The most recent podcast (#42 Wrangling Renner) largely speaks for itself in terms of demonstrating just how shaky the foundation undergirding James Renner’s theory is in this case. Just as a disclaimer, I want to reiterate that I have nothing against James personally. He’s a compelling writer and the information he's shared and the attention he's drawn to the case are positive things. Without him, the podcast might never have existed.
That said, one of my goals here is to clarify misinformation in as close to real time as possible. The podcast addressed the larger points, so the list below includes some of the smaller details. I realize that at times, it may seem like I’m nitpicking about semantics. But given the degree to which gossip and innuendo have had such a propensity to snowball into full blown falsehoods in this case, I believe the standard for information that is put out there for public consumption should be that much higher.
Rennerism #1: “There's plenty of evidence suggesting she had a drinking problem. She's drinking Bailey's in her morning coffee."
In my opinion, the perception that Maura was an alcoholic may be the single most damaging non-truth that continues to persist in this case. Renner’s source for the quote above is Sharon Rausch (Bill’s mother). Specifically, a 2007 Union Leader article quoting Sharon stated that:
"When visiting the Rausch family in Marengo, Ohio, Maura would add Bailey's to her coffee in the morning and drink Mike's Hard Lemonade with lunch, she said. Maura and Billy always had their stash of alcohol because Rausch doesn't drink, but she said Maura didn't drink excessively."
In other words, when Maura was on vacation and staying at her boyfriend’s parents’ house (i.e. over Christmas break 2003), she put Bailey’s in her coffee and drank a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at lunch. To me, this is evidence of normal behavior for a 21 year-old. To suggest it is proof of a drinking problem is at the very least far-fetched. To argue that it implies evidence of a drinking problem so severe that she would be willing to risk the health of an unborn child is nonsensical. (Side note: I also wonder how many raging alcoholics pick Mike’s Hard Lemonade as their drink of choice..?)
Notably, Sharon also stated that “Maura didn’t drink excessively.” It is clear Renner chose to completely ignore the very next sentence, which just so happens to entirely contradict the notion that Maura had a problem with alcohol. At best, this is a textbook example of cherry-picking information in order to manipulate and mislead the readers/listeners. At worst, he is inviting a libel and/or slander lawsuit.
Rennerism #2: “I’ve seen the credit card statements right. You would see those other charges. The only charges that Maura got busted for were the ones that she was signing for that were going to her room. There's no other charges on the card.”
False. Of the six alleged fraudulent charges on the bank statement, Maura only admitted to five of them. She disputed the Papa Gino’s charge (amounting to $5.50). In my opinion, there is no sensible reason to dispute this charge after admitting to the rest. So I believe she was telling the truth. But the bottom line is, there were other charges on the card besides those she admitted fault for.
(For the record, I do not, nor have ever claimed to have any privileged information about what may or may not have occurred involving students sharing stolen credit card numbers with other students; I was not the source of that information.)
Rennerism #3: “Yet we have a woman who we know in November of that year stole somebody else's ID. Stole somebody else's credit card and didn't think twice.”
First, the claim that she “stole someone’s else’s ID,” is 100% false. Stating so implies she was willing and capable of committing the crime of identity theft, which there is zero evidence for. Second, she never technically stole a credit card. This point has already been clarified on the podcast. But just to reiterate – the credit card number was written on a notecard. She handed over that notecard to police after admitting she had used the number without authorization.
Rennerism #4: She was about to be charged with reckless operation.
As far as I can tell, Renner never provides a source for this. The logical guess would be Hadley Police Officer Mark Ruddock. Except Renner himself has given us the impression that Officer Ruddock was not particularly fond of him (hanging up on him and all). So why would he provide such privileged information? Without a verifiable source, I have to call bananas on this claim altogether – not just because I find Renner’s credibility here questionable, but because the law and evidence from the police report do not seem to support it.
Massachusetts law Chapter 90, Section 24(1)(h)(2)(a) outlines the criteria for being charged with reckless operations in the state (you can read the full text for yourself below). In a nutshell, to be charged, the police need some evidence of grossly negligent or malicious intent that serves to endanger the lives or safety of the public. Examples include drag racing and purposefully colliding with another car or a person. The law does not speak to unintentional, single-car accidents in which there was no endangerment to the lives of the public, nor, according to the police report, any noted property damage. I’ll put it another way - if Maura’s crash in Hadley was sufficient for police to charge her with reckless operation, then virtually every driver involved in a motor vehicle accident across the board would be getting charged with this crime. And that just is not the case.
To digress for a minute - to so boldly claim that drunk driving was the cause of the crash in Hadley despite no citation being issued, nor anything in the police report to indicate this, and frankly no evidence of any kind, is more than a little unfair. I think it is quite possible the accident occurred as a result of Maura simply being tired. We know from phone records that she had been staying up until at least 4 am several days prior (probably later). Then presumably would have had to get up earlier than normal because her dad was visiting that day. And the effects of driving tired as being equally as dangerous as driving drunk are well documented.
Rennerism #5) Maura was looking for a hotel room with two beds.
We know Linda Salamone owned at least one two bedroom condo. We also know that Maura called Linda Salamone on Feb. 9th. These two pieces of information are the basis of Renner’s persistent claim that Maura was exclusively looking for a place with two bedrooms. In this case, Renner has taken the fact that 'Maura may have inquired about a place with two bedrooms' and turned it into 'Maura was restricting her options to places that had two bedrooms.'
First, he fails to mention that Salamone does not actually remember speaking with Maura, so we can’t even be certain of anything that was said on that call. Second, he fails to mention that Maura and her family had rented from this person before, which may be why she called Salamone rather than, say, the Nootka Lodge. Third, Sharon Rausch is on record stating that the place Maura was calling about would likely have been the least expensive option. And therefore it might be reasonable to suggest that perhaps the price, rather than the number of rooms, was the appeal. The bottom line is there is no actual evidence she was looking exclusively for a two-bedroom place.
Rennerism #6) Maura left Amherst to escape her problems, chief among them being that she was pregnant.
Lt. Scarinza told Renner that Maura conducted an internet search for the effects of alcohol on a baby. This one clue is the basis for the claim that Maura was pregnant. I think everyone should pause and take a look at their internet history right now – just for the past day. And ask yourself what conclusions might be drawn from someone viewing it without context.
Anyway, how do we know Maura wasn’t searching on behalf of a pregnant friend? What about the birth control found in her car (with three pills missing)? What about the fact that she was doing her clinical rotation at Norwood Hospital's Labor and Delivery Unit?
Then there is the practical matter that to give birth requires a number of formal records. Did she birth the child all on her own? If not, how did she manage to stay under the radar and make it to the approximately 15 prenatal appointments? Even if she had borrowed a name or identity from House of Ruth, would she really have been able to apply for and get a new SSN before going to her first doctor's appointment? If she stayed in the U.S., how did she pay for all this without insurance? Was part of her 'plan' to commit health insurance fraud of some variety (whether American or Canadian)? Is there any evidence at all that she was capable of pulling this off? And if she had a companion helping her, did that companion's friends and family not find it odd for a [presumably camera shy] pregnant woman to suddenly appear one day out of the blue?
Finally, the overall issue with Renner’s theory that Maura ran away to start a new life is that even if for the sake of argument, we assume 75% of his hypotheses are true, the theory still falls apart if just one element doesn’t pan out. Of course if she wasn’t pregnant, nothing else about the theory makes sense. But also, what if Billy really wasn’t abusive? What if she wasn’t an alcoholic? What if there was no tandem driver? What if she wasn’t about to be charged with reckless operation? What if her relationship with her family wasn’t as tarnished as Renner insinuates?
*I had actually never heard the term “ghost-lighting” before listening to the podcast. I can only assume from its root words “ghost” (shadowy figments of the imagination that exist despite no evidence or proof) and “lighting” (to enlighten, or illuminate; to cast knowledge upon) that it is a compliment.
Text of Massachusetts Law Chapter 90 , Section 24(1)(h)(2)(a)