Saturday, December 3, 2016

Did Maura Take Off With More Money Than We Thought?

Here's a comment that came in today from a reader who works with financial aide:

I'm a university academic advisor with expertise in financial aid, so I wanted to offer some insight on this.

At a school like UMass, most students receive the following types of financial aid:
-- scholarships
-- Pell Grant
-- Direct Loans
-- PLUS Loan

Direct Loans are fairly small ($3,750 per semester for juniors/seniors), but the PLUS Loan exists to supplement whatever is not covered by the other forms of financial aid. The PLUS Loan can also provide a substantial refund (often around $4,000+) to be used for books, supplies, and other expenses.

The PLUS Loan is always in the parent's name, and the PLUS Loan refund always goes to the parent unless the parent authorizes the school's financial aid office to issue the refund directly to the student. Some parents use private loans (such as Sallie Mae) instead of the PLUS Loan, but usually the PLUS Loan has a lower interest rate.

HERE'S THE IMPORTANT THING: Maura went missing around the exact time she would have gotten her spring semester refund check. If you look at UMass academic calendar for spring 2017, for example, you'll see that classes start on January 23, and the last day to drop or add classes is February 6. Financial aid disburses after the last day to drop or add classes, and students receive refunds approximately one week after the last day to drop or add classes -- putting it squarely on February 13.

If Maura was indeed planning to disappear, she may have been waiting to receive her financial aid refund check. She could have picked it up, cashed it, and left town.

Universities cannot release any information related to student financial records because of FERPA. They can't even release information to parents unless the student signs a consent form, but they would of course release information to law enforcement if warranted.

Monday, November 28, 2016

No, I Do Not Think Maura Is a Sociopath.

The latest Missing Maura Murray podcast is out, today. It's a kind of Best Of episode, catching listeners up on all that has happened so far. They revisit episode 6, which was recorded over a year ago. That was the episode where I called Maura a sociopath (based on actions like credit card fraud, identity theft, affairs, etc.) and said she was "at her best when she was with Billy Rausch."

Boy do I wish I could take that back.

I have since learned that Bill Rausch lost his job in D.C. after coworkers claimed he assaulted a woman in the office, pushing her down onto a table in a drunken state when they were alone. That's one of several alarming stories I've heard about Bill.

To be clear, I no longer believe Maura was a sociopath. I believe she was a survivor. I believe she was leaving that night to get away from Bill and other sources of stress in her life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Maura Murray on the Principled Uncertainty Podcast

I'm the featured guest on this week's Principled Uncertainty Podcast, with T. Blake Braddy. We discuss everything you want to know about the Maura Murray mystery but were too afraid to ask.

Check it out here.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's Going On With the Blog?

As some have noticed, there were some major and minor changes to the blog in the last few weeks. I have reverted some posts to drafts (meaning they can no longer be viewed). There are two reasons for this: I'm trying to make it easier for Maura to come out of hiding (assuming she really did take off). Early on, I felt it important to share some of the more salacious details of her antics at West Point and UMass, because a couple of the people involved were treated as potential suspects and the case might be a homicide, still. Also, I'm just tired of the anger and negativity that surrounds this case. Obviously I believe the Murrays and Maura's friends from UMass have info that has never been shared, but calling them out on it in weekly posts (and in the comments from readers) isn't making any difference and only adds to the bad blood, there. They've made their decisions - for whatever reason - and they don't owe us anything.

On that note, if there are any particularly egregious posts you think should be reverted to draft, email me a link at jameswrenner@gmail.com

What should remain, in the end, is a website that shares all the primary documents and important clues we've uncovered since beginning in 2011.

I am relentlessly trying to rein in the comments, too. Though sometimes I fall short there.

This is the result of much soul-searching in 2016, instigated by the book's release, my sobriety, my family, my career, and even this damned election. I think there's a better way to do what we're doing.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Phone Problem

I want to believe Maura is alive. I want to believe she pulled it off, found somewhere safe, a better life. I will never believe she went up there without telling someone - and if that's true, there must be a good reason that person did not share that info. And I believe Maura was not traveling alone. However...

There is one clue that, on the surface, really suggests she never made it off the mountain - her cell phone.

It wasn't in the car. It went with her (unless we are to believe it was already thrown away). But it never rang again. Bill was trying to call her that night. And everyone was trying to call her the next day. But we know it didn't ring because of the phone records. No calls are getting through. Which means either it was turned off, or it was never again in range of a cell tower - that it never left the mountain, where there is no service.

In fact, for me, this would be case closed - evidence for sure that she ran into the woods (regardless of no footprints, the scent dog leading to the middle of the road) and died there, if not for one frustrating detail: we know Maura turned her phone off earlier that day and we don't know why. Bill was trying to reach her in UMass and after a while those calls don't connect. We know the phone was off as she drove toward the White Mountains. She turned it on once, to check voicemail, and then off again. It was likely off at the time of the accident.

The question is, why did Maura turn off her cell phone? Was it to conserve battery? Or was it so Bill couldn't follow her, couldn't call her?

Since it was off, did she just keep it in her purse, instead of, say, the cup holder or the passenger seat? So when she left, it came with her?

Again, we come to the fork in the road: either she ran away and the plan was already in motion, or she's dead in the woods. If she ran away, though, all the drama that happened in the days leading up to her disappearance (the email from Bill on the packed boxes, the party, the father visit, the money, the lying friends, searching for a condo with 2 bedrooms, etc.) make a certain sense. If she's dead in the woods, it's all just noise and she never told a soul. That's still really hard for me to buy.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

75% Chance of a Conviction

When Fred Murray sued the state of New Hampshire to get access to records related to the disappearance of his daughter, it led to court testimony and affidavits from investigators. In defending his office's reluctance to release any info, Assistant AG Jeffrey Strelzin explained that there was a 75% chance that they will prosecute someone based on what they'd found so far.

A lot has been made of this, with people pointing to this as proof that the prosecutors have a suspect for Maura's murder but not enough evidence to convict. But I do not believe this is what he meant. Here's a snippet taken during his cross examination by Fred's lawyer.

Question: Based on your involvement with this investigation and your knowledge of the file, do you have an opinion as to whether or not it is more likely than not that this investigation may lead to criminal charges?

Answer: I do.

Q. What is your opinion?

A. I would have to say it's more likely.

Q. That it will lead to criminal charges?

A. Yes.

Later, Strelzin goes on to say:

I could give a percentage of what I think that likelihood is, but I acknowledge that there's also a likelihood that this could simply be a missing person's case that doesn't have criminal overtones.

In other testimony, it is revealed that the investigation kicked up info on criminal activity that was possibly tangential to Maura's disappearance - an arson, etc.

So what does he mean by the 75% conviction? I believe he's talking about things other than murder. That 75% chance of a conviction could refer to things like identity theft, money laundering, fraud, assault, etc. But none of it is able to be pursued until Maura either steps forward or her body is found.

But don't assume the 75% chance refers to murder.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

UMass Had Direct Ties To Sherbrooke

Back in 2013, I traveled to Canada in search of Maura Murray, along with Lance & Tim from the Missing Maura Murray podcast. There have been rumors for years that Maura was living in the Sherbrooke area of Quebec. You can read more about that, here.

Our intrepid new helper just found this link between UMass and Sherbrooke. At the time Maura disappeared, UMass had an exchange program with Université de Sherbrooke. They wonder if Maura may have met an exchange student at UMass in the fall of 2003 and formed a lasting bond that helped her escape.

Regardless, it's an interesting direct link, so I thought I'd share.