Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Law Enforcement Source: "dog track in Maura's case one step up from useless"


Topic Post
Wednesday - June 19, 2013

In recent weeks, via this blog, we have developed a value law enforcement source.  He is quite knowledgeable about Maura's case, although he is in a different jurisdiction.  He has many contacts close to the case and is especially knowledgeable about the the types of dog tracks and dogs used in New Hampshire and has handled them himself in a professional capacity as an officer.  He considered the facts of Maura's case with another colleague of his who is a recognized expert on dog-based tracking and came to some conclusions.

According to our LE source, the dog search in Maura's case is "one step up from useless."  At most it indicates that she did not leave the roadway into the woods within the first 100 yards east of the scene, but even that is unlikely.   This primarily because:

(1)  On a flat wide surface subject to air being kicked up along the surface (by cars) the scent will disappear faster.  Although some anecdotes and practitioners have indicated that searches can be successful after 72 hours, most experts put that at 48 hours, under ideal conditions, such as over tall grasses in dry weather during the summer. The conditions during Maura's track were very adverse.  It is very unlikely that the dogs could have followed Maura's track over a roadway in the winter with cars going over it, two days later, because if she left one at all it was gone by then.

(2)  The result of the track suggests that what the dogs actually followed was an officer's scent.  If the officer who conducted the track also retrieved the gloves, the dogs - in doing their jobs - might have simply followed his scent.   It also could have happened if the first responding officer was ever in the car or touched the gloves.  This would have occurred had the same officer walked that distance at some point, either immediately before the search or on the night of the accident (for example to talk to Atwood). The dogs are trained to evaluate all the scents on the gloves, which would have included every scent in the car, along with the officer's scent if he went in the car to get the gloves or handled the gloves. They then look for one they can follow.  There is a very good chance that they may have followed the handler's or the first responding officer's scent.

Note that NH uses two types of tracking canines.  I did not bother with the distinction here, but the conclusions apply to the specific dogs used in Maura's search and in fact both kinds of dogs used in the state.

31 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Great Work. It now allows us to open our minds to other possibilities. So many of us were stuck on the fact that she walked away from the car headed west in the direction of BAs home and poof, gone. Now we can see that it is just as possible that She never got further than the car whether grabbed or voluntarily entered another car. Does it matter? It does when you start to put the puzzle together. If you remember there is a quote in the Hanson express article that after Atwood leaves the scene Faith Westman states that the interior lights go on and off and then activity near the rear of the car.
    With every point of interest that is validated or debunked brings us closer to the real story and the truth.
    DM

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    1. Thanks puzzled.

      It opened my mind and that led to some other stuff I had to post about, but I need to break it up. I learned a lot during my trip. Good point about Faith's POV, I forgot about that. The real great work here by the way, is Renner and the contact. He created a discourse community where an LE contact who knew he could help us felt comfortable doing so. I transcribed, really, that's it.

      John

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  3. Is it Cecil Smith that the dog tracks? I am not trying to throw Smith under the bus so to speak but his accident report really bothers me and why it appears that he is distorting the truth. Was he in the car? Did he handle the gloves? Does anyone else think that it is odd he sees red stains on the ceiling of the car without being in it? This is a Saturn similar to a Cavalier. It is dark. He has only a flashlight to see yet he sees stains on the ceiling. Sorry but to see that he has to be on his knees with his head crooked. Not happening. He also puts a BOLO out with the exact height of Maura and yet the timeline says he hasn't had time to speak with Atwood yet. How does he know this info? He has to have entered the car, saw her identification? license left behind and the stains on the ceiling, etc. They say that the liquor receipt was in the car. When you are 21 and go to by booze what do you need. Your license? The liquor receipt and her license would very possibly be together. I know what I do a lot. Take the receipt fold it around my credit card/license and throw it back in my wallet. I know I am rambling but there are so many holes in his report and it really plays into what Cecil Smith believes has happened when he processes the scene. Why not just say the car was open?
    DM

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    1. If it was Smith that did the dog tracks there is especial reason not to throw him under the bus as he is not a specialist in that. My own opinion is that nothing right now supports the saying that he distorted anything. But, if he touched the gloves (say got them out of the car and gave them to the tracker, or the tracker got them out of the car himself, or the tow driver, or anyone), then if that person also had walked to Butch's place, the dogs probably tracked that scent.

      I wondered about the BOLO too. I also wondered about the police report in that context. I think your speculations are justified. There is reason to wish we knew more. But at the same time, conceivable enough answers exist that I don't think we can point at Smith, as you said at the top, with suspicion. So thanks for posting these thoughts and keeping them associated with this information in Renner's record.

      John

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  4. In my mind there were two pieces of information about what happened to Maura after the crash that could be described as real. A dog traced something to a point 100 yards away from the car and RF told LE that he saw a person running 4-5 miles down the road that could have been Maura. If the information about the dog tracing her scent has no real value, then I think that adds credibility to RF’s sighting. If Maura got in a car near the accident, it seems unlikely, to me at least, she would be running on the road 45 minutes and 4-5 miles later. But now this sighting seems to be the only real lead about what happened to Maura.

    I know this doesn’t proof Maura took off running, but that seems to be the only conclusion based on something that is real. RF did report he saw someone running and hiding, and LE did conclude that person could very well have been Maura.

    Found this information that was published in the Patriot Ledger on October 28, 2007.
    May 8, 2004 -- Members of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, New England K-9 Search and Rescue, New Hampshire State Police and Haverhill Police conduct a search in the Haverhill/Landaff/Easton area of Route 112 after a man reported having seen a person matching Maura's description jogging east on 112 about 45 minutes after the accident and 4 ½ miles east of the crash site. The search extends about 3 1/2 miles east of the reported sighting, to the height of the land at the Wildwood campground and picnic area, and for several miles north around Route 116. No evidence is found.

    Based on this I believe LE has a pretty good idea where that sighting was. RF has also told LE the person ran into a dirt road. There are a few possibilities on 112, but Cobble Hill Trail or Brill Road are possible candidates.

    JW

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    1. This is a good analysis JW. It is funny that my first instinct was to think this further discredited RF's statement, but I see how you come at it and it is a valid analysis.

      I have more to add that is relevant to this and RF's sighting. But I could not put it all in one post.

      The CH Trail always interested me too. And I want to learn more about these post event searches and how they do them.

      Keep posting!

      John

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  5. I just have a very vivid memory of attempting to go hiking "on the fly" during daylight, in the Catskill mountains in early March with snow on the ground. I made it about 1/4 mile. It was just too much trudging through the snow, and hard to keep the trail. Again, keep in mind, this was broad daylight.

    I just can't fathom Maura going on a snow-covered hiking trail in the middle of the night. It doesn't track for me, nor is it to me necessary. She could have ducked down a trail temporarily, but it doesn't make any sense to leave the road when it was an easy enough matter to duck cars' headlights.

    adam

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    1. The thing is, I have come across some evidence that not much snow accumulation was on the ground at the time. Some later pictures of the blue ribbon suggest there were. As do the plowed banks which take time to melt. I am trying to confirm but NOAA data is tough to wade through.

      John

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    2. Adam, I agree with you. It would probably have been very difficult, if not impossible, to take a small dirt road there in the winter and in the dark. I mentioned the roads because they confirm RF's statement. I think she just continued on 112 when RF was gone. There is no evidence for that, but it seems the most likely option.

      JW

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    3. John, if there wasn't much snow on the ground, it could be a different situation. It still would have been very dark I think.

      JW

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    4. You'll know when I know JW.

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    5. Hey do we know the phase of the moon, and cloud cover that night? In winter, if the moon is bright it is very easy to see at night with the moonlight reflecting off all the snow. It's much more easy to see at night than it is in summer.
      C The C
      P.S. Why can't I post using a typed 'name' anymore. Had to create a profile.

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    6. Full moon was February 6th 2004

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    7. Thanks Snapdragon. I *had* seen that post... and had forgot.

      Puzzled - so the moon would have been mostly full... and thus very bright. I know there was the weather reports posted here - I'll see if it was cloudy.

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  6. I'm glad to see this post. It tracks something I remember reading some time ago...way, way too much weight has been given to the dog track.

    adam

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    1. Thanks Adam. If you happen to ever recall where that was, I'd like to see it.

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  7. Well, jiminy crickets. If the dog track evidence is useless, it's a whole new scenario.

    This is really interesting work. Can't wait to read what else you find. But to be on the safe side, if you haven't talked to people outside the area about dog searches, you might do that because seemingly it would be useful to confirm what you heard with someone with no agenda or local bias.

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    1. That is a great idea LJP. I am very confident in the source, but it never hurts.

      Along with your first comment, think about the concept of a "bias east" in the searches.

      John

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  8. FM said he thought the dogs were a waste of time, didn't he? Using a new glove she just got and maybe had hardly worn.

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  9. I think (and hope) we will in time hear more from John, but in the meantime let us try to keep up the good work. Puzzled posted a good find about a full moon on February 6th. So maybe it was not a dark night (depending on the clouds). I followed 112 on streetview from the accident to North Woodstock and I think it would have been relatively easy to walk that distance. A long one of course, about 18 miles, but not extremely difficult. The road is easy to walk, it doesn't climb a lot because it follows the river. We have learned it wasn't very cold and now we know it might've been a moonlit night. Apart from RF nobody has reported seeing her, but how many cars would there have been on 112 that night? Or on 116 to Easton/Franconia? 116 climbs a lot more than 112, so it's less easy to walk for a long distance. I don't know if Maura would have known that, but she was an experienced hiker and I guess she would know things like that. For all we know, she might have even used a map. So in my mind it's a real possibility she just walked away.

    JW

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    1. And she would have spotted (or heard) the cars coming from a distance (and hide if necessary) much quicker than they would have spotted her.

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  10. This may splitting hairs but 112 rises quite a bit from the 116 junction to Beaver Pond. In some places it comes close to the 2000' mark. The terrain function on Google maps shows it fairly clearly but I have driven it many times and traveling 112 in winter with even a little snow cover can be a challenge. The rise up to beaver pond from the west is somewhat gradual but very long. Same for the downhill from Beaver Pond into Woodstock. Also, after the 116 junction the road widens and as you head uphill towards Beaver Pond the trees are much further from the road and would require crossing a snow filled ditch as well as an uphill climb to reach the trees in many places. It is wicked quiet on the higher altitude part of that road at night so you would have quite a bit of notice of oncoming vehicles but continually crossing the ditches and climbing uphill to the trees would tire most people pretty fast. Yes it is walkable, but not a cakewalk.

    Also, knowing the history of RF's sighting tends to lend less credence to the sighting. His recollection came a couple months after MM disappeared and was told to LE by his wife with whom he was not experiencing marital bliss with. RF liked to joke about how good a cook Maura was and this prompted his soon to be ex wife to report the sighting. RF was chatting about the case with friends and mentioned seeing someone on the road one night, he was not even sure it was the same night since this conversation took place months after Feb. 9. LE searched the area I have to assume because it was the only reported sighting, no sense in ignoring it, weak as it was.

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  11. Hello Bill, I don't think that is splitting hairs, it's always easy to get carried away with your own thoughts, so it's always good to hear a critical voice. So based on your personal experience and knowledge of the area, 112 to North Woodstock is walkable but it would have been really difficult and exhausting to say the least.

    About the sighting by RF, would you go so far as to say he made the whole thing up? I understand his statement is not perfect, but to me that doesn’t necessarily make it less valuable. I think we can be fairly sure about the time and date. He was a coming home from a specific job on a certain day when he saw the person. I can also understand that he still would remember that encounter after some time. I guess it’s highly unusual to see someone walking there in the dark at that time of the year.

    Maybe I’m stretching it a bit too far, forgive me if I do, but there’s also this. It’s not exactly a needle in a haystack situation. By that I mean it’s not a statement about seeing an unknown person in a big shopping mall on a Saturday. There would not have been many people walking there on 112 that night. If he saw someone, to me the chance it was Maura is very real.

    I think you know Maura’s case very well, so perhaps you know more about the following. LE did not have much else to investigate, but I do believe LE has stated at the time, that they thought it was Maura. Could it be RF provided some specific information to them? Maybe he saw a backpack?

    Of course this is not proving it was Maura, but I still think that there is a real possibility it was her.

    JW

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  12. I look at RF's statement with much skepticism. if I recall correctly, he was completely unsure about the date of the sighting. Yes it could have been her but the rarity of seeing someone walking on the road at night can cause people to jump to the conclusion that it 'must have been Maura', why else would anyone be walking on the road....

    There could be 100 reasons for an individual to be walking on the road and NOT be Maura. It could have been a different day, could have been a different time. RF was recalling these things months later and trying to remember what job he was working to determine the time he would have seen the person. Very sketchy. The fact that this sighting did not come to light until months after her disappearance, after the most activity in the immediate vicinity of RF's home had taken place, after his being questioned and after he declined LE access to search his property...all makes it even more sketchy. Something as memorable as a person walking on that road at night, if it was so spectacular that it 'must be Maura', should have triggered something with RF much sooner than a couple months later.

    I do not know what RF may have said to LE, if anything, that may have made his recollection more credible to them. I know they took it seriously but wouldn't they do that even if the details of the sighting were murky? Wouldn't they have come under (even more) incredible scrutiny if come spring MM's remains were found in that area? What I have read about his sighting leads me to believe it was not very credible, how they treated it leads me to believe LE was in CYA mode more than anything. I do not think RF made up anything, I mean I believe he saw someone but I do not believe he knew more than that he saw someone in that area on some evening around that time. This RF stuff is just my opinion of course, but it has solid roots.

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  13. Just one more specific comment. LE said that they found RF's sighting of a person walking on the road credible. To the best of my knowledge, they did not say that they thought it was Maura. Two very different statements.

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  14. I see what you mean and I think that you could be right. There is no proof it was Maura. Nevertheless, I still think there is a real possibility it was her but maybe I’m not critical enough and do I just want to believe it was her. I did find information in two articles about RF’s statement and what LE thought about his sighting. To some extent this supports my view about the possibility it was Maura. The first piece is from the ‘Maura is missing’ series by Maribeth Conway, the second is from an article in the Patriot Ledger, May 6th 2004.

    1 “When Forcier was first questioned by police, ten days after Maura disappeared, he did not mention seeing the girl running because he was confused about the dates and mistakenly thought it had been two nights after Maura's accident. Nearly three months later, after hearing numerous news reports about the search for Maura, Forcier checked his work records and realized it was the same night as Maura's disappearance. Forcier told his story to Fred Murray, who relayed the information to police. On April 29, Forcier was interviewed by State Police Lt. John Scarinza who checked out Forcier's time records at his job in Franconia and confirmed that his story was credible.”

    2 “New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarinza said a motorist may have seen Murray jogging along Route 112 on the night she disappeared. The sighting was only a few miles from where her wrecked car was found. Police have searched the area by helicopter and are planning more ground searches this weekend. ‘‘We're placing a lot of weight on the fact that he may have seen her,'' said Scarinza. The witness had just gotten off work when he saw a person jogging east on Route 112 toward Woodstock. It was shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, around the time Murray was involved in a single-car accident on the same stretch of road in Haverhill. Murray was gone when police arrived about 10 minutes later and she has not been seen since. Scarinza said the new tip seems credible. It was only a few miles from Haverhill and someone could easily jog there in a short amount of time. The road is infrequently traveled at night by pedestrians or motorists, police said. ‘‘The times he gave us are consistent and so we think that it could've been Maura that he saw,'' said Scarinza. “

    So LE qualified RF’s statement as credible, they checked his work records and LE thought it could’ve been Maura.

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  15. Nice job on looking that info up. Just goes to show how memories can be distorted by time and circumstance. I stand corrected about LE's take on the sighting.

    I still think RF's sighting is sketchy, given the time that passed. Hard to determine after that much time whether his recollection was influenced by those news reports or whether they are truly what he remembers. Most eye witnesses get a majority of details wrong, even when it is fresh in their minds. It does not improve with time. this could be one of the few cases where it did.

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  17. Did the police on the scene that night open Maura's car? I read the car was locked. I have often wondered if she wasn't hiding in the truck the whole time. Was the car towed to a enclosed impound lot that night? If she was in the truck, she could have got out of the car at some point later. I tend to discount the dog tracking evidence. If Maura took off running, why not back the way she just came from? She didn't know the area. Why run off into what is unknown ahead when you already know what is behind you?

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