christopher peak
17 min readSep 22, 2015

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© SOCO Magazine

A version of this story was originally published in Kernel Magazine, although this version has been updated.

Important note: August 2, 2020

This story was first published in Kernel Magazine and then here in early 2015. As with any ongoing investigation, specifics and details about this case and anybody involved in this case may have changed; facts become public, witnesses come forward, somebody changes their story, et al.

A clear example of this was the early suspicions surrounding Maura’s father, Fred, and specifically, his ATM activity leading up to the day she went missing. Since the publishing of this story, it’s undoubtedly accepted that he had no involvement whatsoever in Maura’s disappearance — something I also believe.

Reporting and writing about an open investigation presents problems, as information that may not have been available at the time of publishing, suddenly becomes available. Where appropriate, and prior to 2020, I’ve tried to correct any errors, changes in the case, or discrepancies where possible.

Because this story will not be updated anymore, read this story with an open mind, and supplement it by listening to the Missing Maura Murray podcast, reading James Renner’s blog on the case, and by watching the Oxygen television series,“The Disappearance of Maura Murray.”

Maura couldn’t have called AAA because there was no cell phone service up there in 2004. And the reason why I say that with such confidence is that there is no cell phone service up there in 2015.

ometime after 7 PM on a twenty degree New England night in February 2004, twenty-one year old Maura Murray — a former high school track star and later ex-cadet from West Point — crashed her vehicle on a rural stretch of road on route 112 in Haverhill, NH; a sleepy Rockwellian New England town tucked neatly in between Vermont and New Hampshire’s western edge of the White Mountains. Her vehicle slid, spun, then came to a stop facing the wrong way on the opposite side of the road.

The last person believed to have had contact with Murray was a local school bus driver, a large-bellied gregarious man by the name of Butch Atwood. Atwood, returning home from work, saw Murray’s car facing west in the eastbound lane of route 112.

Murray’s 1996 Saturn

As he approached, Atwood noticed Murray’s car resting, with the headlights off and without hazards flashing. Atwood later told police that it seemed to him that the driver, presumably Murray, wasn’t trying to bring attention to herself — something you would probably want to do in such a remote area. Especially on a cold New Hampshire night.

Atwood said he pulled over and asked Murray if she needed for him to call 911. She didn’t, she said, indicating that she had already called for help and that a second phone call wasn’t needed.

But Lance Reenstierna, who co-hosts the popular Missing Maura Murray podcast with friend Tim Pilleri (both of whom have visited the area several times) says that Maura couldn’t have called AAA because “there was no cell phone service up there in 2004. And the reason why I say that with such confidence is that there is no cell phone service up there in 2015.”

Despite the confusion of whether or not Murray called for help, her cell phone records indicate that the last phone number she dialed was made hours before the crash. Murray very well could have attempted to call 911 or AAA for help, as she told Atwood she did, and the call just never connected, therefore not making it onto a cell phone record. Or she could have been purposefully trying to get rid of Atwood.

But Atwood didn’t give up so easily. Living within sight of the crash, he offered Murray a ride back to his house, where he lived with his mother and his common-law wife.

Again, she declined.

He drove away.

And then she was gone.

The details surrounding the car accident— specifically what happened in the minutes before and the hours after — are surrounded with what-ifs and speculation.

There were but few markings surrounding the crash site that would lead investigators and search dogs to a possible direction as to where Maura may have gone in the minutes following the crash.

Initially, NH State Police investigators thought Murray had hit a nearby tree. But two accident reconstruction teams, including one completed by retired Massachusetts State Police officer Daniel Parkka, determined that Maura’s car never hit a tree and that the damage was most likely caused by her driving into a snowbank.

Dick Guy, one of the responding EMTs at the scene of the accident mentioned in an internal memo, “That everything about the scene of the accident was weird. If she had just lost control of the car coming around that corner, she would have impacted the north side of the curve. She didn’t. She clipped the corner. She sheered the snow bank clean off and continued on to the other side, where it turned the car around. To me, I’d say the car stalled and she was trying to regain control as she came to the turn.”

ecords at West Point are kept private until the death of a cadet. So although we don’t know a whole lot about the circumstances surrounding Murray’s exit from the military academy, we do know that in July of 2001, Murray was caught stealing make-up from the commissary at Fort Knox during a training trip. Her roommate at West Point, Megan Sawyer, who was next to Maura when she was caught, told author James Renner what Murray was like during their time at West Point.

“You could tell there were some inner demons. She seemed sad. She had issues with [bulimia]. If she wanted to make up another life, she could do it. If she wanted to disappear, she could. I believe she’s alive. It’s just a feeling I’ve always had.”

Before She Was Gone

There are copious, incomplete, and patchy details about the days leading up to Maura’s disappearance, details that include a hit and run accident, a mysterious seven-minute phone call, a meltdown at work, and sketchy internet searches found on Maura’s laptop the day she went missing; searches for hotels, and directions to Burlington, Vermont were found in her car. One search on her computer hinted that she may have been pregnant. Murray had had an ongoing affair with a track and field coach at UMass, Hossein Baghdadi, who has admitted to the affair.

Photograph of Murray following credit card fraud allegations at UMass

Maura all but emptied her bank account the day she vanished, evidenced by an ATM video that police have said “[we] believe it was Maura in the video," but have never released to the public.

It’s important to note that at the time of her disappearance, Maura was on probation at UMass, after she was caught stealing a student’s credit card and buying food with it. Officially, it was “improper use of a credit card under $250.”

And then there is also the question of a hasty withdrawal of $4,000 in cash by Maura’s father, Fred, who withdrew it out of several ATMs two days before her disappearance, only to drive thirty miles from his work in Connecticut to visit her at school — the day after a snowstorm that was so bad, all activities at the college were canceled.

The Thursday and Friday Before She Was Gone

At 7 PM on Thursday February 5th, Maura Murray sat down at her desk in the Melville dormitory building at UMass Amherst. It was your typical job that every college kid had to earn some extra beer money for the weekend. She helped staff the front check-in desk for students getting in and out of the dorms.

The details that follow are what investigators, armchair detectives, and podcasters have argued over for years.

The night for Murray begins with a flurry of cellphone activity. At 7:17 PM, Maura makes a twenty-minute call to her boyfriend, Billy Rausch. She called him again at 9:56 PM for six minutes.

Security desk at Melville Hall

Eight minutes later, at 10:10 PM, Maura calls her older sister Kathleen. According to her sister, who later told police, the phone call between the two sisters was completely normal and nothing out of the ordinary.

That call lasted twenty-eight minutes, ending at 10:38 PM.

Ninety minutes later, just after midnight, Petrit Vasi, an econ student set to graduate in just a few months, was struck by what police have determined was a hit and run, with injuries (to one side of his body) consistent with being hit by a moving vehicle.

At 12:07 AM, Maura made a seven minute phone call to her boyfriend Billy Rausch. Thirteen minutes after that call ended, at 12:20 AM, Vasi is found by police at the intersection of Triangle and Mattoon Street, .9 miles from where Maura worked at Melville Hall.

Around 1 AM, Maura has what followers of this case have come to know as the “break-down at work.” An anxiety attack apparently so bad that her supervisor, Karen Mayotte, was forced to relieve Maura of her shift forty-five minutes early. According to Mayotte and other co-workers, Maura stood blankly past the check-in desk, uttering the same two words over and over; “My sister. My sister.”

In an email to author James Renner, Mayotte recounts in detail what happened that night:

“That Thursday night, the receptionists had to work until 1:45 AM (2:45 on Fridays and Saturdays).

After I visited the other areas of campus, when I got to Southwest I met up with the other coworkers at the eatery in Southwest. I didn’t eat, but another area supervisor told me that Maura was upset and that I should go check on her. At that point I did.

One of them said, ‘Something’s up with Maura.’ She had been crying. I don’t know how to explain it. She was just completely zoned out. No reaction at all.”

After dismissing Maura of her duties, the two walk back to Maura’s dorm room, which was just a short walk away.

Mayotte would never see Maura again.

The Saturday Before She Was Gone

Fred with Maura

Fred Murray has maintained throughout the years that the $4,000 he withdrew from his bank account on the Saturday before his daughter went missing, was to used to buy Maura a new car.

The two supposedly went car shopping in the Amherst area that Saturday morning, despite nearby car dealerships being unable to verify that the two ever visited that day.

To friends, Maura’s 1996 Saturn was in good condition; good in the sense that friends never heard her complaining about the car. Good in the sense that it made it 136 miles from UMass to Haverhill, NH in the middle of winter.

But according to Fred Murray, it wasn’t running that good. Which is why somebody needed to stick a rag in the exhaust — which police found when searching Maura’s car after she went missing.

Later that Saturday, now joined by Maura’s best friend Kate Markopoulos, the three walk into the Amherst Brewing Company for an early dinner. One topic that was omitted from conversation however, was car shopping. According to Kate, it was never mentioned.

After dinner, Fred drove Maura and Kate to the liquor store to purchase alcohol for a party that the two girls were planning on attending that night. Maura then dropped her father off at a nearby motel, taking her father’s new Toyota Corolla to the party.

Folks following the case are still confused as to why Maura didn’t take her own car, knowing she lived within walking distance from the party.

The party that night has always held a Zapruder-esque quality to it— meaning it has been discussed, analyzed, and dissected over the past ten years ad nauseam, because so much about the party is still unknown about what actually happened that night.

According to journalist James Renner, who spoke to Kate Markopoulos — the friend Maura arrived with — the party was “standing-room only.” But Clint Harting, who has also investigated the case, reported that the party was actually “quite small.”

The only widely accepted fact is that the party took place in Maura’s friend’s dorm room, Sara Alfieri, who worked with Maura (at her second job) at an art gallery on campus.

Witness statements, including statements made by Kate and Sara, have always been peppered with “mis-remembers” and “I don’t know’s,” including this cryptic email sent to James Renner from Kate:

“I know you’d really like the names of the people that were at that party. It’s just not gonna happen. I don’t remember. I couldn’t help them then, and furthermore, I didn’t see many of them ever again.”

Both Maura and Kate left the party around 2:30 AM, supposedly to go return Fred’s car. Both were walked out of the party by an unknown male.

Sara Alfieri’s only interview to the media was with Seventeen Magazine. In it, she mentions this party, but makes contradictions to what she had previously told police and James Renner:

From Seventeen:

“About an hour later, Maura arrived at her friend Sara Alfieri’s dorm to hang out. For the next three hours, Maura, Sara, and a couple of friends sat around talking and listening to music while drinking Skyy Blue malt mixed with a little bit of wine… At 2:30 a.m., Maura left Sara’s room, telling everybody she was going to go upstairs to her room.”

But Maura couldn’t have “[gone] upstairs to her room” because Sara lived in Coolidge Hall while Maura lived in across the way, in Kennedy.

The Day Before She Was Gone

Site of car accident straight ahead on Rt. 9 in Hadley, MA

An hour after the leaving the party at UMass, Maura got into her father’s car, alone, and at 3:33 AM, early Sunday morning, Hadley Police receives a phone call from the UMass Campus Police about a car crash involving Maura, who crashed her father’s vehicle into a T-junction on route 9 in Hadley, Ma. Just outside the perimeter of the UMass campus proper. The crash was serious enough to have reportedly caused $8000 in damage — so much damage that the vehicle was considered totaled by the insurance company.

But Maura wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime. Instead, the car was towed by AAA at 4:29 AM with Maura hitching a ride with the tow truck driver to the Quality Inn, where she would arrive at 4:45 AM and spend the rest of the morning in her father’s motel room.

But it’s unsure how Maura actually got into the motel room. Lance Reenstierna, cohost of the Missing Maura Murray podcast, thinks that Maura ended up sleeping on the couch in the lobby of the motel, eventually being let into her father’s room by the manager on duty. Her father, Fred, has said to police that he never heard Maura come in and didn’t know she was there until he woke up hours later.

At 5:38 AM, though, Maura called her boyfriend, Billy. She used her father’s phone.

The Day She Was Gone

n the overnight hours leading into Monday morning, Maura used her computer around 4 AM, according to N.H. State Police Lieutenant John Scarinza, to make several questionable internet searches. Two were for driving directions; to the Berkshires, and Burlington, VT.

The other search was about the effects of excessive drinking on an unborn baby, fueling speculation that she may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance.

At 12:55 PM on Monday, Maura calls Linda Salamone, the owner of a condo in North Conway, NH., 45 miles east of where her car would end up crashing. Linda Salamone was not interviewed by police investigators.

An hour later, she sends her boyfriend, Billy, an email. Writing (sic):

I got your messages, but honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone, I promise to call today though.

Love ya Stud,

At approximately 1:13 PM, Maura calls a classmate and leaves a voicemail.

She then calls 1–800-Go Stowe (Vermont) at 2:05 PM, but the resort’s phones were down so she was only able to listen to pre-recorded messages about lodging.

About an hour and twenty minutes after emailing him, Maura makes a one-minute phone call to her boyfriend Billy, which goes directly to voicemail because at this exact moment, Billy is on his phone calling Maura’s friend, Kate Markopoulos.

Immediately after, Billy makes three return phone calls to Maura; three, four, and six minutes later. All are unanswered by Maura.

At 3:45 PM, Maura emails her professors and work supervisor, saying that that due to a death in the family, she will be missing the upcoming week of class and work. Family members have confirmed that there was never a death in family.

Sometime just before 4 PM, Maura withdraws $280 from an ATM, and surveillance video confirms that she’s alone. Shortly after, Maura is seen by a dorm mate leaving UMass for the last time. She is later seen purchasing the box of Franzia wine that would later be found in her car, along with a bottle of Kahlúa, and Bailey’s. Both would be missing from her car.

Her last phone call was made at 4:37 PM to her dorm room. That was the last outgoing call made on her cell phone.

It’s assumed that Maura then started out on route 91 north as it’s the only main highway that’s both within a few minutes of UMass and runs directly north-south into southern New Hampshire.

The last activity on Maura’s cell phone was around 5 PM when somebody called her. A cell phone ping confirming that the call came from within twenty miles of Londonderry, NH., a town just north of the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border.

Investigators have speculated that the person calling Maura was perhaps traveling on route 93 north, the main interstate running from Boston to northern New Hampshire, before connecting onto route 91 and heading into Canada.

Coincidentally, it takes a couple of hours to drive from Londonderry to Haverhill, NH., where Maura crashed, and the cell phone ping was approximately two hours prior to the accident, with Maura vanishing some twenty minutes after the crash.

7:05 PM, two people listening to police scanners hear a call about a car driving off the road on Swiftwater Road (not route 112), and that the driver left the scene in a private vehicle. That scan, for whatever reason, never made it onto the official police log of the Grafton County Sheriff department.

At 7 PM, Witness A is getting ready for their final appointment of the day. Only the appointment no-shows. After waiting for an extra ten minutes, at 7:10 PM, Witness A leaves work and starts driving home by traveling east on Swiftwater Road.

It’s on this road when Witness A notices a police SUV approaching from behind with its lights flashing. Eventually, the SUV overtakes and passes the vehicle. When it does, Witness A notices the markings “001” on the back of the SUV.

Soon after, Witness A takes a right hand turn onto route 112 and again, minutes later, is overtaken and passed by the same police SUV — with its lights on, and with the markings “001.”

Eventually, Witness A reaches the site of the accident and sees the same police SUV, parked “nose to nose with a dark-colored car.” Murray’s Saturn was dark green.

Witness A’s story has been corroborated over several interviews with the Murray family and with the guys from the Missing Maura Murray podcast. Each time, saying the same thing.

At 7:20 PM, Susan Champy leaves work at the Loon Mountain Club, but is ten minutes behind schedule. Her drive home, which will take her down route 112, will take thirty minutes.

Twenty-two minutes after two witnesses overheard scanner reports of a car driving off the road and the driver leaving in a private vehicle, the first 911 call was made by Faith Westman at 7:27 PM, a nearby neighbor, after she heard what sounded like a car crash. Atwood, the bus driver, would arrive soon after that first 911 call was placed. His interaction with Murray would last for a few minutes, and Atwood then returned home where his common-law wife would then call police at 7:43 PM.

Investigators would administer two polygraph tests to Atwood throughout the investigation. The first was inconclusive. The second he passed.

At 7:46 PM, police cruiser “002” arrives at the scene. That car was driven by Officer Cecil Smith. Faith Westman and Butch Atwood emphatically state that it was a “cruiser” that arrived on the scene at 7:46 PM and not the “SUV” marked “001” that passed Witness A twice and was seen being “nose to nose” with Maura’s car.

Continuing her drive, Susan Champy would eventually reach the crash site on route 112 around 7:50 PM. When she does, she notices a police car with markings “002” and two bystanders alongside Maura’s car. It is still unclear who Champy saw that night.

At 7:54 PM, Officer Smith puts out a “beyond the look-out” request for a female “about 5'7'’ on foot.”

While inspecting Maura’s car, Officer Smith noticed that the doors to Maura’s car were all locked. The keys were taken. The car had a near full tank of gas. The windshield had been compromised, or cracked, with a large spiderweb crack breaking from the inside and on the driver’s side, indicating contact. But the point of impact on the windshield was too high for it to have been caused by Maura, who, at 5'7", was too short and would have been restrained by the seat belt.

The box of Franzia wine was opened and partially spilled on the interior of the car.

The car was towed by Lavoie’s Towing, a local towing company operating in the Haverhill/Dartmouth College area. But (Mike) Lavoie wasn’t on-call that night for towing. Dick McKean, from Northland Towing was. Whether it was just a simple mistake of calling the wrong tow operator remains an unknown, but Dick McKean did arrive on the scene and confronted both Mike Lavoie and the officers, wondering why he hadn’t been called and was now out a tow fee.

Lavoie did tow Murray’s car that night, but it wasn’t towed to Lavoie’s tow yard. Instead, it was left in the garage of Mike Lavoie’s home, where it would sit for four days before Maura’s father, Fred, first discovered it on the following Friday.

After She Was Gone

The investigation and search for Maura Murray wouldn’t fully be implemented until 36 hours after the crash. DNA samples taken from a nearby home that at the time was being rented by a local man known to police to have had a violent temper and possible sex addiction, weren’t tested for two years.

In late 2004, Larry Moulton, now deceased, gave Fred Murray a bloody knife that had belonged to his brother, Claude, who had a criminal records and lived less than a mile from where Maura crashed her car. The knife would eventually make its way to the New Hampshire State Police.

When campus police searched her dorm room days later, they found her belongings neatly packed in boxes and all of her wall art had been taken down.

There have been a number of sightings over the years purported to be of Maura Murray— mostly in the New England, Eastern Canada region.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Maura Murray, you’re asked to please contact the New Hampshire State Police: coldcaseunit@dos.nh.gov

A note on sources:

The story about Maura Murray and her disappearance has been well-known in the New England area since her disappearance in 2004.

All of my knowledge and every fact of this story comes from a few sources;

The blog that author James Renner runs is a treasure trove of information. Renner has literally done all of the work. And for that, I’m thankful.

The podcast Missing Maura Murray.

John E. Smith, who aided in the timeline of the night Murray went missing, is a former Littleton, NH police officer, and now an investigator working with the Murray family. Smith also runs the group, Truth Seekers Investigations, a group that has called for the assistance of the FBI into the case of Maura Murray.

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