According to my favorite behavioral economist, Dan Kahneman, the most reliable way to convince people of falsehoods is with frequent repetition. The reason repetition is so effective is because familiarity is indistinguishable from truth in our brains. One thing I have heard constantly referenced in this case is innuendo about “Fred’s house” (a shorthand used to describe 22 Walker Street in Weymouth, MA). “Fred’s house” was a topic of discussion both at this past year’s Crime Con, and as recently as in the past few weeks on the Mary Buck podcast. Below I detail the truth about “Fred’s house” and its significance (or lack thereof) to the case.
The Truth about “Fred’s House”
While records show that Fred Murray was one of multiple individuals entitled to inherit a portion of the property in Weymouth after his father passed away in the 1990’s, records also clearly indicate that it was owned and primarily occupied by Fred’s brother, Daniel Murray. According to Fred, he lived at the house in Weymouth for a time before moving out in 2002. Several years later, his brother passed away and the house was functionally abandoned before being put into a receivership by the town of Weymouth. Fred Murray’s name does not appear on any tax collector notice and there are no records indicating that Fred (or anyone else) made any attempt to establish a claim to the property after his brother passed away.
As Mr. Murray indicated in one of his two open letters (which I encourage everyone to read), “Fred’s house” is in Hanson, MA. But you need not take his (or my) word for it though – a quick visit to the Norfolk County and Plymouth County Registry of Deeds corroborate Mr. Murray’s statements and very clearly disprove the claim that the town of Weymouth was coming after Fred Murray for taxes owed on the property.
So why is a property that would more accurately be described as “Daniel Murray’s house” or “the Town of Weymouth’s house” (or “Yangguan LLC’s house”) continue to be referred to as “Fred’s house?” I have a few guesses.
Reason 1: To Raise Doubts about the $4000
In early 2004, there were unpaid taxes owed on the house in Weymouth totaling $3206.53 (including interest and fees). I believe the first reason for the constant references to “Fred’s house” (which I’ve written about before) is to raise doubts about the $4000 that Mr. Murray brought to UMass the weekend before Maura disappeared, and question whether that money was in fact intended to help her buy a new car. By referring to the house in Weymouth as “Fred’s house,” the insinuation is that Mr. Murray could either pay the taxes to save “his” house -OR- help Maura buy a new car, but evidently not both. In other words, we are led to believe that whatever the money was for, Mr. Murray was willing to sacrifice being kicked out on the street to provide Maura with it, which is simply untrue.
While some have claimed that Fred was “strapped for cash” in 2004, the truth is that neither myself nor anyone else has any insight into what Fred Murray’s personal finances looked like at that time. But here is what we do know: we know that in 2004, Mr. Murray was a single male with no dependents; we know he had a well-paying job that provided a number of allowances and benefits; we know that one of those benefits was covering the cost of his housing; and we know he was well-off enough to purchase a brand new 2004 Toyota Corolla. So based on all available evidence, I see no justification for the claim that Fred Murray was “strapped for cash” when Maura disappeared in 2004.
There is, however, ample evidence indicating that the $4000 was in fact intended to help Maura purchase a new (used) car. First, there was a call from Maura’s cell phone to a used auto dealer/repair shop in Hingham, MA (Shaw Saab) on December 26th, 2003. Second, the Saturn was in bad enough shape by late January of 2004 that it had to be towed to UMass after winter break. Third, according to Bill, “Fred was definitely helping Maura find a new car” and stated that on the Saturday before she disappeared, “they had visited the same dealership where he had purchased his own car.” (TCA, pg 236). Fourth, there was at least one call from Maura’s cell phone to Reliance Auto (a used car dealer in Amherst, MA) on the Saturday afternoon that Fred says they were car shopping.
I have no issue with challenging assumptions and asking hard questions. But it only seems fair that if you are going to raise questions about the $4000 and cast doubt on Fred’s story about car shopping that weekend, then you should at least attempt to reasonably explain away the evidence in support of Mr. Murray’s statements about the condition of the Saturn and about why he was in Amherst that Saturday afternoon.
The only “evidence” for doubting Mr. Murray’s statement about the $4000 seems to be that some individuals find it weird that one would prefer to purchase a car with cash and/or strange that the cash was obtained from multiple ATM transactions. To me, there is nothing odd about preferring to purchase a used car with cash because often dealers give a discount for cash. Moreover, Mr. Murray was working in Connecticut in early 2004 and his bank was in Eastern Massachusetts. Since he was unable to get to a branch during working hours, he obtained the cash from multiple ATM transactions. To me, these seem like perfectly logical explanations.
Reason 2: To Establish Mr. Murray as the Owner of an Adult Magazine:
Another reason I believe that an effort has been made to attach Fred to the house in Weymouth is to establish him as the owner of an adult magazine supposedly found on the property in 2012. Again, as Mr. Murray explains in his open letter, he moved out of the house in Weymouth in 2002. Thus ten years had passed before the magazine was supposedly uncovered in a pile of junk on the functionally abandoned property. (To me, the real mystery is how a magazine could possibly survive outside in the elements in Massachusetts for any length of time…).
Regardless, I feel pretty comfortable positing that wherever that magazine came from, and whoever it belonged to, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Maura’s disappearance. And as far as I can tell, the constant references to it serve no function other than to smear Mr. Murray’s reputation and distract attention away from actual elements of the case.
The Oxygen show went a long way toward dispelling many of the rumors that plagued Maura’s case for years. However a number of the misleading narratives managed to survive and they continue to create unnecessary and damaging distractions. I have no doubt that certain people will continue to repeat these misleading claims and conspiratorial notions about the $4000 and about “Fred’s house” and adult magazines. But the reality is that these topics are even less helpful to finding Maura than page 9 of the phone record was.