One of the reasons I began this blog was to re-examine some of the clues in this case. Over time, many "clues" have come to be accepted as fact despite in my opinion, having never been adequately vetted. It is no secret that James Renner and his blog are the source of most of the information we have. So it may seem like I am picking on him, but it’s nothing against him personally. In fact, I am grateful for all the documents and information he has shared. The material he has provided led to the podcast, which has undoubtedly raised interest and awareness about case. That is a positive thing.
That said, if progress is ever going to be made in this case, then we have to stop wasting our time researching and speculating about topics that are either irrelevant and/or have no basis in truth. So I begin with a five part critique of one of Renner’s blog posts from August 31, 2015 titled “Five Clues That Make No Sense About this Case.”
First up is “The $4000,” which is #1 on James’s list. The snippet below is taken directly from Renner’s blog post. I then follow with a review of the implicit and explicit claims made therein. (Note: You can listen to him explain it in his own words in Podcast #6, beginning around minute 21.)
Claim #1: Why not just write a check?
The implicit assumption here is that cash was less convenient than writing a check. For that to be true, we would have to assume Fred only has one checking account. But the fact is, 75% of adult Americans have three or more bank accounts. If Fred had cash in multiple checking accounts, then it very well may have been more convenient to withdraw cash from ATMs as opposed to writing multiple checks from different banks, or visiting multiple branches.
Recall, Fred had been staying at a hotel in Bridgeport, CT in February of 2004. If one or more of his bank accounts were in eastern MA, then it would not only be inconvenient, but probably impossible for him to get to a branch during banking [i.e. work] hours. In that case it would seems perfectly reasonable to prefer stopping at several ATMs (see note 2 below).
Claim #2: It is possible to withdraw $4000 in cash in one day.
Even back in 2004, the maximum allowable daily limit for most ATM/debit cards was $500. Anything higher would be exceptionally rare. I find it highly unlikely any bank would allow that number of transactions OR that amount of cash to be dispensed within such a limited timeframe. Why bother having transaction limits at all? To assume without question that repeated attempts to withdraw the daily maximum would not have triggered suspicious activity alerts and/or result in an immediate temporary suspension of the ATM/debit card seems nonsensical to me. The only way that this story makes sense is if the withdrawals were from multiple different accounts, which would undermine the assumption about cash being less convenient, (outlined in Claim #1 above).
Claim #3: Fred’s house in Weymouth was about to be foreclosed on.
The document below is the basis for Renner’s claim that Fred’s house in Weymouth was about to be foreclosed on. If you look at the name of the landowner addressed in the letter, it clearly states “Murray Daniel P et al.” In other words, the primary landowner is Fred’s brother, Daniel. Granted, the “et al,” (meaning “and others”) does suggest Daniel Murray is not the sole owner. But unless I am missing something, Renner is jumping to the conclusion that Fred is part owner of the house in Weymouth without any direct evidence.
To be fair, it is not a wildly unreasonable suggestion. But even if he is part owner, there is no way for us to know what percentage Fred owns nor what is actual liability is. For all we know, he does not even want the house. Maybe the house it is wrapped up in a complex family drama that Fred wants no part of. After all, this was not a new issue. According to the document, it had been going on since 2001.
At the very least, it is clear that Renner’s repeated reference to “Fred’s house being in foreclosure” was very misleading. At best, it greatly exaggerated how indebted Fred was at the time, and at worst, the claim is false. Personally, I think it is irrelevant to the case and none of our business.
Claim #4: $4000 was a lot for Fred Murray.
Renner states this in Podcast #6. He wants us to believe that Fred could either afford to save his house, or help Maura buy a car, but not both. There is absolutely no basis for this whatsoever so I will not waste too much time on it. Suffice it to say, Renner has no insight into Fred’s finances, nor any reason to believe that he was cash poor in 2004. He makes a reference to Fred “living in a hotel,” which makes us picture a dark, seedy, one-floor motel on the side of a highway. The reality is that he was on a contract for work at a hospital in Connecticut, which provided housing. If anything, having a well-paying job, free housing, self-sufficient adult children, and no spouse to support, would lead one to believe Fred was doing just fine from a financial standpoint.
Claim #5: Neither Maura nor Fred mentioned car-shopping to anyone.
Right away, I found this claim puzzling because on page 238 of his book (below), Renner writes that Billy told him that “Fred was definitely helping Maura find a new car” that weekend, and goes on to say that they visited the dealership where he had purchased his car. So in fact, Billy corroborates the details in Fred’s statement to police (see note 3 for Fred's full statement).
How does Renner make the claim that none of Maura's friends said she was looking for a car? Well, if you listen to his actual wording in the podcast, what Renner states is that of the friends Maura was with that weekend, and that he spoke to and questioned about this, there was no one who could recall her mentioning anything about car-shopping. Let’s think about it. We know Maura was with Kate and Sara that weekend. We also know Sara refuses to speak to Renner. So logic would lead us to conclude that the only person that falls into this category is Kate Markopoulos.
Is it odd that neither Maura nor Fred mentioned anything to Kate about car-shopping? Maybe. But we also know Maura did not tell Sara about the car accident she had been in the night before when they worked together the next day (Sunday Feb. 8). However she did tell Billy about the accident. So maybe it makes perfect sense that Maura would tell Billy (but not Kate) about car-shopping. (Of course it is also possible Kate really does have a “faulty memory...”)
Renner is convinced the $4000 was intended to either fix a big problem Maura had, or to help her disappear. He goes so far as to call Fred a liar on multiple occasions. But for Fred to be lying, we have to believe that Billy is also lying. Additionally, one key piece of evidence that Renner fails to mention whenever he speaks on this subject, is that a phone call to Reliance Auto, in Amherst, MA was placed from Maura’s cell phone on that Saturday. This point is worth emphasizing: there is actual evidence in Maura’s phone records indicating an intent to purchase a car on Saturday, February 7th.
When I add all this up, in my opinion there is no good reason to question Fred’s statements about the $4000 having been intended to help Maura purchase a car the weekend of February 7, 2004. And further speculation about the $4000 – where it came from and where it went – is irrelevant and a waste of time for anyone hoping to actually make progress in this case.
1) Renner frequently states that Fred has never answered the question of where the $4000 went since he never purchased a car. The insinuation is that Fred refuses to answer this question. The reality is, no one has ever asked him (certainly not Renner), which he reveals at the very end (last 2-3 minutes) of Podcast #9.
2) The drive from Bridgeport, CT → Eastern Mass → Amherst, MA is a distance of approximately 271 miles or about 4 hours and 38 minutes. The drive from Bridgeport, CT → Amherst, MA is a distance of approximately 104 miles or about 1 hour and 47 minutes.
3) It is worth noting that for the purpose of argument, I assumed that Renner’s repeated claim that Fred (or “someone”) made stops at 8 different ATMs in order to $4000 was a true statement. In the podcast, he says his source for this claim was the statement Fred filed with the UMass Police Department shortly after Maura’s disappearance (see below). The document does in fact state that when he arrived that Saturday afternoon, he was carrying $4000. However it does not mention anything about where or when Fred obtained the money, and nothing about ATMs. So as far as I know, this claim has not (and can not) be verified. However, his statement about car-shopping at a place that Maura's boyfriend had luck in the past is corroborated by Billy's statement to Renner.
4) Finally, I did not choose this post to be provocative or to pick on James. I chose it because it is one of the more popular blog posts (over 200 comments) and because it was referenced in detail on Podcast #9.
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