March 2, 2004
Where could Maura be?
By Brian McGrory
The mystery continues to deepen around Maura Murray, the nursing student who vanished in New Hampshire three weeks ago after she slammed her car into some trees on a dark, rural road.
Investigators have determined the origin of an unusual telephone call that Murray received a few nights before she fled the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The conversation upset her so much that she had to be escorted from her job to her dorm room.
The call, according to UMass police Lieutenant Robert Thrasher, came from one of Murray's two sisters. But Thrasher said police have yet to receive an explanation of what was so upsetting.
Yesterday, Fred Murray, the girls' father, said he was told that Maura's sister called her to talk about a "monstrous" fight with a boyfriend. "But I don't think that would upset her all that much," Murray said.
The more details are revealed, the more baffling the case becomes, police acknowledge. Yesterday, Thrasher said that Maura had fastidiously packed all her belongings into boxes before she left school, even removing the art from her dorm room walls. Meanwhile, one UMass friend has seemingly withheld information from police, saying she didn't want to get Maura "in trouble."
UMass investigators, who have interviewed dozens of potential witnesses and combed through Murray's computer, shared an in-depth time line that preceded the disappearance. Murray received the call on Thursday evening, Feb. 5. On Saturday, Feb. 7, Maura and a girlfriend had dinner with Fred Murray, who was visiting Amherst. Afterward, the father returned to his hotel, and the two young women attended a campus party.
At 3:30 a.m. Feb. 8, Maura crashed her father's new Toyota into a roadside post. She told her father about the accident later that morning. Just after midnight on Monday morning, Feb. 9, she conducted a Map Quest search of the Berkshires and Burlington, Vt., on her personal computer.
At 3:40 p.m. Monday, she withdrew $280 from an area ATM, then stopped at a liquor store. Surveillance cameras at the bank machine and in the store show that she was alone.
Maura was next seen at 7 p.m. in the White Mountains hamlet of Haverhill, N.H., an area where she had hiked and camped with her father. School bus driver Butch Atwood came across her car in an embankment, he said, and stopped to ask if she needed help.
When she declined, he drove the 100 yards to his cabin and summoned police. By the time authorities arrived seven to 10 minutes later, she was gone. Her bank card, credit cards, and cellphone have been dormant since.
Authorities are exploring four scenarios, all of which they say contain flaws.
Least likely is that she committed suicide. She left no note. Her grades were excellent. Her medical records showed no issues, and her relationships appeared sound. One investigator characterized her ongoing e-mail exchange with her boyfriend, an Army lieutenant in Oklahoma, as "sappy."
Second unlikeliest is that, intoxicated, she ventured into the woods and was overcome by the elements. But dogs couldn't trace her scent, there were no footprints in the fresh snow, and helicopters equipped with heat-seeking devices were no help.
Third is that in the brief window of time, she was picked up by someone who abducted or killed her. But authorities believe the odds of a violent criminal coincidentally coming across her on the rural road are as remote as the location itself.
Fourth is that she was picked up by a passerby, taken to a bus station, and fled the area, possibly with little idea of the anguish she has left behind.
This may have started innocently, with a confused young woman needing a break from the pressures of student life. But it isn't ending well. Maura, if you're alive, if you're able, come home.
And if she's not, there's someone, somewhere who has some idea of what happened that night.