The Missing Hour. The $4000. Witness Statements: A Review of E3 of Oxygen's “The Disappearance o

In the fifth podcast episode (on iTunes and YouTube), Ethan and I go over some of the points made in Episode 3 of the Oxygen series. I realize the series has already concluded, and I realize we are a bit behind. So I think it’s worth noting that one need not agree with every conclusion the hosts or producers ultimately arrived at, or every instance of creative editing, to appreciate the value of now having verifiable facts to work with. As recently as a few months ago, most of the information we had was rumors and hearsay. Before the show, having received knowledge or clarification about any of the following would have felt like a breakthrough:

  • ATM footage;

  • Confirmation of witness A's account (and photo evidence of her phone records);

  • An explanation for why SUV #001 was at the scene;

  • An explanation for the rag in the tailpipe;

  • Details about Maura’s maternity class/homework/google searches;

  • Details about Maura sending out her homework at 3:32 am the day she disappeared;

  • Photos of the Saturn’s interior;

  • Interviews with the Murray family, Strelzin, Smith, Monaghan, Williams, Dick Guy, Mike Lavoie.…etc.

Most importantly, unlike before the show aired, the state police are now reportedly getting calls with information every day. I think it’s fair to critique certain elements of the show, but the fact is that its existence offers the best chance of uncovering new information and new leads to come along in thirteen years.

That said, as noted above, our fifth podcast episode goes over some of the topics covered in Episode 3 of the Oxygen show. First, we talk about the show’s theory for what Maura could have been doing during the “missing hour” of time between when she left Amherst and when she crashed in New Hampshire. Second, we discuss revelations about “the $4000.” And finally, we talk about some of the witness accounts, and notably, Faith Westman’s account about seeing a man in the vehicle smoking a cigarette.

1) The Missing Hour

In the first episode of the Oxygen series, Maggie and Art note that they completed the trip from Amherst, MA to Haverhill, NH about an hour faster than Maura presumably did. In the third episode, they point out that one of the items recovered from the Saturn was a Mass DMV form, which Maura would have needed to complete and mail to the MA registrar within five days of the accident in her father’s car. They posit that the missing hour may therefore not be so mysterious if Maura simply stopped by the Hadley Police Department to pick up the forms (after leaving the liquor store and prior to heading north toward NH on Route 91).

For me, this was not a satisfying explanation for the missing hour for several reasons. First, it’s unclear why they seem to conclude that she would have gone to the police station to pick up the forms as opposed to the more conveniently located DMV on Route 9 in Hadley. It seems more likely to me that she would have stopped at the DMV that was directly between the liquor store and the on-ramp to Route 91 North.

The only reason I could see why she may opt for the police station over the DMV, would be to print out a copy of the accident report, which would be helpful when it came to filling out the required DMV forms. However, if she requested a copy of the accident report, there would definitely have been a record of her visit. And if she picked up the accident report at the same time as the DMV forms, it seems likely they would have been together in the car. But as far as we know, there was no accident report found in the Saturn.

The Hadley Police Department is situated about 0.7 miles off the main road (Route 9). So even if Maggie and Art are correct, and Maura opted to pick up the forms there (as opposed to the DMV), it would only have taken her two or three minutes out of the way. So regardless of whether she went to the DMV or to the Hadley Police Dept., I find it doubtful it could have taken as long as forty-five minutes to an hour to run in, grab the forms, and be on her way – particularly when she was able to complete her errands at both the ATM and the liquor store in about half that time.

Lastly, I think the biggest issue with their theory for the missing hour is that it is unclear whether Maura even had to stop to pick up the forms in the first place. As early as 2002, these forms were available to print online. We know she had a printer because she printed directions off of MapQuest (not to mention the infamous printed email left behind). So it seems plausible, and perhaps even likely, that she printed the forms before she left and saved herself the hassle of stopping at either the DMV or the police station at all.

In short, I believe the missing hour is still a question, and an extremely important one at that.

2) The $4000 (and more recent related claims)

In his statement to UMass Police, Fred Murray noted that the weekend before Maura disappeared, he withdrew cash from multiple ATMs and traveled up to Amherst to help her buy a new car. Some (namely Renner) have cast doubt on Fred’s story, and have suggested that the $4000 was actually intended to “fix a big problem or help her disappear.” However in Episode 3, Fred explains that he took money out from ATMs because he had been working in Connecticut at the time, and his bank was in eastern Massachusetts. On top of that, there is clear evidence that Fred and Maura were car shopping that weekend (outlined in a prior post).

Yet as recently as a few weeks ago, Renner reiterated his suspicion about the $4000 on the True Crime Garage podcast. He also went a step further and expanded on a claim that he had previously written about in his blog, which is that Maura could have cashed in on a student loan overage of up to $5000 before she left. He speculates then that in addition to this $5000 loan overage, the $4000 nest egg, and the $280 she withdrew from the ATM, Maura could have left Amherst with close to $10,000. Plenty of money to start over in Canada.

Here’s the problem with that theory. I could not find any source or evidence for the claim that “we know she had student loans” other than Renner himself. As far as I know, Maura reportedly secured a scholarship to attend UMass prior to transferring from West Point. So it would seem there is no reason to believe she would have taken out student loans to begin with. Besides that, the tuition and fees + room and board for the 2003-2004 academic year totaled $13,980, or $6,990 per semester. So even if she did have a loan, it seems doubtful that she would have received an overage of $5000 on a tuition bill that was only $6,990. Finally, in the unlikely event that she did have some kind of overage, there would be a clear record of her either cashing the check or withdrawing the funds from her account. As far as we know, no such record exists. The bottom line is that there is absolutely no basis for the claim that she could have left Amherst with close to $10,000.

If we believe Mr. Murray when he says that Maura never touched any of the money that he put in her account after she disappeared (which I have to assume police would have confirmed), then there is no reason to believe she left Amherst with significantly more than the $280 she withdrew from her account. However the precise amount of money that Maura left town with is not the important point here. The notable point is that this is a clear example of Renner misleading us into thinking an assumption he has made (i.e. Maura had student loans) is a verified fact when it is clearly not. Then regardless of whether it’s true, taking it to its furthest logical extent (i.e. she had a loan overage of $5000) in order to create an impression that fits his story line, yet in no way seems to resemble anything close to the truth after being logically deconstructed (something I have referred to as “rennerisms” in the past).

3) “The Man in the Vehicle Smoking a Cigarette”

In the third episode, they note that in the dispatch logs, Faith Westman reports seeing a “man in the veh smoking a cigarette.” Westman has since retracted this to a certain extent, and has stated that what she actually saw was a glow of some kind. Regardless, it is an odd statement given its degree of specificity. But ultimately, I think it is evidence of the general problems with the reliability of eye witness accounts.