One reason Lee Child’s Jack Reacher resonates with readers so deeply is because Reacher lives a recurring fantasy of many people to simply walk away from their troubles and start a fresh new life. The fantasy is usually motivated by heartbreak or financial or criminal problems they can’t face.
When I read missing persons cases as a mystery writer, I always wonder whether the missing, like Reacher, are living large somewhere else.
Sometimes, they are.
One case that I’ve been following for years still gives me the chills, though. I’d love to know what you think.
On Sunday, it will be 10 years since we first started asking: “Where is Maura Murray?”
Maura was a 21-year-old nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She was on the cross country team — a serious, competitive runner. She had a boyfriend at West Point. Friends and family considered the pair “engaged to be engaged.”
On Monday, February 9th, 2004, Maura disappeared after a one-car crash in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
A strange series of events preceded the car crash. Very strange.
The records I’ve read report that Thursday night, late, Maura got an upsetting phone call at her job on campus. So upsetting that she left work, escorted back to her dorm.
Around the same time Thursday night, a student named Petrit Vasi was hit by a car near campus, knocked unconscious, and sent to the hospital. Months later he regained consciousness with little memory of what happened. While there’s no evidence this incident was related to Maura’s disappearance, it could be. (In one of my books, it would be.)
On Friday, Maura’s father, Fred Murray, drove to Amherst to help Maura buy a car, although friends say Maura never mentioned car shopping that weekend.
Friday night, Fred, Maura, and one of Maura’s friends went out together. Afterwards, Maura drove Fred’s car back to campus to a party in a dorm room. Friends say Maura drank a fair amount that night, so they encouraged her to sleep in her dorm room overnight once the party ended. But for some reason, Maura drove her father’s car back to his hotel.
Around 2:30 Saturday morning, records say Maura crashed on the way to the hotel. She hit a guard rail, causing a significant amount of damage to the car. The tow truck driver dropped her at the hotel, where Maura spent the night in her father’s room.
Sunday, Fred and Maura dealt with insurance logistics and he returned home. Maura spent time in her dorm room. She used her computer to complete several searches, including lodging in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She made phone calls but no reservations.
Monday, Maura emailed her professors claiming a death in the family would require her to miss a few classes. There was no death in the family. Then, Maura went to an ATM and possibly a liquor store. She withdrew almost all her money — about $300. At the liquor store, records say she bought Kahlua, boxed wine, and a six-pack of Seagrams.
At 7:29 pm Monday, police in Haverhill, New Hampshire received a call reporting a one-car accident on Route 112, roughly two hours from campus. Maura’s car — a black Saturn — had crashed into a snowbank. It was a sparsely populated area, and getting dark, but someone noticed and called police. A different neighbor says he directly approached Maura and offered to call police. She declined, saying she had already called AAA. Yet AAA can locate no record of any such call.
By the time police arrived about 15 minutes later, Maura was gone. Her car was locked and a few belongings were missing from the vehicle. An officer noted that both airbags had deployed, the windshield was cracked, and wine was spilled throughout the car.
Later, a rag was found in the tailpipe. Maura never returned to retrieve her car.
Back at Maura’s dorm room, all her belongings were packed into boxes.
Maura’s body was never found. Her credit card has not been used since.
So… what do you think? Was Maura abducted by a “bad guy”? Could the accident have been staged? Was Maura even the driver? And what’s with the rag in the tailpipe? Tell me your theory, but be warned — next week I plan to post some other little details of the case that just might complicate matters. This one’s a doozy.
A fellow author and blogger, James Renner, has been researching this case meticulously. I invite you to check out his blog if you’re interested in learning more details before Tuesday’s post. You can peruse Renner’s blog HERE.