Written by Kevin Jennings
A lot of internet fads have come and gone over the years. From “cursed” chain letters passed via e-mail, to planking, to the Ice Bucket Challenge, there is no shortage of these internet phenomena to look back on. Few of these have had a longer shelf life than pogs, though one that has stood the test of time is Rickrolling, with Rick Astley’s iconic “Never Gonna Give You Up” now available on YouTube in stunning 4K quality, because everything is funnier in high definition; just look at Bill O’Reilly’s face. One other internet sensation that is going stronger than ever is that of the armchair detective, amateur sleuths that try to solve crimes and missing persons cases from the comfort of their own keyboard. To be fair, they are not without their success stories, and Simon has already done a post over on TopTenz of crimes that were solved thanks to social media. Perhaps there aren’t many more successes than those covered in the post, as it was published three years ago and it is well documented that Simon is far too creatively bankrupt to resist doing a sequel to a popular post whenever possible. The existence of internet detectives is also responsible for entertaining plotlines on police procedural shows, as well as the entire Netflix documentary “Don’t Fuck With Cats”.
As far as I could tell after watching the entire series, the show was about two internet detectives who played a major role in helping to solve a murder case, but who were unhappy with the lack of recognition they received and thus decided to contact Netflix to get the attention they so desperately demanded. We’ll ignore the fact that the show did far more to increase the celebrity of the vile murderer than it did their own, and how truly disgusting and selfish the entire series was since everything the murderer had done was for attention and notoriety, which he was being handed in spades. Still, at least we can take solace in the fact that murdering piece of shit is in maximum security prison.
Not all crimes investigated by the legions of online detectives have a happy ending, though. In fact, some don’t have an ending at all. Such is the case for the disappearance of Maura Murray, often referred to as the first crime mystery of the social media age.
Who is Maura Murray
It turns out, that is a much more complicated question that it appears on the surface. Before I get into the details of her life, I want to make it clear that nothing being stated here is an attempt at character assassination. It is quite possible that Maura is a victim, and I don’t want to distract from that. Still, it’s important to have as clear a picture of her and her mental state leading up to the disappearance as possible. Sorry for getting all serious on you there, I’ll try to make my next aside more comical in nature like normal.
Maura was born on May 4, 1982, in Hanson, Massachusetts to parents Fred and Laurie. She had an older brother, Fred Jr., two older sisters, Kathleen and Julie, and a younger brother Kurt. In case that didn’t make it clear, she was from an Irish Catholic family. Her parents divorced when she was six and Maura lived primarily with her mother, but her father was still a major part of her life, including at times as her track coach. She and her sister Julie were great friends, but they were also very competitive with each other when it came to athletics. Maura excelled at both academics and athletics, and seemingly had her pick of colleges. When she received her acceptance to The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, it was an easy choice for her, especially since Julie was already attending her freshman year there. I suspect Simon may know some of this, but for our international viewers, West Point is a pretty big deal. It is a competitive school, accepting less than 10% of applicants, and it offers a free, top tier education, room and board, books, medical and dental care, as well as a monthly stipend for other expenses. How can a school in The United States offer such an amazing deal you may be wondering? Easy, because you’re not a student, you’re a cadet; you are now a member of the U.S. Army. But still, really good school.
By all accounts, Maura was the perfect, all-American girl. She began her degree in Chemical Engineering at West Point, but withdrew after three semesters. One day when the students were on a trip to Fort Knox, Maura was caught stealing makeup from the commissary. This was described as being out of character for Maura, but it was the seventh time she was brought before a disciplinary committee in 2001, so was it really? This time, there was enough evidence for Maura to be brought before the Cadet Advisory Board, and in January of 2002 the decision was announced that she would be forced to withdraw. If expelling a student for shoplifting a few dollars worth of concealer seems a bit harsh, remember that these are U.S. Army cadets and are held to an extremely strict ethical code. Maura transferred to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study nursing.
Maura stayed busy in her first semester at UMass. Aside from the requirements of the nursing program, she took on two part time jobs, was able to quickly make friends, and also had a long distance relationship with a boy named Billy, another West Point cadet who she had begun dating while still attending the school. Maura and I are the same age, and a lot of people I went to high school with attended UMass Amherst. I was hoping to be able to provide more insight into who she was as a person than is generally available, but unfortunately no one I reached out to had known her in school. I did have a friend who worked for campus security, the same job Maura had, so while there is an extremely high likelihood he knew her, he’s also a compulsive liar so it wasn’t worth trying to contact him over this. There’s already one disgusting, shameless attention seeker later in this episode, so I figured that was enough.
Once again, Maura appeared to be a dedicated, hardworking student, but it didn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse. In November of 2003, one of the residents of Maura’s dorm noticed a number of unexplained charges on her credit card statement from local restaurants. She contacted the police, who in turn contacted the restaurants. The next time an order was placed to Pinocchio’s Pizza using the credit card, the police followed the delivery driver to Maura’s door. After she signed the receipt, the police came in to arrest her. She eventually admitted to having found the credit card number on a receipt in the bathroom and using it to buy food. That sounds absolutely insane today, but in 2003 this technically may have been possible. Federal legislation was passed in 2002 that limited the number of digits on a printed receipt to the last 5 of the credit card number, but businesses had until January of 2004 to comply.
The most striking thing about this arrest was Maura’s mugshot. Obviously, no one looks good or happy in a mugshot, but Maura’s picture was more than that. Every other picture I can find of her shows her happy and smiling and looking like an average, cheerful person. If there wasn’t proof that this mugshot was her, I honestly would not have recognized it as the same person. She looks like she’s ready to choke a bitch. I don’t just meant that she looks unhappy, which is to be expected of someone who was just caught committing credit card fraud, she looks straight up threatening. I’m not implying that Maura was actually dangerous in any way, but this picture seems to suggest a darker side of her psyche than what people normally saw.
You may be thinking that credit card fraud and identity theft are serious crimes, and you’d be right. But there’s one thing you’re not taking into account, and that’s the fact that the perpetrator was an attractive white girl! Also, the total credit card charges were under $250. In December of 2003, Maura was ordered to pay back the stolen money and issued a continuance, and she was told the charges would be dropped if she stayed out of trouble for 3 months. But would the girl who couldn’t resist trying to shoplift from Fort Knox be able to deny her unsavory urges all the way until March?
Her Final Weekend
Maura was scheduled for a late night shift at the security desk in one of the dorms on Thursday, May 4, 2004, into Friday morning. It was an uneventful night, except for her taking a few personal calls on her cell phone, one from her older sister Kathleen, and one from her boyfriend Billy. At 12:40 am Friday morning, Maura received a phone call that was traced back to a campus phone. Around 1 am, Maura’s coworkers saw her sobbing uncontrollably. They called their supervisor, and by the time Maura stopped crying she was just staring blankly, completely unresponsive. When asked what was wrong, all she could do was point at her phone and say “my sister”. Her supervisor told Maura to take the rest of the night off and escorted her back to her dorm. The supervisor offered to keep her company, but Maura said she would be fine and just wanted to be alone, and that her roommate was home anyway. She did not have a roommate.
The contents of the phone call with Kathleen were not known until October of 2017, when she finally gave a public explanation. Kathleen had been in a rehab facility for alcohol and drug abuse, and had just been discharged that day. Her fiancé was a piece of shit (allegedly in my opinion) who was not supportive of her sobriety, and stopped at a liquor store on the drive home from rehab. Kathleen had told Maura that she relapsed on alcohol and pills. Billy never said what his phone call to Maura was about, but the call was only 7 minutes long. To this day, nobody knows who made the phone call from the campus phone or what the call was about, but there is some truly dark speculation about that night that we will get to later.
There was a major snowstorm, and classes were all canceled at UMass on Friday. There’s not really any information about what she did on Friday, but Amherst is a college town in the middle of nowhere, so if the snow was bad enough to cancel classes then she probably stayed home. Saturday morning, Maura’s father, Fred, picked her up to go car shopping. Maura’s eight year old Saturn was in rough shape and always breaking down, and she needed to be able to drive to get to her clinical work for nursing school. It wasn’t unusual for her father to come spend at least one weekend a month visiting her at college. I guess old habits die hard for divorced fathers. Maura hadn’t mentioned that her father was coming or that she was going car shopping to anyone. That’s not unusual by itself, because it may have been a surprise for her. Afterwards, they picked up Maura’s friend from the track team, Kate, and went out to dinner. Neither of them mentioned anything about car shopping in front of her. Now that is unusual. I can’t imagine being a 21 year old with a beat up car that always breaks down, being surprised with a trip to a dealership for a new car, and not immediately telling my friends when I saw them.
After dinner, Fred drove them to a liquor store to buy alcohol for a party Maura’s friend Sara was hosting. The strange thing about this is that initially he told the police that he waited in the car, but he later changed the story saying he told them inside the store to hurry up. It’s confusing and seems like a stupid thing to possibly lie or omit details about, but it was not Fred’s dumbest decision. After they bought the alcohol, he drove back to the motel where he was staying and let Maura and Kate borrow his brand new Toyota Corolla to drive to the party, but he insisted she return the car later that night. From the party. That they just went to stock up on booze for. Against Kate’s wishes, an intoxicated Maura left the party at about 2:30 am to return the car to her father as promised. But not before driving straight through a T intersection, colliding head on with a guard rail and causing almost $10,000 of damage to the car, totaling it. The responding police office filled out an accident report, but there is no documentation of any field sobriety test being conducted. It is unclear whether the officer was extremely busy, extremely lazy, extremely incompetent, or if Maura was able to somehow…persuade him. She got back to her father’s motel and stayed in his room the rest of the morning, calling her boyfriend from Fred’s cell phone at 4:49 am. Billy said the she called about wrecking her father’s car, and that he told her to calm down and get some rest.
As for the party itself, the details are a bit hard to pin down. Initially, both Kate and Sara said they did not remember who was at the party, what happened, who Maura talked to, or if she left with anyone. It was as if they completely blacked out. Over the years, more has come out about the party, but a lot of the people involved have lied to journalists and so it’s muddied the waters. The main takeaways from the party seem to be that Maura took one of the guys at the party back to her room, and that police have already ruled that person out as a suspect. People love to obsess about the party, especially because it was shrouded in so much mystery for years, but seeing as it’s not really our business who Maura chose to sleep with, we can probably let it go. There’s a perfectly understandable reason why her friends may have been so cagey about revealing details of the party that doesn’t implicate them in anything nefarious, but we’ll get to that later.
Late Sunday morning, Fred finally learned about the damage to his car. His brand new car. Turns out, he was pretty chill about it. Remember, car buyers, Gap insurance is your friend. He rented a car so he could drive back to Connecticut for work the following day. At 11:30 that night, he called Maura to remind her to obtain accident forms from the RMV (It’s like the DMV, but we have to use a different name cause we’re Massachusetts), and they agreed to fill out the forms together the next night over the phone.
Maura’s actions on Monday, February 9, 2004 were…peculiar, to say the least. Shortly after midnight, roughly an hour after speaking to her father, Maura searched Mapquest for directions to the Berkshires and to Burlington, Vermont. Her search history also showed a number of pregnancy related search queries including Duramorph (Morphine), Epidural anesthesia, Phenegren, and Braxton Hicks. A professor claimed years later that this had been an assignment in one of her nursing classes, to look up pregnancy related terms and e-mail them to their classmates. It would be convenient and makes sense, but there was no evidence on her computer of these e-mails that we know of, and there were two other specific terms in this list that make that questionable. The first was “BRCA-1 Gene”, short for “breast cancer gene 1”. Maura’s mother died of cancer in 2009, so it is possible she had already been diagnosed at this point and Maura was worried about the hereditary implications. The other odd search term was “Nubian”. If she did suspect she was pregnant, I’m guessing she also suspected who the father was, and that it was not the white as snow Billy. The state police also said that Maura had done a number of searches regarding the effects of excess drinking on an unborn fetus. Whether she suspected she was pregnant or not, it is important to note that she was taking birth control pills, and there is no other evidence that she was pregnant.
The first reported contact Maura had with anyone on the 9th was at 1 pm, which isn’t that surprising since we know she was up past 4 am on her computer and classes had once again been canceled because of snow. Billy had been calling her all day, but she didn’t answer. She sent him an e-mail at 1 pm saying “I love you more stud. I got your messages, but honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone, i promise to call today though. love you, Maura”. Fuck De Beers, when you really need them to know you care, tell them with an e-mail. She then made a phone call to inquire about renting a condo in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Her family had vacationed there and rented from this condo association in the past, but nothing was booked during this call. She then e-mailed her work and teacher to let them know she would be out of town for a week because of a death in the family, and that she would let them know when she returned. Of course, there had been no death. At 2:05 she called a phone number about booking hotels in Stowe, Vermont. It was prerecorded information, so there was no person on the other end of the line. She then called Billy and left him a voicemail promising they would talk later.
At some point, either during all of this or directly after, Maura packed up her entire room, including the artwork on the walls. Everything was placed neatly into boxes on her bed. It was reported that there was an e-mail between Maura and Billy that was printed out and placed on top of the boxes regarding Billy having cheated on her months before, but there is some dispute as to whether or not this is accurate. The main point of contention seems to be that the original forensic examination of Maura’s room and laptop were done by the UMass Police, who were deemed unqualified to make the sort of judgments that they did. I disagree with this, because the UMass Police are…police. This isn’t like campus security that is all or mostly students, the campus police are sworn police officers with jurisdiction on the school campus and some surrounding areas. They may have been too quick in asserting that Maura was pregnant, especially given that she was a nursing student, but I think they’re more than qualified to tell me what a fucking piece of paper says.
At approximately 3:30, Maura drove of campus in her Saturn with toiletries, textbooks, some clothes, and her birth control pills. At 3:40, she withdrew $280 from an ATM, and the camera from the ATM showed she was alone, and does not appear to be panicked or stressed. She went to a nearby liquor store and spent about $40 on Irish cream, Kahlua, vodka, and boxed wine. It is uncertain where she was running to or what she was running from, but one thing was for damn certain: she intended to be white girl wasted for as much of it as possible. At some point she picked up the accident report forms from the RMV that she promised to do on the phone that night with her father. Somewhere between 4 and 5 pm, she started her drive north. Her final intended destination, or if she had even settled on one, remains a mystery. At 4:37, she called to check her voicemail. This was the last recorded use of her cell phone.
In Woodsville, New Hampshire, a bit after 7 pm, a resident heard a loud thump outside. She looked out the window and saw a car up against a snowbank along Route 112; the car was facing backwards. At 7:27 pm, she called the Sheriff’s Department to report the accident. The roads were still really bad from the recent snowstorms, and the road she had been driving on was particularly treacherous, with numerous sharp turns. At some point, she seemed to have lost control of her car, slid off the road, and collided with a tree. When the car finally stopped moving, it was facing the wrong direction on the road. The windshield was cracked and both airbags were deployed, but overall the impact doesn’t seem like it was that bad. As someone who spun out on black ice and sat there helplessly while my car did a complete 360 before colliding head first into a tree, I can say that the damage to my much larger car was far worse than the damage to her sedan, and I was only going only 30 MPH when I spun out.
Another local resident, Butch Atwood, was driving a school bus home when he came upon the accident at about 7:30. He asked Maura if she wanted him to phone for help, but she asked him not to and said that she had already called AAA. One police report used the term “pleaded” rather than “asked” in regards to Butch’s account. He knew that she was lying because this was a remote, mountainous area in early 2004, so of course there was no cell phone reception. Indeed, AAA had no record of any such phone call. He called the Sheriff’s Department when he got home at 7:43 to record the accident, though he could no longer see Maura or the car from his house. Butch later expressed a lack of surprise that she didn’t accept his help, because he was an unshaven, 6 foot tall, 300 pound stranger rolling up on this girl in a school bus. Yeah, I wouldn’t have taken your help either.
At 7:46 pm, a Haverhill (Hay-ver-ull) police officer arrived at the scene, but Maura was nowhere to be seen. Inside the car was her AAA card, the blank accident-report forms, gloves, CDs, makeup, diamond jewelry, driving directions to Burlington, Vermont, her favourite stuffed animal, a book about climbing the white mountains called Not Without Peril, and the damaged box of red wine. There were red stains outside and inside the car, including on the ceiling, which were believed to be the wine. The box of wine appeared to have been opened before there crash, there was an empty beer bottle in the car, and Butch had reported that she seemed intoxicated and mumbling. Missing from the car was Maura’s debit and credit cards, cell phone, and the bottles of liquor she had purchased. None were located or used ever again. None of the traceable stuff, anyway, I’m sure that vodka was put to good use. The police office and Butch drove around looking for Maura, but did not found anything.
There was an alleged sighting of someone matching Maura’s description traveling quickly on foot down 112, about 4 to 5 miles east of where the accident occurred. Unfortunately, this report didn’t come until 3 months later when the contractor that allegedly saw her was reviewing his records and realized that the night he saw the young person on the road was the night of Maura’s disappearance.
That night, the police did not issue any sort of missing person report. They were operating on the assumption that it was a drunk driver who fled the scene of the crime, and that she would return once she sobered up. This is a surprisingly common occurrence in drunk driving cases, because driving under the influence is a much more serious crime than fleeing the scene of the accident. It’s hard to fault the police on this decision. They saw a crashed car with spilled and empty liquor containers, valuables left inside the car, and a witness who says the driver seemed intoxicated. As they say in medicine, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.”
Around 12:30 the next afternoon, the police issued a BOLO for Maura Murray. She was reported wearing a dark coat, jeans, and a black backpack. This was a little late for my liking, but I understand they wanted her to have a chance to sleep it off in case she had just been trying to avoid a DUI. At 3:20 pm, the police called Fred Murray to tell him that his car had been abandoned. I’ve seen some wild conspiracy theories about the police being involved in Maura’s disappearance based on the fact that they put out a BOLO for her despite the fact that they never saw her and the car was registered in Fred’s name, and I’d like to dispel those right now. Butch saw that the driver was a female, there was makeup and jewelry in the car, and there was a AAA card with her fucking name on it. To anyone who proposed that theory, I suggest you give up your career as an armchair detective and perhaps try your hand at armchair quarterback instead. Anyway, Fred was out of state on business and didn’t get the call, so at around 5 pm one of his other daughters contacted him to let him know of the situation. He immediately contacted the Haverhill Police Department and was informed that if she was not reported safe by the morning, the…New Hampshire Fish and Game Department would start a search? Good on you for delegating, I guess. At 5:17 pm on Tuesday, February 10, almost 24 hours after her car crash, Haverhill police referred to Maura as “missing” for the first time.
Fred Murray arrived in Haverhill before dawn the next morning. At 8 am, the Murrays, New Hampshire Fish and Game, and others began the search. A police dog tracked the scent from Maura’s glove approximately 100 yards from the car and then lost the scent. To the police, this meant that she likely got in another vehicle. They believed she had come to the area to run away or commit suicide, and hitching a ride would help her reach her destination.
At 5 pm that night, Billy and his parents arrived in Haverhill. Billy had turned off his cell phone during the flight, because that’s what we did before airplane mode existed, and during this time he had received a voicemail. When he listened to the voicemail, he heard “soft breathing, crying, a whimper, and sniffling.” He called the number back and found it was from a prepaid calling card. He was sure this call was from Maura, as she had used those cards frequently in the past for various reasons.
There were several more searches, but very little came of any of it. This case captivated people, both because it was the first major crime of its type in the social media age, Maura’s disappearance happening just five days after Facebook launched, and because there are so many believable possibilities for what happened. Fred became critical of the police and what he saw as their failings, and while he continued to search every weekend for signs of Maura, he made numerous statements claiming that he believed she was abducted by some local dirtbag.
The YouTube Videos
Before we get to the myriad of theories about what happened to Maura, there’s one more thing I wanted to touch on first. On February 7, 2012, a user by the name of Mr112dirtbag uploaded a video titled “Maura Murray – Youtube.mov”. The username is of course a reference to route 112 where Maura crashed her car, and to Fred calling her presumed abductor a dirtbag. The video is 15 seconds long, and shows a ski pass purchased at Bretton Woods Mountain Resort, located about 40 miles from where Maura disappeared. Two days later on February 9, the eighth anniversary of her disappearance, 112dirtbag uploaded a second video, titled “Happy Anniversary”. The video shows a close up of an old, bald man with glasses laughing to the camera. As the video progresses, he laughs harder and harder, with a maniacal tone. After 52 seconds of this, he abruptly stops laughing, winks at the camera, and then smiles as the video fades out and is replaced with the words “Happy Anniversary” on screen. The third of these videos was titled “No Hope for Mental Wannabe”, and is pretty much just four minutes of the guy who owned the channel playing synthesizer. In the last few seconds of the video, this image appears:
The right eye momentarily winks, and then the video ends. The image is intended to correspond with this map of Bretton Woods Resort:
If you rotate the red polygon slightly, the numbers line up with the numbers on the resort map. Sort of anyway, it’s a pretty terrible drawing. The face is believed to represent the golf course on the right, number 11 on the map. It takes a bit of squinting, but if you take the river to be the lips, then I can kinda see it I guess. The first and third videos were each taken down by 112dirtbag after a day, and his entire channel is deleted now. Speculation immediately ran rampant. People believed this was the killer, giving away the location of the body.
This, of course, was not the case. The police identified the man in the videos and have ruled him out as a suspect. Like so many other people in this video, he was just a piece of shit. I’m not even going to write his name, because he’s either some sick bastard looking for attention or some absolute lunatic looking for attention (based on his other online activity, it definitely seems like the latter). This was all just a hoax meant to taunt the family and give himself attention, because reasons. It did create a spike in attention for Maura’s case which is potentially a good thing, as it is still an open investigation so it’s good to keep it in the public’s mind in case anyone somehow sees or finds anything. This is just not the way to do it. Still, given the impact it had at the time, I thought it was worth mentioning. Plus, it’s a pretty creepy video.
The longer mysteries go unsolved, the more false leads and hoaxes are bound to turn up. And when something gets the attention that dirtbag did, there will be copycats as well. The most notable of these was another YouTube channel created in October, 2017 called “Maura murray loves me”. The first video posted to the channel was titled “Where I put Maura” and featured a video of a man walking around and inside a barn. The video is made using an app to make it look like it was filmed on an old, VHS camcorder, but it is clearly not. The second video was titled “The End”. This video opens with the words “you were too slow”, then shows a map drawn by a blind three year old using MS Paint to show where the body allegedly was. The map is clear enough to be understood, but vague enough to be useless. It was the equivalent of sticking a thumbtack into a globe and saying “this is where I buried the body.” These videos are largely considered to be disgusting hoaxes, but unlike the 112dirtbag videos, the creator has not been identified and investigated, so it is technically potential evidence, but unlikely.
So, so many theories. There are so many details known about Maura leading up to her disappearance, but so little known after, that seemingly every theory can be made to feel like it has some sort of validity. This is the biggest problem, as with no real evidence following her disappearance, it is hard to disprove most of the theories. Most of the theories I’m going to present have a large number of variations to them, but we aren’t going to go into detail on every iteration that has been put forth over the past 18 years.
- Starting a New Life
The first theory is that Maura was running away to start a new life. Some people propose the alleged pregnancy angle as a precipitating factor, but there’s nothing substantive to lead to the belief that she was or even thought that she was pregnant. Considering she brought her birth control pills with her for the trip, it seems highly unlikely. Still, she may have been trying to just get away and start over. As we discussed, Maura had been engaging in increasingly risky and impulsive behaviour. In addition to her shoplifting and identity theft, she also was now potentially on the hook for a DUI, a charge that would prevent her previous case from being dismissed. Either by luck or through desperation, she had managed to avoid a field sobriety test, but she was not necessarily in the clear.
There was also other impulsive behaviour. She had reportedly been involved in a relationship with the assistant coach of the track team, and was rumoured to have slept with several other members of the track team, as well as potentially others, like the guy at the party the Friday before she disappeared. As I said then, who she sleeps with is really none of our concern, except that it was believed to be out of character for her. This has led many to believe that she may have been experiencing early symptoms of a developing bipolar disorder, and that manic episodes were causing her risky behaviours. If true, it was never diagnosed, but she was at the right age for the onset to occur. People in extended manic episodes have reported the desire to just give up and walk away from everything as well. While there is definitely evidence to support the theory she was suffering from mental illness, we are not licensed professionals who are qualified to make that determination. And if we were, we would understand that it is unethical for us to diagnose her without the ability to talk to her. She may have showed signs of a burgeoning bipolar disorder, but that’s as much as we can say.
There’s also the matter of Billy. While it is none of our business who Maura chooses to sleep with, as her boyfriend, Billy would absolutely think it was his business. I hate to keep going back to this well, but it turns out Billy is also a giant piece of shit, “allegedly”. He was reportedly very controlling, and would call Maura constantly to check up on her. If she didn’t answer her phone, he would call whatever friends she said she was going to be with to make sure she wasn’t lying. Already he’s not a cool guy, but things have only gotten worse. Here are some of the alleged highlights about Billy:
A few months after Maura’s disappearance, Billy was heading to a hotel with a girl he picked up at a party. At a red light, he allegedly reached over, grabbed her by the neck, and said “I’m going to kill you like I killed Maura.”
In 2011, Billy was fired from his job for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in the office on St. Patricks’ Day.
Valentine’s Day of 2018, Billy had to call 911 because his mistress received a contusion to her head. I’d make a joke about spending Valentine’s Day with his mistress, but I’m guessing his wife was happy not to spend it with him.
In 2019, Billy’s mistress won a civil protection order after he began stalking her, in which he was ordered pay for her security system and attend 22 domestic violence classes. The felony sexual assault case from 2011 is set to finally begin proceedings…well, by the time this episode drops they probably will have begun.
All of these things so far are allegations, only the one civil suit has gone to trial. Other woman have come forward about Billy as well, though I believe all were past the statute of limitations. The common themes in these reports, however, is that he liked to have his victims pretend to be Maura, and whether they played along or not, he enjoyed choking them, calling them Maura, then calling them names like “slut” and “whore”, and always ending the encounters with the sentence “this never happened”. I would like to reiterate, these are allegations and he has not yet been convicted of being a sex criminal. Because my editorial opinion is not meant to be taken as an assertion of fact, I would also like to reiterate that Billy is indeed a giant piece of shit. Even if I were stating that as a fact and not an opinion, in order to prove defamation someone would have to prove that my statement was false, and good luck with that. Given all of these alleged allegations, and one writer’s personal opinion, it would not be a surprise if Maura wanted to escape. The track coach with whom she had been having a relationship also claims she confided in him that she wanted to run away and start a new life, and that Billy’s controlling nature was one of the reasons.
That all speaks to her motivation, but the theory is that she succeeded. Some versions of the theory state she did it alone, and others claim she was aided by her father. This was helped early on by a number of reported sightings of Maura in Vermont and Canada, though I believe most if not all of these sightings have been discredited. Suggestions as to how she escaped, especially how she managed to disappear completely in such a short window before the cops arrived, and despite two neighbours looking out their windows, vary wildly. Which brings us to the next theory.
- The Tandem Driver
This theory purports that there was someone driving with her to her destination in a separate vehicle. Either they were lagging behind and drove up on the accident, or they were in the lead and doubled back after seeing she was no longer behind them. This theory has several variations as well: it was a friend helping her escape to a new life, it was someone she was going on a romantic getaway with, or it was multiple other people and they were all going to get drunk and party for a few days. No matter what the variation, they all have one thing in common: there’s not really any evidence to suggest this. Aside from the awkward situation of taking two cars for some reason, it isn’t great at explaining how she disappeared, sight unseen. Whoever was driving with her had to have been far enough away that they did not arrive at the crash for several minutes, after the bus driver had already rolled up on Maura and left, but was not so far away that the cops got their first. Considering Maura had printed out two different sets of Mapquest directions, indicating that at least she did not know how to get where she was going, it would stand to reason either she would follow the other car or the other car would follow her and her directions.
In either situation, it seems unlikely that they would have wound up separated by long enough of a distance for the crash and the encounter with Butch to take place. Plus, if Maura were driving with another car on such a long journey, it is hard to believe there would have been no phone calls between the two. The crash happened roughly three hours into the drive. If it were me, there’s no way I would have made it that long without calling the other car to figure out where to stop to take a piss or grab some food. This theory really only explains how she vanished from the scene of the accident, and it doesn’t explain that very well.
- Butch Did It
Gonna gloss over this one quickly, and with good cause. There are some out there who think bus driver Butch showed up at the accident, abducted Maura in his school bus, drove to his home where his wife was, then called the police and spent the night searching for her with them while leaving her either dead or tied up on the school bus, in his driveway, 100 yards from the scene of the crime. With his wife still home. That’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.
- Abducted By a Stranger
Another possibility is that after Butch drove off, Maura was abducted by a stranger driving by. There are a couple ways this could have gone down. She may have started taking off on foot. When police dogs were brought in and given the scent from her gloves, they followed it 100 yards from the car before losing the trail (100 yards in the opposite direction of Butch’s house). Someone or someones in a passing car could have pulled up and abducted her, or she could have gotten into the car willingly. There was only a 7 minute window and this would either have to have been someone extremely opportunistic, or someone who had been following her, possibly after she stopped somewhere nearby for a bathroom break or something. Butch had noted that he could no longer see the crash from his house when he called the police, but that several cars drove down the road. Something that makes this slightly more credible is the possibility that, after declining help from Butch, Maura realized that the police would be there soon, either because she suspected he was going to ignore her request not to call the cops and do it anyway, or because she realized one of the other residents in the area may already have. She also may have wanted a ride all along to escape a potential DUI, and just wanted to get in a vehicle that wasn’t a school bus being driven by a 300 pound man.
One of the main arguments used to refute this theory is the tight window, and how extremely coincidental it would have been for a killer to happen to drive by, get her in the car, and disappear, especially if she was taken by force. This ignores the fact that such an act may have been completely premeditated. I’m not contending that someone had conspired to abduct Maura specifically, just that they planned to abduct someone. The road was notoriously dangerous, and there had just been a major storm, making it even more treacherous. All the killer would have to do is hide somewhere nearby and wait. If this happened, the abduction was clean, like that of an experienced serial killer. To that end, five weeks later in Montgomery, Vermont, less than 90 miles (140 km) away, 17 year old Brianna Maitland disappeared in almost identical circumstances. Her car was found crashed on the side of the road, and no trace of Brianna was ever found. The police immediately dismissed the idea of a serial killer and deemed the incidents unrelated.
While there is no firm evidence of a serial killer, or even if Maura is dead or just made herself disappear, in January of 2022, she was added to the FBI Violent Criminal Apprehension Profile. The ViCAP registry is a database of victims of serial killers, and local law enforcement agencies can request that missing persons and other potential victims be added to the database as well.
It is unclear exactly what Maura’s plan was upon leaving UMass, or how concrete a plan she even had. There are several signs that point to the fact that she may have planned to commit suicide. She had tidied up her room, packing everything in boxes. She made sure to return a borrowed lab coat to a fellow student, even though they had insisted she didn’t need to yet. The tidying up of personal affairs like this is consistent with people who intend to commit suicide. Her potential destinations were places of comfort for her, like the condos where she and her family vacationed or the White Mountains which she and her father had hiked. These are the sorts of destinations someone would choose for the occasion. Along with the other items I mentioned inside her car, there was also a bottle of sleeping pills, reportedly Tylenol PM. Combining sleeping pills and alcohol is a common form of suicide. I’d love to have more concrete numbers on how common, but Google has decided to preempt all of my searches into the matter by telling me that help is available and giving me the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Thanks for looking out for me, Business Daddy.
While there is a case to be made for this argument, and at the very beginning Fred Murray reportedly considered it a possibility, there’s also evidence that either it wasn’t Maura’s plan, or that she had not yet decided. Among the personal effects she brought with her were her birth control pills, which indicates long term planning. She also had picked up the accident report forms to fill out with her father, though she may have intended to fill them out and mail them. While there may have been questions about her mental state, it’s important to note that taking off like this wasn’t completely unprecedented. Her friends said that one day in high school she decided to just hop on a train to Boston instead of going to school, just for the Hell of it. It’s hardly a pattern of behaviour, but the fact that there is prior evidence of her saying “fuck this noise” and just going away on her own with no warning is a reasonable indication that her decision that February was not the result of a full on mental breakdown.
Along the lines of suicide is the theory that she went off into the woods and succumbed to the elements. The witness who claimed, months later, to have seen her jogging down the road 4-5 miles from the crash site said that she turned down a dirt road when she saw him approach. It’s possible that she ran off, got lost, and died of exposure, but given how frequently and thoroughly the area was searched, it is unlikely that her remains would not have been found.
- The A-Frame House
On a personal note, I really hate the name of this theory. It’s called the A-frame house because the house has an angled roof, resembling the letter A. Know what other building has this style of roof? Every single fucking house in the entirety of New England, and most of America. If our houses had flat roofs, they’d all bend, leak, or even collapse under the weight of heavy snow accumulation. Rant over.
Onto the theory itself, the particular house was about half a mile from the crash site, and was the home of Claude Moulton, age 38, and his girlfriend of four years, age 18. In 2004, Fred Murray received a knife in the mail from Claude’s brother, Larry. Claude and his girlfriend had been said to have been acting strangely after Maura’s disappearance, and Larry believed that the blood-stained knife he found in Claude’s glove box was used to kill her. The police had originally refused the knife when Fred offered it to them as evidence, but they later accepted it. Family members claimed that Larry had a history of drug use and made up the story to try to get reward money. Still, a few days after Fred was given the knife, Claude scrapped his car. He had also previously refused to let the police search his property. Law enforcement never released any information about the knife, most likely because even if it was tested and found to have Maura’s DNA on it, there was no proper chain of custody, and it would not have been able to be used to establish probable cause for a warrant. There’s no way to verify the knife was found in the glove box, and even if it was, there’s no way to know what happened between then and it being received by the police.
If Larry’s story is true, then it’s more than a little disappointing the police could not act, but not as disappointing as it would be to find a treasure trove of evidence that would all be thrown out of court for illegal search and seizure. With such a high profile case, I can’t fault the police for wanting to play this one by the book to avoid losing a conviction on a technicality. Then again, even if the evidence couldn’t be used in court, there’s no justice like angry mob justice…
Claude and his girlfriend eventually left town, and the new owners of the A-frame house allowed it to be investigated. Cadaver dogs were brought in, and they were very insistent about a particular closet in the house, indicating the possibility of human remains. While carpet samples were taken to be tested for blood and human remains, the investigation was being run the Murray’s private investigator, John Smith, not by law enforcement. The samples were given to the New Hampshire state police, but they have again not made any comments regarding this evidence. Maybe call the cops when the dogs go nuts instead of just taking samples yourself? The floors and carpets have since been replaced.
Ten years later in 2016, John Smith returned to the house again with the hosts of a podcast dedicated to Maura Murray. The house was now abandoned, so they went to the upstairs closet again and took wood chips to be tested. This time, they were tested privately rather than being handed over to the police. The wood chips from the closet tested positive for human blood. There were two sets of DNA, one male, and one unidentifiable, which means that it cannot be ruled out that it is Maura’s blood. Unfortunately, barring significant advances in technology, that is as much as can be determined from the degraded samples. Throughout the course of researching and writing this, I did not have any agenda or theory I wanted to put forward. My goal is always to state the facts. Still, if we’re on the same page that there is a very clear frontrunner for most likely theory, be sure to GET IN THE COMMENTS and let me know.
On Friday, February 6, 2004 at approximately 12:15 am, UMass student Petrit Vasi was struck by a car a few minutes off campus in a hit and run. He was in a coma for a month. This was the same night that Maura had her 1:00 am breakdown. There is already a solid foundation for why she would have wanted to get away, but there are some who believe that Maura was the one who struck Vasi.
Maura’s shift that night was from 8 pm until 2 am. It is expected that for a 6 hour shift, she would get some sort of break. By Massachusetts state law, she would be offered a 30 minute meal break. She can waive that right, but if they did not offer any other breaks then it is unlikely she would. With the snowstorm coming that night, she could have planned to use her break to run to the store to grab some food or liquor to stock up for the impending snow day from classes. If she took her break at midnight, a very logical time to take one in an 8-2am shift, this theory is surprisingly plausible.
While the parking lot her car would have been in was a 14 minute walk away, Maura was a track athlete up against a ticking clock. Running or jogging to her car could easily be done in half that time. She had a phone call with Billy that began at 12:07 am and lasted for 7 minutes. The area where Vasi was hit was approximately a 6 minute drive from her parking lot. If either the drive took her slightly longer or she was on the phone with Billy for a minute before getting the car into drive, that could put her in the area, distracted on the phone, at the time of the hit and run. At that point she would ditch her plans to pick up whatever vittles she had intended, drive back to a closer parking lot right next to her work, and either cut her break short or take five minutes or so to settle herself before going back inside.
At 12:40 am Maura received a phone call from an unknown caller on a campus phone. This could have been anything from a casual “Hey, did you hear what just happened downtown” from someone who informed her that the accident was much more severe than she realized, to someone who witnessed the incident and intended to blackmail her. This entire account of events is absolutely plausible, and it gives a much better explanation for why she was sobbing followed by a catatonic state than it resulting from the conversation with her sister over two hours earlier.
Vasi has absolutely no recollection of the events. He has no idea who hit him, and he had never met Maura prior. Not that this would have been targeted or anything, just a careless accident from driving while on the phone, but it sounds like he’s a bit sick of being asked about it. If she was somehow involved, we will never know. The only other person who would possibly know is Billy, and given what we now know about him, I would not consider him a credible source of information.
One of the major driving forces pushing this theory forward is the belief that Fred helped his daughter run away. It is a possible explanation for why neither of them mentioned shopping for a car in front of Kate at dinner. I can’t imagine a father that would go to the lengths it would take to help his daughter start a new life and then lie about it, very publically, including multiple national television appearances, would be the same father than seemingly encouraged her to drive the car home drunk the day after she had such a traumatic experience that she needed to run away from.
Ultimately, while I included this section because the potential connection to Vasi has been receiving increasing attention so I felt obligated to, I think it is ultimately immaterial. Maura already had a desire to run away and start a new life, and not without cause. This would absolutely have added an increased sense of urgency, but there is no way to know that February 9th wouldn’t have been the day she ran anyway whether this happened or not.
This is an ongoing investigation with a lot of attention focused on it, so much of the information in this is a bit of a moving target. People’s stories have changed, new developments have come out, and details including in this script may have changed between the time of writing and the time you listened. What I can say is this: Maura Murray was a talented but troubled girl who decided to pack her things and get away. Maybe for a week, maybe forever. Her true intentions and the details of what happened may never be known. It is my opinion that, after crashing her car while drunk, an offense she couldn’t risk due to her present legal situation, she likely declined the help of a kindly but off putting stranger, and instead chose to accept a ride from a younger couple with whom she felt more safe. Unfortunately for her, looks can be deceiving. Whether by negligence, incompetence, or much more likely by a strict adherence to evidentiary rules, important leads were seemingly never followed up on, and potential evidence was destroyed or became unusable.
But maybe I’m wrong. If an infamous bank robber can escape capture for over 50 years, spending most of that time living 5 minutes away from me, who’s to say that Maura too couldn’t have escaped and found a peaceful life somewhere as well.