Concord Monitor

Sunday, March 31, 2013

(2 of 2)

A Decade Lost and the Spotlight Gone, a Father Searches For His Daughter

By Jeremy Blackman

As the years have passed, Fred’s mistrust has boiled into outright suspicion. He is especially critical of how the first state trooper who arrived on the scene dealt with Maura’s disappearance, and the fact that he hasn’t seen that trooper’s report has fed his suspicion that the case was mishandled. Given his training and jurisdiction, the trooper was Maura’s best chance, he said.

“The locals did what locals do everywhere,” Fred said. “Maybe they’re outmanned. Maybe they don’t have experience. But the state police, they are supposed to be the real deal.”

So he wonders, endlessly: What did or didn’t the trooper do?

“I can’t accuse anybody of anything because I don’t know anything. I don’t know, but I want to know,” he said.

Fred believes that everything would be different if the FBI were holding the reins. The tough questions would be asked. Family members would be tapped for relevant information that could lead to tangible results. Every lead and speck of evidence would be upturned.

“My daughter just went missing in the wrong place,” he said. “If I had the FBI and I got new information, then I’d have the confidence something would happen with it. The other way is a black hole. I’m left to just let my imagination wander.”

But, listening to Fred lay out his critiques, it’s evident that he constantly struggles to balance two conflicting streams of thought: one based on logical reasoning, the other on desperation.

“These types of situations are hard,” Strelzin said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t reached a point where we can give Fred or the family any sort of closure. They’re in a tough spot. It’s terrible not to have definitive answers.”

Strelzin said the state could not comment on numerous assertions Fred has made because most are part of an ongoing investigation. But he described the state’s effort as “thorough” and ongoing. He also said it would be detrimental if the state unsealed all its evidence because withholding certain information helps officials discern what new leads are credible and ensures that any potential criminal trial is not contaminated by the premature release of documents or testimony.

“If you put your whole case file out there, you’d never be able to prosecute a case,” Strelzin said.

Turmoil without end

What does nine years of not knowing the fate of your child do to a father?

“The frustration makes me mad, and you can burn on that,” he said. “When (the disappearance) first happened there was so much going on that I would take the first thing that was on my front porch, boom, and do the next thing, boom, and do the next thing. Always staying busy. Trying, trying, trying, one thing after another, to register everything in my mind.

“The way I’ve progressed in nine years is I don’t have as much to do,” he continued, “because there isn’t as much happening in the case, so I’m not as frantic. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not always with me. When I wake up in the morning it doesn’t take long for this to pop into my mind. Doesn’t take long at all. Wham, it’s constantly there. When I get new information, I make sure (the) cold case (unit) and the police have it. And I wait for something to happen. And it never does. Nothing ever happens.”

In person, Fred is polite and composed, albeit assertive when discussing his daughter and her disappearance. He does not want to talk about what was going on in Maura’s life before she vanished. According to him, it’s not relevant.

Fred has aged considerably from pictures taken around the time of the incident, but he’s still fit and active. He lives on Cape Cod and works part time at a hospital. He could retire, but he said he prefers to have a distraction. He said he’s trying “to be as normal as I can.” But even that has its challenges.

“People at work know who I am, they know the story,” he said. “And they don’t know what to say. It makes them anxious. They’re uncomfortable. I play it down, I tell them I don’t want to talk about it, and they’re relieved.”

His daughters – Julie, 33, and Kathleen, 35 – say the disappearance has brought them closer to their dad and to each other. (Maura’s mother, Laurie, was divorced from Fred at the time of their daughter’s disappearance and died of cancer a few years ago – on Maura’s birthday.)

Still, it’s difficult on everyone. At gatherings Maura’s name isn’t mentioned all that much, “but it’s on everyone’s mind,” Julie said.

“For me, it’s just been a complete roller coaster of emotions since the day this began. I have a lot of sadness, experiencing so many life events without her – growing up, getting a new job, maturing,” she said. “And there is regret, for something I didn’t say or do. You start questioning, if I had answered the phone that one time, done this or that, maybe it would be different.”

Fred acknowledges that at times his comments and actions, particularly those toward the state police, may seem abrasive. But he doesn’t apologize for that. He can’t.

“If I make people uncomfortable, I have no option,” he said. “You put me in this situation. If you told me nine years ago what was going on, I wouldn’t be still pounding away with the FBI. But you didn’t, and so here I am.

“I’m not going away because I can’t. It’s impossible as a human being to let this rest. I owe it to my daughter to do everything I can.”

Helpful, to a point

Maura’s case, like so many, has been amplified through the internet. Articles and documents bounce from one website to the next. 20/20 and Montel clips get posted and re-posted. There is a Facebook group dedicated to her disappearance, where friends and strangers post comments, theories and links to news on serial killers and other missing persons cases.

“Just watched the case of Maura on Disappeared,” one user wrote. “My prayers are with her and her family and friends! I hope she is found soon!”

Kathleen said the online community that has formed around the case has helped in many ways, by knowing there are others out there who sympathize or who may be dealing with a similar tragedy. She said she reads web forums about Maura and constantly watches television shows about vanishings and other unsolved mysteries.

The online attention, though, has also created some headaches for the family, particularly Fred, because some comments and accusations seem insensitive and intrusive, Kathleen and Julie said.

A few years ago an Ohio-based journalist and crime writer named James Renner started a blog and began collecting information about Maura’s disappearance for a book he is now writing. His blog has become a hot spot for alternative theories about what happened. Was Maura driving in tandem with another car at the time of the crash? Was she running away for good? Did Fred have something to do with the case?

Nothing appears off limits on the site, including details about Maura’s past – and that doesn’t sit well with the family.

“People say mean things about my family, my dad,” Julie said. “I take it that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Renner writes on the blog that he’s made many attempts to interview Fred for the book but has been stonewalled, and he questions Fred’s motivations for not talking to him.

Fred said he doesn’t like to discuss the book but has refused to participate in the project because he doesn’t trust the angles Renner might take, and because he doesn’t think Renner will “dig up anything I haven’t.”

Toggling between the Facebook group and Renner’s blog, it’s as if two camps have formed: the former for sympathy and the latter for pointing fingers.

“There are some people who have become obsessed with Maura’s case, for whatever reason,” said Helena Dwyer Murray, who is related to Fred through marriage and who curates the Facebook page. “Some are wonderful, some are questionable.”

But despite the divide, it’s also clear that everyone wants the same thing: answers.

“It’s time,” Helena said. “People don’t realize how many lives something like this actually affects. It’s not just the immediate family. So many people have been following it for nine years. Looking to find something, hoping to find something.”

That something: What happened to Maura Murray?

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)