On February 9, 2004, 21-year old Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, crashed her car on Route 112 in Haverville, New Hampshire. That event would initiate what has arguably become the most prolific unsolved missing persons case of the modern era. Minutes later, Murray disappeared. She has not been seen since.
Murray’s case garnered national attention due to its almost cinematic story developments accompanied by a curious cast of characters. One individual who emerged as a pivotal figure in his own right while investigating Murray’s disappearance is Ohio-based writer James Renner.
Beginning in early-2011, Renner would dedicate over five years to researching Murray’s life and disappearance – a journey that continues to this day. Renner’s devotion to solving the mystery has earned him threats, resistance from frustrated friends and family members of the missing woman and a surplus of stress and anxiety.
Renner’s determination and perseverance has paid off in the form of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, his own personal memoir documenting a half-decade of investigating Maura Murray’s disappearance. The long-anticipated book releases this Tuesday, May 24 from Thomas Dunne Books.
James Renner kindly granted True Crime Factor an interview to discuss the Murray case and impending release of True Crime Addict. The book is currently available for pre-order via a number of outlets, which are listed at Renner’s Maura Murray-based blog here.
Check out my January 2016 interview with James Renner discussing the 1989 abduction and murder of Amy Mihaljevic at this link.
The Maura Murray case has consumed much of your life for over five years. With True Crime Addict so long in the making, how does it feel to know that we are finally on the eve of the book’s release?
Oh my God, just seeing the physical copy of the book makes me so relieved. This was a long, long journey and so many people never wanted it to see the light of day. It’s done. It’s out. And now people can read all about what happened. It also lets me see how much I’ve allowed my life to be defined by the case over the last few years. I’m looking forward to something new.
It’s obvious both from your investigation of Maura Murray’s disappearance as well as your exploration into the 1989 abduction and murder of Amy Mihaljevic that you have an entrenched passion for the cases you delve into. Not to suggest that you don’t care about the subjects and their families, but there also appears to be a strong personal desire for you to crack these mysteries (I’m reminded of the part in True Crime Addict where you write about climbing onto slippery, dangerous boulders to search a gulley for Maura Murray’s body). I suppose my question is, where does the professional interest end and the personal passion begin – or vice versa?
I could never separate myself from the stories I wrote, even when I was working as a reporter. Old school journalists believe that a reporter should always remain detached. That their job is to just report. Report what happened. I don’t know. I could never do that. If I saw something was wrong, I had to try to fix it. I had to get my hands dirty. If people think there’s a body in the gulley, I’m not just going to write that they said that, I’m going to go looking for the body. It’s a compulsion and not necessarily a good one. That’s why I’m not a reporter anymore.
It’s no secret that members of Maura Murray’s family have been less than cooperative as it pertains to your probing of her disappearance and release of this book. Various theories have been floated, but why do you believe the Murrays have remained so defensive all of these years?
Obviously, Fred Murray was more concerned about keeping a lid on Maura’s dark secrets than he was in finding his daughter. That’s a harsh statement, but it’s true. He wouldn’t meet with homicide detectives for two years after Maura vanished. If we had known more about what was happening in Maura’s life before she disappeared, we would have had a much better chance of finding her early on. I can’t explain his actions, logically.
You maintain a blog devoted to Maura’s case, MauraMurray.blogspot.ca. Can you describe the importance of the site over the years (and to this day) as it relates to generating clues and productive discussion about her vanishing?
The blog works as a lightning rod for new information and allows a point of contact for people who may have important clues, people who wouldn’t want to speak to police themselves. Over the last five years, the blog and its readers have uncovered several new clues that helped advance the search. I see these blogs and forums as a replacement for the writers’ rooms that once existed in large newspaper offices, a place where people can go and discuss the case, where they can suggest new avenues of investigation.
You initially discovered Maura Murray’s case in the fall of 2009 while viewing an episode of 20/20 before beginning your investigation in early-2011. What was it about her story that drew you in to such a deep extent?
I was drawn to the complexity of Maura’s case. It’s a double mystery, actually. One, what happened to Maura Murray? Two, what was she doing in the White Mountains in the first place? I figured if I could answer one of those questions, I could get close to the answer of the other. I believe I’ve answered the second question: I think she was running away to start a better life. But what happened after the accident? I have a good theory for that, too.
The most compelling aspect of the Maura Murray case for me has been that of Alden Olson’s involvement, or perhaps more specifically the interest he has garnered both from the media and online sleuths. Although it appears universally accepted for the most part that Olson is in no way responsible for Maura’s disappearance, why do you believe he insinuated himself into her story in such a culpable and visible fashion – especially in this social media age where he would almost certainly be identified at some point?
I cannot begin to understand what goes on inside the minds of disturbed individuals. Olson posted a threatening video of my five-year-old son. He should have been arrested for that, but prosecutors in Amherst just shrugged their shoulders.
True Crime Addict contains revelations of personal struggles you and your family encountered during the shaping of the book. Emotionally speaking, how are you today?
One day at a time, man. I’m real good at the moment. I have a lot of writing to keep me busy. I’m sober. I’m off psychotropic drugs. Lost 30 pounds. Feeling pretty good.
Travel back to January of 2011. Knowing then what you know now – the stress, threats, anxiety and overall grief that you would endure while investigating Maura Murray’s disappearance – would you still embark on that journey?
Hells to the no.
Many people consider you the leading authority on Maura’s story. Speaking as such, do you feel her case will ever be solved?
Yes, I strongly believe Maura’s case will be solved. It’s possible someone will stumble upon her body in the woods, but I think it’s much more likely she’ll come forward and tell her side of the story one day. Wouldn’t that be something?
At the end of the day, do you have a theory about what happened to Maura Murray that you favor above all other speculation?
I believe she traveled to New Hampshire with a tandem driver and when she got into her accident on the side of Route 112, it was this other driver who turned around and picked her up. I don’t think anyone realized how much it would look like an abduction later.
Imagine this: Maura resurfaces tomorrow, alive and well. After becoming so engrossed in the details of her life and disappearance, how would it feel to receive the chance to speak with her?
I can’t imagine any scenario in which Maura would want to speak to me. If I was her, I wouldn’t. All I can say is the information I shared I did so because I come from a town where Ariel Castro used to live. There’s always that one in a million chance that Maura was taken. The info I shared might get us closer to understanding who did that. I don’t believe that’s what happened, but I can’t rule it out, not after Castro. And in the end, we’re all sinners. We’re all broken people. People shouldn’t judge the things Maura did. We should just understand she was a complicated soul, like the rest of us.
Let’s assume that Maura is indeed living, and by some chance reading this. What do you wish to say to her?
Tell the police you’re okay.
Is there another case currently on your mind that you feel may become your next Maura Murray or Amy Mihaljevic?
No. No more cold cases for me, thanks.
Do you have any other ongoing or upcoming projects, true crime-related or otherwise, that you would like to mention?
I’m currently adapting my debut novel, The Man from Primrose Lane, for TV. Give it a read if you haven’t yet.
Thanks for your time, James. I have no doubt True Crime Addict will be a success and I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in missing persons cases.