Missing student’s parents angry over police investigation

By Dan O'Brien, Collegian Staff

It has been almost one year since University of Massachusetts junior Maura Murray vanished without a trace. As her family and friends continue to hope and pray for her safe return, they have also expressed anger with the New Hampshire State Police who allegedly botched the investigation.

The 21-year-old nursing student from Hanson, Mass. packed up her belongings in her Kennedy Hall dorm room on February 9, 2004. In recent months, the Murray family has discovered that police have made several critical errors in the investigation, and allegedly lied to the news media.

At approximately 7 p.m. on Feb. 9th, Maura was driving on route 112 in Haverhill, NH, police said. As she was trying to negotiate a curve, her car slid off the road.

According to witnesses, after the crash Maura appeared to be frightened, but physically unharmed. A passing school bus driver stopped and asked Maura if she needed help, but she refused saying she had already called “Triple A” from her cell phone. However, there was no cell phone service in that area. The bus driver said he drove a short distance to his home and called police, but Maura had left the scene before they arrived. It appeared as if she had disappeared into the cold night.

Neither the New Hampshire State Police nor Haverhill, NH Police questioned anybody who lived in the vicinity of where Maura was last seen until 36 hours after her disappearance. This is just one in a series of critical errors that that has angered the Murray family.

In a June interview with WCVB-TV, the police officer in charge of the investigation, Lt. John Scarinza of the New Hampshire State Police, Troop F, claimed that authorities had found a note in Maura’s dorm room that she had wrote to her boyfriend, Army Lt. Billy Rausch of Ohio, indicating troubles in their relationship.

“Sometime between Sunday and Monday morning, she packed up all her belongings in her dorm room, to include taking all her pictures off the walls, taking everything out of her bureaus, [and] put them all in boxes [and] left [them] on her bed,” Scarinza told WCVB-TV, “[She] left a personal note to her boyfriend on top of the boxes.”

Maura’s mother, Laurie Murray, told the Daily Collegian in August that the relationship between her daughter and Rausch was a “very, very good relationship.”

Raush’s mother, Sharon Rausch, reiterated that statement in a recent interview. She said there was a point where the couple’s relationship was rocky in the spring of 2002, but they had resolved their problems by summer and had a good relationship since then.

Her son arrived at Maura’s dorm room with police just two days after she went missing. He said there was no recent letters to him from Maura that were found.

“There is no note,” Sharon Raush said.

Maura’s father, Fred Murray, sent a letter to New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson on May 21, 2004 asking him to persuade State Police to receive assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the search for his daughter. Murray never received a response.

Since then, Murray has applied for a Freedom of Information Act in order to receive more information about the investigation.

“After writing to the governor, I appealed again to the attorney general and the district attorney of Grafton County, but I don’t expect anything,” Murray said.

Murray has been traveling to New Hampshire to search for his daughter almost every weekend since her disappearance.

“This place is like the old west,” Murray said as he described the atmosphere of Northern New Hampshire.

Murray said part of his search has included hanging out in local bars in hopes to overhear a conversation in which someone mentions something about Maura. Murray said he has been actively investigating his daughter’s disappearance himself because he does not trust the police to conduct a proper investigation.

“These guys can’t catch a cold,” he said.

Murray said his main frustration is that police refuse to investigate “scenario number 4.” Lt. Scarniza told the Daily Collegian in August that the police investigation has led them to believe Maura “left on her own volition.” This would lead one to believe Maura either ran away, committed suicide, or suffered from hypothermia. The Murrays disagreed and believe she was abducted.

Fred Murray believes the police do not want to admit there is a predator in their small, rural community.

“There’s a bad guy on their turf in their backyard,” Murray said. “The skunk is on their doorstep.”

While the Murray family has been disputing facts about the police investigation, yet another troubling piece of information came to light in October 2004 when Sharon Rausch was reviewing Maura’s cell phone records. The cell phone was given to Maura by her boyfriend, which was purchased in his mother’s name. Rausch came across the last two numbers Maura called three hours before she disappeared.

The first number was to a UMass Amherst dormitory. The number appeared to be a dead end for investigators because the person who lived there likely moved on.

Rausch decided to call the second number, which was to Dominic and Linda Salamone of Wakefield, Mass. In the course of Raush’s conversation with Linda Salamone, she claims that she realized the Salamones own a condo in Bartlett, NH — the same condo association the Murray family vacationed in years past.

Although the phone call was one of the last Maura made before she went missing, the Salamones said police never once contacted them. The couple did not learn of their part of the story until being contacted by Rausch, eight months after Maura vanished.

“I was speechless,” Rausch recalled, “and that doesn’t happen to me very often.”

Fred Murray explained that this new information is another piece of evidence that points to Maura being abducted.

“She had a destination,” Murray said. “She was on route 112, which goes right to Bartlett… [The police] will do anything to avoid saying ‘number 4.'”

This new information does not back up the NH State Police theory that Maura ran away or committed suicide because it would be unlikely for her to rent a condo if she was planning on running away. Before she left UMass, she contacted her professors stating there was a death in the family, when there was no such death.

Many people believe she was taking time off from school to deal with the stress of a recent car crash in which she caused $10,000 worth of damage to her father’s vehicle. In addition, Maura’s school textbooks were found in the vehicle.

Sharon Rausch and Fred Murray have both said they could not be unhappier with the police investigation.

“It’s clear they have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with the truth or finding Maura,” said Rausch.

More bad news hit the Murray family this past October. Maura’s mother, Laurie Murray was diagnosed with throat cancer. According to Rausch, she has already undergone 30 days of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and has been doing better. Rausch said Murray has told people she is going to beat the cancer so she can see Maura come home.

The Daily Collegian has made several attempts to contact New Hampshire State Police for information regarding this article, but calls were not returned.

Rausch asks anyone who would like to help keep hope for Maura to pray, wear a blue ribbon, or light an electric- or battery-operated candle until she comes home.

On their official Web site, New Hampshire State Police have asked anyone with information regarding Maura’s disappearance to call Sgt. Robert Bruno at 603-846-3333. The Murray family asks those with information to either call police or contact them through their “Maura’s Missing” Web site at http://www.mauramurray.com