Lost On The Road

Date Published 11.13.09
This is a story about two young women who embarked on road trips four years apart.  No one knows exactly where the young women intended to go;  they were at that age --- roughly 19 to 23 --- when one has a driver's license, and a car, but no real responsibility just yet; freedom, and the wistful sense it will not, cannot last, have always inspired young people to take to the open road, to pack their favorite books and music and drive deep into the night, absorbing the landscape, collecting experiences, searching for answers while strapped in the safe cocoon of their cars.

This is a story about two young women who went searching for something on the road.  Did they find it?  No one knows.  Their cars were found --- damaged, abandoned, full of personal belongs and maddening clues --- but they were gone, and are still missing.

Maura

Monday, February 9, 2004.  It was a cold evening in New Hampshire; snow was on the ground.  The car wound along the heavily wooded road.  Inside, the driver may have been drinking some of the liquor she bought earlier that day.  After the accident, a police officer would find a coke bottle nearby with red liquid that smelled like booze.

There aren't a lot of people in Woodsville, a rural village just west of the White Mountain National Forest, not far from the Vermont border.  But one of them was home that night, and around 7 p.m. she heard a thump.  She peered outside and saw a car stuck in a snow bank, facing west on the eastbound side of the road.

The woman thought she saw a man in the driver's seat lighting a cigarette.  Later, her husband would say when he looked out the window he believed he saw a young woman using her cell phone --- it's possible the red light on the cell phone looked like a cigarette tip to his wife, he said.  Their contradictory impressions are one of the more puzzling aspects of a deeply puzzling case.

Another neighbor remembers seeing a car with trouble lights flashing and someone walking around the car.

A local bus driver rounded the bend in the road and, coming upon the accident, stopped to offer help.  The night was pitch-black.  He was a big man, nearly 350 lbs, with a mustache, and he may have cut a scary figure suddenly appearing alongside the car.  He later said the driver, a young woman, looked "shook-up" and cold, but not injured.  He offered to call the police, but she asked him not to.  She said she'd already called AAA.  But the bus driver lived just 100 yards away, and knew that there was no cell phone coverage in the area.  He called the police.

At 7:46 p.m., a police officer arrived at the scene.  It was only seven or eight minutes after the bus driver had talked to the young woman.  The car, a 1996 black Saturn, was still there, stuck in the snow bank, but the young woman, Maura Murray, 21, was gone.

Maura's cell phone hasn't been used since that day; same with her credit cards.  She left clothes and personal belongings behind in the car.  Her family came to Woodsville and scoured the woods for her.  They frantically drove a hundred miles in every direction, stopping at bus stations, putting up fliers.  Searching.  Calling.  Questioning.

Did a car stop for Maura?  Was there someone else with her, or following behind her in another car?  Is it possible she walked into the woods on that cold night and died?


Maura Murray


Pictures of Maura show a pretty young woman who seems self-assured but also somehow diffident, like she's holding back in order to protect herself.  Reports are she was driven and private, but that in the period before her disappearance she was loosening up, adopting a more flirtatious, spirited personality.

Maura, who grew up in Hanson, Mass., one of five children of divorced parents, began her college career at West Point.  She was an excellent athlete, a determined, prize-winning runner, and she loved the outdoors.  But even though Maura fell in love with a fellow cadet, she ultimately decided West Point wasn't for her, and she dropped out, transferring to University of Massachusetts Amherst to study nursing.

There were bumps.  Money was a concern.  Her relationship with her boyfriend, Billy Rausch, was occasionally rocky, and the long-distance didn't help.

In early February, Maura began to exhibit signs of emotional distress.  On Feb. 5, just days before she disappeared, she received a mysterious phone call while working at her part-time job at campus security.  Something about the call reduced her to tears.  She was so upset that she had to be escorted back to her room by her supervisor.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, her father, Fred Murray, arrived in town to help Maura buy a new car.  Her old one, the Saturn, was running on only three cylinders and wasn't reliable.  After car shopping they ate dinner together, and Fred said she could borrow his new car, a Toyota Corolla, to go out that night.

Maura attended  a small dorm party with friends where she reportedly drank some alcohol.  In a move that others found odd at the time, she suddenly decided she wanted to return her father's car to his motel.  While en route, she slammed into a guardrail, doing reportedly at least $8000 worth of damage.

She called her boyfriend in the early morning hours.  He later said he felt there was more on her mind than the accident.

Fred assured her that his insurance would cover it.  She seemed upset, he said later, but not unstable.  On Monday, phone records show she called a couple in Bartlett, New Hampshire who rent vacation condominiums.  The couple doesn't recall the nature of their conversation with Maura, but they're certain they didn't rent a condo to her.

Her actions began to grow more peculiar.  She e-mailed her boyfriend and said she loved him but didn't feel like talking.  She e-mailed a work supervisor and some professors and told them she'd be gone for a week due to a death in the family.  No one in the family had died.  She packed up her dorm room and put her things in her car, including objects of special importance to her, like a favorite stuffed animal, and, curiously, the book Not Without Peril, which details deaths in the White Mountain National Forest, a favorite hiking area of Maura's that is very near where she was last seen.

At some point she obtained accident forms for her father's insurance.  She also printed out computer-generated directions to Stowe and Burlington, Vermont.

She withdrew $280 from her ATM, went to a liquor store (surveillance video shows she was alone), and bought roughly $40 worth of liquor.

She didn't tell anyone where she was going, but we know for some reason she got into a car she considered unreliable and headed north toward the New Hampshire wilderness where, hours later, she landed with a thump into a snow bank.

There's a lot of controversy in the Maura Murray case, with Maura's family, particularly her father, Fred, criticizing New Hampshire state investigators for not doing enough to find her, and officials countering that Fred is badgering them and trespassing on local property.  For a while at least, state investigators seemed to be leaning toward a suicide or planned disappearance theory.  The Murray family rejects those theories and believes Maura was abducted.

Here is what is known:

A rag from Maura's truck was stuffed in the Saturn's tailpipe for unknown reasons.

Maura's black backpack, cell phone and a great deal of the liquor she bought were not in the car.

A police dog tracked Maura's scent about 100 yards and then stopped, suggesting she may have gotten into a vehicle.

Official ground and air searches were conducted, including once with a heat-seeking helicopter, but no trace of Maura was ever found.

A local resident believes he saw a woman fitting Maura's description running 4 to 5 miles from the accident site about an hour or so after she crashed.

On Wed., a day and a half after the accident, Maura's boyfriend received a strange voicemail on his cell phone.  The caller, who he believes to be Maura, whimpered and cried and then hung up.  The call was later traced to a card issued to the American Red Cross.

Theories

On the night Maura received the phone call that made her cry, a fellow student was found unconscious in the road, about a mile and a half from where Maura was working.  He's believed to be the victim of a hit and run, though there were no witnesses.  His injuries were quite serious, and for a time it looked like he might not make it.  Some have speculated that Maura took a surreptitious break from work and was involved in the hit and run, or she lent her car to someone who was.

Some believe the damage to Maura's car doesn't match with skidding into a snow bank, and that she was in an earlier accident, or it wasn't her behind the wheel on the road in Woodsville, but someone who took over her car at some point during the trip.

An empty beer bottle was reportedly found in the back seat, which could suggest someone else was in the car with her.  And there's the witness who thought she saw a man smoking a cigarette. 

Maura Murray's case is maybe the most puzzling missing persons case I've ever come across.  Every theory has its flaws. If she fled into the woods to commit suicide, why hasn't her body been found?  And if she was intending to commit suicide, why bring the insurance forms?  And her birth control and cell phone charger?  But how likely is it that, at the very moment her car breaks down on an isolated road, a homicidal maniac happens by?

Leah

Four years before Maura's disappearance, another young woman took a road trip and never returned.

On March 9, 2000 Leah Roberts, 23, got into her 1993 Jeep Cherokee and drove away from Raleigh, North Carolina.  She was just credits shy of graduating from college, but stalled in life, having endured the death of both her parents in the previous three years.  She was also recovering from injuries sustained in a serious car accident years before.

Before her trip, Leah had been spending a great deal of time in a local coffee shop, writing poetry and journal entries.  Those close to her say she was interested in learning more about her spirituality.  She was deeply affected by the writings of Jack Kerouac, particularly his book The Dharma Bums, which is partly set in Whatcom County, Washington.


Leah Roberts

Leah didn't tell anyone about her traveling plans.  She left a note for a roommate, saying she wasn't suicidal but instead fascinated with Kerouac.  She left money for the month's bills and took her kitten, Bea, with her.

On March 10, credit card records show Leah spent the night in a Memphis hotel.  Two days later, she'd made it to Oregon.  The next day a ticket stub shows she went to see the movie American Beauty in Bellingham, Washington.  The trail stops there.

Leah's Jeep Cherokee was found wrecked and abandoned on a logging road off of Mount Baker Highway at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, which is about 85 miles north of Seattle.  Her belongings were found scattered about the vehicle.  Tucked inside a pair of her pants was $2,500.  Blankets covered the windows, as if someone was protecting themselves from the elements.

A witness said he believed he saw Leah at a gas station sometime after her car had been abandoned.  She seemed disorientated.  The witness ended the call before investigators could learn more details, but they believe the sighting is a valid one.

Leah's case is puzzling, but less so than Maura's.  She seemed to be more openly lost than Maura, and I think it's possible that, after wrecking her car, she trekked into the forest and died there, or, disoriented, took up with some group.

Leah and Maura's cases aren't connected in a literal way, but thematically, emotionally, the parallels are uncanny.  Two young women who look so much alike they could be sisters both sought escape in a road trip; they were both inspired by books that invoked a special place for them, so much so that they drove to that place; both sustained damage to their cars, and then, before help could reach them, disappeared.

COMMENTS:

Excellent summaries! You may want to revise this as the Investigation Discovery show "Disappeared" from 2011 (episode: Soul Searcher) reveals a lot of new info about Leah's case, including the fact that her engine had been tampered with to allow it to accelerate with no one behind the wheel. Here is the episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWtOgM6vI7k
Posted by: sandra on 3.14.2013

it saddens me to see both of these pictures of beautiful women so full of life and not know what happen to them. i feel compassion for their love ones and them. in my early 20s i put myself in some not so good situations that involved alcohol and it impaired my judgement. maybe maura didnt trust the bus driver but did someone else like a couple or something. i saw a video of a man today that was sent to mauras family saying happy anniveresary and laughing. i cant begin to describe how i felt and wonder if he is going to have to face legal trouble.
Posted by: tab on 3.30.2012

Tomorrow will be February 9th, 2012. The dreaded 8th year anniversary of Maura Murray's disappearance..........are we any closer? Please, I hope one day Fred and the rest of Maura's family, friends and loved ones gets an answer.
Posted by: Deirdre on 2.08.2012

It takes approximately 2 and a half hours to get from Amherst to Woodsville. She leaves Amherst at around 4, and ends at Woodsville at around 7:30. I'm not sure what model Saturn she was driving, however, a 1999 Saturn SL1 can hold approx. 11 gallons and gets 33 miles per gallon on a highway. If she had a full tank of gas when she left Amherst, she would have gone through a little under half a tank. In terms of the drive time and arrival in Woodsvile, there is an hour unaccounted for. Considering the amount of gas she spent, she stopped at a station, and probably got dinner.
Posted by: Gus on 8.19.2011

The strangest thing to me is the sighting at the accident scene, and how she refused help. Maybe she was drinking and driving, and didn't want to call the police because she didn't want to get arrested. Maybe that is why she took off when someone tried to offer her help. But where did she go? Maybe she wasn't alone on this road trip. All the alcohol she purchased suggests she didn't want to party alone. Could she have met someone online and been going to meet them? I know she had a boyfriend, but as someone else suggested, maybe she was having issues with her sexuality? She was being very secretive to everyone, and behaving like she had a secret in the days leading up to her vanishing.
Posted by: Sarah on 5.23.2011

Nothing can be done until summer, then recheck the area 5mi from the crash site with cadav dogs, she will be located, a short distance off the road,from where the running girl was seen...
Posted by: fred c dobbs on 3.16.2011

I JUST SAW THE SEGMENT ON MAURA MURRAY ON "DISAPPEARANCE" AND WAS WAITING FOR THE SHOW TO SAY THEY SEARCHED THE HOUSE OF THE BUS DRIVER (THE LAST PERSON TO SEE HER ALIVE). THEY NEVER DID. COULDN'T IT BE POSSIBLE THAT SHE GATHERED UP SOME OF HER BELONGINGS, LOCK HER CAR DOORS, AND TOOK OFF WALKING TO GET HELP. THE BUS DRIVER SAW THE CAR AND DOWN THE ROAD A WOMAN WALKING AND OFFERED HER A RIDE. I'M NOT SAYING THE MAN IS GUILTY . . . BUT IT DESERVES LOOKING INTO. THE DOGS LOST HER TRAIL DOWN THE ROAD FROM THE VEHICLE, COULDN'T IT BE POSSIBLE.
Posted by: TONYA on 12.31.2010

As a UMass-Amherst alum, I've checked in periodically to see what news there is about Maura. It's very baffling stuff. This "mysterious phone call" she received - I'm assuming police traced the call. Does anyone know who it was? And what about this carpeting that cadaver dogs went nuts over?

As a female driver with her share of flat tires, I've gotten nervous at times when men have stopped to offer help. I've wondered if Maura got spooked by the bus driver and decided to just take off. If that's the case, it's very strange that her body has not been found after all this time.
Posted by: WG on 11.12.2010

I also feel that the sighting of her running 5 miles away would make sense, if she was trying to make a phone call and not getting reception, and/or wanting to be away from police, and/or a stalker. She ran 5 miles everyday, that would be nothing for her, but a highly reliable sighting, because few woman run at night in the winter. Five miles away - where she might have been sighted, is where I would look in the woods.
Posted by: Mary on 5.08.2010

I would like to offer a not so obvious, but possible "other" view of Mauras "confused" actions,depression,running away,accidents & drinking too much-can be explained by the idea that she may have "discovered" that she might be gay or bisexual. Being with her boyfriend for years,and about to be married,sure would put pressure on anybody,and not able to tell anybody(just an alternate view) I also agree that she could have had a stalker,that would explain the rag in the tailpipe,and since this is a fact,it would lead you to believe someone from her college town, or military college town, would be involved and following her, waiting for her to brake down. And not someone local to the area.
Posted by: Mary on 5.08.2010

The Murray case is really quite strange.

That she dissapeared so quickly before the police came is very odd.

Last night I watched a crime show about the case and believe this was an abduction case. Somebody out there that night saw an opportunity. Obviously she had an accident since there were witnesses including a bus driver who lived close by. Be interesting to know if any DNA was obtained from inside the car that does not belong to Maura. There are definitely clues that the police are keeping close to the vest. Hopefully closure will come to this case.

One thing is sure in that she just did not vanish into thin air. If you know something about this case call the police or FBI.
Posted by: Norman on 5.02.2010

Michelle - you should also look into the case of Brianna Maitland. Brianna disappeared. Brianna disappeared from Montgomery, Vermont on March 19, 2004 - nearly 3 months after Maura disappeared, in a manner very similar to Maura's (her car was also found on a deserted road). Both Maura's and Brianna's families believe that their cases are connected. This angle needs to be more explored more in depth - I think it is far more likely that Brianna and Maura's cases are connected than Maura's and Leah's.

http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/m/maitland_brianna.html
Posted by: Lyndsay on 1.20.2010

And these possible sightings...
June 2005. A girl with blonde hair resembling Maura was seen at a church in Barton, Vermont. A witness said that the girl said her name was "Raykel" and took off quickly when the minister started a Father's Day sermon.
June 2006. A girl resembling Maura was seen at a Cumberland Farms store in Hillsboro, New Hampshire with an older male companion. The girl was reportedly mouthing "help me." There are no security tapes of the incident available. The sighting was not reported until a few months later when the witness saw photos of Maura on a television news program.
Posted by: kara on 11.28.2009

What about these facts on Wikipedia?... Has anything come from these?
Towards the end of 2004, a man allegedly gave Maura's father a rusty, stained knife that belonged to the man's brother, who had a criminal past and lived less than a mile from where Maura's car was discovered. His brother and his brother's girlfriend were said to have acted strangely after Maura's disappearance.
In October 2006, volunteers led a two-day search within a few miles of where Maura's vehicle was found. In the closet of an A-Frame house, cadaver dogs allegedly went "bonkers," identifying the possible presence of human remains.
Posted by: kara on 11.28.2009

When I went to read the article on www.whitmanhansonexpress.com and searched Maura's name, the obituary for her mother showed up from this past May-- she died of a long illness on May 4th, which is/would have been Maura's 27th bday...

Wow.
Posted by: Danielle on 11.16.2009

I have been following this case for years as I am from NH. I did a job in Woodsville as a favor a couple of times and someone told me to take the short route to another town and let me tell you, it was 15 minutes before I saw another car and when I did it was a truck that came up on me quickly out of nowhere. I was scared to death because houses were far off the road and few, and there is no traffic on these roads. Anything can happen there. It was very scary.

There is an entire in depth store in 5 parts at www.whitmanhansonexpress.com


Posted by: Charlene on 11.15.2009

I'm so surprised that I'd never heard about Maura Murray's disappearance until now. Not only is she just about a year and a half older than I am, but we both went to UMass Amherst and a very good friend of mine lives in NH near the VT border. So eerie and very sad-- hopefully some new information will show up for her family's sake.
Posted by: Danielle on 11.14.2009

I believe there has been some speculation that the Maura Murray disappearance is connected to the Connecticut River Valley serial killings. I think this is pretty unlikely, myself. Is it possible that she suffered a head injury in the accident she had in her father's car? That might help explain her odd behavior.

I am more inclined to believe there is foul play involved in the Leah Roberts case. The fact that she took her kitten with her says to me that someone stopped and offered her help. She only took her kitten with her so she would not leave it alone, and she had intended to return to her car to gather her belongings.
Posted by: Jess on 11.14.2009


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