Last Friday, State Rep. Debra DeSimone (second from left), Julie Murray and Fred Murray (right) visited the Haverhill site where Maura Murray disappeared. (Photo by Angel Larcom) (click for larger version)
October 22, 2020HAVERHILL — New Hampshire State Representative Debra DeSimone of Atkinson traveled north last Friday to visit the site of Maura Murray's disappearance on Route 112 in Haverhill. Earlier that day, DeSimone had submitted a formal request to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to install a permanent historic marker at the site.
Two factors sparked Murray's family into action earlier this year. A bill that effectively bans all roadside memorials recently passed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Although it was tabled during the state Senate's summer session this year, it could still pass next year.
According to Murray's older sister Julie, the family was also notified by property owners that the tree holding Murray's memorial ribbon for the last 16 years would be cut down in 2021. She said, "This location has a lot of symbolism. Removing the tree is essentially erasing history, and I can't let that happen. I don't have a grave. I don't have ashes. I have a ribbon on a tree."
Murray's family drafted a petition and built a website earlier this year. Although only 20 signatures are required for a historical marker, the family collected nearly 700 signatures from New Hampshire residents and an additional 3,028 from more than 42 countries.
More than 100 pages of documentation were submitted by DeSimone last week as part of the Maura Murray Blue Ribbon campaign. DeSimone said that while the tree may be on private property, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation owns a 15-foot easement on each side of the center line on Route 112.
DeSimone discussed the property owner's exasperation with frequent tourist stops at the location of Murray's disappearance.
She said, "My goal is to give some form of closure to both sides. I cannot even imagine the pain of the Murray family. On the other side, I cannot imagine the frustration. But the pain is much worse."
West Point Military Academy History Professor Robert McDonald submitted a letter of support for the marker. In it, he discussed the historical significance of Murray's disappearance and his relationship with both her and her boyfriend while they were cadets at the academy.
According to McDonald, Murray's disappearance was ranked alongside Amelia Earhart as one of the 14 most famous missing persons in American history. He noted that the case's fame was tied in part to the early days of the "24/7 cable news cycle" of outlets like CNN and MSNBC, as well as the birth of Facebook.
McDonald said, "Facebook, which launched just five days prior to Maura's disappearance, has been an indispensable tool for people seeking to pool their knowledge in the effort to resolve the unknowns of her disappearance. So have similar destinations on the internet, which have made possible the sort of crowd-sourcing that perpetuates an investigation long after police have exhausted all of their leads."
DeSimone said she did not know how long it would take for the Division of Historical Resources to decide on the Murray request.
"It has to go through a panel, especially during COVID, as most people are not going into the office. It's going to take as long as it will take. I am on the phone with people every day," she said.
The Department of Historical Resources has stringent marker guidelines. The plaques are limited to no more than 14 lines of text with a maximum of 45 spaces per line.
A portion of the proposal reads, "Described as the first crime mystery of the social media age, her story draws thousands to this location yearly. Maura was a standout athlete from Hanson, Mass. who loved hiking the White Mountains with her father Fred who dedicated his life to searching for her, resolutely saying, 'we're coming for you kid.'"
Murray disappeared on the evening of Feb 9, 2004. She had left her dorm at U Mass Amherst earlier in the day to drive north into New Hampshire without telling anyone of her plans. The blue ribbon-wrapped tree on Route 112 was the last place she was seen alive.
Murray's sister said she hoped a permanent marker would keep Maura's memory alive while the family continues to search for her. Despite inclement weather, approximately 30 to 40 people assisted the family with search efforts last weekend. Those wishing to support efforts to install a permanent marker at the site are encouraged to visit www.mauramurraymissing.org