Transcribe your podcast

I told him, Mara, that's the worst thing you've ever do is cause me $500 worth of damage for your lifetime total. I'll take it on my way ahead of the game. Don't worry about this. It's the last time I ever saw my daughter.


I'm Julie Murray, and this is Media Pressure: The Untold Story of Mara Murray. The following podcast contains adult language and potentially triggering topics. Listener discretion is advised. The opinions presented by my guest are their own. Episode 4, Days Before Disappearance. The University of Massachusetts welcomes students back from winter break on January 28, 2004. Twelve days later, Mara Murray seemingly vanishes into air. I think it's important to talk about the days leading up to her disappearance. So let's dive in. When Mara got to school, she returned to her dorm security and art gallery jobs I spoke about last episode, and she started to set up her dorm room in Kennedy Hall, Room 415. She was thrilled to have a single room this semester, as she had a challenging roommate before and complained to me quite often about the constant chatter. See, Mar was very much an introvert and cherished her quiet time, not unlike myself. She set up her clunky stereo system, prominently displayed on her shelf, flanked by her favorite green Appalachian Mountain Club mugs. She was a music lover with an old-school taste well beyond her years. I'm talking Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Marvin Gay, with a touch of Led Zeppelin and You Too sprinkled in.


She also liked some New Age stuff like cold Play, Dave Matthews Band, and New Radicals, to name a few. Mara unpacked some of the gifts she received at Christmas, including the cordyroid jacket I gave her and the book my aunt Janice gave her, The Da Vinci Code. See, our aunt always gave us the latest bestsellers for Christmas. It was found among her things in the dorm. She unpacks some mementos and materials for class. In 2017, some 13 years after Mara's disappearance, New Hampshire State Police finally released a few photos of her dorm room, and one shows the shelf as I described, and the jacket I gave her unpacked and hanging in the closet. The condition of her dorm room has always been heavily debated over the years. Was it packed or unpacked? Initial reports by police gave me impression it was all packed up. But I disagree. And here's why. My mother and brother, Curtis, visited Mara at her dorm shortly before she disappeared. I think his accounting clears this up.


Mom and I drove out there not long after she moved in. We spent the day, we drove out there, and actually saw her dorm, and we ate lunch at Applebee's that day. So you went in her dorm room? I did, yeah. She was still unpacking. But yeah, we went in, we saw. She showed us around, and I remember she was really excited about showing me her dorm and showing us around a bit. There's been a lot of controversy about whether she packed up her entire dorm room or not. You've seen the photos of the condition of her dorm room after the disappearance.


How did that compare to when you saw it when you visited her that winter?


I think she was more unpacked when she went missing because I was there really soon after she moved in. It was like she moved in, we went to visit and say hi and see her and She was very much still packed up when I went there. She hadn't unpacked everything at all, really. It was just we went, and then she showed us around. We went eat lunch, and then Mom and I came home after that. That was the last time I saw her was there.


Mara set up her computer and started communicating with several people online. Law enforcement shared their screen names with me. Of particular interest were two men she knew from West Point. We'll call them Dan and Tom for privacy purposes. I track them both down. Dan was Mara's classmate. They met the first year at West Point. When we spoke, he was very cooperative and forthcoming, stating law enforcement also reached out to him shortly after the disappearance. He didn't really have much else to add. My conversation with Tom was a bit more interesting. He was also Mara's classmate at school, and he communicated with Mara on instant messenger days before she disappeared. However, he told me law enforcement never reached out to him. Add that to the long list of frustration. Obviously, I don't have the same resources as law enforcement, yet I found him with very little effort. Anyways, Tom volunteered an interesting opinion saying that he believed law enforcement prioritized other people who had communicated with Mara closer to her disappearance. I found this statement curious, considering he was one of those people. Mara also had his home address. He explained this was because his parents hosted an Army-Navy football game party, and he invited Mara multiple times.


I asked if he ever visited Mara at UMass. He said no. But get this, I have a photo of them together at UMass in 2003. I sent him the photo, and he stopped responding. Now, I'm not saying he had anything to do with it. Maybe he was just tired of my questions, but I found this odd. Also discovered in her dorm room was every letter and birthday card probably ever given to her. She kept them all. Now, this next part I like to describe as similar to a nesting set. Hear me So inside a box with all her letters tucked inside a Duke basketball program was a printed two-year-old email from her boyfriend Bill apologizing for infidelity early on in the relationship. I talked about that last episode. This was reported by police as a personal note left out on top of a box. Wholely inaccurate, but the implication is obvious and an example of how language can either obscure hear or clarify. I think this was to bolster their suicide angle. The spring semester meant Mara would be traveling to clinicals for the nursing program. If you remember from last episode, I talked about the reliable transportation prerequisite for the program.


A couple of weeks prior, Mara drove the Saturn to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to visit my dad, where he was working a traveling job at a local hospital.


When she got there, she said, Dad, something's wrong with the car. Something happened to it on the way down. It was chugging, chugging, and there was black smoke coming out. So I didn't know what to think of it. So I figured I'd get it fixed while she was down there. I brought it to a place. The guy took a while to look at it and then was rather blocky about his prediction of whether or not he could fix it and said, Well, I took a really good look at it and the cylinder's blown. That's a mighty big job. I had the It was a good impression it wasn't a very decent car anyway. I was sorry I had it. So it would have cost a lot of money to fix it, and I could use that money to get her another car. We were stuck with a bad car, and she's going to get back to school. So I didn't know quite what to do. So what I did do was have her drive my car back to school. I drove my old car that was smoking because I wanted to be in it. Something even worse happened.


And we drove back to UMass. I brought the car to the student parking lot, put it way down back. It wasn't going to be driven and it wouldn't be bothered. And I was going to dispose of it as soon as possible and get her a new car. And so within a couple of weekends, I was up there.


Okay, so you put the car in the lot and you're just waiting to figure out a way to get rid of it.


Do you remember what you told Mar?


Told her to absolutely not drive that car. You do not drive that It's not safe.


Thankfully, she was able to carpool two clinicals with classmates in the interim until they got another car. She started hunting for one on her own, calling several classified ads for used cars in the local newspaper paper. These calls are reflected on her cell phone records. My dad was set on helping her, though. He's old school and knew the bargaining power of cash, so he withdrawn the maximum amount allowed on separate days the week before she disappeared. His bank was in Eastern Massachusetts, so he wasn't able to make a single withdrawal. He planned a trip to UMass the weekend of February 7, 2004, to start looking for a more reliable car.


I decided to put some money together and get another car. My bank wasn't down there, and so I needed to get some money to at least put a down payment on a car. I didn't know what we were going to be looking at. So I went to a different ATM and the same one, several days in a row because there's a limit to how much it can take out. I think it was 500 bucks. And so I made eight different withdrawals and come up with 4,000 bucks. I had that in my pocket when I went up to UMass that Saturday to visit her, and that was the fateful weekend.


Why not just write a check?


I didn't have my checkbook with me for one thing. I would have had to go back home. I wanted to get the car as soon as I could. As As it turned out, I would have had to write a check, but at least we could get started with the 4,000. I didn't know what I could get for 4,000 at that time. But the car we decided on, there were a couple of them. One was 6,000, one was 7,000, so I had to come up with more bucks.


Mara was scheduled to work a security shift at Melville Hall on Thursday, February fifth. It was during this shift where the first sign said something was wrong appeared. She typically did her schoolwork at the desk, but this night was different. Bill called Mara at 7:17 PM. The call lasted 20 minutes. He calls her again at 9:56 PM for 6 minutes. She took a cell phone call from my sister Kathleen at 10:10 PM, lasting 28 minutes. Later, we learned that Kathleen confided in her about relapsing. Her despicable fiancé picked her up from the rehab center, and his first stop was the liquor store. Yeah, you heard me right. It was his way of controlling her, keep her drunk. Words cannot describe how reprehensible this man was. Who takes a struggling addict directly to the source of their addiction? Naturally, this upset Mara, but she stayed on shift and continued working. We know she also spoke to her boyfriend Bill at 12:07 AM for seven minutes. Bill states it was an average conversation and nothing stood out. Then sometime around 1:00 AM, Mara became so upset that she could no longer function. Her security supervisor, Karen Mayotte, was called and showed up to find Mara unresponsive.


She only muttered the words, My sister, my sister. Karen consoled Mara and escaled her back to her dorm room. She then asked if she needed anything and even offered to stay with her for a bit. Mara said she was okay and she had her roommate, most likely trying to unburden Karen and handle her emotions alone. As a fellow introvert, I would have done the same thing, actually. I still don't understand exactly what upset her. Was it the call from Kathleen hours earlier? Kathleen didn't seem to think the conversation would upset Mara to that degree. Or was it something with Bill? And remember her cell phone Bill gave her for Christmas? Well, it was a shared family plan with Bill. So if she was seeing someone else, she was certainly smart enough not to use her cell phone. So she could have spoken to someone else in the dorm line. But no one has ever come forward, and I haven't seen the dorm phone records. We do know that she made calls to the local pizza joint very late, and that's more of an indication to me that she felt a loss of control. Again, one thing she could feel a sense of control over was her eating disorder.


And that night, I'm convinced she binged. Obviously, this is hard for me to relive as I know how much progress she was making. I had just seen her weeks prior at Christmas. Something was wrong. I just don't know what. I don't like to give oxygen to wild speculation, but I want to address one other thing that happened that night. There was a young man named Patreet Vasi, who was the victim of a hit and run at 12:20 AM near Amherst Center, while Mara was on her shift at Melville Hall. Now, despite having zero evidence linking Mara, people have tried to implicate her in a felony offense. We'll talk about this later, but the vehicle forensic report done on the Saturn after her disappearance only indicated one collision. This is an example of how harmful misinformation is spread online. The next day, Friday, February 6, was pretty uneventful from all appearances. Western Mass got hit with some snow and classes were canceled. Perhaps Mara slept it off and felt better about whatever was upsetting her. The next day, Saturday, February seventh, my dad arrived, and she didn't mention a thing about the Thursday night emotional breakdown.


I didn't know anything about it, and that would be against her nature. She She wouldn't do that. She wouldn't confide personal difficulties. She wouldn't want to involve me and trouble me with it.


Again, knowing her, we would never talk about relationship problems with my dad. I still don't to this day. They started car shopping at local used shops in the area.


We started in Amherst looking at car places and then over to the next town, and we weren't finding anything decent. Bill had suggested a place where he had bought his car, and I remember, remember something about trying to find a Carola or something like that. They didn't have anything going. So whether that place suggested we go to the next town over, where we did find a place that was very close to closing. We looked around, we found two cars in terrific shape with low mileage. I wanted something dependable for her because she needed it for her nurse training trips to hospitals, here and there and all over the place, East and Mass. She had to come across the state. The prices were around five, six, seven thousand dollars. So either the six or the seven thousand dollar vehicle would have been fine. So I told her I would be back, and that never happened.


So you weren't concerned that the car that you selected would be gone?


They had other cars similar in nature that were good, and I didn't expect to be shut out, but there was nothing I could do about it that day anyway.


Mara called me at 3:21 PM and told me about one of the cars she liked. She made one more call to Reliance Auto at 4:13 PM before they ended their search for the day. They still had a full day on Sunday to continue shopping and make a decision. Or so they thought. Drained from car shopping, they decided to grab something to eat at the Amherst Brewing Company for dinner and drinks. In hindsight, the decision not to purchase a car that day haunts my father, even though it probably wouldn't have changed a thing. And there's no way he could have predicted what happened next. After 19 years of dealing with ambiguous loss, one thing is certain in missing person cases. Time does not heal all. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect. Mara's friend Kate was returning from a track meet. Mara suggested Kate come to the Amherst Brewing Company money. See, we always loved when our dad visited because he's pretty cool to hang out with, and he pays for everything. Mara mentioned a party/gathering at the dorms later, so they had my dad stop at the local liquor store to grab some drinks.


Mara got a box of red franzia wine that would later be found in her abandoned car. They dropped my dad off at his motel, the Quality Inn in Hadley, and asked if they could take his car back to campus. He agreed, and they headed to the dorms. In hindsight, it made more sense for my dad just to drop them off, but I don't think Mara wanted to wait for a ride or something in the morning. The Saturday Night party/gathering is Shroud in mystery. It was hosted by Mara's other friend, Sara Alfiieri. I mentioned her last episode. They met while working at the art gallery. The dorm rooms were small, so it's unclear exactly how many people were there. And again, Sarah won't talk. Was it packed hallways or just a few people sitting around drinking? I knew just who to ask. Kate herself. What do you remember about the party?


Not much. I remember it. I probably went to her room first, and then... It was one of those, I don't know these people, but I don't remember feeling uncomfortable. In any way, it It was just, Okay, these are strangers. We'll get to know each other as 20, 21-year-olds do, however old we were. I don't remember even how long we hung out. I do remember it was late enough when I went home that one of the guys. I was like, I'll walk you back to your dorm. I was like, No, it'll be fine. It's right there. And he's like, No, it's late. Forget it. I was trying to think about it, and I don't even remember him being... I remember it being a positive experience of when him and I parted ways. I was like, Thanks so much. I appreciate it. He was like, Great. Have a good night. I don't have any negative feelings from that. But as far as what I remember is, next to nothing, I remember the room set up, but it was a small room.


There's been a lot of differing accounts, whether it was a small gathering or this blowout party.


It was a dorm room in Southwest. They're not big rooms. Max, maybe seven or eight people. But that's all you could sit in there.


Did you know any of the other people there?


I don't think so. I think there's people that lived on Sarah's floor or were like, girlfriends of people or boyfriends of people. But I don't remember actually knowing somebody If I had met them, it had been maybe once. So I was there.


I've heard for so many years it was this big blow-up party, and I'm thinking, how is that even freaking possible? It's not.


We were drinking those stupid Sky Mall beverages and sitting in somebody's room and Probably like Milwaukee's best or something. It was very low-key. I mean, maybe they went to a party after. I don't like that. I don't know because I think it was probably early enough. Because if I had to guess, I'm going to say that I think I went home between 1:00 and 2:00. But I don't know. That's just a guess.


Sarah was allegedly asleep the entire time and didn't offer much more than that. We know her cousin and a few other guys who didn't go to UMass were there. Sarah spoke to my father once and was not forthcoming with information pertaining to the party, simply saying she was asleep. This was, is incredibly frustrating. After all these years, she has yet to say anything else, even to my family, and I have no idea why. But here's where it gets interesting. Mara and Kate leave the gathering at about 2:00 AM. But instead of making the short walk back to the dorm, Mara instead decides to get into my dad's car. This decision makes no sense as it was already so late and they had been drinking.


So when you left the party, from what I understand, Mara was also leaving, and she said she was going back to my dad's motel, or did she tell you she was going back to her dorm?


I don't remember because I think she looked the floor below. So I remember her saying something about going to the hotel. If she did, she probably went to her room first anyways. I was like, All right, cool. I'll see you next time. It wasn't a, Well, let me follow you. Let me make sure you… If I were the person then that I was today, I would have been like, Let me know as soon as you get there. I'm so much more protective of people now just because of how many creeps there are. My younger friends make fun of me, the ones that are in their early 20s. I'm like, No, just please just let me know when you get home. Just give me a call, give me a text. If I don't hear from you in 20 minutes, I'm going to call you until you answer.


So did you notice Mara hanging out with any guy that night or leaving with a guy or anything like that? No.


But again, I don't even know. I feel like I left before her because I feel like maybe the five of us left or six, but I don't remember it being a pair situation. It's not like people were pair off to go home together.


It's just always weird that she left Sarah's and then would drive back to my dad's motel. In my mind, that didn't make sense.


Why wouldn't you just get up early and do it?


Exactly. So I was wondering if she had said something to you about why she was doing that.


If it was, I just blew it off. I'm like, All right, that's a choice you feel like making tonight. That's on you.


At 3:30 AM, Mara crashes my dad's new car directly into a guardrail at a T-intersection about a mile off campus. A random UMass police cadet mysteriously appears, and we believe the cadet called the police. See, Mara left her cell phone in the dorms so she had no communication. We don't know if the cadet was with Mara or just happened to be passing by the crash. When the responding officer, Mark Ruddick, arrived, he didn't administer any sobriety testing, nor did he call for medical attention. His report simply indicated that Mara was inattentive and slid on some debris in the roadway, sand, I believe, which caused her to lose control of the vehicle. The car was heavily damaged, and I've always wondered if Mara suffered some head trauma from the impact. A tow truck arrived and towed the car to a lot adjacent to my father's motel in Hadley. Mara rode with the tow driver. The circumstances surrounding the accident leave me with more questions than answers. It occurred almost an hour after Kate said they left the party. So did Mara go somewhere in between? Was she actually planning to return to the motel, or did she have another destination in mind?


The intersection was in the direction of the motel. Did she purposely leave her cell phone? I've always wondered if something happened at the party that caused her to want to leave. Did she feel unsafe?


There was a rumor that you called Mara and left a voicemail on Sunday and said, What happened with that guy?


That is funny. I went through some old emails and I read about that. I don't remember that. I feel like I remember calling her, leaving a voicemail after your dad called me. That conversation, I remember vividly. Not so much what was said, but I just remember what I was looking at and just not leaving him at all. But I feel like my reaction would have been to call him. You're like, Where are you? What's going on? But I don't... I would love to hear this because I'm I don't remember saying something like that.


Of course, the question is, Well, who's the guy?


I mean, I'm trying to... I just don't know why I would ask unless I thought one of them was cute and be like, So what's his deal?


When you left the party and said goodbye to Maura, was that the last time you ever saw her and the last time you ever spoke to her? Yeah. So you didn't talk to her on Sunday?


No, because she usually was quiet on Sunday. She would turn off Insta Messenger, and then I think she worked at the gallery on Sunday nights. So she was usually just in communicado.


When Maura arrived at the quality inn, she didn't have a key to get into the room, so she ended up waiting in the lobby for the office manager to give her access. Then she used my dad's cell phone to call her boyfriend Bill around 5:30 AM. He said she was devastated and crying. He told her not to worry and it would be sorted out in the morning. She got some sleep, and Later that morning, she told my dad what happened. He told her she should not have been driving, and she was lucky she didn't get cited for DUI. Mara claimed that she had stopped drinking hours before and she was okay to drive. Obviously, this thwarted any plans to continue car shopping that day. Instead, my dad made several calls to his insurance and local rental car locations. At first, he didn't think his insurance would cover the damages because Mara wasn't a declared driver. However, he learned that the insurance would cover the damage, and he would only be out his deductible of $500. Mara was super upset, and he tried to reassure her that it would be okay.


She was upset visibly, and I told her, Mara, that's the worst thing you've ever do is cause me $500 worth of damage for your lifetime total. I'll take it on my way ahead of the game. Don't worry about this. But Mara wasn't hurt. They're not a scratch on or nothing at all. I mean, she She was distraught, quite distraught.


Naturally, he was disappointed, but there was nothing he could do or say that would be harsher than what Mara told herself. She hated to disappoint my dad, and she was her own worst critic. And here's another thing. My dad was never the type to yell at his kids. In fact, I can't recall a single time that he ever yelled at me for anything. Sometimes that was worse for Mara and I as we deeply he really internalized our mistakes. He knew he didn't have to.


When you saw the damage to the car, what was your reaction to her? Because it's been said online multiple times that you really yelled at her and were very, very upset. How did that go down?


I was shocked. I didn't yell at her at all. I said, How could this much damage happen, Mara? My primary thought was, Mara's all right. How am I going to get back to my job? I had to get back to Connecticut. I have no way to do it. I have to be at work in the morning. It's a contract job that they're paying me a lot for, the most I ever made in my life, actually. I had to be there. How am I going to get there? What do I do with my car? I don't have much time left. And what's my next move? I was overwhelmed by the new set of circumstances, but I knew Maura was okay, other than being quite distraught. She was upset enough at having put me in this position that I didn't need to bark at her or anything like that. I wouldn't really do that anyway. I never have, and it doesn't help.


I was trying to remember, rack my brain to think of a time where you yelled at me, and I can't think of a single time. I wish you would yell at us because getting that look of disappointment on your face was far worse than being just yelled at. But that was your typical reaction I can't remember a single time where you yelled at us.


You don't need to. The kid realizes. It's like the time you took my bike and it got stolen. My gut reaction in the back of my mind was the worst thing that ever happened. She didn't fall off the bike, it hit by a car or somebody swiped my bike. It might turn up, it might not, but I don't ride it anymore anyway. I would have given it to her.


I remember I remember that time I took it to Shaz and I had a lock for it, but for whatever reason, I didn't lock it up and I came out. I felt like Mara would have felt in that same situation with the car where I just felt so bad. I really wish you would have just yelled at me.


Well, I knew I didn't have to. The point was across, so it's unnecessary to howl at the kid. The kid knows.


My dad checked out of the motel and dropped her off at the dorm his rental. He told her she needed to go to the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles to pick up accident forms on Monday to tie things up for the insurance claim. He told her to call him Monday night to go over the forms, and she agreed. She was sobbing quietly and sulked into the dorm. This would be the last time my father would ever see Mara again.


I still remember it very clearly. She was still sobbing, and I remember the last thing I said to her, George, Mara, it's going to be okay. It's covered. We can get it fixed. It's paid for. It'll cost me $500. And that's not a big deal, Mara. Don't worry about that. Everything's going to be all right. Everything will be all right. And then I sat there in the car and watched her walking in, and she was sobbing the whole time. It was a very bad thing for me to think about. It is a very bad thing for me to think about. I don't even want to even talk about it or think about it. It's the last time I ever saw my daughter. I don't want to think about it now. God.


At some point that day, Mara retrieved her cell phone from Sarah. Later that night, she spoke to my dad at 11:26 PM. He reassured her again, but she was still very upset. And this would be the last time he would ever speak to Mara. Join me next episode as we go into the timeline of the day my sister disappeared. If you have any information regarding the disappearance of my sister, Maura Murray, please contact the New Hampshire State Police Cold Case Unit at 603-223-3648, or visit maramurrymissing. Org. Special thanks to my friend, Sara Turne, whose trust and guidance made this project possible. Media Pressure is a Voices for Justice media original and is executive-produced by Sarah Turne. This series includes original music from my brother, Curtis Murray, as well as Blue Dot Sessions. I'm your host, Julie Murray. For more information about Media Pressure, visit mediapressure. Com. For more information about my sister, Mara's case, visit maramurrymissing. Org.