Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why did Maura leave the party?

Saturday, Feb. 7, two nights before she went missing, Maura was having drinks with friends in the dorms at UMass. At around 2:30 am, she told friends she was going to bed but, instead, left the dorms, got into the car she had borrowed from her father, Fred Murray, earlier that night, and drove it toward the motel he was staying at in nearby Hadley. On the way, she ran into a guardrail and caused $8,000 in damage to the vehicle, causing Fred to get a rental to drive home the next day.

I thought the accident happened some distance from UMass, but you can see from these pictures it was relatively nearby. That is the guardrail, and the other is pointed the other way. You can clearly see UMass from the scene of the accident.

Why in the world was Maura going to her father's hotel room at 2:30 in the morning?

-A special thank to Clint for sharing these photos.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is it a clue?

I've been trying to verify this tip with limited success so I'm putting it out there to see if anyone knows more. This one comes from a source close to the crime scene.

Word is police were once interested in a pair of brothers who made snow out at Loon Mountain in Feb. 2004. They drove to work every evening along Rt. 112 and would have passed the scene of Maura's disappearance. My source was told by police that the night Maura disappeared, the brothers did not show up for work.

If you know who these brothers were, please email the info to me so I can attempt to rule in/rule out this pair.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blackberry not Jigger Johnson

Turns out some websites related to Jigger Johnson have some erroneous info. Jigger Johnson is, in fact, closed for the winter months and would have been closed when Maura disappeared. However, Blackberry Crossing Campground, in Conway, is open year-round. It's a little closer to Haverhill than Jigger Johnson, on Rt 112.

Thanks to those who found the mistake. Another reason for this blog is to suss out the facts before publication.

Again, I'm not saying she went there, only that she was very familiar with the campgrounds around Jigger Johnson and may have had that area in mind before and after the accident. There are hotels in and around Loon Mountain and also Woodstock that may have been her destination. I'm even open to the possibility that she had made plans to meet someone over there. Point is, she knew that heading East would have taken her to an area with lodging that she was familiar with.

New Section Added

Check the pages above this post. You will see I've added an "Evidence" section where I'll be linking to documents related to this case which you can read through/download for further study. Many documents, including the accident reports, can be viewed right now.

A couple things I found interesting. Check out Fred Murray's FOIA request. I've never seen anything like it from the parent of a missing family member. I've seen requests like that before, but usually from defense attorneys seeking discovery before a trial. Also, the lawyers Murray used to file his appeal when the records were denied appear to be copyright/trademark attorneys.

Let me know if you find anything of particular interest.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lavoie Says Fred Murray Explained Mystery Rag

While in Haverhill last week, I caught up with Mike Lavoie, the man who towed Maura's car from the scene of the accident the night she disappeared. His first reaction when I asked about Maura and that night was anger. "Can't you see I'm working? I'm busy. And I'm tired of talking about it."

Eventually, he calmed down, though and shared some details about that night 7 years ago.

"I was laying on the couch when I got the call. I got the truck, got out there pretty quick."

He noticed the rag and asked Fred Murray about it later. "He said he told her to put it there to keep it from smoking. The car was not running well."

It was an odd thing to say to anyone who knows cars. A rag in a tailpipe is a good way to stall a car.

Okay, here's my problem. I have a kid. I try putting myself in Fred's shoes to understand where he's coming from. Think about finding yourself in this situation. Your kid's gone. Missing. And there's this weird detail about a rag in a tailpipe. Even if he really did tell her something so incredibly wrong as "stuff a rag in the tailpipe if your exhaust is smoking"--and we're talking about a guy who understands nuclear medicine, here--would you try to explain that detail away if you didn't know for sure? If there was a possibility that some bad guy had stuffed the rag in there to stall her car? Why would you give a defense as to why the rag was there? Why was it important for police to know that he, Fred, had given Maura that rag in the first place? The whole thing is hinky.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In her brother's words

Kurt is the youngest of the Murray siblings, but shared a special bond with Maura. She was the one who played catch with him in the cul-de-sac outside their house on Joanne Drive in Hanson. Ground-ball drills. If he botched a play, she'd make him run laps.

"We went on adventures in the woods, too. She'd take me to the river tucked in back there. We used to go on camping trips every year. Jigger Johnson was our favorite spot. Sometimes she'd go with her father and I'd come along. Sometimes they just went themselves."

When he'd travel there with Maura, they would jump off bridges into the river together. There was a rope swing for a while, at the Jigger Johnson campground, too. Maura was fearless, he says. "She'd always put on a show. She'd jump off that rope swing and do these all twists in the air before falling into the water."

The routine of running the home eventually fell to Maura when the older kids moved out or got jobs and she would shop for the family's groceries, taking Kurt along with her to the local Shaws. She turned it into a game, leaving items at the end of isles for Kurt to race to and then return to the cart. She taught him to bargain shop.

"I hated running, so when she'd go running, I'd ride my bike along with her."

Kurt came home from school one day and the whole family was there. Maura was missing, they told him. Everyone packed up and drove to New Hampshire. They stayed at the Wells River Motel for a bit and then at a condo in Lincoln owned by Fred Jr's boss. The siblings searched for Maura, or her body, in the woods, though Kurt once told his aunt it would crush him if he ever were to actually find her remains.

It makes sense that she would have gone up there with the intention of clearing her mind, he says. "I think she needed a break. All this talk of suicide...why would she drive all the way up there to do it? Doesn't make sense. That place was special for us. I think she went up there to take a breather and then something happened."

When their mother, Laurie, got sick, Kurt moved back home and took care of her until the end, dropping out of school so he could work to help with living expenses. The kid's been through a lot more than most, but he still has a quick smile and a laid back disposition. He's more than a little inspiring to tell the truth.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Forget Butch Atwood and Rick Forcier

Rick Forcier

Butch Atwood

Once you get past the published news reports on Maura Murray's disappearance, you might find yourself reading through various messageboards where people have written thousands of posts about this unsolved mystery. On these unregulated boards, people can post rumors with no verification and name "suspects" with little fear of libel charges. Two of the most commonly named suspects are Butch Atwood and Rick Forcier. And, in my opinion, neither one had anything to do with Maura's disappearance. In fact, both tried to help in their own ways.

First, Butch Atwood. He was the bus driver who stopped to ask Maura if she needed any help shortly after the accident. He offered to call the police but Maura pleaded with him not to. She said she had already called Triple-A. Of course, having lived in Haverhill for some time, Butch knew this was a lie--phone reception is for shit up there, even worse in 2004. Ask anyone up that way about Butch being involved and they will laugh at you. You see, Butch was a fat man. Morbidly obese. Maura could have easily have run from him. Secondly, Butch's house was not vacant. He lived with his mother and common-law wife at the time. They were home. He was seen sitting in his bus. Oh, and he--or his wife, rather--were the ones who called the cops. Butch was never a viable suspect, in my opinion. He has since passed away.

Then there's Rick Forcier. He lived across from Atwood, on the corner of Bradley Hill Rd. and Wild Ammonoosuc. At the time, he lived in an ugly trailer next to the house he was constructing in his spare time. Today, only the house remains, and it's a beauty. Forcier becomes part of the story several months after Maura's disappearance when he comes to police and mentions he might have seen Maura running near East down Ammonoosuc the night she disappeared, on his way home from work. People were immediately suspicious, wondering why Forcier waited so long to come forward.

I spoke to Diane and Rusty Cowles, who lived across from Forcier on Bradley Hill and still see him to this day. Forcier explained to them that it was only when he was going over his bills that he pieced together that he had been working in Franconia the night Maura vanished and must have been coming home about a half hour after the accident. He thought back on that night and figured it must have been the same evening he saw what he thought at the time was a teenage boy in a hoodie crossing the road quickly in front of him, near 116, several miles East of the crash site. He wondered if it could have been Maura.

Of course, Forcier is at least a little responsible for some of the suspicion people have about him. When people asked him about it, he liked to joke that Maura was living in his house and that "she's a great cook," according to the Cowles. That was Forcier's sense of humor. When the police started asking pointed questions and demanding to search his trailer, he figured his ex-wife might have shared that joke with detectives.

Rusty Cowles says eventually Forcier sold his trailer and had it trucked away. When he did, the state police pulled the truck over and searched the trailer from top to bottom, a clever way to get around a search warrant. Forcier has since moved away from Haverhill to be closer to his kids. He has not responded to a request for an interview.

Niether of these individuals seem like viable suspects to me. I'm a little confused why Fred Murray made such a big deal about them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Maura was in New Hampshire for New Years, 2004.

Consider this rumor officially confirmed.

The mother of Andrea Connolly, one of Maura's close friends from Whitman-Hanson, tells me detectives were very interested in the news that Maura spent New Years Eve at a house owned by Connolly's friend in Goshen, New Hampshire, a month before she disappeared. Nobody was living there the week Maura went missing, but they did call up to neighbors to have them check the house. But it was empty.

Goshen is about an hour and a half drive from Haverhill.

What the witnesses saw.

One thing that has been re-reported with little verification over the years is the story by Faith Westman, who lived in the house across the street from where Maura's car came to rest on Wild Ammonoosuc Rd., in which she says she saw a man in Maura's car smoking a cigarette. That's not exactly right, she told me last week.

"I heard a crash and then I went to the window. I saw the car. There was a red light in the car, which I thought might be the light from the end of a cigarette," says Westman. "But I never saw a man and the red light could have been anything. Maybe a cell phone light as she was trying to find a signal to call someone."

She saw the woman in the car get out and walk around the vehicle as she called the accident in to local authorities--crashes on that curve in the wintertime are not unusual in themselves and she has to do this at least once every season.

John Marrotte is an old, earnest fellow who lives in a house on the North side of the street. Since the trees were bare at the time, he was able to see the car--and the woman--from the window of his kitchen.

"I saw her get out and walk around the car. When I looked out again, the police were there. She was gone. I don't know what happened. Only man who knows is up there." he points to the sky.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The forgotten "second outburst".

One of the stories everyone comes back to when reviewing Maura's case is the "breakdown" she had the Thurs. night before she disappeared, after she spoke to her sister Kathleen on the phone. But there was a second outburst, according to an article published by Seventeen several years ago. On Saturday night, Maura dropped her father off at a nearby motel and returned to the dorms where she hung out with friends and drank Skyy Blue and wine.

A couple times during the night, Maura told her friends that she wanted to drive back to the motel that night instead of waiting until the next day to return her father's car. Even her friends told her that didn't make sense.

According to Seventeen, Maura left the party at 2:30 am, telling everyone she was going to bed, but instead, got in her car headed for the motel. On the way, she would crash into a guardrail and cause several thousand dollars in damage to Fred Murray's car. They had a lot to discuss when she got there. But, why in the world was she going there in the first place?

How the accident probably happened.

Tucked away in the scant public records made available on Maura's case is a letter from the Woodsville Rescue Ambulance to then-chief Jeff Williams. It lists the names of EMS and fire dept. crew who responded to the scene of the accident on Wild Ammonoosuc Rd. Then, below that, is this auspicious sentence: "Also, Dick Guy mentioned that he had noticed a couple of odd things at the MVA [motor vehicle accident] that he is curious if HPD [Haverhill police dept.] was made aware of."

I found Dick Guy last week at his TV repair shop in Woodsville. He's an affable guy who considers EMS more of a hobby, a part-time passion.

"Everything about the scene of the accident was weird," he says. "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."

Guy then drew a freehand map of what he saw that night, which is posted above, showing the sheered-off corner.

"To me, I'd say the car stalled and she was trying to regain control as she came to the turn."

And that brings us to the strange rag they discovered stuffed into the tailpipe. It's a good way to stall a car, he said. Guy doesn't think a car would get a mile down the road before it stalled out with a rag stuffed into it like that.

"There's only two explanations for the rag in the tailpipe," he says. "One, someone stuffed it in there to get her to stall. Two, someone put it in there after the accident to muddy the waters."

I believe Guy's interpretation of events. Impacting that corner better explains the damage done to Maura's car, too. But if someone did stuff a rag into the tailpipe to make the car stall, when and where, exactly did that happen?