In 2004, Maura Murray worked the security desk at Melville Hall to earn some spending cash. At the time, her supervisor was a young woman named Karen Mayotte, a History major with an interest in World War II Holocaust studies. Some believe Mayotte holds an important clue in Maura’s disappearance, as some newspapers claim she witnessed Maura crying after receiving a phone call during a shift four days before she vanished.
I met Mayotte one cold New England night at a small pub and though I protested, she graciously treated me to some clam strips and Sam Adams. A bubbly, charming woman, Mayotte is the mother of four kids and works as a 1st grade teacher at a school in Massachusetts. Seven years later she still remembers Maura and the night of the phone call in great detail.
As a security guard, Maura’s job was to sit at a desk near the entrance to Melville and check the ID’s of students as they entered the building—the ID’s were color-coded and corresponded to specific dorms. Her shift started at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 5.
The dorms at UMass are divided into six areas and each supervisor is responsible for one area. Melville was located in the southwest section, a region known as the craziest part of on-campus life, mostly due to the sheer number of students packed into the buildings there. The night of the phone call, Mayotte was the lead supervisor, responsible for the entire campus, and was slowly making her way across all six areas.
Mayotte knew Maura well, having spoken to her many times on nights like this one. Once, she’d found Maura reading a book about hiking in the mountains and they had talked about the different trails in the North Country. Maura, she recalls, really enjoyed the trails along Mount Washington.
“I think around 10:30, 10:40, I got down to the southwest area and I checked in with the supervisors, there,” recalls Mayotte. “One of them said, ‘Something’s up with Maura.’ She had been crying. I went to see what was up.”
When Mayotte arrived at Melville, Maura was staring straight ahead into empty space. A nursing book lay open in front of her. “I don’t know how to explain it. She was just completely zoned out. No reaction at all.”
Mayotte asked her what was wrong but Maura was unresponsive. Then, she started crying. She noticed there was a cell phone sitting on the desk, which was against regulation, but something she was willing to overlook. After a few moments, Maura said two words: “My sister.”
When she let two students enter without checking ID’s, Mayotte realized she was in no shape to be working the desk. Mayotte called her boss, shift supervisor Nate Witmer, and reported Maura’s condition. Witmer agreed that they should send her back to her room. Maura was so worked up she couldn’t sign out so Mayotte did it for her. She asked Maura if she could pick up some “Dunkins” and hang out with her until she felt better, but Maura said she had nursing in the morning and wanted to go to sleep.
“I knew she was not in a good state,” says Mayotte. Mayotte told Maura about her own struggles and recommended she talk to someone at the university’s counseling center, which is open 24 hours. Mayotte walked her to Kennedy Hall, where Maura had a single room all to herself. She gave her a hug and watched her walk up the stairs toward her room.
It was the last time she saw her. The next day, a Friday, morning classes were canceled due to snow. The following Tuesday, she filled out a report of her interaction with Maura that night and filed it with local law enforcement. She has never spoken to detectives working the case.