A few months ago, Julie Murray opened a TikTok account and has been sharing personal stories about Maura and detailing clues about her disappearance. One of those potential clues is the “Whimpering Call” (also known as the Red Cross call), which she explains in this video.
Maura’s boyfriend Bill was in the Army and stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in February of 2004. When Bill learned Maura’s car had been found abandoned after an accident in New Hampshire, and that she had been missing for 24 hours, he decided to head up and help with the search. The Red Cross helps the military coordinate emergency leave, so Bill asked his mother Sharon to contact them and get the process moving. Sharon called the Red Cross that evening (February 10th) and left a message with a live answering service.
At some point before 5:45 am the next morning (Wednesday, February 11th), Bill missed a call on his cell phone while he was going through airport security. The caller left a short voicemail that sounded like “labored breathing” or a muffled sob that Bill believed could have been Maura.
When Bill tried calling the number back, there was an automated message stating that the call could not be connected because it was a prepaid calling service (a calling card). Bill knew Maura often used calling cards to make long distance calls, and that Sharon had given her two calling cards as a gift on Thanksgiving of 2003. There were also three calling cards on the list of items recovered from the Saturn. So it seems apparent that it was common for Maura to use calling cards.
According to Sharon’s notes, Bill was “frantic” when he called his parents to tell them about the voicemail. His parents suggested that he contact a friend of the family that worked for the FBI at the time, which he did. He also called the Haverhill Police to report it at 5:50 am.
Later that evening when Bill and his parents arrived in New Hampshire, they went directly to the Haverhill Police Station to meet with the Murrays and law enforcement. At the station, the police played the voicemail through their landline. Not everyone heard the same thing. Sharon thought it sounded like “sniffling,” and as if as someone was “trying not to cry.” Officers that heard the voicemail said it sounded like someone “humming.” To Fred, the sounds were “unintelligible.” In Julie’s TikTok video, Fred recalled feeling that he “desperately wanted it to be Maura,” but wasn’t able to make out the whimpering that others heard.”
Detective Landry later told the Murrays and Rausches that he had traced the call to the Red Cross. However Sharon was skeptical for a few reasons. For one, Sharon was sure she never gave Bill’s cell phone number to the Red Cross. Second, the Red Cross would not normally communicate with a soldier directly; they were generally only in communication with the soldier’s spouse (or parents) and the soldier’s commanding officer.
When Sharon got back to Ohio, she did everything she could to verify the origin of the call. She was able to confirm that the Red Cross volunteers did in fact use calling cards. However, the local Red Cross volunteer (a woman named Ethel) that would have been coordinating Bill’s emergency leave had no recollection of ever attempting to get in touch with Bill, and reiterated that she would generally have no reason to contact soldiers directly. It is worth noting that Bill is from a small town (population: 342 as of the 2010 census) and Maura’s disappearance had become prominent in the local media. It is also worth noting that Sharon had a professional connection to Ethel. So it seems unlikely for Ethel to have forgotten placing a call to Bill given the level of attention the case had received and her familiarity with the Rausch family.
Sharon also met with Tom Hardin, the local sheriff in her area. He told her that prepaid calling cards could not be traced, which in his experience, was the reason they were often used by criminals at that time. Still, the sheriff attempted to trace the call using Bill's cell phone data and the calling card number, but was not successful.
So the origin of the whimpering voicemail remains a bit of a mystery.
But there are a few reasons I personally think the call probably did come from the Red Cross. First, while all parties agree that the Red Cross does not typically contact soldiers, it is also true that Bill’s emergency leave request was not “typical” (described in more detail here). Second, around the time the whimpering voicemail was left, Bill had placed a series of other calls. There was a 9-minute call to the Directory of Emergency Services at Fort Sill, OK (5:18 am) and a 3-minute call placed to the East Ohio Chapter of the Red Cross (5:34 am). It’s unclear if these calls were placed before or after the whimpering voicemail, but regardless, it seems that there were communications with emergency leave coordinators occurring that morning. Given that, and given the atypical nature of Bill’s emergency leave request, it seems plausible that someone other than Ethel may have been the one to attempt to contact Bill that morning.
Third, law enforcement has historically been reluctant to share much of anything about Maura’s case. But in 2016, Tim and Lance of the MMM podcast were able to ask the NH State Police a host of questions. One of their questions was about the Red Cross call and specifically, whether or not they were able to definitively confirm its origin, to which the police answered, “yes we did confirm that the phone call came from the Red Cross.”
I suppose it is possible that police in NH had resources or capabilities that allowed them to trace the call that Sheriff Hardin in Ohio may not have had in 2004. It is also possible that when Det. Landry said he “traced” the call in 2004, he was using the term in a colloquial sense – as a shorthand way of expressing that they had confirmed the origin of the call (perhaps by some means other than technically “tracing” the call).
In short, the atypical nature of Bill’s emergency leave request, the fact that the Red Cross did indeed use calling cards, the proximity of calls to other military emergency coordinator offices that morning, and the fact that the police have stated that they “confirmed” the call came from the Red Cross makes me think it likely was the Red Cross that left the mysterious voicemail. That said, it is probably impossible to know for sure, so it’s something to keep an open mind about in case new information surfaces.
(Thanks to S.R. and T.O. for their help.)