Monday, November 28, 2016

No, I Do Not Think Maura Is a Sociopath.

The latest Missing Maura Murray podcast is out, today. It's a kind of Best Of episode, catching listeners up on all that has happened so far. They revisit episode 6, which was recorded over a year ago. That was the episode where I called Maura a sociopath (based on actions like credit card fraud, identity theft, affairs, etc.) and said she was "at her best when she was with Billy Rausch."

Boy do I wish I could take that back.

I have since learned that Bill Rausch lost his job in D.C. after coworkers claimed he assaulted a woman in the office, pushing her down onto a table in a drunken state when they were alone. That's one of several alarming stories I've heard about Bill.

To be clear, I no longer believe Maura was a sociopath. I believe she was a survivor. I believe that when she left UMass, she was leaving Bill behind as well as other sources of stress in her life.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Records Show Bill Rausch Was Part of an Elite Military Propaganda Unit

The truth about the Information Operations Task Force came to light in 2005 when journalists discovered that American soldiers were writing propaganda in support of the unjustified war in Iraq and funneling it through private groups which then helped to place the articles in foreign newspapers.

As the Los Angeles Times put it:
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
On his RallyPoint page, Rausch is listed as working for the IOTF in 2006.

Prior to this Rausch was stationed at Fort Trotten as part of the 301st battalion, part of the 151st Theater Information Operations Group, which was tasked with "synchronizing related capabilities comprised of five core functions: electronic warfare, military deception, psychological operations, operational security, and computer network operations."

Psychological operations is known as PSYOPS in the field. PSYOPS create spin, "to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own." In the past they have attempted to infiltrate American media as well, most notably getting caught at CNN and NPR.

You can read more about this sort of thing in this article from Christopher Hitchens at Slate.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Was Maura with Kate Just Before She Left UMass?

I'm taking another close look at the phone records for Bill Rausch and Maura Murray, from the day Maura disappeared, and I found a sequence of calls that is interesting.

According to Bill, he was "out in the field" helping with some kind of training exercise at Fort Sill. But apparently, there was cell phone reception out there because he's busy calling Maura all morning. She's not returning his calls. Then, at 2 p.m. EST, Maura sends this email to Bill:

Subject: hey hey
To: "Bill Rausch"

I love you more stud
I got your messages, but honestly, i didn't feel like talking to much of anyone, i promise
to call today though
love you
maura


Bill ignores this and calls her cell phone again. Maura doesn't answer. So at 2:18 EST, he calls Kate Markopoulos's room at UMass, twice in one minute. Seconds later, Maura calls Billy back but he's still connected to Kate's room so the call goes to voicemail.

Bill then immediately calls Maura's cell again. Three times. She doesn't answer.

A couple take-aways: there was some stress between Maura and Bill that day. And Maura is only prompted to call him once he calls Kate. Did Kate tell Maura? Why wouldn't she talk to Maura if Maura's boyfriend was calling from Fort Sill - obviously Billy really wanted to get a message to Maura. Was Maura in Kate's room - is that how she knew he was calling at that moment?

But what happened next? That is the question.

Again, phone records show that Bill is petty consistently making phone calls that day (he made a LOT of calls, to West Point professors and former girlfriends and family members) and that alone suggests he could not have been in the White Mountains, where cell phone service is scarce to this day.

A year ago, I asked Bill about his alibi. Here's the email he sent back.

As previously discussed with you and confirmed by authorities in NH while I was on the ground searching for Maura after she went missing, I was at Fort Sill, OK the day Maura went missing to include the weeks in advance. The last time I saw her was during the holiday season.

Understanding that you need to confirm, please reference the information below.

- From June 2003-June 2004 I was assigned as the Executive Officer (XO) to Charlie Battery, 1-19th Field Artillery at Fort Sill, OK.

Two individuals who can confirm that I was at work when Maura went missing and that I was unable to leave until the Army gave me permission are:

1. Senior Drill Sergeant Robert Ramos -- assigned to Charlie Battery, 1-19th FA and in charge of operations and all Drill Sergeants assigned to the unit.
2. LT Nate Mayfield -- roommate at the time

Nate Mayfield and Robert Ramos have not returned emails or phone calls asking to confirm.

One bit of interesting info that just came to light: records show that Bill was part of the Information Operations Task Force. In 2005, journalists discovered that American soldiers were writing propaganda in support of the unjustified war in Iraq and funneling it through private groups which then helped to place the articles in foreign newspapers.

As the Los Angeles Times put it:
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
On his RallyPoint page, Rausch is listed as working for the IOTF in 2006.

Prior to this Rausch was stationed at Fort Trotten as part of the 301st battalion, part of the 151st Theater Information Operations Group, which was tasked with "synchronizing related capabilities comprised of five core functions: electronic warfare, military deception, psychological operations, operational security, and computer network operations."

Psychological operations is known as PSYOPS in the field. PSYOPS create spin, "to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own." In the past they have attempted to infiltrate American media as well, most notably getting caught at CNN and NPR.

You can read more about this sort of thing in this article from Christopher Hitchens at Slate.



Thursday, September 8, 2016

Rumsfeld Ordered Review Of Sexual Assault in Military the Day of Maura's Breakdown


On Thursday, February 5, 2004, Maura suffered some kind of mental breakdown during work at the security desk of Melville Hall. Her supervisor discovered her in a "catatonic state." The only thing she would say was "my sister."

The same source who provided new insight into Maura's crash in Hadley just pointed me toward an interesting coincidence. On Feb 5, 2004, Donald Rumsfeld ordered a 90-day review of sexual assault on female soldiers in the military. The review focused on female soldiers already in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this investigation would ultimately kick up stories of sexual assault at West Point and other military institutions. There were Congressional hearings. It was a big deal.

Later investigations would show that at the time Maura was at West Point, at least 6% of the female cadets were sexually assaulted and 62% were sexually harassed.

How did this news affect Maura? We do know she knew at least one man from West Point who was later accused of sexual assault: her boyfriend, Bill Rausch.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New York Times Reviews True Crime Addict!

The New York Times reviews True Crime Addict in this Sunday's print edition!

"Shamelessly entertaining," says Marilyn Stasio.

"James Renner is just plain fun to read."

Grab a copy on Sunday. You can also read it, now, here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My Article on Being a True Crime Addict is Now a "Cracked Classic."

I wrote this piece for Cracked.com awhile back. It was just made a "classic" post, which is pretty sweet but doesn't come with any cool perks except maybe Internet points.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Women Claim Bill Rausch Assaulted Female Coworker in 2011


True Crime Addict is out, today. It is the definitive book on the Maura Murray case and includes several new clues and insights into the 12 year old cold case. It ends with an epilogue in which we learn more about the character of Bill Rausch, who was Maura's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance.

Last fall, four women who worked with Bill at Ray Group International, in Washington D.C., in 2011 came forward with stories about what it was like to work with him. One woman, whom I call "Andie", claimed he pushed her down the stairs in the Metro one day and pretended it wasn't him. Another woman who shared an office with him believes he destroyed ultra-sound photographs of her unborn child which she'd brought to work to show around. Another woman says Bill mentioned Maura one day. According to her, he said he and Maura were breaking up when she disappeared and, in hindsight, he was glad things worked out the way they did.

But what caused Bill to lose his job at Ray Group was an alleged sexual assault that took place in the president's office, after hours. Andie returned to the office one evening, after meeting with coworkers nearby. She found Bill inside and he appeared to be intoxicated, she said. This is how she explained the rest: He asked her to come into the president's office and once inside, he locked the door behind her. Alone, he turned to her and smiled in a way that scared her. He told her he was the one who pushed her down in the Metro. She tried to leave. He blocked her.  He pushed her toward a wide table. Then he turned her around and pushed her face-down into the tabletop and pushed his body against her. She struggled. He pushed her down harder. Luckily, a coworker arrived. They could hear her outside the door. "Don't say a fucking word," he said. Frightened she called out. This appeared to shock him and he hid under the desk. She took this opportunity to open door to let the coworker in.

After this incident, Ray Group International did "an internal investigation" and Bill never came back to the office. He no longer lists the company in his public LinkedIn profile.

I spoke to Bill about this. He admitted he knew about the allegations and left the job after the women reported it.

It is important to note that Bill has a tight alibi for the night Maura was missing and he was actively searching for her after she disappeared, calling her friend, Kate Markopoulos repeatedly.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hoss: "Maura felt she couldn't get away from Bill Rausch"


A little recap: Last week, we learned about a cabin owned by the Outing Club at UMass, which could have been Maura Murray's destination the night she disappeared. The cabin was known to family and police for years (though they never mentioned it publicly on forums as a lead). Lance & Tim from the Missing Maura Murray podcast were told the prosecutors in the case have never found evidence to suggest Maura was at the cabin in February, 2004. But what wasn't known until last week was that Hossein Baghdadi was active in the Outing Club and knew about the cabin. "Hoss" had an affair with Maura in 2003.

When I interviewed Hoss years ago, he told me a few interesting things about Maura. She never once mentioned her father, he said. And she sometimes fantasized about disappearing and starting a new life. "I wish I could disappear" she told him. He always thought she'd choose Mexico.

In light of this new info, I've gone back to my notes on that interview. A few more things are worth mentioning.

According to Hoss, Bill Rausch was very controlling and Maura wanted to get away from him. "There were hints that he got physical with her," he told me. "She felt she couldn't get away from him. He wanted her to be in certain places at certain times. He'd check up on her. He was very demanding."

Hoss is not the only one who told me Bill could be physical with the women in his life.

I've left messages for Hoss. He has not returned my calls or emails.

I will tell you this much, after speaking to Hoss, I think he was the only one who was totally honest with me in my years of research.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New Podcast Episode Explores Criminology and the UMass Cabin


Fascinating new episode of the Missing Maura Maura podcast, this week. Lance & Tim talk to Professor David Wilson and Elizabeth Yardley of Birmingham City University, in England, criminologists who have some fresh ideas about armchair sleuths and Maura's case in particular.

They also spend a little time talking about the Outing Club cabin.

Turns out Lance and Tim found out about this cabin a few weeks ago, in time to ask the NH prosecutor's office about it. Listen to the podcast for the full explanation but the gist is that there is "no evidence" to support that Maura was going there. Of course, it's unknown at this time if the police knew about Hoss's connection to the club, which, in my mind, makes it exponentially more likely that Maura knew details about the cabin.


Kate Markopoulos, the Week of the Disappearance


I've always believed Maura's friend, Kate Markopoulos, knows some important pieces of this mystery. She's never been completely honest with me - she claimed she didn't know that Maura and Hoss were romantic, even though she used to hang out with the both of them after track practices, when the affair was going on.

And I've always wondered about her actions around the time Maura disappeared. Track teammates of Kate's said she wasn't seen at practice around this time. But another journalist just found some old UMass postings that show Kate was at least showing up to compete, if she was really absent from practice.

On February 7, Kate competed at the Rhode Island Invitational, and did quite well. Here's a quote from the article:

Kate Markopoulos’s time of 5:18 may not have been enough to earn points in the mile, but later she anchored the DMR, running an amazing 5:17 for her second mile of the day.
“Kate Markopoulos ran really nice back to back miles,” LaFreniere said, “and that’s something she hasn’t done before. She really needs to be recognized for that.”

This is the same day Fred Murray arrived at UMass. When Kate returns to campus she meets up with them and goes to the brew pub. Then, afterwards, she and Maura go to a campus party that some say was held in Sara Alfieri's room. Others say it was actually held off campus. I wonder if there were other track teammates present - Kate and Maura sometimes partied with upperclassmen members of the men's track team at the athletics pool, after hours.

Then Maura disappears on Monday, February 9.

On February 13th, Kate competes at the Valentine's Invitational.

During this week, Bill Rausch is calling her constantly, trying to find Maura. Kate is not calling him back (however there is a six-minute call to her dorm room once that week). As far as I can tell, she never traveled to Haverhill, to help in Maura's search.

Maybe she just didn't know anything and didn't care to speak to Bill. Maybe she dealt with Maura's disappearance by focussing on running. Maybe she didn't talk about Hoss because it was none of anyone's business. I don't know.

I still believe these actions are strange, but we can see that Kate was definitely not "missing" for very long if indeed she did stop reporting to practice.

* Thanks to Clint for the new info.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BREAKING: The Cabin in the Woods


Yesterday, we learned of the existence of a cabin in the White Mountains, owned by the UMass Outing Club and wondered whether this was Maura's ultimate destination the night she vanished in Haverhill, New Hampshire. Everything I've learned in the last 24 hours leads me to believe this is - at the very least - a real possibility.

Today I spoke to Erik Hjerpe, who has helped run the Outing Club for several years. The cabin, he says, was often reserved by UMass clubs during the weekends but was usually vacant during the week. He found some documents related to cabin rentals from Spring 2004 that show it was rented during the weekends before and after Maura disappeared. But the cabin was likely - officially - empty the day she vanished.

The keys to the cabin were kept in a numbered lock box at the door. Anyone who knew the four-digit combination could get the keys and enter the cabin. Erik was up there often, and when he traveled with the crew from UMass they got off at the Woodsville exit and traveled to Bethlehem, where the cabin is located, up 302. This is the same exit Maura likely took that night.

With me so far?

Erik did not recall if he'd ever met Maura and figures he probably did not. So I gave him a list of people close to Maura to see if someone she knew was familiar with the cabin. One name stuck out to him: Hossein Baghdadi, known as "Hoss" to his friends.

Hoss was an active participant on hiking and canoeing adventures with the Outing Club and very likely stayed at the cabin, himself. Erik has fond memories of Hoss, saying he was always up for a challenge, always giving 110%, always up for adventure.

Hoss was Maura's lover. She was seeing him when she was still with Bill Rausch but according to Hoss, she broke things off late fall, 2003, before going to stay with Bill's parents for the Christmas holiday. He says she sometimes talked about running away.

I have a message out to him, but he has not yet returned my call. Is it possible he told her about this cabin at some point? In these cases, you look for coincidences that begin to line up and form a coherent story. Here, we have a cabin in the woods Maura likely knew about. She got off at the right exit, was headed the right way. It also explains why she stopped looking for rental properties - maybe after the Salamones turned her down, she realized she had a place, anyways. A place she didn't need to call ahead to.

Was this her destination?

Monday, May 16, 2016

UMass Athletes Had Access to Cabin in the White Mountains

It has been a long time since anything in the way of a new clue has surfaced in Maura Murray's disappearance. But today, a Redditor known as AncientExplorer1989 discovered an interesting connection between UMass Amherst and the White Mountains.

Turns out UMass students could reserve stays at a cabin located in the White Mountains, not far from where Maura disappeared. We've never known Maura's destination that night. Could this have been where she was heading?

The question is whether or not Maura knew about this. I think there's a very strong possibility she - and the friends she hung out with - did. After all, Maura enjoyed the outdoors, and particularly enjoyed hiking the White Mountains.

The cabin was in the news today, because police were called out to it on May 10 when a girl overdosed on LSD. Police found several intoxicated, under-aged students when they arrived. Was this area ever searched? I doubt it.

This is the best lead I've seen in a couple years.

Now, who can find some posts of pics of people there in February, 2004?

Friday, March 25, 2016

**UPDATE** SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Did Maura Write the GeoCities Post?


Background:

Years ago, someone posted this mysterious message on a GeoCities message board devoted to the case:

Maura Murray is NOT a Missing Person
Maura Murray has the right as every independent adult does to leave with her new boyfriend and start a new life. Maura is living a content and satisfying life in the Province of Quebec.
Maura's father Fred Murray never quite forgave her for being asked to leave West Point. It was his personal bragging point that he had two daughters at West Point. Maura’s dismissal damaged Fred’s ego and he never completely forgave her.
Maura’s being asked to leave West Point and all the ensuing criticism by her father was the beginning of a certain line of thought for Maura, culminating in her leaving on Feb 9, 2004 to start a new life unencumbered by the constant criticism of her father. Maura’s relationship with William Rausch was near its end. According to Maura’s sister Kathleen, they were having ‘serious problems.’ Maura had met someone new, who unlike William Rausch, had no West Point connections and therefore was not a constant reminder to her of her failure at West Point.
On the night of February 5, 2004, Maura took a break from her job at the security desk at a UMass dormitory to go and briefly get coffee and some food.
Sometime between 12 MN and 1 AM Maura driving her Saturn struck and critically injured the UMass student Petrit Vasi leaving him for dead.
Around 1 AM - 1:20 AM Feb 6 Maura had a complete emotional breakdown brought on by this hit and run accident. Maura’s breakdown was witnessed by a student who reported this to Maura's supervisor, who then came and saw that Maura needed physical help to get back to her dormitory. The supervisor then physically helped Maura back to her dorm and recommended counseling.
Between 2 and 3 AM on the morning of Sunday Feb 8, Maura had a second motor vehicle accident wrecking her father's new car.
Fred Murray’s new car was towed around 3 AM to his Hadley motel room. Maura arrived at Fred's motel at the same time as a passenger in the tow truck. Fred was not happy with Maura to put it mildly. What happened in this motel room we’ll never know. The next day Maura left for good.

Maura needed to disguise the evidence of the Petrit Vasi hit and run by staging another accident for the purpose of covering up the damage to her car from the Vasi hit and run. She and her new boyfriend travelled in tandem to Route 112 in NH (He was already in Southern NH). The accident was staged, she left her Saturn, walked down the road to where her boyfriend was waiting for her in his car. She disappeared, her only wish is that she be left alone to live her life in peace. She is happy and contented and just wants to be left alone.

I'm in New York right now, recording the audiobook, and I came across this section of the story, again. But for the first time, I noticed something. This passage: "The supervisor then physically helped Maura back to her dorm and recommended counseling."

Why is that important? Because until I interviewed her, Maura's supervisor, Karen Mayotte had NEVER been interviewed. Not by police. Not by reporters. That was a very specific, personal detail. The only people who could have known about that were Karen and Maura, and whoever Maura told personally (though I find it hard to believe Maura would have shared the info).

It's possible, I suppose, that this detail appears in the report Karen wrote and handed in to UMass police, in which case the detectives knew this detail (though they never got the story straight from her). And perhaps the police leaked this info in an early news report -- BUT I can find no record of this detail in an article prior to the posting.

Now consider one more detail. The notation for Midnight. "12 MN." That's dictation they teach in nursing school, so that midnight is never mixed up with noon on a patient's charts.

One more thing: When this was posted to GeoCities, the Maura Murray case had not become the huge Internet mystery it is, today. If Maura is alive and sitting at home, Googling herself, might she have reached out to the small community at the time to kind of tell them off? Maybe.

Can anyone find the exact day of the original post? Can we find any reference to the "counseling for Maura" idea before this post?

I have goosebumps.

**UPDATE**
In March, 2006, Karen Mayotte posted the following on an old message board:

Please do not assume that I did not help Maura, because reading the recent post was upsetting. I love Maura, and I did everything in my power to help her. I held her as she was crying, I walked her back to her room, I gave her my cell phone so I could bring her to Dunkin Donuts in the morning. Previous to that I had begged to bring her to a campus counselor, or just out to Dunkins that night when she got out of shift. She told me that she was okay, and that she would be going home to a roommate (which I never realized beforehand that she had a single room).

So, the info, while not widely dispersed, was out there. Still... I think the medical notation is interesting. If it wasn't Maura, was it someone she studied with at UMass?

Thanks to "Oatmeal Man" for the tip.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

**UPDATED** What We Learned From The Police Reports on Vasi's Hit and Run


Now that we've had time to digest the detail of the police reports, here are some highlights we've found:

1. It was definitely a hit-and-run

Early newspaper accounts of Vasi's accident were unclear whether he was actually struck by a vehicle or if he fell from a moving vehicle or was mugged. The investigator's notes references broken glass and paint chips, all but confirming that he was indeed struck by a passing vehicle. It's possible he was dragged for a significant distance.

2. The woman who reported the accident was not Maura.

The "reporting woman" was identified as being 20 years old. Maura was almost 22 at the time of her disappearance. This woman found Vasi lying in the street and stopped her car so nobody else could hit him. Her vehicle showed no signs of damage.

3. The glass might prove it wasn't Maura's car that struck Vasi (or maybe it doesn't) Probably does.

As "KF" noted earlier today, the fact that glass was found on Vasi's clothes suggests it probably wasn't Maura's car that struck him. Other than the spider crack on Maura's windshield, there was no broken glass associated with the Saturn. Unless... unless she replaced a headlight. And goddamn it as I'm writing this, are there not spare headlights listed as being found in her car? How common is it to always carry around spare headlights?

*UPDATE*
As one reader pointed out, if it was a shattered headlight, it would be plastic shards they found on Vasi, not glass. Also, it doesn't look like the paint chips match. They were red, white, and metallic silver.

4. No skid marks

Who ever hit Vasi didn't slow down -- unless he was moved from the scene of the accident.

5. Vasi was left alone and intoxicated by his friends.

Prior to the accident, after a night of drinking at Monkey Bar, Barselloti's, and Delano's, Vasi's friends propped him up on a railing outside Bart's Ice Cream and left him there around midnight. Nice guys. It was damn cold and snowy that evening, too. Remember, classes were canceled the next morning, Friday.

6. None of Vasi's friends are directly linked to Maura, so far as we know.

His friends are identified in the reports, if you look closely. None of them are names known to me as Maura's friends or teammates.

7. The Amherst police had an opportunity to help Vasi and didn't take it.

At one point in the evening, 5-6 policemen found Vasi very inebriated sitting in front of the ice cream shop. They did not take him for public drunkeness or make sure he had a safe way home. If you ask me, this is why it took so long to get these damned reports. This case is ripe for a civil suit.

**UPDATE**
I have seen an unredacted copy of the forensics report. The paint chips found on Vasi's clothes had "red, white, and metallic silver layers."


** If you have any information about the person responsible for Petrit Vasi's hit and run accident, please contact Amherst Police, Vasi himself, or this blog. **

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

*BREAKING* Amherst Releases All Records!


We did it!

Earlier today, I received an email from the Records department at the Amherst Police Department. They decided to release the complete file on Petrit Vasi's hit and run, which has long been rumored to be connected to Maura's disappearance.

In order to release the records, they needed payment in person. I had to get a courier service to deliver. And...

Here is the report, complete with investigators' notes.

I've read through once, already. Like everything else, it only raises more questions.

Vasi was definitely hit by a car. There is evidence of that. There are statements from his friends in there too.

There is no mention of Maura Murray. Now, I don't believe Maura was directly involved. But the fact that she's not mentioned at all is very suspicious. I'd bet the Amherst police have been contacted before about the possibility that Maura -- or someone who was driving her car -- hit Vasi. To be working the case and not know about that is absurd. If that was an angle they investigated, it should be in there, but it's not. Make of that what you will.

So... thoughts?


** If you have any information about the person responsible for Petrit Vasi's hit and run accident, please contact Amherst Police, Vasi himself, or this blog. **

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Amherst Police Ordered to Explain Why Vasi Records Are Still Being Withheld

We just won round two.

The Public Records Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has just determined that the Amherst Police Department must provide more details about Petrit Vasi's hit-and-run.

From the report I received today:

"Accordingly, the Department is hereby ordered, within ten days, to provide Mr. Renner with a revised response that explains, with specificity, how information, other than information that would identify witnesses or complainants, may be withheld under Exemption due to an ongoing investigation."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Exclusive: Petrit Vasi Says Maura Murray Connection is "Far Fetched"

At long last, I spoke to Petrit Vasi, today. The conversation was brief but quite revealing.

"I never met Maura Murray," he says. "We didn't know each other. I've heard this theory, that she may have been involved. But I think it's very far-fetched."

He remembers nothing of the accident, itself. He knows he was at a bar at Triangle and Mattoon around 12:20 a.m. And he remembers waking up months later. His body was found in the street and it appeared he'd been struck by a vehicle.

"There was a snowstorm that night. Lots of snow coming down," he recalls.

And what of the "investigation" into the hit and run?

"I have never spoken to police. Not once. I don't even know if it's an open case."