11:30 AM PDT, September 14, 2021
Maura Murray was 21 and acting strangely before she mysteriously disappeared, but her family said they knew none of this until it was too late.
On the day she went missing, Feb. 9, 2004, Maura emailed her boss and college professors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, saying there was a death in the family and she was taking a leave of absence. But there had been no death in her family, relatives would later tell police.
She researched cabins in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, packed her school books, clothes, tolietries and makeup into her car and likely headed for Interstate 91, investigators said. She stopped at an ATM and purchased booze from an off-campus liquor store, according to surveillance video.
That night, on a lonely stretch of 212 and headed into a hairpin turn, Murray crashed her car into a tree. She told a neighbor she was fine. She told a passing motorist the same.
When police arrived, nursing student Maura Murray was gone.
Since then, her case had traveled several hairpin turns and dark, lonely highways. None of them led to Maura, who would be 39 today.
The newest bump occurred Monday, when New Hampshire State Police announced bone fragments had been discovered near Loon Mountain, a remote skiing and hiking resort more than 100 miles north from where Murray hit a tree in Haverhill.
“A search of the area has been conducted, an investigation is ongoing, and diagnostic testing is pending to determine age and possible sex of the bone fragments,” the state police said in a statement, noting the medical examiner, Lincoln Police Department officers and the U.S. Forestry Service were aiding in the recovery effort.
Murray’s family, who have steadfastly searched for her and advocated for the missing, asked for privacy Monday.
“My family is aware of the recent discovery of bone fragments near Loon Mountain and we ask that the public not interfere with the investigation,” Murray’s sister Julie said.
“If these bone fragments belong to a human, they deserve to be correctly identified, their relatives properly notified, and cause of death determined. I have reached out to law enforcement for additional details and am awaiting their response,” she said.
The strange saga of Maura’s case has been chronicled by podcasts and dozens of media stories, news magazine episodes including “20/20” and an “Oxygen” exposé. In each case, members of her family continued to ask for the public’s help.
Her disappearance became an obsession for some. True Crime writer James Renner conducted a lengthy podcast series on the case, then wrote a book, “True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray” in 2011.
Admittedly, his quest to find Maura eventually supplanted his own reality, spiraling downward until he began neglecting his own life.
Maura’s case soon began infiltrating every part of his being. His search for the truth took priority over his own needs and those of his loved ones.
“My wife said to me a couple of weeks ago that I had lost my sense of joy, that I never smiled anymore. It was a profound statement. I still consider myself a funny guy,” he wrote.
Renner’s speculation is that Murray ran away to establish a new life. Her father has said he believes she was abducted. Others adhere to the Occam’s Razor approach: That Murray, dazed from the collision, tried to distance herself from her car, which contained $40 worth of wine and liquor, and wait for authorities to leave. But the terrain is desolate and dark, and would it be easy to become lost and then die from exposure on a cold February night in New Hampshire.