Hanson Express

February 9, 2005

Maura Murray: A year of waiting

By Justin Graeber

After a year, Maura Murray's family and friends are no closer to finding out what happened to her.

The Hanson resident and former Whitman-Hanson track standout hasn't been seen since running her car off the road last Feb. 9 in a remote New Hampshire town near the Vermont border. Since then, her friends and family have banded together in an effort to put her name in the media so that someone, somewhere, will come forward with some information.

For the first six months after her disappearance, Maura's father, Fred Murray, trekked up to New Hampshire every weekend to search for his daughter. He combed the woods near the crash site for any trace of her, and talked to locals endlessly – two things he believes the state and local police didn't do enough of in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

“The only person looking for my daughter is myself,” he said.

On Wednesday, Murray petitioned newly elected New Hampshire governor John Lynch to release the records on the case. He said he has had difficulty obtaining many documents that should be public records. He also wants the case to be classified as a criminal investigation, which he believes may result in a more diligent investigation by the state police.

“The brakes have been slammed on what they say is an investigation,” said Murray. “When I do talk to [the state police] it's like a broken record: ‘I have nothing to tell you.’”

As the details of Maura's disappearance surfaced, questions were indeed raised about the police's investigation. The initial report by local police said that “a witness” believed Maura was drunk, but when the crash's sole eyewitness, a local school bus driver, went public, he disputed that fact. The state police have also resisted attempts by the FBI, contacted by the family, to get involved in the case.

Just recently, members of Maura's family discovered that police did not look into Maura's phone records from the day she disappeared. Sharon Rausch, the mother of Maura's fiancé Bill Rausch, got a copy of Maura's last cell phone bill and found that the last call she made was to members of a condo association near where she was last seen. When Rausch contacted the people, she was shocked to find out they had never been questioned by police.

Why that was so significant is because it seems to poke a hole in the state police's theory that Maura went missing of her own accord. Maura was in New Hampshire after she left UMass Amherst, where she was a nursing student. She emailed her professors, saying there had been a death in the family, which turned out not to be true.

The police have maintained that she may have run away, and indeed it is historically much more difficult for police to make headway in a case involving a missing adult. The case has always been classified missing persons. But the phone call would appear to indicate that Maura intended to stay for a few days in New Hampshire, an area where she often vacationed with her family.

This has all led Fred Murray to one conclusion.

“They're not looking,” he said. “[locals] weren't involved until 10 or 11 days after the investigation…what kind of police work is that?”

Other than one minor incident about searches parking, Murray said that the local residents have been pleasant and helpful.

“They're very nice people,” he said. “They've been very sympathetic.”

At UMass, there was an initial outpouring of support after her disappearance, said Dan O'Brien, who writes for the college newspaper The Daily Collegian and has done a few stories on Maura.

“When it happened it was shocking,” he said. “It could have been your best friend…she looked like the all-American girl. It struck a chord in the UMASS community.”

No services are planned at the college for the one year date, O'Brien said. Maura, a transfer student who spent many weekends visiting her out-of-town boyfriend, didn't have time to make a lot of friends before she disappeared. That plus the rapid turnover of a college campus has created a short memory among the students, although there is a small group that follows the case and offers supportive comments on the Collegian's website.

At home in Hanson, a private service was held at St. Joseph the Worker's Church. Maura's mother and her friends from high school, a close knit group of girls who bonded through the track team, attended.

“They keep in touch every day,” said Beth Drewniak, the mother of Liz, one of the girls. “They're very very sad.”

The girls even came up with a slogan that helps them get through the hardest times without their friend - Trust and believe. “They want to believe that she's ok, that she's coming home,” Drewniak said. “It's difficult…we pray all the time.”

“It's a mass of hope,” said Fr. Mark Hannon, pastor of St. Joseph's. “We're trying to keep the hope alive.” He said Maura's friends are “very worried…they hope and pray that Maura is ok.”

After Fred Murray delivered the letter to Lynch, he and other members of her family gathered at the accident site on Route 112 near Haverhill, MA. The aging blue ribbon on the tree which Maura's car struck was replaced, and a local minister offered prayers.

The family has also been keeping Maura's story alive through her website, www.mauramurray.com, and other less-mainstream news venues. A profile on Maura has been set up on several missing persons websites such as crimenews2000.com. Recently, her picture appeared on a stock car at a NASCAR event.

Through it all, Fred Murray is hanging on to hope that his daughter is safe and sound somewhere.

“I want her alive,” he said. “But failing that I want whichever of the dirtbags that did this to be caught.” Although he is skeptical, he also hopes the State Police will be more forthcoming in the future.

“I don't want the state police to be a hindrance,” he said.