SOCO Magazine

April 2011

5 of 7

Sergeant Smith found a rag stuffed in the tailpipe of the Saturn during his accident scene investigation. The rag came from the trunk of Maura's car, part of an emergency roadside kit her father had stored in the trunk. According to one of Conway's articles, a Hanson, Mass.-based auto mechanic explained that stuffing a rag into a car's tailpipe can be a way to plug it to check for leaks in the exhaust system, but that it would also stall the vehicle and at some point destroy the engine.

We've all heard of carbon monoxide poisoning as a way, to commit suicide; however, the gas would have to somehow be fed back into the vehicle, through a hose perhaps, which wasn't present in this situation. Considering that the car was experiencing mechanical problems, Fred Murray said at the time that it was possible Maura had stuffed the rag into the tailpipe herself if smoke was coming out of it and she wanted to plug it up.

O'Connell and his team of experts, who've been conducting a pro bono private investigation on this case for the past two and a half years at the request of Fred Murray have their own conclusion about the rag.

During their work on the case, O'Connell's team determined Maura's car had a full tank of gas when it was found off the road on Route 112. Even if Maura left UMass with a full tank of gas in her car, O'Connell said, she wouldn't have still had a full tank by the time she reached Haverhill; she would have had to stop and get gas along the way. lt was when she stopped for gas, O'Connell said, that the rag was stuffed into her tailpipe.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this beautiful nursing student stopped at a gas station, someone stuffed a rag in her car (in the tailpipe), which helped contribute to the disabling of her vehicle. The airbags were deployed, she was not seriously injured, she was abducted," he said.

Aside from theories about the rag in the tailpipe, many are also mystified by the phone call Billy Rausch received on his cell phone on Feb. 11, 2004. While traveling from Oklahoma to New Hampshire to assist with the search for his missing girlfriend, Billy Raush had turned his cell phone off while going through airport security. He turned his phone on afterward and had a new voice message. The voice message is a woman breaching, sniffing, and whimpering. According to Helena Murray's account of events, many, including Rausch, believe it was Maura. Rausch called the number back, but couldn't reach a person because whoever called had used a prepaid calling card issued to the American Red Cross. Before Maura got a cell phone, she used to use prepaid phone cards to call Billy in Oklahoma, and Billy's mom gave Maura two prepaid cards at a previous Thanksgiving dinner, said Raush 's mother, Sharon Rausch, during an interview included in "Disappeared."

To begin to understand why Maura's disappearance is so puzzling, it helps to know the events that led up to her leaving the UMass Amherst Campus when she did. Helena Murray provided SOCO with a recap of the events leading up to Maura's drive to New Hampshire.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, at 10:20 p.m., while Maura was working at her on-campus job at Student Security, she spoke with her sister, Kathleen on the phone. Kathleen later recalled that the two talked about guy problems and that there was nothing unusual about the conversation.

Maura received another phone call while still at work, at 1 a.m. all Friday Feb. 6, after which she become upset. She was escorted back to her dorm room by her supervisor. Fred Murray arrived at the UMass Amherst campus on Saturday, Feb. 7, to visit his daughter. He planned to stay overnight in the area and rented a motel room. Maura lived with her mother growing up, but always maintained a close relationship with her Father. The two went shopping for a used car tor Maura because her vehicle at the time, a 1996 black Saturn, had been experiencing mechanical problems.

Also all Saturday, Maura and her father ate dinner along with one of Maura's friends at an Amherst restaurant. After dinner Maura dropped her father off at his hotel room. She borrowed his car that evening and drove herself back to the UMass campus to attend a dorm party with her friend. At 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8, Maura left her friend's dorm room and started to drive her father's car, a brand new Toyota Corolla, back to his hotel. On the way, she went off the road on Route 9 in Hadley, Mass., striking a guardrail. No charges were filed by police and damage to the vehicle totaled $8,000. Fred Murray recalled that at the time Maura was shaken up and apologetic about the accident.

Maura called her boyfriend at 4:49 A.M. from her father's cell phone. Later on Sunday, Fred rented a car, dropped Maura off at her dorm, and headed to Connecticut for work. That was the last time he saw his daughter.

Maura spoke to her father on the phone at 11:26 p.m. Sunday night. They spoke about getting the necessary forms from the registry pertaining to the accident and decided to discuss the matter again on Monday night.

A search by then-New Hampshire State Police Troop F Commander Lieutenant John Scarinza of Maura's computer hard drive revealed that sometime later Sunday night she searched online for directions to Burlington, Vt.

On the day of her disappearance, at 12:55 p.m. Maura called for information about renting a condo in Bartlett, N.H. The call lasted for three minutes and she did not rent a condo. At 1 p.m. she sent Rausch an e-mail saying that she didn't feel like talking to anyone but that she would call him later that day. She also called 1-800-GOSTOWE at 2 p.m., but the number was out of order.