HANSON — Maura Murray, then 21, a native of Hanson, vanished after she crashed her 1996 Saturn into a snowbank along a curve on Wild Ammonoosuc Road (Route 112) in Woodsville, New Hampshire, a village of Haverhill, 15 years ago. The UMass Amherst nursing student’s mysterious disappearance on Feb. 9, 2004 has sparked worldwide attention in the press, on the Internet and on social media over the course of the last decade and a half.
Family, friends and supporters of Maura Murray marked the somber anniversary Saturday in New Hampshire and here in Hanson by lighting candles in hopes that she will be found. Her father, Fred Murray, 76, had shared with the public new details of an investigation he has conducted into her disappearance with the hope that the public attention will put pressure on New Hampshire authorities to further look into the matter. Investigators, meanwhile, say the investigation is still active.
Fred Murray, who spoke to the Express Monday, Feb. 11, says that he is certain he has found a burial site in a house “astonishingly close” to the site of the accident. According to him, locals first tipped him off about suspicious activity at the house in the first year after his daughter’s disappearance, including rumors of new concrete being poured in the basement shortly after the accident, he says.
The Boston Globe reported last week what Murray said, based on those tips, “that a man who lived in the home at the time of the crash, as well as the man’s extended family members who lived nearby, were responsible for his daughter’s death.”
Although he told the Express that he is not positive that it’s his daughter who is buried in the house, he strongly believes that there are human remains in the house and that they are likely those of his daughter.
“I only need to be right once,” he pointed out.
The house, which he says police never searched, a point which officials don’t advertise unless pressed in statements, has come under new ownership since Maura Murray’s disappearance, and the new owners have been receptive to Fred Murray’s investigation. He says he is willing to pay to dig up their basement, although he’d rather New Hampshire authorities do it.
The New Hampshire Attorney’s General office said in a statement that they “searched the area with dogs at the time,” but never searched inside the house in question.
In November and December 2018, Fred Murray brought in two trained, accredited cadaver detecting dogs to the house, each one on separate occasions. They alerted, he says, by lying down in the same spot in the basement of the house. He says that video of the dogs alerting exists, and is available widely online from local television media outlets.
Later, ground-penetrating radar was used and indicated strong findings of an abnormality in the same spot in the concrete, he said. Much of Fred Murray’s investigation has been paid for by donations and through pro-bono work of those who support him, he says.
“It’s astounding that this [basement] wasn’t looked at before. I told the police about this in the first year … the State Police did an inadequate job when my daughter first went missing,” he added, adamantly.
Fred Murray said he has found the local police to have been less-than-helpful, and as for federal law enforcement, “The FBI has been dodging it [the case] for 15 years … they’re useless,” he said of the Boston office of the FBI.
He says that law enforcement’s response to his investigation, when he’s notified them of his findings, has been, “We looked at that, we looked at that, we looked at that.”
“Because of the institutional intransigence of the New Hampshire State Police the case is still alive 15 years later,” he said.
Fred Murray said that he thinks he’s been getting “the run around,” and that officials have been waiting for him to go away. “This time, the guy didn’t go away, and that guy was me.”
A representative for the New Hampshire Department of Safety, of which the New Hampshire State Police are a division, refused to comment because of the active nature of the investigation, but did refer the Express to the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General.
“The case is still open and active. We do receive tips and information periodically, as well as generate new information from investigative efforts,” said Jeffrey Streizin, Associate Attorney General and Director of the Division of Public Protection with the New Hampshire Attorney’s General office in an emailed statement.
He continued, “We are aware of the allegations regarding a home’s basement in that area and have considered and are considering next steps. That area was searched by law enforcement in the past, including with dogs, and nothing of significance was discovered.”
When asked to clarify whether the home itself was ever searched, Streizin said, “The State Police conducted a canvas of that area in 2004 and searched the area where that house is located with dogs. They did not go into the house at that time.”
“I need help. I’m asking for help,” Fred Murray said. “The people of northern New Hampshire have been wonderful. They are salt of the earth people … The goodness of people has really come to the forefront. Maura’s only friends in this have been the Massachusetts press, her friends and the great people of the area.”
Exactly where Maura Murray was headed, and why, has remained a mystery over the years. Moments after the crash, a good Samaritan stopped to assist her, but she waved him off and told him not to call the police, according to original police reports from 2004. The passerby called local police anyway, although he did drive off. A Haverhill police cruiser arrived within minutes, but the Saturn was locked, and Maura Murray was gone.
According to a four-part series reported by Maribeth Conway in this paper’s predecessor, the Hanson Express in 2007, Fred Murray had dinner with his daughter in Amherst two days before her disappearance.
She caused damage to her father’s car that night in a minor accident near UMass in Hadley, Massachusetts, and later friends reported she had been drinking that night, although no charges were filed in that incident.
The following day, she performed Internet searches for driving directions to Vermont and the Berkshires. She also called for a condominium rental reservation in Bartlett, New Hampshire, which she did not end up reserving. Her family often vacationed in Bartlett, a town in the White Mountains near the Attitash ski resort.
Her belongings were neatly packed up in boxes in her UMass dorm room before she left, according to reports, leading to speculation that she may have been considering leaving school permanently. But she had good grades, and her college textbooks were found in her car by investigators after the accident.
Maura Murray withdrew $280 from her bank account, leaving the account almost empty, and emailed professors and her boss at a local art gallery that she would be away from school because she was needed in Hanson due to a death in the family. Relatives later confirmed there was no death in the family.
No one is sure exactly why the college student made up the story.
A friend later suggested that Maura Murray may have been under a lot of pressure and wanted to get away to think about something important.
She grabbed some toiletries, a favorite stuffed animal — a monkey given to her by her father– and a necklace her boyfriend had given her. She then departed. Police say she next stopped at a liquor store, bought about $40 worth of alcohol — which police reports say some of which was found in plain sight in her car after the crash– and never returned to Massachusetts.
Fred Murray says his next step will be to try to enlist the help of senior New Hampshire State Police officials but that he continues to wait and marvel at the lack of help. He added, “We’re still going to win.”
When asked to clarify what a win for him would be, he hesitated and said, “There is no win. There is no satisfaction. I have to find her, bring her home and give her a proper burial. Every father who ever drew a breath on the planet should know what happens next.”