While studying nursing at UMass Amherst in February 2004, Maura Murray crashed her car in rural New Hampshire — then inexplicably disappeared forever.
At 7:27 p.m. on February 9, 2004, a woman named Faith Westman called the police in Haverhill, New Hampshire to report a car accident on Route 112. A black Saturn appeared to be stuck in a ditch near her home. The dispatcher thanked her for calling and sent out an officer.
By 7:42 p.m., authorities had received another phone call about the accident, this time from a bus driver named Butch Atwood. He reported that the driver was a young woman who appeared to be “shaken up,” but unharmed.
Atwood said that he had offered to call the cops at the scene of the crash, but the woman claimed that she had already called roadside assistance. Still, Atwood called the police anyway once he arrived home — about 100 yards away from the accident. He said that he could not see the woman’s car from his house, but he did see other cars passing by on the road.
At 7:46 p.m., the first responding officer had arrived on the scene. But the mysterious young woman was nowhere to be found.
After an initial search of the area, authorities learned that the missing woman was a 21-year-old named Maura Murray. A nursing student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, she had left campus earlier that day without telling anyone that she was going to New Hampshire. And after Murray vanished in Haverhill that evening, she was never seen again.
The Bizarre Days Leading Up To Maura Murray’s Disappearance
Born on May 4, 1982, in Brockton, Massachusetts, Maura Murray was raised in the nearby town of Hanson. The youngest daughter of Fred and Laurie Murray, she saw her parents separate when she was just six years old. Maura Murray had four siblings — Fred Jr., Kathleen, Julie, and Kurtis — and she was often described as an “overachiever” from a young age.
In school, Murray made her mark as an honor student and a track athlete. She was accepted into West Point, though she ended up transferring to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to study nursing. Her time there appeared normal for the most part, but there were some problems.
Three months before her disappearance, Maura Murray was arrested for using a stolen credit card number. But that charge was supposed to be dismissed as long as she maintained good behavior for three months.
And on February 5, 2004, Murray had an emotional phone conversation with her sister Kathleen, who was struggling with addiction and issues with her fiancé. At the time, Murray was at her campus security job and was so distraught by the call that she had to be escorted back to her dorm. When her supervisor tried to find out what was wrong, all Murray could say was this: “My sister.” This was just four days before Murray vanished.
Murray’s father Fred traveled to Amherst on February 7, 2004. He said that he went car-shopping with his daughter and went to dinner with her before he went back to his motel. He then lent Murray his car so she could drive back to her dorm for a party that night. But on her way back in the wee hours of the next morning, she crashed her father’s car into a guardrail.
Though Murray was unharmed, the car was seriously damaged. However, Fred soon found out that his insurance would cover the cost of repairs as long as Murray picked up the proper forms from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Aside from being upset over the accident, Murray reportedly seemed fine when her father took her back to her dorm later that day.
But the next morning, on February 9, 2004, everything changed. Murray emailed her professors to say that she would be taking a week off due to a death in the family. (Her relatives later said there was no death.) She also emailed her boyfriend, Bill Rausch, a U.S. Army lieutenant in Oklahoma: “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.”
Murray called the owner of a condo in Bartlett, New Hampshire, where she had stayed before with family. But she didn’t reserve a room. She also called a booking hotline for hotels in Stowe, Vermont, but again did not reserve a room. By that point, she had also used the internet to look up directions to Burlington, Vermont. It’s unclear what her planned destination was meant to be — because she didn’t tell anyone where she was going.
Around 3:15 p.m., Murray drove to an off-campus ATM and withdrew $280. She then went to a liquor store and purchased about $40 worth of alcohol, including Baileys, Kahlúa, and boxed wine. She also stopped by the Registry of Motor Vehicles and picked up the forms for her car accident.
At 4:37 p.m., she placed a call to her own voicemail. It was the last recorded instance that she ever used her phone.
How Maura Murray Suddenly Disappeared After Her Fateful Car Accident
Little is known about Murray’s whereabouts between her errands in Amherst and her car crash in Haverhill hours later, which likely happened at some point between 7 p.m. and 7:25 p.m. The 911 calls from Westman and Atwood, the two locals who reported the car accident, were placed at 7:27 p.m. and 7:42 p.m., respectively. And by 7:46 p.m., Murray had disappeared.
The first officer on the scene found a damaged car — but no driver. The vehicle was locked and the airbags had been deployed. The cop who wrote up the report said, “Evidence at the scene indicated the vehicle had been eastbound and had gone off the roadway, struck some trees, spun around and come to rest facing the wrong way in the eastbound lane.”
The officer continued, “In plain sight behind the driver’s seat of the vehicle I could see a box of Franzia wine. I could also see red liquid on the driver’s side door and ceiling of the car.” In addition, the cop discovered a Coke bottle “that contained a red liquid with a strong alcoholic odor.” And there were also printed MapQuest directions to Burlington, Vermont.
There were no obvious signs of foul play, and there were no footprints in the snow that led into the nearby woods. So the officer first asked Atwood — the last known person to speak with Murray — to give him a hand with the search. Eventually, a state trooper showed up, followed by firefighters and an emergency medical service. While they began combing the area west of the scene, it’s believed that no one went east during the initial search.
This was one of many things that Murray’s father Fred — who was only informed about his missing daughter 24 hours after the crash — would criticize about how the police handled the search. “I knew she was headed east,” Fred said. “She was headed to Bartlett. She was up there as an infant. I remember changing her diapers in a tent up there, for Chrissakes.”
While Murray’s phone records would indeed indicate that she was considering renting a room in Bartlett, the MapQuest directions in the car led police to believe that she was actually headed to Burlington instead. But since she had told no one of her plans and left without making a confirmed reservation, it remains unclear where she was actually going.
Police also believed that Murray may have been trying to kill herself, and even put out a press release two days after she first went missing that she was “possibly suicidal.” Her father has denied this suggestion: “She was in good spirits and had no worries or reason to run away from her life.”
However, it could not be ignored that Murray had been dealing with numerous problems prior to her disappearance — including her legal issues with credit card fraud, her worries over her alcoholic sister, and crashing her father’s car mere hours before getting into yet another car accident.
Though many of her loved ones believed that Murray had simply intended to “get away” from all the drama for just a few days, there were some signs that she intended her disappearance to be a permanent one. Most notably, a search of her dorm room revealed that she had packed up most of her belongings into boxes before she left. Atop one of the boxes was a printed email to her boyfriend, which detailed problems in their relationship.
While Murray had left some of her belongings in her car, a few key items were missing, including her cell phone and backpack. However, her phone was never used again. Any bank account associated with her has remained dormant. And ever since Maura Murray’s disappearance in 2004, only alleged sightings, dead ends, and speculative theories have emerged.
The Disturbing Theories About What May Have Happened To Her
One of the earliest police theories about this befuddling missing-person case was that Maura Murray had either planned to kill herself or had been consumed by suicidal thoughts after her final car accident. But many of her loved ones have firmly insisted that she would never have ended her own life, even with all the incidents that had happened in the preceding days.
Personal feelings aside, some of the items that Murray had packed in her car — such as birth control pills, tooth whitener, and college textbooks — have led many to believe that she was not intending to die that day. After all, why would a suicidal person bother packing items like those?
Another theory was that Murray had simply panicked after crashing her car just hours after damaging her father’s vehicle and had escaped the area to avoid getting into trouble. Considering the amount of alcohol found at the scene — and the Coke bottle that was likely filled with alcohol — authorities believed that Murray had been drinking and didn’t want to risk jeopardizing her record of “good behavior” after her credit card fraud arrest.
The nearby woods might’ve hypothetically been a good place to hide out if the weather had been warm, but it was rather cold outside. And there were no footprints found in the snow leading to the woods, meaning that she would’ve had to escape on the road, likely moving east of the accident scene (since that area was not inspected during the first search).
Interestingly enough, a contractor who had been passing by on Route 112 that night later reported seeing a “young person” moving eastbound on foot a few miles away from the scene of the accident around 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. However, the contractor didn’t report the alleged sighting until months later, because he was unsure at first about the exact date he had seen the person. It’s still unclear whether that person was actually Murray.
Assuming that Murray did not kill herself and did not succumb to the elements while in hiding, where would she have gone? Some have speculated that she started a new life for herself — perhaps even in Canada — to escape her legal issues and the drama that was unfolding in her personal life. While authorities have acknowledged the possibility that Murray is still out there somewhere, they think it’s extremely unlikely.
Though some have stuck to the suicide or accidental death theories, others think that she was abducted. Her father Fred firmly believes that she was “taken by a local dirtbag.” However, many residents of Haverhill have scoffed at the idea that it was a local person who did it — and suggest that Murray was simply at “the wrong place at the wrong time” and that a random kidnapper just happened to be on that road on that day.
In the years since Maura Murray went missing, amateur sleuths have explored all of these ideas and more. For instance, Murray’s boyfriend Rausch has been accused of sexual misconduct against other women, leading some to question whether he played a role in what happened to Murray. However, Rausch was in Oklahoma at the time of the disappearance.
Other theories have focused on Atwood, the last known person to see Murray alive. Some found it suspicious that he did not stay with Murray until help arrived. Also, he and his wife moved to Florida shortly after the disappearance. Perhaps most shockingly, some citizen sleuths have implied that Murray’s father may have been abusive toward her, perhaps prompting her to run away — an accusation that Murray’s loved ones have denied.
But for all the theories, we’re no closer to finding out what happened to Maura Murray today than we were nearly two decades ago. Considering her slim chances of survival, there have been multiple efforts to recover her remains near the scene of the accident. But these have all led to dead ends.
Most recently, in September 2021, New Hampshire State Police (NHSP) announced that human bone fragments had been found just 25 miles away from North Haverhill in the Loon Mountain area. However, radiocarbon dating in November revealed that the remains were far older than Murray.
“My heart is heavy upon learning that these remains do not belong to my little sister,” Murray’s sister Julie said in a statement. “I urge the NHSP to work tirelessly until the remains can be identified, so that peace may be given to their loved ones. My family will continue to search for Maura and will leave no stone unturned until we bring her home and hold accountable those who are responsible for her disappearance.”