Out with the Old [Rumors]: Reviewing New Information from E2 of Oxygen's “The Disappearance of M

In my opinion, Episode 2 of the Oxygen series, 'The Disappearance of Maura Murray,' went a long way toward dispelling many of the lingering rumors that have persisted in this case. The episode featured author James Renner and outlined his theory that Maura was pregnant and fled to Canada. Our fourth podcast episode (on iTunes and YouTube) is a review of Episode 2, and a large part of our discussion is to devoted to a critique of the assumptions underlying Renner's theory. Reasonable people can disagree. Well-meaning, rational individuals can look at the exact same piece of information and come to wildly different conclusions. That said, while I believe our biases make it impossible for anyone to be truly 'objective,' I think it is still possible to be fair. And if I have one overarching criticism of Renner's methods, it is that they are at best, severely unfair to a number of individuals. At worst, they have distracted attention away from the goal of this case, which is to find Maura.

The list of topics we cover in our fourth episode include:

1) Erin’s Interview

Erin was a fellow nursing student that Maura had borrowed scrubs from before she disappeared, which she then returned at some point during the afternoon of February 9th. She made several notable points. She stated that the homework assignment they had been working on in their maternity class necessitated identifying and googling terms related to pregnancy and then sharing them with fellow classmates. It would therefore seem more plausible that Maura’s reported google searches for alcohol and pregnancy were part of her homework assignment as opposed to evidence suggesting she was pregnant herself. Erin also stated that she had emailed her homework the morning of February 9th at 3:32 am. To me, this is very strong evidence that Maura planned to return to school. In fact, it is hard to think of a single piece of evidence that could be more indicative of her intent to return to school and continue her studies.

2)Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills with 4 pills missing were found in the Saturn. We cannot conclude that Maura was definitely taking the birth control at the time she disappeared. However it is tangible evidence that is far more suggestive that she was not pregnant than that she was. Moreover, assuming Maura was taking her birth control, the fact she left them behind in the car would suggest to me that wherever she had gone, it is likely she intended to return within the next day (at most). Otherwise I believe she would have taken her pills with her.

3) Items Being Packed

Renner states that Maura had packed all her belongings. Maggie points out that it was the beginning of the semester and perhaps she had not yet unpacked, and I concur. In Episode 27 of the Missing Maura Murray podcast, the NH State Police responded to this specific question by stated that “some boxes appeared to be packed.” In my opinion, this is not a very strong statement. And given the semester had just begun, it seems far more likely these boxes had not yet been unpacked. At UMass, during winter break, you are not allowed to enter the dorms. During the break, university staff walk through each room and do inspections. Even simple things like using a forbidden form of adhesive to hang your poster on the wall would be written up as a point against you. Of course people did it all the time, but they would remove these items before leaving for the semester.

4) The 'Lighthouses'

Renner argues that if Maura had been open to help from a stranger, then she would have accepted a ride with Butch Atwood. Renner states that the Westmans, Atwoods, and Marrottes were watching the scene as if they were “lighthouses” providing almost constant surveillance. In this scenario, Maura would only have had a matter of seconds to disappear without anyone noticing. He believes that she was picked up by someone she knew – a tandem driver – because it would have taken less time than if a stranger were to pull up and offer her a ride somewhere.

Going along with the lighthouse analogy, my interpretation of the scene was as follows:

  • Lighthouse 1) Westman reportedly stated that she saw a “flurry of activity” near the trunk of the car. She also reportedly looked away from the scene after Atwood showed up. It’s possible one or both Westmans continued glancing back at the scene after Atwood left, but as far as I know, we do not have any evidence to suggest that. The Westmans’ statements seem to indicate that their lighthouse ‘went out’ shortly before or after Atwood left the scene.

  • Lighthouse 2) There are only a few reports about what the Marrottes saw. According to the Whitman-Hanson Express, from their kitchen, they could see a car down the road with its hazard lights flashing and someone walking around the car. Like the Westmans, they also reported seeing Atwood show up. They do not state how long they continued watching the scene. However, in Renner’s book, he quotes John Marrotte as having said “I saw her get out and walk around the car, […] When I looked out again, the police were there.” My interpretation of these statements is that he was not watching the scene the entire time. In fact, it seems like he was only viewing the scene at the beginning of the time window because he mentions seeing Atwood pull up as well. Unlike the Westmans, whose view might have been obstructed by the bus, the Marrottes were on the opposite side of the street, and likely would have been able to see the Saturn while Atwood was there. We do not know exactly when they looked away, but from what little information we have, it also seems to be around the time Atwood would have been leaving the scene.

  • Lighthouse 3) Directly following his discussion with Maura by the Saturn, Atwood drove home, parked his bus, and went inside the house. He reportedly told his wife about the crash before finding the phone and dialing 911. At some point while on the phone with 911, he reportedly walked out to his porch. According to the Whitman-Hanson Express, “He could see the road, but Maura's car was not in his line of sight. As he spoke, a few cars passed by but Atwood was not able to identify any of them.” For the length of time it took him to drive home, park, walk inside, and speak to his wife, it seems reasonable to assume he was not watching the scene. It’s difficult to tell how long that could have taken, but it was at least a few minutes.

No matter how you look at it, Maura disappeared within a short window of time. That said, I do not believe it is accurate to suggest there was constant surveillance of the scene. There is a notable difference between 15-20 seconds and between matters of minutes with regard to the range of logical possibilities that exist. If Maura ran up the street to get a signal on her cell phone, and made it far enough that she was outside the range of any onlooker’s peripheral vision, I believe it is possible that whatever event unfolded that led to her disappearance could have gone on for minutes without any of the neighbors necessarily witnessing anything. My timeline looks like something below.

5) Kate

In fairness, the show does make an effort to reach out to Kate, and it would appear their efforts go unanswered. However I do not believe it is fair to suggest that a refusal to speak to media should be construed as inherently suspicious. The truth is, Kate already has spoken to police as well as to media. She has also spoken to James Renner.

The response? Without a shred of evidence (other than a ‘gut feeling’), Renner has accused Kate of being “deceptive.” He has accused her of lying and of withholding information about about the case. He has gone so far as to insinuate that she is somehow implicated in a conspiracy to cover up Maura’s disappearance. He published false statements about Kate having “disappeared” in the days and weeks following Maura’s disappearance, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. And in case that was not enough, he also dredged up information about Kate’s family and disseminated it all over the internet, in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do at all with Maura’s case.

In short, Renner has bullied her. I have a hard time blaming her for wanting to protect her family from the inevitable intrusion by people on the internet and the anguish that goes along with it. Kate has already stated she has nothing tangible to offer. Given how she has been treated, why would she want to open herself up to that again?

6) Bill Rausch

I do not feel any particular urgency to defend a grown man that is perfectly capable of defending himself. However I think it is important to note that a “no comment” response should not be confused with a confirmation or a denial that an event occurred. By that I mean according to Renner, Bill’s only statements to him regarding the alleged sexual assault were that 1) he was aware there was an allegation; and 2) he left the job in question sometime after the incident.

Based on these statements alone, I do not believe it is fair to jump to the conclusion that Bill therefore “lost” his job or that he was “fired” from his job as Renner has repeatedly claimed. According to who? Unless I am missing something, this has not been confirmed by Bill. Renner has not provided a statement from Bill’s former employer. No police statement. No corroborating evidence at all. In fact, I believe his only source is the accuser. (The 3 or 4 other women who the accuser told her story to, and who presumably then recounted that story to Renner, do not count as independent verifiers. By that logic, Renner himself would be considered an “independent verifier.”)