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The Maura is Missing series was written by Maribeth Conway and edited by Josh Cutler.

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Maura is Missing Part I: The Departure
Wednesday, 20 June 2007 20:00

 Maura was a cross country star dating to her days at Whitman-Hanson High School. “Quiet, shy, but fierce on the track,” is how fellow UMass track team member Nastaran Shams describes her.

Maura is MissingIn the winter of 2004, 21-year-old Maura Murray of Hanson, a talented athlete and nursing student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, got into to her car, drove to the woods of northern New Hampshire and disappeared. Not a trace of her has been found since despite an intensive search and investigation. What happened to Maura Murray? How, after her car skidded into a snow bank on a mild winter night, could she simply disappear? In a multi-part report, the Express examined the circumstances surrounding Maura's disappearance and traces her steps from Amherst, Mass., to Woodsville, N.H. The story begins in a UMass dormitory...

T

hursday, Feb. 5, 2004 -- It was an overcast night at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. Maura Murray, a junior nursing major and dean's list student, was working the campus security desk at the Melville dormitory. Her job was to check identification as students entered the dorm

Maura's shoulder-length brown hair was likely pulled back tightly in a bun as it nearly always was. Friends knew Maura as a highly-motivated achiever who could be shy at times but was also a free-spirit. She ran on the college track team and was an excellent athlete who broke her high school record in the two-mile run.

During a slow point in her shift, around 10:20 p.m., Maura chatted on the phone with her older sister, Kathleen. The two were discussing men troubles, specifically Kathleen's tiff with her then fiancé, now husband, Tim Carpenter. The two sisters talked nearly every day and this conversation was not unlike any other, Kathleen would later say. Maura was especially close to Kathleen and her other older sister, Julie. She also had two brothers, Freddy and Kurt.

Maura did not burst into tears right after hanging up the phone, contrary to some published reports. But she did start crying about three hours later for reasons that remain unclear. Maura was comforted by her work supervisor, Karen Mayotte, who walked her back to her single room in the Kennedy dormitory around 1:20 a.m. Maura never told Mayotte why she was upset. Supervisors are on a 30-minute rotation so Mayotte would not have been present for Maura's entire shift.

Whatever was bothering Maura, she did not share it with her friends or father who visited her at UMass on Saturday, Feb. 7, less than 48 hours later.

 Growing up, Maura had lived with her mother in Hanson, but she retained an especially close relationship with her father, Fred Murray. When Fred wasn't coaching her in youth sports or attending one of her track meets, he and Maura would go camping or hiking, usually in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Maura lived in the high-rise Kennedy Dorm (top) and worked campus security in Melville dormitory, both in the southwest area of UMass-Amherst  Fred came to UMass that weekend to help Maura go car shopping. Maura's black 1996 Saturn sedan was in rough shape, running on just three cylinders. Maura drove the Saturn as little as possible. The father and daughter were looking at a three-year-old Geo Prizm. "She would have had a new car by next week," Fred said later. 

After a day of car shopping on Saturday, the two had dinner at the Amherst Brewing Company on North Pleasant Street in downtown Amherst. Each time Fred visited Maura their routine included trying another of the many local brew pubs in the area.

Maura's friend Kate Markopoulos joined them at the restaurant later that night. After dinner and drinks, Maura's father was ready to head back to the Quality Inn, a motel on Russell St. in neighboring Hadley. Fred offered Maura his new Toyota Corolla to drive for the evening. Maura dropped her father off at the motel and returned with her friend to UMass.

Back on campus, Maura attended a small party in the dorm with Kate and their friends. The girls were chatting and drinking Skyy Blue malt mixed with wine, friend Sara Alfieri later said in an interview with Seventeen magazine. At some point Maura mentioned that she wanted to return the car to her father that night, which didn't make sense to Kate since it was so late, Maura had been drinking and her father wasn't expecting the car until the next day, the magazine reported.

Around 2:30 a.m. Maura told friends she was heading home to her dorm room. Instead she got into her father's car and drove toward his motel. While driving along Route 9 in Hadley, Maura slammed into a guardrail causing about $8,000 worth of damage to the Toyota. Local police responded to the scene of the accident but no charges were filed.

Maura got a ride back to her father's motel. When Fred Murray learned of the accident, Maura was shaken up and extremely apologetic. "She was upset, but it was okay," Fred recalled. "If this is the only trouble a kid ever causes, then you're pretty lucky as a parent."

At 4:49 on Sunday morning a little while after the accident Maura called her boyfriend, Billy Rausch, on her father's cell phone. Billy consoled her over the phone, though he would later say he thought there was more than just the accident on Maura's mind. 

Billy was an army lieutenant who was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Just a few weeks earlier Maura had arranged for a summer job at a hospital in Oklahoma to be closer to Billy. "They would have ended up married," said Fred. Later, Billy would tell a local newspaper that he and Maura were "engaged to be engaged."

The couple met while studying at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and began dating in the fall of 2001. After three semesters, Maura transferred to UMass to continue her studies. "Military just wasn't for her," said Andrea Connolly, a high school friend who ran on the track team with Maura. Maura met her boyfriend, Billy Rausch, in the fall of 2001 while attending West Point. Maura was following in her sister Julie’s footsteps, but later decided military life wasn’t for her and transferred to UMass. Despite the distance Maura and Billy remained close.

Billy and Maura remained close after her transfer, traveling between their schools to spend time together.

After a few calls Sunday morning, Feb. 8, it appeared Fred's insurance would cover the accident and it was time to "move on." Fred had a work obligation in Bridgeport, Connecticut so he rented a car and dropped Maura off at her UMass dorm. That evening at 11:30 p.m. Fred talked to Maura on the phone and reminded her to pick up accident forms from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Maura agreed to call her dad on the phone the next night (Monday) at 8 to go over the forms and fill out the insurance information.

The next day, Monday, Feb. 9, Maura made a number of phone calls.

Just before 1 p.m. she called Dominic and Linda Salamone, a couple who own a rental condominium at the Seasons at Attitash Resort in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Maura's family, which frequented the Bartlett area, had stayed at the Seasons, though never at this condominium.

The Salamones don't remember the conversation with Maura but they are certain she did not book their condominium. To do so on such short notice would have been impossible, explained Linda Salamone. "We don't operate like a hotel." Rentals must be booked far in advance in order for the Salamones to drop a key in the mail. 

The call to the Salamones lasted about three minutes, records show. Linda Salamone speculates she might have offered Maura recommendations on other places to stay, though her memory was foggy by the time police finally interviewed her - nearly a year after Maura went missing.

Maura called a fellow nursing student at 1:13 p.m., though the purpose for her call is not clear. According to John Healey, a New Hampshire private investigator who is familiar with the case, Maura may have arranged to give her scrubs to a fellow nursing student. Family member Helena Murray maintains that Maura, always conscientious, was merely returning scrubs she borrowed from another student.

At 2:05 p.m. Maura made a five-minute call to 1-800-GOSTOWE, where hotel bookings can be made. The "Go Stowe" system was actually out of order at this time so Maura could not have made a reservation and could only listen to voice recordings.

Also on Monday, Maura sent an email to her boyfriend, Billy Rausch. Maura's email to Billy that day read: "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" The message was signed "love you, maura."

At 2:18 p.m. Maura called Billy on his cell phone and left a brief voicemail message. She said something along the lines of "I love you, I miss you, I want to talk," according to Billy's mother, Sharon Rausch. The cell phone Maura used was a gift from Billy, but Sharon's name was on the account.

Billy would later be shipped out to Iraq.

A police investigation later revealed that Maura also emailed teachers at the UMass Nursing School and her boss at a local art gallery to let them know she would be out of town for several days due to a death in the family. There was no death according to Maura's family.

Maura's friends don't know why she made up the death-in-the-family story. "There was something she wanted to get away and think about," said long-time friend Liz Drewniak. "Maybe she just wanted to get away. She was probably under a lot of pressure."

"There was something she wanted to get away and think about," said long-time friend Liz Drewniak. "Maybe she just wanted to get away. She was probably under a lot of pressure."

 There is further evidence suggesting that Maura had intended to leave campus for at least a few days. Maura had "fastidiously packed all her belongings into boxes before she left school, even removing the art from her dorm room walls," the Boston Globe reported, citing UMass Police Lieutenant Robert Thrasher.

"It looked like she was planning to leave school," said Lieutenant John Scarinza of the New Hampshire State Police.

Although police and some friends suggest from her packing that Maura may have been intending to leave school permanently, there is reason to doubt such a conclusion. 

Maura met her boyfriend, Billy Rausch, in the fall of 2001 while attending West Point. Maura was following in her sister Julie’s footsteps, but later decided military life wasn’t for her and transferred to UMass. Despite the distance Maura and Billy remained close.

Maura had recently returned from winter break. The University of Massachusetts has an unusually long break running from before Christmas into late January. Maura returned home to Hanson during her break and logically would have packed her belongings for such an extended time away. The UMass calendar refers to a "Welcome Back Week," occurring over the last week of January and into the first week in February. It is therefore plausible that Maura had been back on campus less than 10 days.

Family members also point out that Maura was a "neat-freak" by nature, so it wouldn't be unusual for the former West Point cadet to have her belongings carefully packed and arranged.

Moreover, there is no indication that Maura was doing poorly in school. To the contrary, she had made the dean's list the prior semester and was known as a good student. Maura had been getting rides from friends at school due to her car problems, says Sharon Rausch, so it is unlikely the textbooks would have already been in the car.

Before leaving the UMass campus on Monday, Maura packed some clothing and toiletries, including a toothbrush and floss. Maura was especially conscientious with her dental hygiene, according to her mother Laurie Murray; she would never go long without brushing and flossing. She also brought along her birth control, according to private detective John Smith.

Maura must have packed her college textbooks as well since they were later found in her car. Maura had been getting rides from friends at school due to her car problems, says Sharon Rausch, so it is unlikely the textbooks would have already been in the car.

Maura also packed a cell phone charger and a Samsung travel adapter for her cell phone. 

Finally, Maura grabbed her favorite stuffed animal, a monkey her father had given her, and a diamond necklace from Billy.

Sometime around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9, Maura left her dorm and got into her Saturn.

At 3:40 p.m. she withdrew $280 from a nearby ATM, leaving her account almost empty. Maura was due to be paid soon from her two part-time jobs.

Maura then stopped off at a local liquor store and bought about $40 worth of alcohol: Bailey's, Kahlua, vodka and a box of wine according to her sister Kathleen. Police later found a liquor store receipt in Maura's car. A police review of surveillance footage showed Maura was alone at both the ATM and the liquor store.

Maura Murray then hit the road, heading north toward the New Hampshire wilderness. She never returned.

At 4:37 p.m. Maura checked her voicemail for messages. This was the last recorded call on her cell phone.

As she promised her father, Maura obtained accident forms before leaving town; the forms were later found in her vehicle. Maura may have stopped at the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Route 9 in neighboring Hadley or she could have downloaded them from the Registry website.

Maura Murray then hit the road, heading north toward the New Hampshire wilderness. She never returned.

Maura is Missing Part II: The Accident

 

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