After 15 years, search for Maura Murray continues
February 6, 2019
SWIFTWATER-"It's been 15 years ... and where's Maura?" Julie Murray is referring to her sister, who vanished after crashing her car on Route 112 in Haverhill on the evening of Feb. 9, 2004.
New test results might hold the answer to that question. But the Murray, family is wailing for Investigators to act.
"This is the frustrating part," Maura's father, Fred Murray, told the Journal Opinion in a recent interview. "That my family has been dealing with this since the beginning."
In 2018, the Murrays arranged for ground penetrating radar and cadaver dog tests at two different properties in the Haverhill area - both had been on the family's radar since soon after Maura's disappearance.
Testing at the first location in July did not turn up anything new.
Then, in early December, the Murrays looked at the second property. Two different cadaver dogs came to the location. When they smell human remains, they sit.
The first dog sat down, signaling a "hit" according to Fred and Julie.
To verify these results, a second cadaver dog with a different handler arrived at the site. The second dog sat in the same spot.
After that, GB Geotechnics conducted a forensic evaluation using ground penetrating radar.
GB Geotechnics is an international firm that has worked on projects for the Guggenheim and the U.S. Capitol.
"They might be the best in the world" Fred said.
GPR provides a method for the internal assessment of a wide variety of materials and is particularly appropriate for identifying the general arrangement of shallow buried objects as well as the internal elements of concrete, asphalt, stone, and brick masonry structures.
The results showed an anomaly - the earth was disturbed beneath the location of the "hit."
Those test results are now with law enforcement, but Julie said they were told by New Hampshire State Police that they will not look into it until the spring.
"It's super frustrating" she said "It's so defeating. Let's do this now. We don't want to wait"
"The job is to find my daughter and bring her home and bury her" Fred added.
The 15th anniversary of Maura Murray's disappearance is next week. But according to Julie, the Murray family relives it every day.
"The 15th [year] is no different than the first month. We go through this every year," she said.
At the time of her disappearance, Maura was a 21-year-old University of Massachusetts nursing student from Hanson, Massachusetts on Boston's South Shore. To this day, the reason for her trip to New Hampshire is still unknown.
Julie said that before the accident, she and Maura used to communicate via Yahoo Messenger and wonders if their messages hold any clues.
"I want to look at her computer to see her tone," she explained.
The computer is now in the possession of law enforcement.
"They're going to be looking at Yahoo Messenger. I would know if she said anything out of character," she said. "I want her to be found. Why can't you [law enforcement] share a hard drive?"
The enduring mystery of Maura's whereabouts and the proliferation of social media generated wide-spread interest in the case on line. It is the subject of an abundance of blogs, podcasts and other internet-based platforms, many geared towards figuring out what happened to her.
The interest has been many things. It has kept the case from going cold and garnered the attention of nationally known media outlets. It also led to a six-part documentary series on the Oxygen network that aired in 2017.
It followed journalist Maggie Freleng and her partner, retired U.S. Marshal Art Roderick, as they investigated the rumors and theories surrounding the case.
The documentary generated new interest in the case and led to the recent break.
Until this past year, the family did not have the resources to independently vet several leads of interest. After the series, they received numerous offers of help and support.
GB Geotechnics offered their services free of charge. Freleng, Roderick. and others associated with the Oxygen series used an online crowd funding platform to raise money for additional testing.
The 2018 searches came more than a decade after Fred Murray sued the state police and others under New Hampshire's Right-to-Know laws seeking access to records compiled by investigators in the search for Maura.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the records did not need to be disclosed while the case remained under investigation.
The Murray family felt that local law enforcement did not act quickly enough in response to Maura's disappearance in the first place.
They also indicated that law enforcement has been dismissive of leads and information that they believe should be a priority.
According to Fred Murray, two informants alerted him to the property in 2004, saying that fresh cement had been poured, but the state police dismissed it. Fred said.
He said he has encountered road blocks every step of the way.
"Since the beginning the police have been incomplete [in the investigation]. I would have been a perfect person to talk to." Julie said.
"We were super close. We spent every minute together."
Julie was just two years older than Maura, The two shared a room growing up, played on the same sports teams, and even attended West Point together. But the police never questioned her.
The case was assigned to the Attorney General's office early on when it was classified as a criminal investigation. In 2010, it was referred to the newly formed New Hampshire State Police Cold Case Unit which was organized in the fall of 2009.
The department's focus includes the review of unsolved homicides, unresolved suspicious deaths, and missing person cases in which foul play is suspected.
Detective Charles West of the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit told the JO that law enforcement still has tips coming in, and each one is acted upon immediately.
"We have many tips. Not necessarily daily but frequently," he said.
The FBI has been involved when called upon, but the family believes they should be brought in permanently.
"We work with a lot of law enforcement departments." Associate Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin explained. It's not unusual for another department to be called in."
Retired New Hampshire Fish and game Lieutenant Todd Bogardus was head of the search and rescue at the time and he said they have never seen a case like this one. Out of at least 100 searches he participated in, most cleared, he said.
Bogardus' team performed at least four searches. They were called on after the car accident to put a team together. Bogardus said the Haverhill Police Department did a routine canvas on the night of the accident and did not find anything.
Two feet of fresh snow had fallen, and no tracks were located.
Fish and Game's first search covered areas east on Route 112 to Woodstock. They also went as far as Conway based on information Fred had provided.
"We had nothing. She didn't go into the woods," Bogardus said, If she did, she didn't go very deep."
A week later the New Hampshire Slate Police called on them to come in with air scent canine dogs. They also brought cadaver dogs.
They searched within a half-mile radius, but found no signs or evidence, and there were no tracks that could not be ruled out.
After someone reported that they may have seen her walking east further up Route 112, the state police called the search team in once again.
They searched from there, every periphery road and went all the way up to the height of land and found nothing. A second search was performed that summer.
"At that time, we were convinced she wasn't in the woods. She had to have left a track," Bogardus said. "It's mysterious."
Since then lay people have been all over the area, and still nothing.
The Oxygen team interviewed Bogardus for the series. He said his participation was seen as a potential opportunity to provide new leads for law enforcement.
"I did the Oxygen show at the request of the Attorney General's office and the state police" Bogardus explained. "In hopes, for them to get more leads. Overall I think they did a good job."
And in spite of misleading reports implying that the case was reopened, the case has never been closed.
The decision to close a case is based on an evaluation of solvability, Strelzin said.
"We've solved cases that old", Strelzin said, "As time goes by, they become harder to solve, generally speaking."
The length of time since Maura disappeared adds challenges, but also can work in law enforcement's favor.
"The passage of time creates challenges and opportunities," Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin explained, "Memories can fade and people don't remember things [as clearly].
It can create opportunities because people's relationships change, those who were reluctant to speak 5-10 years ago become more willing as time goes by."
"The internet has created a forum to speculate. It generates a lot of false information," Strelzin said. On the other hand, the interest in the case has kept the tips rolling in.
"We've encouraged anyone with information to come forward," Strelzin said adding that sometimes people assume that their information is already known by law enforcement.
He said they should report their information anyway in case the information contains a detail that law enforcement had not seen in a particular light.
Julie and her father are of different minds on the interest, and she said that he does not want to become engulfed in a "pity party,"
"His youngest daughter has been missing for 15 years. He doesn't have time for pleasantries - he needs closure," she said. "She needs us to fight."
"I'm very grateful for the program," Julie said. The most productive impact of the Oxygen series was bringing national and international awareness of the case to people who otherwise wouldn't know the name "Maura Murray."
Julie said. It led to an increase in the number of people who reached out to offer their support.
And given the abundance of unsolved missing persons cases, she said she could not complain about a big network choosing her sister as the subject of one of their documentaries.
There were aspects of the show that were lacking, though. Julie said she wished they had spent more time with the police, and noted that out of several hours' worth of interviews with each member of her family, only a small fraction made it into the show.
Overall, Julie has welcomed the interest in the case and appreciates all of the people who are looking at it with fresh eyes, volunteering ideas, and offering support.
She and her siblings run a Facebook page devoted to the case. "We've got a great online community," she said.
The Murrays found the locals in Haverhill to be helpful and supportive as well and they acknowledged that the attention focused on the scene of the accident has been a source of frustration for residents.
"It's the basic innate goodness of the people is what keeps me going." Fred said. "It's one of the memories that will last. They helped sustain my efforts."
The attention on the case has adversely affected some of the resident in the area, and there are "No Trespassing" signs all along the tree lines near the crash.
Every year, Fred replaces the large blue ribbon that has marked the spot where his daughter crashed. Now that ribbon shares space with a bright yellow "No Trespassing" sign.
One resident said the locals were initially treated as though they were part of a "cover-up" and noted that, more recently, the film crew members parked on private property and were pushy when asking questions of the locals.
"There's a lot of people obsessed with the case who go knock on doors" Julie said. "Other people walk on their property and demand answers. That was never our intent."
She said that the family did not condone the actions of those who stormed onto the scene without respect for nearby residents.
"I don't want her case to be a cold case. I want people to talk about it. Sometimes a case like this is broken by fresh eyes." Julie said.
With the 15th anniversary this week, the search for Maura Murray continues.