Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Overachiever

Mike Driscoll

The Murray girls could run.

At Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, a half hour south of Boston, Maura and Julie Murray's names still dominate the list of records in track and cross-country. In 1998, Julie, Maura's older sister, broke the record for the 1 mile, with a time of 5:10.8 while Maura took the record for the 2 mile with a time of 11:20.7.

According to her coaches, Maura was considered by many as perhaps the fastest female runner in the state of Mass her freshman year. When she matured heading into her sophomore year, however, she lost a bit of her speed and focussed, instead, on distance running, which she dominated for the remainder of her high school years.

Assistant girls cross-country coach Keith Erwin makes no bones about it. "She was the most talented runner ever to come through this school and her sister, Julie, was a phenomenal runner herself."

Driving their constant conditioning was their father, Fred, who had coached youth baseball and football teams in the area. Though Fred was estranged from the girls' mother, and worked in Connecticut, he was present for every track meet. He pushed the girls to run every day--Maura was seen running around the school one Christmas, even.

"She was extremely driven," says coach Mike Driscoll. "She wanted to be the best. She looked up to her sister, Julie, and wanted to hold onto that legacy."

Driscoll was not surprised, then, when Maura decided to follow Julie to the United States Military Academy at West Point after graduation. The last time he saw her, though, was in Boston. She was running for UMass, having transferred to a nursing program there after leaving West Point abruptly. "She seemed happy to be away from West Point."

"She kind of kept to herself," says Driscoll. "But she was also a bit of a jokester. And she adored her father. She would do anything for him."

As to what happened to Maura in 2004, on a desolate road in New Hampshire? "Honestly," he says, "I hope she was meeting somebody up there and that she's still around."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My methodology

I know there's a lot of people who follow this case closely and are trying to figure out exactly what is going on here so let me explain a little about my methods when it comes to investigating unsolved crimes.

1. I will not rely on secondary sources.
This case has been written about many times. There have been several television programs that featured the case as well. Many times, when reporters put a book together (or a blog, article, etc.) they merely quote from articles that came out before, falling back on someone else's reporting. I won't do that. For a couple reasons. It's lazy, for one. But also, some of what has been reported was reported incorrectly. Some things presented as fact are not factual. I want to come at this as a fresh pair of eyes. And so I will be conducting my own research and interviews as if nothing has been written about Maura before. That's not to take away from some of the quality journalism I noticed in the article from the Express and other sources. But I'd like to start on a clean slate.

2. I will name suspects.
As in the Amy Mihaljevic case, I intend to eventually talk about suspects, potential suspects, and persons of interest. I will name them if they are either deceased or have a criminal record of violence against women. That's my litmus test. If they are neither dead nor a creep, I will use a fake name (and if I do so, I will let the reader know it is a moniker).

3. I will moderate comments.
Experience has taught me that sometimes people troll these blogs and leave threatening messages for either me or my subjects. So unfortunately, I can't have an open forum here. But I will post comments that are critical of my ideas and writings. I just can't have threats or libelous statements on here.

4. I will respect your privacy.
If you have a tip you'd like to send to me, let me know if you'd like me to publish your name or if I need to keep you as an anonymous source. Any significant leads will be passed on to the police, but I will omit your name if you want.

That's about it. I don't know how quickly I'll update but I have a stack of interviews here to publish bit by bit. So check back.

Security Desk At Melville Hall


Maura was working here the evening of February 5, when she received a phone call that caused her to become nearly catatonic.


The Phone Call

In 2004, Maura Murray worked the security desk at Melville Hall to earn some spending cash. At the time, her supervisor was a young woman named Karen Mayotte, a History major with an interest in World War II Holocaust studies. Some believe Mayotte holds an important clue in Maura’s disappearance, as some newspapers claim she witnessed Maura crying after receiving a phone call during a shift four days before she vanished.

I met Mayotte one cold New England night at a small pub and though I protested, she graciously treated me to some clam strips and Sam Adams. A bubbly, charming woman, Mayotte is the mother of four kids and works as a 1st grade teacher at a school in Massachusetts. Seven years later she still remembers Maura and the night of the phone call in great detail.

As a security guard, Maura’s job was to sit at a desk near the entrance to Melville and check the ID’s of students as they entered the building—the ID’s were color-coded and corresponded to specific dorms. Her shift started at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 5.

The dorms at UMass are divided into six areas and each supervisor is responsible for one area. Melville was located in the southwest section, a region known as the craziest part of on-campus life, mostly due to the sheer number of students packed into the buildings there. The night of the phone call, Mayotte was the lead supervisor, responsible for the entire campus, and was slowly making her way across all six areas.

Mayotte knew Maura well, having spoken to her many times on nights like this one. Once, she’d found Maura reading a book about hiking in the mountains and they had talked about the different trails in the North Country. Maura, she recalls, really enjoyed the trails along Mount Washington.

“I think around 10:30, 10:40, I got down to the southwest area and I checked in with the supervisors, there,” recalls Mayotte. “One of them said, ‘Something’s up with Maura.’ She had been crying. I went to see what was up.”

When Mayotte arrived at Melville, Maura was staring straight ahead into empty space. A nursing book lay open in front of her. “I don’t know how to explain it. She was just completely zoned out. No reaction at all.”

Mayotte asked her what was wrong but Maura was unresponsive. Then, she started crying. She noticed there was a cell phone sitting on the desk, which was against regulation, but something she was willing to overlook. After a few moments, Maura said two words: “My sister.”

When she let two students enter without checking ID’s, Mayotte realized she was in no shape to be working the desk. Mayotte called her boss, shift supervisor Nate Witmer, and reported Maura’s condition. Witmer agreed that they should send her back to her room. Maura was so worked up she couldn’t sign out so Mayotte did it for her. She asked Maura if she could pick up some “Dunkins” and hang out with her until she felt better, but Maura said she had nursing in the morning and wanted to go to sleep.

“I knew she was not in a good state,” says Mayotte. Mayotte told Maura about her own struggles and recommended she talk to someone at the university’s counseling center, which is open 24 hours. Mayotte walked her to Kennedy Hall, where Maura had a single room all to herself. She gave her a hug and watched her walk up the stairs toward her room.

It was the last time she saw her. The next day, a Friday, morning classes were canceled due to snow. The following Tuesday, she filled out a report of her interaction with Maura that night and filed it with local law enforcement. She has never spoken to detectives working the case.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A New Search Begins


My name is James Renner. I'm a journalist from Ohio, probably best known for my investigation into the 1989 abduction/murder of 10 year old Amy Mihaljevic.

Over the course of the last several months, I have begun to investigate the strange disappearance of Maura Murray, a 21-year-old UMass nursing student from Hanson, MA, who vanished in Haverhill, New Hampshire on February 9, 2004. I have visited Hanson, Amherst, and Haverhill and have interviewed several people close to the investigation and some of those who knew Maura well. I hope to speak to many more as my search continues.

Already, I have uncovered facts that have never been made public and clues that have yet to be shared. In the coming months, I will release this information here as I begin to organize it into a book.

There is something about this case that resonates with so many people. After seeing Maura's story on TV, I sensed a greater mystery. And my trips into the North Country confirmed my suspicions.

If you have any information about this case that you would like to share with me, please write to me at jameswrenner@gmail.com

More soon.