Search finds no evidence of Maura Murray's 2004 disappearance

CONCORD, N.H. — Authorities who searched a home and dug up a basement in northern New Hampshire said Wednesday they found no evidence of a college student who disappeared after crashing her car nearby 15 years ago.

Maura Murray, a 21-year-old University of Massachusetts-Amherst nursing student, left campus on Feb. 9, 2004, after lying to professors about a death in the family. She drove north to New Hampshire and was last seen shortly after crashing her car on Route 112, a road in Haverhill that leads to the White Mountain National Forest. Authorities had searched outside the home soon after Murray disappeared but had not searched inside until this month. The new search was prompted by outside searches using dogs owned by private citizens and a radar scan that suggested the ground had been disturbed, said Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin.

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"State Police reviewed the video from those dog searches as well as the results from the ground penetrating radar, and based on that review we determined there was no credible evidence that there was any evidence connected to this case in that home, and certainly no evidence of human remains. There was certainly no probable cause to do any search on that home," he said. "Despite that, we did contact the homeowners and they graciously gave us consent to search that home."

Digging in the basement turned up only what might have been a piece of pottery or an old pipe, Strelzin said.

Murray's father, Fred Murray, and supporters organized a search of a basement near the crash site last fall after getting the homeowner's permission. Murray said two separate visits by cadaver dogs and a radar scan last fall identified something underneath the basement floor. He believes his daughter is dead, the victim of a crime, and said Wednesday he's not satisfied with the authorities' conclusions.

"You dug down today, but did you dig in toward the corner of the wall?" he said. "What I'm unsure of at this point, given the fact that our dogs — accredited dogs — is it possible they're both wrong? It's unlikely, isn't it?"

Fred Murray said Wednesday's news was harder than previous incidents when seemingly promising leads didn't pan out.

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"This one hurts, because I thought we finally had it," he said. "This one is worse than the other false alarms and dead ends. I was pretty sure."

Maura Murray's family and some investigators believe she just wanted to get away for a few days. She had recently resolved a criminal matter involving use of a stolen credit card and caused extensive damage to her father's car during a crash. A few days before she disappeared, she was working her security job at UMass-Amherst when the phone rang, and she burst into tears. The caller and the subject of the call remain unknown.

After the crash, a couple who lived nearby called police. A school bus driver who also lived nearby asked her if she wanted him to call police. She said no, but he called anyway. By the time officers arrived, she was gone.

Strelzin said such cases typically have periods of dormancy and activity, and this one has been particularly active in the last year or so.

"This case has generated a tremendous amount of activity, some of it you'd maybe call wild speculation. But regardless, the State Police and our law enforcement partners have continued to follow up on every single lead, and we encourage people to contact us with information," he said. "Sometimes people think, maybe the police already know that but we encourage people to contact us."

Fred Murray said he won't give up, but he needs more help to continue his own investigations.

"I'll stick my nose back on the trail," he said. "It's all I can do."