Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why Has Maura Murray Never Been Declared Dead?

After a person has been missing for seven years, they can be declared legally dead most states. Sometimes this can happen a lot sooner, if it's reasonable to assume they were involved in a violent crime. Maura Murray has been missing for eleven years, now. Her father, Fred, has said several times he believes she was taken by a "dirtbag."

One reason to declare someone dead is so that you can sue public entities in private court -- Fred has wanted to hold the State of New Hampshire accountable (negligent) in their search for his daughter. This would have been a good opportunity for him to force some answers. But it didn't happen.

The most common reason someone is declared dead when they are missing and no body has been found is so that their property can be divided amongst survivors in probate court. Maura likely didn't have more than a couple hundred dollars to her name -- though it is possible that Fred or another relative set up a trust for education or life insurance or something. So, dividing assets was really never an issue.

Except it kind of is.

When Maura's mother, Laurie, died (on Maura's birthday) in 2009, Laurie's estate wound up in probate court with Fred as the executor and Julie as an agent. At this point, it would have been in everyone's best interest to have Maura legally declared dead. And yet it doesn't appear that this has happened.

Why?

One reason might be so that Maura can continue to work.

If someone is declared dead, the Division of Medical Assistance and the Department of Revenue (for Mass, here) would be notified. The IRS could be notified, too. That means if Maura is alive and working, she could not file taxes or sign up for welfare or social security. All this becomes very problematic.

When a person is declared dead, family members and friends must be interviewed and provide affidavits under record about why they believe this person is deceased.

In any event, the court was required to do their due diligence to figure out if Maura was still missing when Laurie passed away. It's unclear if that took place.

(Special thanks to Boston probate attorney John Dugan)

44 comments:

  1. Maybe because Fred Murray still believes there is a possibilty She is alive and being held captive. Held by the dirtbag that took her that night.

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  2. Maura Murray is still the object of an active missing persons investigation. If she were to use her real name and social security number for employment, income tax, etc, purposes, she would be quickly found. She is a young person who disappeared without any positive evidence of violence against her, suicidal intent, or illness. There is no evidence that she faced "imminent peril" (One of the legal criteria for presumptive death) when she disappeared. Under such circumstances, a court would not be likely to declare her dead. Except perhaps to collect on an insurance policy, there's no obvious benefit to anyone from having her declared dead. Therefore, I don't find it at all surprising that no such effort has been made.

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    1. The police would need a warrant to get at her social and I do not think that has happened. The fact that she went missing in such a small timeframe in a remote location suggests possible foul play or succumbing to the elements. That said, I don't believe she is dead. But people are often declared dead with less evidence.

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    2. They have had Her social and have been checking it for years.

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    3. James, Why do you believe she is alive? What is the strongest evidence of this?

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    4. So you definitely think shes alive James? Can you say exactly why or will that be detailed in the book? Keep up the good work, I really think someday this will be solved.

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    5. As I understand it,the police have more difficulty obtaining warrants to research a persons tax information,i.e if a social security # is being used, employment, income taxes etc. The FBI can obtain this information. So if a person choose to start a new life, they can do so without having to change their name of SS# etc.

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    6. Granted, the circumstances of MM's disappearance are open to multiple interpretations, and judges have broad discretion in such cases. Still, most judges would be inclined to defer to the opinion of the relevant law enforcement agencies, who still regard it as an open,"suspicious", missing-persons case. Again, I think we have to assume that law enforcement has evidence that has never been made public.

      Personally, as time has gone by, I find the disappearance-into-the-woods scenario more and more plausible. That's mostly because little new evidence has emerged to support any other scenario. The area has been "thoroughly" searched, but in terrain like that around Rt 112, that doesn't mean a great deal. We'll never know, unless a hunter or hiker chances across her remains. (Or if that scenario is disproved by MM, or her body, turning up elsewhere.)

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    7. I think you pretty much nailed it.

      I have my opinions, but I'm certainly not going to put money on one outcome, when you can so easily argue for or against numerous possibilities here. There's nothing conclusive that validates or discredits any theory and in the end, we wind up right back where we started.

      I know, at least here, we're being sold on the notion of her being alive and well. But, all things considered, you simply have to wonder why? Why would she choose to disappear? Living under the radar is considerably more difficult, stressful, isolated and depending on how dedicated one is to hiding, it would be incredibly depressing and empty.

      Not to say it can't happen. Many criminals, frauds, cheats do it all the time. But typically they have no choice...and they inevitably get caught.

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    9. What would the police need for a warrant I wonder, different laws for different states, also which laws take precedence over other laws, what say you James?

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  3. I am somewhat surprised that Fred was the executor since they were divorced.

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  4. I'm surprised to that Fred is the executor? With Fred being the executor, could he of asked the court not to look into seeing if Maura was still missing?
    Would Maura's part be put in a trust, in case she's found, or can they divide it and not include Maura?
    Can you get these records or perhaps an attorney get these records?
    Why push the " dirtbag theory", but won't declare her dead after 11 years? If they truly believe she's dead, then why not declare her dead. Most likely they know if they declare her dead, it'll Red flag her social.
    They also, would of had to do a statement on why they think she's dead. Maura's family didn't want to do statements years ago, and most likely they still wouldn't of wanted to do a statement in 2009. That was 5 years after Maura disappeared and now its 11 years and they still haven't declared her dead.
    I think they haven't declared her dead because they know she's not.

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  6. I can't find the post about needing a probate attorney anymore AND I noticed the acknowledgements here - did you find someone who is a member of the MA bar and can help you? If not, someone JUST messaged me to tell you to try Donovan and O'Connor. They have offices in Bennington, VT; North Adams, MA; and Pittsfield, MA.

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  7. Keep it up James, I really feel an answer will be found sooner rather than later. I will be ordering your book.

    R.e the succumbing to the element theory. Is this really a theory that people feel is possible?
    Even considering Mauras fitness levels, I struggle to believe she'd make it far enough in the darkness and freezing temperatures to not yet be found if she had been bought down and died due to the elements.

    I'd appreciate if anyone could share an opinion on this theory.

    Lew

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    2. In the documents given to Fred, the police said they were looking at 4 scenarios.
      1. Least likely- committed suicide
      2 nd unlikely- intoxicated, she ventured into the woods and succumb to the elements
      3. Brief window of time- picked up by someone who abducted or harmed her . authorities believe the odds of a violent crime, coincidentally coming across her on rural rd are as remote as the location in itself
      4. Picked up by a passerby, taken to a bus station, fled the area, possibly with little idea of the anguish she left behind.
      Its possible she sucumb to the elements but in my opinion I don't think that's what happened.
      The snowbanks were almost 9 feet high ( I believe) , no footprints in the fresh snow, there was quite a bit of people out searching that night, they took heat sensored helicopter in the air, which one policeman said you could see very well up there. He said they even saw a real pretty fox.
      I don't live in snow but its probably not the best conditions to be running in. Also her running shoes were left in her car. And so were her gloves.
      With all the facts that have came out, Maura's friends/ families silence and reluctance to speak, putting photos out that weren't close to the time of her disappearance, family/ friends haven't searched in years, hiding important facts makes me believe she started a new life somewhere.

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    3. >"R.e the succumbing to the element theory. Is this really a theory that people feel is possible?
      Even considering Mauras fitness levels, I struggle to believe she'd make it far enough in the darkness and freezing temperatures to not yet be found if she had been bought down and died due to the elements."

      Absolutely, it's possible. I can think of a few cases right now that were eventually solved and the missing person (or people) was eventually found in a location not far from his/her last sighting. And to top it off, the area had been searched extensively.

      Just do a google search for Bradyn Fuksa (his case was also featured as an episode on Disappeared). Here was a guy who abandoned his vehicle and seemingly disappeared in 2009. There were supposed sightings of him over years and the area he abandoned his car was searched. Well, his remains were eventually found, a few months ago. Turned out to be a suicide the whole time, and the gun he killed himself with was even found with his remains. Why did it take so long to find him? I don't know. I know a human body compared to the size of an "area" is very small.

      So with that, think of where Maura would've succumbed. It's desolate, it's cold, and it's heavily forested. That doesn't exactly make for good conditions to really do a detailed search, and plenty of places a body could go undetected.

      Another case that comes to mind is the Jamison family. This family of two parents and a boy disappeared, their pick up was found, and even though there were extensive searches for them, they weren't found for 4 years. And when they were found, they were only 3 miles away from their pick up's location!

      So you ask is it really possible that Maura succumbed to the elements and just hasn't been found, ABSOLUTELY YES!

      As much as James Renner follows true crime, I know he knows of these types of cases. Which is why I am just flabbergasted that he seems to think it is an impossibility that she simply succumbed to the elements and hasn't been detected. Let's put it this way: if it turns out that Maura's remains are found near her crash site and they just were undetected for all these years, it wouldn't be the first time it's happened.

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  8. Because Fred knows that she is alive and her friends know that she is alive. Pure and simple. Fred and company not looking for Maura any longer + Fred and company not declaring her dead = Fred and company knows where she is and who she ran off with. Simple math folks.

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    1. I agree- they know where she is and who she ran off with.
      In the beginning the police told Fred, Sharon, Billy , that she is 21 and she can run away to start a new life if she wants.

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  9. Declaring someone dead is not exactly a pleasant, or even a necessary thing to do. I'm thinking the only reasoning Fred would have to do so would be in the event of him having life insurance on Maura and the company would be willing to pay out if a person was legally declared dead. That being said, I'm doubtful that is the case. He likely either did not have coverage for Maura OR the insurance will not pay under these circumstances.

    Could life insurance be a large motivator for a lot of folks to be declared dead, despite zero knowledge of what may have happened? I suppose so. With a legal death certificate, do some people see it as closure? Sure. Could some view it as giving up? Probably.

    I could argue both ways, but in the end I can see reasoning for both sides. Simply looking at it from the scope of a decade old missing person, I would perhaps be hesitant to do so and would probably still be holding out hope for more information. At least that's my opinion as a parent. Your mileage may vary.

    Entertaining the idea that Maura may perhaps still be alive, there's a few lifestyles I suppose she could have embraced. She could perhaps be living in hiding, supported entirely by someone else financially, rarely leaving the house due to fear of being spotted, living as a reclusive basically. Or maybe she was able to falsely obtain a new identity and all the supporting documents allowing her to work, she's changed her looks, moved away and is likely concerned that some day, some how her cover will be blown. Neither sound very enticing and probably not a choice I'd consciously make unless faced with life in prison, death penalty...legitimate dire consequences.

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  10. Social security says that a person is presumed dead after a 7 year period of not being heard from.It is in the ss handbook

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    2. No it is not but she wouldn't be able to use her Social security number unless she proves that she is living as per the SS handbook. She would not be able to employ with a real job etc...

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  11. From the pictures made public, most people wouldn't recognize her because its not what she was looking like. The only picture that Is public that is closest to the time of her disappearance is her mugshot. Which I believe wasn't public for years.

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  13. Several years back a guy came forward stating that in 2007 he was a bank teller at a chain bank that had branches in NY, PA, and New England. Sometimes he'd get bored and look up people he knew, famous people, and random missing persons. As the end of 2006/ early 2007 A Maura Murray born May 4, 1982 had an active account in NH. If he remembered correctly the account was attached to a car loan and was collecting payments. For an account to be active there had to be payments made within the past 30 to 60 days. If this is related to her it was after she went missing. He said he didn't work in vehicle finance so he could only see partial information.
    Wouldn't a credit check show if she has had vehicles in her name since her disappearance?
    I think its very possible she's Alive and using her social.
    It'd be interesting for someone who works in this bank chain to run her name again to see what it might show this time.

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  14. Las Vegas or Florida. Think about it, both places are known for "underground" types of lifestyles.

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  15. I agree with several of the posters above - I would be more surprised if the family HAD declared her dead. And frankly, I think most of the people interested in the case would make even more hay out of that than they are about her not being declared dead. What family holding out any hope would go through the process of declaring someone dead just for the sake of doing so. I doubt Maura's mom had a large estate to split between her many kids and I'm sure they found away around whatever probate matters arose by taking care of it "within the family" - that's how most people are going to confront this type of situation, I believe. Maura didn't have any real assets, or any dependents, or a spouse, or social security to pay out, or any other death benefits that we know of - absent those I would find it very unusual for the family to go through the process of declaring her dead.

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  16. I struggle with the theory that she ran away and started a new life. Sounds like an awful lot of effort to cut everyone out of her life. You don't do that because your father got angry with you for smashing his car. Even if the encounter at the motel was physical you don't run away forever. In my mind the only reason you run is if you are running from a lifetime of serious abuse - which I think has been hinted at but I've never seen anyone, including Renner, actually make that accusation. If she did run away and start over, does the theory include that some of her friends and family know where she is? Who would know? The friends Kate and Sara? The sisters? I just have a hard time swallowing this one.

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    1. I agree. Maura Murray sounds like an impulsive young woman, but attempting to disappear permanently goes well beyond impulsiveness. And the chances that anyone would become victim to a random psychotic criminal, in this remote location, within a window of time of a few minutes, are about like the chances of being struck by a meteorite. So, what does that leave? One scenario would be that she did wander into the woods and die of exposure. There's also another possibility that has been little discussed. Perhaps she was fleeing someone who was a genuine danger to her, and she became victim to this person (or persons). There's little evidence to support that scenario, but I think it has to be considered, and not just for the sake of completeness. If MM's death was indeed homicide, that puts the importance of solving the mystery on a whole other, higher level.

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  20. A couple legal questions. Did Maura's mother have a will? If Maura's mother had a will, did it contain language which specifically disinherited Maura? If so, I have a hard time believing it would still be necessary to get Maura declared dead. It seems like setting up this type of estate plan might be a cheaper way of avoiding the expense of an action to get Maura declared deceased. If Maura's mother's estate was in-fact probated, it should be fairly easy to determine if Maura's mother had a will, or if she (Maura's mother) died intestate (without a will). Probate records are generally available for the public to review without cost.

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  22. Alright James...lets get those records! Still don't understand why Maura's mom wasn't every around...I don't care how sick I am I'm searching for my baby!!

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    1. I don't understand either why Maura's mom wasn't involved. If it was my child I would of done anything and everything I could to find her. Even if I physically couldn't search I'd be on the side doing whatever I could. I think she knew why Maura left, and where Maura was heading. Perhaps she didn't want to publically speak because she wasn't a good liar. Even if we were going through a tough time or had gone through times, I'd put that to the side, because its still your child.
      I think they wanted the least amount of family/ friends speaking publically that might of known what Maura was doing that night and the previous five nights. The more people talking the harder it is for everyone to keep there story straight.

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    2. People do things for a reason and sometimes they do nothing for a reason, Maura's moms inactivity speaks volumes.

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  25. What criteria is needed for the police to get a warrant to search her social security number, have they met the criteria?

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