The Mysterious Case of Maura Murray Has Dragged on for 15 Years: Four Theories About What Happened to Her Persist

Fifteen years ago, Maura Murray walked out of her dorm room in Amherst, Massachusetts, hopped into her beat up Saturn, and promptly vanished into thin air. The then 21-year-old, Murray was going through the traditional growing pains of young adulthood. Her relationship was in shambles, her course load was heavy, and she was busy balancing a demanding nursing major and work. As the years have dragged on, interest in the mysterious disappearance has not diminished; in fact, interest has grown. A dedicated podcast and an investigative series on the Oxygen network has brought Murray’s case into the mainstream light. Now, it seems like just four possible theories persist. So, what exactly happened to Maura Murray?

Who is Maura Murray?

In 2004, Maura Murray was a 21-year-old nursing student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Murray had transferred from West Point and promptly joined the track team. A decorated track star in high school, Murray had been recruited by several schools, including those in the Ivy League.

While Murray was a good student and a talented athlete, all was allegedly not right in her life. She had a troubled relationship with her college sweetheart, Billy Rausch, who was stationed in Oklahoma. Her father, Fred Murray, allegedly pushed her to succeed, and she had recently been busted for stealing the credit card of another dorm resident. Her sister had recently found her way out of a rehab program, and Murray was driving a car that was not exactly seaworthy.

On February 9, 2004, Murray took an unprompted trip away from her college campus. She emailed her professors to let them know she’d be out for a week, then headed for Vermont. On Route 112 in New Hampshire, Murray failed to negotiate a hairpin turn and crashed her car. A bus driver stopped to help, but Murray declined. He continued down the road to call for help, but by the time police arrived on the scene, Murray was gone. She has never been seen again.

A blog, a podcast and an investigative series have given the disappearance new life

Murray’s case quickly went cold. No evidence was found to suggest she was abducted, but she never surfaced. A blogger, James Renner, began to breathe new life into the case with a lengthy blog covering all aspects of the case. Renner went on to publish a book about the case. True Crime Addict, admittedly, focuses more on Renner’s obsession with the case, than finding the answers to Murray’s disappearance.

Podcasters, Lance Reenstierna and Tim Pilleri
(l-r) Lance Reenstierna, Tim Pilleri | Photo by: Scott Eisen/Oxygen Media/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Through Renner, documentary filmmakers Lance Reenstierna and Tim Pilleri, launched a podcast that delves into the mysterious disappearance and all the strange facts and rumors that surround the case. The Oxygen network went on to air a six-part investigative series into the disappearance as well. Hundreds of hours of interviews, film, and investigations were parred down into six digestible episodes. The end of the Oxygen network investigation left just as many questions as it uncovered answers.

What theories persist?

While there is little evidence to suggest exactly what happened to Murray, armchair detectives and investigators seem to fall into one of four camps; people either think Murray committed suicide somewhere in the mountains, she took off to start a new life abroad, she died of exposure, or she was picked up by an opportunistic killer while she was most vulnerable.

The most prominent theory is that Murray was picked up by an opportunistic killer. The Oxygen series ended with the same conclusion. Whether that potential killer was a local from the area, someone who knew Murray, or someone passing through who just seized an opportunity Is unknown. The theory hinges on the fact that scent dogs lost the missing woman’s scent in the middle of the road, not far from where she crashed her car.

Renner, the blogger and true crime writer who is mostly credited with giving the case serious media attention, has long suggested that Murray was running from her own life that fateful evening. Troubled by problems in her life, Renner believes Murray set off to disappear, and disappear she did.

Old theories still have staying power

Another prevailing theory is that Murray took her own life. Murray’s father, Fred, reportedly suggested she took a walk into the woods to die. The elder Murray now denies making this statement. Those who adhere to the theory believe that Murray left her dorm with suicide on her mind, and the crash just cemented her resolve.

Finally, some fans believe in Occam’s Razor. Under the theory, Murray, stunned by the accident, ran into the woods to avoid the authorities, got lost and died of exposure. The area where Murray disappeared is desolate. Surrounded by woods, the route is dark and someone unfamiliar with the terrain could easily become lost.