I’m sympathetic to James Renner’s desire to distance himself and move on from this case. At the same time, I have a difficult time not finishing what I started. More importantly, the reality is that Renner’s blog posts (and book of course) remain available for public consumption (even if Renner is not). I therefore consider a critique of them to be fair game.
This post wraps of my response to Renner’s “Five Clues That Make No Sense About this Case” by addressing the last three clues. Clue #3 is ‘The Londonderry Ping.’ My response here is not so much a critique as it is an explanation of what this clue is to begin with. Clue #4 is the ‘Family Apathy,’ and clue #5 is ‘Kate’s Faulty Memory.’
3. The Londonderry “Ping” (or Londonderry Caller)
In the late afternoon hours of Feb 9th, an individual in the Londonderry, NH area placed an outgoing call to Maura’s cell phone. We know this because a “Supporting Affidavit for Issuance of a Search Warrant” was uncovered and published by blogger Chris King. I assume Renner included this in his list because the identity of the caller remains unknown. I agree – it is an interesting unanswered question.
However the element of this clue that I find puzzling is the surprising number of misinterpretations and heated exchanges that have surrounded it (which I am not suggesting are Renner’s fault). In hopes of clearing some of that up, I outline my interpretation of the affidavit below.
Renner uses the term ‘ping’ in a colloquial manner to describe a generic communication or message that is sent or received from an electronic device. However from a technical standpoint, to ‘ping’ a cell phone means to send a signal to a device, which in turn, responds with GPS data allowing you to pinpoint the location of that device. In other words, formal use of the term ‘ping’ involves a reference to location.
Yet the affidavit has nothing to do with tracking either Maura’s or the caller’s location. In fact, the term ‘ping’ never appears in the document. The purpose of the affidavit was to obtain a warrant that law enforcement could deliver to Sprint, which would allow Sprint to disclose the identity of an individual who called Maura’s cell phone during the late afternoon hours of Feb 9th – aka – the Londonderry Caller.
We do not know the precise context in which the affidavit was written, but a few things seem obvious. First, Det. Landry states:
“a representative from Sprint Corporate Security advised this affiant that during the late afternoon hours of February 9, 2004, an outgoing call was made to Murray from the Londonderry, NH Sprint tower.”
In other words, law enforcement was already in contact with Sprint Corporate Security, who appear to have been cooperating with their investigation. The inference I draw from this presumptive exchange between Sprint and Det. Landry is that law enforcement did not actually know about the call when they reached out to Sprint.
Yes, they had Maura’s cell phone records, but there are a variety of reasons an incoming call would not appear in those records. For example, if Maura had no cell reception at that moment the call was placed, or if her phone was off, that call would not appear in her records. Similarly, if she had hit ‘ignore,’ or let the call go to voicemail, that call would not show up (although it would be logged in the call history on the physical phone itself).
Realizing the limitations of what can be learned from cell phone records alone, I think law enforcement made a request to cellular service providers in the area to search for outgoing calls placed to Maura’s cell phone on Feb 9th. This type of request is common. Law enforcement made 1.3 million such requests to cellular service providers in 2011 alone. Sprint in particular responded to the most demands of any provider that year with about 1500 daily, compared to AT&T for example, which responded to about 700.
I think that Sprint searched their records and saw there was at least one outgoing call placed to Maura’s cell phone on that day. Sprint then informed Det. Landry about that call (which is what I believe is meant by “advised this affiant”). Yet without a warrant, all Sprint would have been able to tell police was whether or not there was a call and the approximate location of that call. Before disclosing information about the subscriber’s identity (i.e. name, number, etc.), they would need to see a warrant. I believe this document is that warrant.
(Sidenote: In 2011, New Hampshire began introducing legislation to restrict access to an individual’s electronic data, and as of 2015, a warrant became legally required before the release of any electronic data, including location.)
4. Family Apathy
You can refer to Renner’s blog post for this ‘clue.’
No matter what you believe happened to Maura – whether you believe she assumed a new identity, met with foul play, or wandered in the woods – her family has suffered the loss all the same. They are permanent victims. Far be it for anyone to judge how a person ‘should’ react to a tragedy of that magnitude. My response to Renner’s notion of “family apathy,” and his specific comments here, is that they are not only moronic, but also offensive, disrespectful, and cruel. What he perceives as ‘apathy’ is what I would describe as a deliberate choice to not dignify nonsense with a response.
5. Kate’s Faulty Memory
Is it a little strange that Kate doesn't remember the names of anyone at the party? Maybe.
Does it justify Renner’s insinuations that Kate is withholding information pertinent to the case for selfish reasons? Does it warrant him going so far as to implicate her in an elaborate scheme to assist in the disappearance? Absolutely not.
Renner’s depiction of Kate is at best, shamelessly one-sided and unfair, and at worst, he has said things that are simply false. For instance, he has repeatedly stated that “members of her track team said she sort of disappeared for a couple weeks around the time of Maura's disappearance.” This is not true. I was a member of the track team and I distinctly remember Kate being present that week. Don’t take my word for it though. The results of the St. Valentine’s Day Invitational, which took place later that week on February 13th and 14th in 2004, prove she attended and competed. Furthermore she competed at the Atlantic-10 Championship meet at URI on February 21st 2004. The bottom line is – no – Kate did not disappear in the weeks following Maura’s disappearance.
If I did not consider some of the things he says about Kate to be so damaging, I might find them laughable. For instance, in the book he states that she “worked odd hours at a bar in Saratoga Springs.” What exactly are odd hours for a bar? Working a nine to five shift at a bar might be considered odd, but I would think late evening into the early morning is fairly standard. He also makes a point of noting that “she lost a ton of weight.” Think about that for a second. She was already a D-1 athlete and one of UMass’s top three cross country runners. How much weight was there to lose? What would be considered “a ton of weight” for a [relatively elite] 21 year-old female athlete?
It doesn’t trouble me so much that Renner decided to include what I would consider a frivolous detail (even if untrue). The troubling part was his motivation. He highlights this point – that Kate was showing physical signs of anxiety and stress in the months following Maura’s disappearance – just before describing her as “deceptive” and placing her on his list of tandem drivers, in effect, implicating her in Maura’s disappearance. Even if it was true, and she had “lost a ton of weight,” it seems like he never considers the possibility that grief brought on by the mysterious disappearance of a friend could have been behind that.
Just about everything he says about Kate is steeped in suspicion. He finds it suspicious when she can only provide him “inconsequential details” without considering the possibility that those were all she had. He calls her a liar for claiming to have no knowledge of Maura’s relationship with Hossein Baghdadi without considering the possibility that she either 1) may not have known about the relationship (Renner has no proof she did); or 2) may not have been comfortable commenting on her friend’s sex life to a journalist.
Lastly, his sole purpose for dredging up stories about Kate’s father is to impugn her character and give us the impression that she is somehow inherently shady. Otherwise what purpose did it serve? Kate’s father’s past has nothing to do with Maura’s disappearance. It’s black noise gossip that is not only distracting to the case, but I would imagine unnecessarily hurtful to Kate and her family.
Personally, I believe Renner was too busy spinning a story to listen to what Kate had actually said. I believe Kate when she says that she did not know her friend as well as people might expect. By that time, they had only known each other for about a year and a half (Sept. 2002 – Feb 2004). That’s three semesters of friendship; the most recent of which (Fall 2003), Maura had not participated in cross country/track due to an injury.
Note 1) I don’t want to go too far off on a tangent here, but I do find it peculiar that Renner can call Kate “deceptive” while at the same time reiterating an outlandish (and frankly sexist) rumor about a woman who is not available to defend herself, based exclusively on the word of three males who all refuse to disclose their name and identity.
Supporting Affidavit for Issuance of Search Warrant: