Since Day 2 of Maura Murray’s disappearance, John Scarinza was on the case. Until 2009, when he retired from the New Hampshire State Police, he was the point man for the investigation and probably knows more about the details of her mystery than anyone. I caught up with him awhile back for a lengthy interview.
“I got the call at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning from the chief of police in Haverhill,” recalls Scarinza. “They had a car accident. But they didn’t find a driver. At first, if didn’t seem like an unusual occurrence. If you’ve had too much to drink and then have an accident, you don’t want to wait around for law enforcement. We see similar incidents all the time. But you expect a call eventually. The driver calling in, looking for their car. That didn’t happen.”
The car Maura was driving at the time was registered to her father, Fred. Haverhill P.D. tried to contact him early on Tuesday, but only got the answering machine. In the meantime, the police obtained a search warrant to open the car and examine the contents. Inside they found a box of wine, a book about the dangers of the White Mountains (Not Without Peril), and a receipt from a liquor store.
“She had purchased Kahlua, wine, and a six pack of Seagrams. The box had splashed all over the car. The bottle of kahlua was not there.”
Around mid-afternoon Tuesday, Fred Murray called Haverhill P.D. “What I was told was that the first thing out of Fred’s mouth was, ‘She’s gone to the North Country to commit suicide, to go off and die like an old squaw.”
“Then, the scenario changed,” says Scarinza. “Now we have a missing girl.”
Scarinza and the detectives of Troop F began to backtrack Maura’s last few days. They quickly learned about the phone call she received while on duty at Melville Hall Thursday night, four days before her disappearance. The call was with her sister, Katherline, but no one can recall the specifics. “We have never understood what caused Maura to be so upset.”
That Saturday, Fred Murray appeared in Amherst. “They went out drinking, her and her father and her friend. Father goes back to the hotel. Maura has his car. Gets in an accident. Why she doesn’t get arrested then is beyond me. And she’s headed to her father’s hotel when she wrecks. She has a dorm room. It’s weird.”
They took to the skies to try to find Maura’s tracks in the snow, or maybe her body. Scarinza, himself, rode in a helicopter. Fish and Game assisted. The helicopters had heat-seaking cameras. “I remember seeing a gorgeous red fox that stuck out like a beacon down below. Deer stands. You could see great detail. You could see human footprints. There was good clean snow in the mountains and it had not snowed since the crash.” But there were no footprints leading into the woods around the site of the accident and no sign of Maura.
Later that Wednesday, they brought out the blood hounds. They gave the dog a scent article from the vehicle. “The blood hound went 100 yards East down the road, then appeared to lose the track. Does that mean she got into a vehicle? Perhaps. Does that mean it wasn’t a scent opportunity? That it had been too long to follow? Perhaps.”
They had people check Maura’s dorm room at UMass. “All her belongings were in boxes. The sense was that she was leaving school.” On top of the boxes was that email from Billy. Maura had discovered her boyfriend had been seeing another women when they had taken a break from each other.
The rag in the tailpipe is its own mystery. “Fred said he had suggested putting the rag in the tailpipe. Was it an attempt to kill yourself? If so, that’s not going to work. But why the hell else would you stick a rag in a tailpipe? It’s an anomaly.”
When police asked Fred what might have been going on in his daughter’s life that would make her want to leave, he would only say, “That’s not important. She’s missing. Find her.” Scarinza sighs. “If we understood why she left, maybe we could understand where she was going.”
Since 2004, investigators have put in something close to 6,000 hours on Maura’s case, he figures. “We’ve been to Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine. We got a report that she was in a bar in Rochester. So we went out and interviewed the bartender.”
“I’ve said this all along: My sense is that Maura’s original intent when she left Massachusetts was to come to the North Country to get away from something that was occurring in her life down there. I take into consideration the family’s thought that she was coming up to kill herself. But what was the initial catalyst to make her want to do that? And what happened when she got here? My sense is that she is not still alive.”