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First Officer on Scene

You can listen to episode 14 of the podcast, First Officer on Scene, here. As the title suggests, we discuss the transcript of the interview that Officer Cecil Smith did for the Oxygen show. The transcript was obtained via a Right-to-Know request, and is posted here.

Of course no one’s memory is going to be perfect after thirteen years. However, from my perspective, there are a disproportionate number of statements in Smith’s interview that are contradicted either by direct evidence (i.e. dispatch logs), other witness accounts, or basic common sense. Some of those apparent contradictions include:

1.) Smith claims to have been on the 3 PM – 11 PM shift that evening, however in the dispatch log, he is noted as being on duty at 12:59 AM.

cecil smith dispatch log 2

2.) Smith states multiple times that he was the only office on duty that evening. However shortly after responding to Maura’s accident scene, he refers to his “partner.” If he was working with a partner, then it would seem he was not the only officer on duty.

cecil smith dispatch log

3.) Early in the interview, Smith claims that he does not recall where he was when he was dispatched to the scene. However, later on in the interview, he is able to recount the precise route he took to get to the scene. It seems strange that he can recall his exact route without remembering where he started.

Ethan and I discussed Smith’s specific route in our episode about the timeline. But just to reiterate – Smith claims he drove north on Route 10, to Swiftwater Rd, to Sawyer Hill Rd, to Rt. 112. I find Smith’s explanation for why he chose this route questionable. First, Smith would have had to backtrack, and drive in the complete opposite direction of the accident in order to take Sawyer Hill Rd. Second, Sawyer Hill Rd, even 14 years later, is a dirt road. In his interview, Smith states that “…if you ever driven on a dirt road in the winter time, they don't become bare like the tar. That, they're icy…” So not only did Smith’s “shortcut” take him in the complete opposite direction, it was also an icy dirt road that unquestionably slowed him down.

4.) Smith claims that Trooper John Monaghan went “east toward Lincoln.” This statement stood out to me as a huge red flag. First, it contradicts Monaghan’s account, which is that he turned around and headed back west toward Swiftwater Station. Second, one of Mr. Murray’s biggest complaints from Day 1 is that no one searched east of the accident scene the night Maura disappeared. The fact that no one searched east was one of the primary reasons for what Smith referred to as the “uproar from Fred for the FBI and everybody else to get involved,” and so I find it highly implausible Smith was unaware of this fact.

5.) Smith makes several references to the car doors of the Saturn having been locked when he arrived. He even makes a note of how odd it was by stating, “I mean not a lot of damage but the vehicle was there, locked, which to me that's probably the on-, the major odd thing about it. Normally they don't lock their car before they take off.”

From the very beginning, Smith claimed that the soda bottle that smelled like alcohol was found underneath the vehicle after it had been towed. However, Smith’s account about the soda bottle does not match Monaghan’s account of what he recalled Smith telling him that night.

On page 7 of John Monaghan’s interview transcript, he states that when he arrived, “I rolled down my passenger side window and said, hey, what's up? And he goes, I don't know. There's a box of wine in here and it looks like she's been fillin up a soda bottle with wine.” Monaghan spoke to Smith before the tow truck(s) arrived, so if his account is correct, it would suggest that Smith did get the doors of the Saturn open that evening and has been lying about it from the very beginning.

Of course it’s possible that Monaghan’s memory is incorrect, but it is a contradiction nonetheless. And it is one that is notable given Susan Champy’s statement in the SOCO article from 2011 about what she saw when she drove by the scene. She states:

“When she drove by, Champy remembered noticing that police officers had one of the doors of Maura's car open. She recalled reading in the newspaper afterward that they'd obtained a search warrant the next day to search the vehicle, which made her wonder whether they should have had the door open without first getting a search warrant.”

6.) Smith claims Atwood said she appeared intoxicated. I’ve spoken and written about this point a lot. Yet given how critical this “fact” was in determining how the police chose to respond that evening, it is worth reiterating that Atwood is on record denying Smith’s claim about her appearing intoxicated.

7.) Smith claimed that both Fred and Kathleen told him they believed she was suicidal. Of course Mr. Murray vehemently denies this, and has said that Smith pushed him into making the statement about the “squaw walk.” And I find Smith’s statements about his conversation with Kathleen especially doubtful for a few reasons. On page 18, Smith states:

“And when I talked to her sister Kathleen the same day, uh, she told me pretty much the same thing. Uh, M-Maura had had an accident with her father's car while she'd been drinking the, the weekend before, uh. She got mad at Fred, got in another car and took off. Left Massachusettes and, uh, we think she went in the woods and hid and took a bunch of sleepin' pills and we both think she's dead.”

First, Smith spoke to Kathleen before he spoke to Fred, and according to Kathleen, she did not know about the accident in Hadley the weekend before. And it is worth noting that there is no evidence that Maura spoke to Kathleen between the time she got into the accident and the time she disappeared. Additionally, when Smith spoke to Kathleen on that Tuesday afternoon, he knew that there were sleeping pills in the Saturn. But how would Kathleen have known that? If we believe Smith’s account, then we have to believe that Kathleen had enough specific knowledge about the contents of the car to state with confidence and certainty that she believed Maura took sleeping pills and walked into the woods. Frankly that seems like quite a stretch to me.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the transcript was the very end, after Smith left. It appears to be a discussion between the Asst. Attorney General, Jeff Strelzin, and the crew. Strelzin appears to be defending the police’s handling of the case. He states that the fact that Maura was suicidal was “documented pretty well in the reports early on.” On page 32, Strelzin states “you know that's one of the things that's kind of annoying about Fred sometimes it's like, you know, the rewriting of history, which is you don't wanna own that, it's like well, wait a minute, you're pissed at the police when you gave them that information.”

Yet other than Smith’s single [disputed] account, there is no record of her boyfriend, or any of her friends, family members, professors, employers, or anyone else who was close to her ever suggesting that Maura was suicidal (if anything, the opposite). Additionally, both the helicopter search several days later, and the dog searches in the following weeks suggested it was very unlikely she walked into the woods. There were no footprints on the roadway, or any other single piece of evidence to suggest that Maura walked into the woods. Despite the lack of evidence to support their belief that she walked into the woods, and despite having clear evidence that Maura had every intention of returning to her life (i.e. taking the time to email homework to professors in the early morning hours of February 9, 2004, which by the way, they chose not to share with the public), they maintained their theory.

I understand that as a prosecutor, Strelzin has to rely heavily on law enforcement in order to do his job. Given how important it is to maintain a well-functioning relationship with police, it seems only natural for him to want to defend them from what he may perceive as unfair criticism. But I want to be clear that the only “documented” account of Fred stating that Maura was suicidal was from Cecil Smith, and that account is disputed. Given the totality of the facts and circumstances, I personally feel as though Strelzin’s comments about the family in the last few pages come dangerously close to victim-blaming. And I also just have to wonder: how much evidence to the contrary must exist before we begin to question Smith’s account?

Again, I would not expect anyone’s memory of an event to be perfect after thirteen years have passed. But literally every person that Smith discusses in his interview (and some that he doesn't) has a substantively different, and contradicting account (including Butch Atwood, Fred, Kathleen, Susan Champy, and John Monaghan). At the very least, I think the number of contradictions in Smith’s interview should call into question the accuracy of the information he’s put forth.

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