peril" subtitled "150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire" by Nicholas Howe was found in Maura's locked car. A gift from her father, the book chronicles tragedies and rescues in New Hampshire mountains.

Rausch said police told the family the book had a photo of Maura's younger brother as a "bookmark" at a chapter entitled "A Question of Life or Death."

But even that is a red herring, Rausch believes, because it was Maura's favorite and she often re-read it, having brought it once on a visit to the Rausch home.

"While it's all true stories about people hiking and either dying or surviving a snow storm, it's also a survivor's manual more than about suicide," Rausch said.

Rausch said Maura was planning to become a physician's assistant after nursing school. She recalled how her son loved Maura, coming home one day to say he found someone with beauty, brains and wit -- and someone who could even outrun him.

Maura's father believes his daughter had too much going for her to commit suicide: a great boyfriend, future career and supportive family.

"Maura was such a personality. Everybody would seek her out. She was extremely popular, lively and fun," Murray said.