On a freezing cold March 19, 2004, night at 11:20 p.m., 17-year old Brianna Maitland clocked out of her job at the historic Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery Center, Vermont.
Maitland had to get up early the next morning for her second job as a waitress in nearby St. Albans. Business at the Black Lantern had been bustling that night, and earlier that day she had spent several hours shopping with her mother Kellie. She was tired, she told fellow workers, and couldn’t stay for an after-closing dinner.
Less than two hours later, her car was spotted a mile from the inn, backed into the clapboard siding of an abandoned, roadside farmhouse. The vehicle, with its headlights still on, was empty except for two un-cashed paychecks and personal items on the front seat. Brianna Maitland had vanished.
Five weeks earlier, and 90 miles south of Montgomery Center, on a cold, snowy Feb. 9 evening at about 7:20 p.m., Maura Murray, a 21-year old University of Massachusetts student, drove her car into a snow bank on a sharp curve on Route 112 near Haverhill, N.H..
Within a few minutes, a school bus driven by Butch Atwood stopped alongside Murray’s vehicle. Atwood, who told reporters he is a former police officer, asked Murray if she was okay and if she wanted him to alert local police. Murray, according to Atwood, said that she was fine and that she had already used her cell phone to call AAA for assistance.
Still concerned, Atwood continued up the road to his house, only about 100 yards away, and, once inside, telephoned police to report the accident. About 10 minutes later, a Haverhill police officer, and then a New Hampshire State Police trooper, arrived on the scene. Maura Murray’s car was empty and she had vanished.
The still unsolved disappearances of Brianna Maitland and Maura Murray have caused widespread feelings of insecurity among women throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, and have renewed fears that a serial killer may be on the loose.
The disappearances have served to shatter the long-standing reputations of the two states as geographically safe and tranquil havens from the ills of urban America. Both disappearances also have created deep concerns about law enforcement response procedures, as well as friction between the families of both missing women and the New Hampshire and Vermont State Police departments.
No longer safe
Throughout the 1900s, Vermont and New Hampshire were at the top of the nation’s list of states that were near-free from violent crimes and murder. Indeed, in the 1950s and early 1960s, Vermont experienced murder rates that were in the low single digits, sometimes escaping annual counts without any recorded killings. All that began to slowly but steadily change in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1970s and 1980s, murders doubled and tripled in the two states. In the 1990s, and thereafter, violent crime and murders rose astronomically, and much of it was directed at young women.
From 1970 to 2004 nearly 30 women vanished in the tiny states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Of that number, 10 eventually were found, most having been brutally murdered. In total, 19 women remain unaccounted for between the two states. By most authoritative counts, there are over 60 unsolved homicides in Vermont and New Hampshire that occurred during that period.
Over the past several decades, law enforcement authorities in both states repeatedly have claimed that the murdered and missing are the victims of a wide variety of causes, including runaways, domestic violence and crimes of passion and sexual predators. Law enforcement officials argue there is no evidence a serial killer is on the loose, but many people take exception with this.
These people point to the series of young women murdered in the two states during the 1970s and 1980s by a person the media dubbed the “Valley Killer.” The Valley Killer, who never has been apprehended or identified, is responsible for attacking at least seven women and for murdering at least six women. Included in the Valley Killer’s death count are several young women, who physically resemble Maitland and Murray.
With the recent disappearances of the two women, police continue to insist there are “no reasons to believe that a serial killer is on the loose.” Police maintain the unsolved cases are not connected in any way. But many people remain skeptical of that claim.
Says Maitland’s father, Bruce, “Just because there isn’t any evidence is not a reason to close the door on that theory, or any other. If you look at the vital statistics on all of these missing women, you’d see right away that most are startlingly similar. If none are related, then that means there are a good 100, or so, individual murderers out there roaming about free to do anything they want.”
‘She had a special charisma’
By all accounts, Brianna Alexandra Maitland was an extraordinary young woman. Beautiful beyond her years, creative, caring and fiercely independent, she was the envy of many of the girls who knew her. Maitland was as good as any man at shooting skeet, riding a snow mobile or all-terrain-vehicle, and she could track a deer for miles through the woods.
“She had a special charisma,” said Shauna LaCross, who was close to Maitland. “She looked good wearing anything, things nobody else could wear. She had great style and smarts to match, and she was the best friend anyone could ask for.”
Numerous other friends and acquaintances interviewed for this article had similar things to say about her.
Said Hillary Hardy, a young businesswoman in Richford, Vt., who is six years older than Brianna, “All the girls around Brianna looked up to her and envied her. Everyone wanted to be like her. She had real style and a unique quality about her.”
Said one of Brianna’s high school teachers, “She loved learning. It was refreshing to have her in class. She had a real thirst for knowledge.”
At the time of her disappearance, Maitland was making plans to attend college part-time while working.
Brianna’s mother, Kellie Maitland, said her daughter was a voracious reader, consuming every title by Homer, Anne Rice, Nicolas Sparks, Maya Angelou, Cormac McCarthy, and Margaret Atwood.
“Besides books, she loved the outdoors, music and dancing, and she was highly skilled in the martial art of Jiu-Jitsu, having taken several years of training” Kellie Maitland said. “She didn’t grow up with a television in the house, so she loved works of the imagination that held meaningful lessons about life.”
Brianna’s aunt, Tammy Cox of Pittsburgh, Pa., who vigilantly maintains a website devoted to finding Maitland, said, “Brianna would always amaze me by quoting long sections from books she had read and then equate them to something pertinent happening in her life. She was very introspective about things.”
Maitland, despite her uniqueness, never flaunted anything, friends said.
Close friend LaBelle said, “She was a really generous person who would do anything to help a friend or stranger. She would always stand up for anyone who was picked on and she really cared about people who had very little or were downtrodden, even though her own parents had to work so hard to make ends meet.”
Bruce Maitland said, “She was oblivious to all her talents and good qualities. She never showed any kind of conceit. She loved life and embraced every minute of it, good or bad, and was always there to help anyone that asked.”
Like countless teenagers in northern Vermont, Maitland found it difficult to avoid the countless drug dealers who have poured into the state from the nearby urban areas of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut to peddle crack cocaine and heroin. A large number of Vermont’s rural towns are seriously under-policed, many with no law enforcement of their own.
In some Vermont towns it is not uncommon to hear citizen complaints about brazen dealers peddling their illicit wares in town squares, parks and high school parking lots. In the last 10 years there have been numerous reports of rampant heroin and cocaine addiction in several Vermont border towns fed by sophisticated underground pipelines maintained by the Hells Angels and Outlaw motorcycle clubs in nearby Montreal, Canada, only about 90 miles away. Reports about steady supplies of powerful, hydroponic marijuana supplied to Vermont and New Hampshire by dealers from northern New York Indian reservations also are commonplace.
Law enforcement officials in Vermont say rural isolation and lack of out-of-school activities for teens is a strong contributing factor in the attraction to drugs.
Said Vermont State Police investigator Lt. Brian H. Miller, “I think for some kids drugs serve as an escape mechanism from the drudgery and isolation of winter and living in a small town. When there’s little to nothing to do a lot kids will take turns in the wrong directions.”
One 15-year old high school student in Richford, Vt., vividly underscored Lt. Miller’s comments by remarking, “Up here you have to go over 30 miles to see a movie, or drive 50 miles to see to a live band or dance to music. A lot of us don’t have cars, or are too young to be able to legally drive. We don’t even have a skating rink in this town. … Drugs may be bad, but they make things a lot easier to take.”
Socio-economic factors also play a large role.
Said Miller, “The area has a lot of generational poverty, and sections are economically depressed due to factory and business closings and the wealthier adjoining counties pushing less advantaged people out to live in this [Franklin County] area. … People in Vermont are fiercely independent and due to this there can be a lack of community spirit, especially as people become more spread out and don’t know their neighbors. People are less likely to get involved in any meaningful way. There are also people who are truly working too hard to make ends meet and don’t have time to do much else. … [The] lack of spiritual roots is also a major factor, particularly among the youth.”
Reports about Maitland’s involvement with drugs are a source of debate. Early on in her disappearance on May 5, 2004, Vermont State Police Lt. Thomas Nelson publicly stated, “We have looked at [the possibility that Brianna Maitland’s and Maura Murray’s disappearances are related] and talked with the New Hampshire State Police about both cases. We have not found anything that connects the cases in any way.”
‘No serial killer on the loose’
At the same time, Vermont State Police Capt. Bruce Lang, chief criminal investigator of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, said, “There is no serial killer on the loose in the area.”
Asked how he could make that assumption, Lang said, “We are looking for good solid leads. We are not looking for frivolous or pointless information that will lead us on more wild goose chases in either one of these cases.”
On June 14, 2004, Vermont and New Hampshire law enforcement authorities held an unprecedented joint press conference to address rampant reports that a serial killer was operating between the two states and stalking young women.
At the conference Vermont Lt. Nelson told reporters, “[Maitland] made unhealthy lifestyle choices in her life prior to her disappearance.”
He added, without offering any evidence, “Brianna was involved in the drug communities in [Franklin County]. She allowed that world to become part of her world.”
Capt. Lang also added that Brianna “owed someone money for drugs at the time of her disappearance.”
Many of Maitland’s friends, and her parents, take exception with Lt. Nelson’s and Capt. Lang’s statements.
Said LaBelle, “Brianna didn’t do anything that nearly everybody her age in Franklin County didn’t do. You can’t go anywhere up here without running into drugs. Parties, parking lots, dances, the bathrooms in the high schools.”
Jillian Stout, a close friend of Maitland’s since elementary school and with whom Maitland was staying at the time of her disappearance, said, “Drugs are everywhere you look. It’s hard to get away from them. You can’t just hide in your house or room all the time.”
Bruce Maitland said, “Nelson’s statement in my view was an exercise in character assassination. It was a calculated effort to paint my daughter out as a bad person that got what she deserved. It was an effort to draw the heat away from the police. It made me sick to hear it. No teenager deserves to be portrayed that way by a public servant, especially when they are missing and nobody knows the facts or their fate.”
Franklin County’s largest newspaper, the St. Albans Messenger, was quick to repeat Nelson’s and Lang’s comments without pursuit of any facts behind the allegations. Bruce and Kellie Maitland immediately objected to the characterization of their daughter, and, after nearly 12 months, the newspaper printed a retraction of the story.
Explained the Messenger’s editor, who apologized in writing to the Maitlands, Lang eventually sent an e-mail to the newspaper that read: “I never said anything about confirming that Bri Maitland owed anyone drug money. I said we had been told that she may have owed someone drug money. That is a big difference.”
At the same press conference, Maura Murray’s father, Fred, was surprised to hear New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Scarinza state, “It was [Maura Murray’s] intention to leave. What’s also clear is she did not want to tell any of her family what her intentions were. And she did not tell any of her friends.”
Scarinza further said that his department believed Murray was headed for an “unknown destination,” and after her accident “she may have accepted a ride to get there.”
“It does not matter why she left or if she told anybody about it,” said Fred Murray. “She had an accident and this presented her with a completely different set of circumstances, any other plans went out the window. I believe that my daughter would be home safe and sound right now if the police had not ignored the case until it was way too late. They would have known where she was heading if they had bothered to check the last phone call she made three hours before she left Amherst. I told the police where she was going two days after the accident but they didn’t check that either. The police failed to follow their own procedures and are now striving to prevent this from coming to light. Maura probably did get a ride with one or more of the area’s multitudinous sex offenders who law enforcement can’t catch because they waited too long to get started.”
Like Maitland, Murray was a very attractive young woman filled with talent and promise. Murray, before enrolling in the nursing program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was a cadet for two years at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point in New York.
In 2000, Murray graduated fourth in her high school class, and scored 1425 out of 1600 on her SAT tests. Promptly accepted at West Point, she spent nearly two years there majoring in chemical engineering before transferring to Massachusetts to study nursing. Murray possessed tremendous athletic abilities, excelling in running, basketball, softball, and soccer. She also was an avid hiker and camper.
At the University of Massachusetts she was on the Dean’s List each semester. Like Maitland, Murray loved life and was drawn naturally to people. Murray, according to her family, was looking forward to formal engagement to her boyfriend who was serving at the time of her disappearance as a United States Army officer in Oklahoma.
She already had arranged for a summer job in an Oklahoma hospital to be close to her fianc?. A friend of Murray’s said, “Maura is person who gets along with everyone. She is outgoing and smart. She always makes you feel better if you are down, and always finds a way to make you laugh at any situation, no matter how bad it may seem.”
On the day she disappeared, Murray had departed suddenly the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. For unknown reasons, she told her college professors Feb. 7 she had to go home for a week to attend to a “family emergency.” There was no emergency, but family friends say Murray was stressed by a full-load of classes and holding down two part-time jobs and may only have wanted to take a much-needed break. Also, earlier on the evening of Feb. 5, Murray received a phone call that greatly upset her. The call remains a mystery.
On Feb. 9, before she left the university, Murray performed a computer Mapquest search of the Berkshires and of Burlington, Vt. She then withdrew $280 from an ATM and stopped to make purchases at an Amherst liquor store, where she spent about $35. Hours later, Murray ran her car into a snow bank on a sharp and icy curve on New Hampshire’s Route 112, about a mile east of Swiftwater. The collision caused her air bags to deploy and a small spider web crack in her vehicle’s windshield. About 10 minutes after reportedly telling bus driver Butch Atwood she needed no assistance, and two people had telephoned the police to report her accident, she vanished without a trace. Gone with Murray were her cell phone and credit and bank cards, which have not been used since.
The first Haverhill police officer on the scene of Murray’s accident, Sgt. Cecil Smith, said there were “no footprints” or any other markings in the snow or ground to show where Maura had gone. Ground and air searches were conducted beginning two days later. Family friends, her fianc?, and her father spent days covering the Haverhill area.
According to Murray’s family, specially trained dogs used in the search followed her scent from her car to the beginning of bus driver Atwood’s driveway, about 100 yards away, before losing it.
Two months after Murray disappeared, police announced a witness had come forward with information that he had seen her four-to-five miles east of the accident scene. Coincidentally, that witness was a construction worker who happened to live very near bus driver Atwood.
New Hampshire State Police investigators initially were excited about this lead, but nothing has been said of it in nearly two years. Murray’s case has been featured on the Greta Van Sustern show, CNN and the Montel Show, which also featured the Maitland case. Despite this coverage, and more, reportedly no useful leads came in to law enforcement investigators.
‘God and perseverance will bring Maura back’
Today, outside of Haverhill, N.H., on Route 112 one can still see the numerous placards bearing Murray’s picture and the bold word “MISSING” that Fred Murray tacked up on every available spot. On some of the nearby trees and telephone poles people have left kind notes and flowers. Reads one note, “God and perseverance will bring Maura back to us.”
Like the Maitland’s, Fred Murray has been aggressive in pursuing his daughter’s disappearance and in pushing the police to act more thoroughly in their investigation. As in the Maitland case, this has on occasion led to friction between Murray’s family and law enforcement.
Fred Murray became particularly upset when, for unexplained reasons, the Haverhill and New Hampshire State Police would not provide John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted television show a copy of their report on his daughter’s case so that Walsh could feature her disappearance on his show. Since this incident, Fred Murray has become increasingly frustrated with the lack of information shared with him.
Adding to Fred Murray’s frustration and desire for hard facts have been the flood of contradictory press reports and televised media features about the case. Especially confusing are reports concerning the moments immediately following the accident on Route 112 and exactly who saw exactly what.
Fred Murray said police have refused to tell him the identities of all the witnesses at the scene of the accident. Initial press reports had bus driver Atwood stopping his bus beside Maura’s car, then subsequent reports had him spotting her car from his home 100 yards away and rushing down on foot “to see if he could help.”
Indeed, Atwood told one reporter, “She spun on the curve. She had no lights on, and it was a dark car. … I put my flashlight in the window. She was behind the airbag.”
Other reports have Atwood as the only witness on the scene while others state quite clearly there were multiple witnesses, yet none are identified by name. Other reports had Atwood telling reporters he invited Murray to wait at his house, but she declined.
A Caledonian Record article dated Feb. 27, 2004, reads: “Atwood said Murray didn’t appear intoxicated, despite police having said a witness indicated she had appeared to be impaired due to alcohol.”
Another article speaks of a witness who happened onto the scene in a vehicle and spoke with Maura Murray, but does not identify the witness. Fred Murray also was upset by a string of police statements that painted Maura as “suicidal” and “endangered and possibly suicidal.” Fred said that is simply not true and that such reports originated in police reports to the media released two days after his daughter’s disappearance.
In late December 2005, Fred Murray sued New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, state Attorney General Kelley Ayotte, and New Hampshire State Police for the release of information tied to the investigation of his daughter’s disappearance. Among the items he especially wanted were an inventory of items taken from his daughter’s car, a copy of her computer hard drive (Taken from her university room by police) and a surveillance tape from the liquor store where she stopped on her way out of Amherst.
New Hampshire law enforcement officials responded to the lawsuit by saying, “We have shared whatever information we feel we can share without jeopardizing the investigation.”
A New Hampshire judge dismissed the lawsuit about a month later, and Fred Murray filed an appeal, still pending, with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Five weeks after Murray’s accident and disappearance, on March 19, 2004, Brianna Maitland’s empty 1985 Oldsmobile 88 was found backed into the gray, weathered clapboards of an abandoned farmhouse in Montgomery, Vermont.
The house, which sits on a gentle curve in Route 118, is locally known as the “old Dutchburn place.” In 1986, two elderly brothers, Myron and Harry Dutchburn, occupied the house. One night someone broke in to the house to rob it. Both brothers were brutally beaten close to death. Taken to the hospital, and then eventually to a nursing home, the two never returned to the property.
Today, a sheet of plywood covers the hole punched into the side of the Dutchburn house by Maitland’s car. Affixed to the plywood are several handwritten messages. Reads one: “We miss you and love you Bri.” Says another, “Brianna, you were the best friend anyone could ask for.” The Dutchburn house rests on a small bluff overlooking an open field that borders the Missisquoi River. Inevitably, winds whip across the field and blow the messages away, but more always appear.
Never before reported is that on March 20, less than 12 hours after her disappearance, Maitland’s abandoned car was spotted by a passing State Police officer on regular patrol in the area. The officer stopped to examine the vehicle, which had punched a hole in the farmhouse’s siding causing a heavy piece of plywood covering a window to fall on the vehicle’s trunk. He opened its doors, saw two Black Lantern Inn paychecks made out to Maitland on the front seat and reportedly picked several items up off the ground nearby and tossed them into the back seat. He noted the vehicle’s plate number in his notepad, took a photo of the scene, and then continued on his way reportedly thinking someone, perhaps a drunk driver, had abandoned the vehicle.
Three days later, Jillian Stout, a friend of Maitland’s since fourth grade, called Bruce and Kellie Maitland. At the time of her disappearance, Brianna Maitland had been staying with Stout at her home in Sheldon, Vt. Stout asked if Maitland had come home, and the parents quickly realized their daughter was unaccounted for. The Maitland’s immediately called the Vermont State Police to report her missing.
The police said they would put out post-haste an all-points-bulletin on Maitland’s car. When the parents went to the local State Police barracks in St. Albans the next morning to fill out the necessary missing person forms and to provide police a photo of their daughter, the patrol officer who had discovered the car at the Dutchburn house days earlier happened to be there.
He quickly recalled the abandoned vehicle at the Dutchburn house and opened his notepad and extracted a photo of Brianna’s car. He asked the Maitlands if the vehicle pictured was their daughter’s. Up until this time, the Maitlands knew nothing about their daughter’s car being discovered abandoned. Kellie Maitland looked at the photo and felt herself becoming sick. Bruce Maitland asked why they hadn’t been notified earlier about the car’s discovery.
The officer explained that he was just returning from a long weekend off and that was why he has not contacted the Maitlands.
“I didn’t understand why someone else with the police couldn’t have called us,” Bruce said. “The car was registered in my wife’s name. They could have easily called us long before we came in to report Bri missing.”
The Vermont State Police can’t explain why the Maitlands had not been notified sooner of the vehicle’s discovery. Lt. Nelson later explained it was perhaps because the vehicle was on private property and that it did not look like it had been involved in an accident. Nelson said people often leave their cars in such a way because “they had too much to drink.”
Nelson, who also was there at the time the Maitlands came in, told the couple that young people sometimes “go to Boston or some other place with friends and don’t tell their parents for days.”
Bruce Maitland would later say, “I felt that Lt. Nelson’s two theories contradicted one another. If Bri had left her car because she was drunk how could she get to Boston? It’s a simple question, but it leaves a big hole in his reasoning that allows space for all kinds of theories that cannot not be investigated by them and treated in a professional manner. Because of this anything else they might say or do falls down like a house of cards.”
The Maitland’s told Nelson they doubted Brianna had done that.
“She has two jobs,” Bruce said, “and besides, why would she leave her car behind?”
They begged Nelson to launch a full-scale search for their daughter. Nelson replied, according to the Maitlands, that he would check things out and follow up with them. He told Bruce Maitland the patrol officer would meet him in a few hours at the Montgomery garage where Brianna’s car has been towed two days earlier at the request of the overseer of the Dutchburn property.
Bruce Maitland, accompanied by his son Waylon, drove to the garage, and the patrol officer arrived about an hour later. Bruce Maitland asked the officer if he had looked in the car’s trunk. The officer said he had, but when no keys for the vehicle could be found, the officer, according to the Maitlands, said he had not examined the trunk’s interior. Bruce and Waylon borrowed a crow bar from a mechanic in the garage and pried the truck open. Nothing was found inside except for a few personal items belonging to Brianna.
“God help me,” said Bruce Maitland, “you can’t imagine how scared I was opening that lid.”
‘Lack of aggressiveness’
In the days following Brianna Maitland’s disappearance, Bruce and Kellie Maitland became increasingly frustrated about “the lack of aggressiveness” in the state police investigation. They knew, as do most Americans who watch television, that investigators in such cases initially zero in on family members, and thinking perhaps this was slowing the investigation down, they offered to take lie detector tests so the police could focus on other theories.
In their discussions with police, they constantly sensed investigators suspected their daughter might have run away. The Maitlands kept pointing out their daughter would not have gone off leaving two un-cashed paychecks, eye contacts, migraine medicine and several new clothing outfits purchased together with her mother the day of her disappearance. Bruce Maitland also argued his daughter would not have gone anywhere leaving her car abandoned, a vehicle that had belonged to her deceased grandfather.
“She loved that car,” he said. “In many ways, it represented her freedom and sense of independence, and if you knew Bri you’d know that was her essence.”
Still, investigators moved too slowly in the Maitland’s estimation, and the parents feared their daughter’s trail was growing colder with each passing day. Bruce Maitland kept insisting on knowing why only uniformed officers and one inexperienced detective were assigned part-time to the case and not better skilled detectives. He became particularly upset when he learned it took nearly nine days for the police to interview anyone at the Black lantern Inn. (The Vermont State Police said the officer who first discovered Brianna Maitland’s abandoned car, with the paychecks on the front seat, did go to the Black Lantern that same day, but found it not yet open for business. The officer “was then drawn away from returning by other duties.”)
As Bruce Maitland pushed for action, some law enforcement officers grew irritated with his constant phone calls. According to a source who asked not to be identified for this story, one officer told others that “for every call he got from the Maitlands, he would work all the less on the case.”
Law enforcement officials deny this and say they were doing all they could on the case. The parents, however, say they have a number of reasons to believe otherwise.
No fingerprints are on file for Brianna Maitland. For unexplained reasons, none were isolated from her vehicle that had been impounded for months. Police waited months to request DNA samples from Bruce and Kellie Maitland.
“Worst of all,” Kellie Maitland said, “they told us that people we were told had snatched or killed Brianna were in prison at the time of her disappearance, and now it seems that was not the case at all.”
Eventually, the Maitlands developed a good rapport with the police, but not until lead investigators were changed and Lt. Brian Miller took the case over.
Said Lt. Miller, “There were misunderstandings at the start of the case. There was some occasional miscommunication, and tempers in these situations can grow heated. Understandably, there was a lot of stress among everyone involved.”
Another related case?
Perhaps the most telling evidence of law enforcement mistakes made in the Maitland case, came recently from a Jan. 12 Associated Press article concerning another woman reported missing in Vermont.
Tina Fontaine disappeared in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom town of Albany. Initial reports about Fontaine’s disappearance sent shock waves across Vermont and rumors were rampant that her disappearance was closely related to the Maitland case. Reads the AP article: “A 29-year old woman’s disappearance has prompted Vermont State Police to take a new and more intensive approach, assigning [eight] detectives to the search from the beginning. … The search marks a change from when Brianna Maitland disappeared two years ago. … The state police have been criticized for being slow to involve detectives in Maitland’s disappearance.” (Fontaine was found murdered days later, and her boyfriend, who confessed to killing her, was arrested.)
One of the very first things to which the Maitlands and Vermont law enforcement officials gave strong consideration in their daughter’s disappearance was an incident that took place 20 days earlier. On Feb. 27, Brianna Maitland attended a party with a few of her friends. Also attending were many additional teens she didn’t know well. At the gathering, for reasons nobody still fully understands, a girl named Keallie Lacross attacked Brianna Maitland, giving her two black eyes, facial cuts and a concussion. Despite the ferocity of the attack, Brianna Maitland did not defend herself by using her Jiu-Jitsu skills. Crying and bleeding, she ran from the party and began to walk to the home of nearby friends, where she called her father, who quickly drove to pick her up.
The next day, after going to the hospital for treatment, Brianna Maitland filed a formal complaint against her attacker with the police. The complaint, which was still pending at the time of her disappearance, was soon thereafter dropped by the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, over the vehement objections of her parents.
About the time the complaint was dropped, Vermont State Police, accompanied by U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents, raided a rented house in Berkshire, Vt., only about 10 miles from Montgomery. The police were acting on a confidential tip that Brianna Maitland was being held against her will in the house, and that two notorious young men, Ramon L. Ryans and Nathaniel Charles Jackson, may have played a role in Maitland’s disappearance.
A search of the house revealed no signs of Maitland, but did turn up amounts of marijuana, cocaine, handguns and drug paraphernalia. Police arrested the occupants of the house, Ryans, 28, of Queens, N.Y. and North Carolina; Timothy Powell of Berkshire; and Stephanie A. Machia, 17, also of Berkshire. All of those arrested admitted to knowing Maitland, but maintained they did not know where she was or what had happened to her. After being arraigned and released pending trial without bond set, Jackson left the state of Vermont and Ryans left Franklin County and went to Burlington, Vt., some 30 miles away, where he moved in to an apartment occupied by a 25-year old single mother named Ligia Rae Collins.
On July 4, 2004, around midnight, Ligia Collins, Gia to her friends, disappeared from her Burlington apartment. Ramon Ryans, according to several press reports at the time, was still living with Collins and was the person who first reported her missing. Burlington police immediately launched an investigation into Collins’ disappearance.
n July 12, they attempted to apprehend a 52-year old man named Moses Robar who, while being pursued in his vehicle by officers, pulled over and shot himself in the head. Two days later, Robar died in the hospital and Ligia Collins was found murdered in the Green Mountain National Forest in Lincoln Gap, Vt.
About a week later, Burlington police arrested two additional people for Collins’ murder. In the confusion surrounding the investigation, and in subsequent media stories, Ryans’ name was lost. Law enforcement officials said he quietly slipped out of Vermont and returned to New York City. Within days of his leaving he was placed on Vermont’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Months later, on May 23, 2005, Ryans was arrested in New York City. Reportedly, his “drug lord” had turned him in, in return for $5,000. Ryans was brought back to Vermont to stand trial in St. Albans on the Berkshire bust. At about this same time, the Maitlands, who, assisted by Kellie Maitland’s sister, Tammy Cox, had set up a website to garner leads to their daughter’s disappearance, received several tips about a man called “the Joker.” According to tips, the Joker, who police have identified as Jorge E. Soto, 26, of Springfield, Mass., was an associate of Ryans, whose street name was “Streets”, and Nathaniel Jackson, who went by the street handle “Low.”
Soto, who sometimes lived in Richford, Vt., 13 miles from Montgomery, reportedly had been bragging he had killed Maitland. People in Richford said Soto was notorious in their town for having killed a puppy at a party with his bare hands because its barking got on his nerves and for bragging he was “untouchable” to local law enforcement.
When police questioned Soto about his boastings concerning Brianna, he told them his claims were only bravado made up to make him “appear big and mean” in the eyes of those to whom he dealt drugs and to those who owed him money. After police had questioned him, Soto reportedly continued to tell people that he killed Maitland and even told one group of teens he had buried her body in a St. Albans cornfield behind a house he occasionally occupied.
In early June 2005, a smug looking Ramon Ryans appeared in Vermont district court in St. Albans and pleaded guilty as charged to possession of cocaine and marijuana in the Berkshire bust. The judge in the case sentenced Ryans to 45 days to one and a half years, with all time suspended but 45 days. The 45 were then completely erased by granting earned credit for time served. A St. Albans Messenger article on the case reads: “[Ryans] entered the courthouse wearing shackles and walked out the front door a man on probation. … The state amended the cocaine charges from a felony to a misdemeanor because Ryans spoke with Vermont State police Lt. Tom Nelson about [Brianna] Maitland. … Ryans also submitted to a polygraph test regarding Maitland’s disappearance [according to assistant state’s attorney Diane Wheeler].”
Wheeler would not elaborate on the results at the time, but later told this writer “the results were inconclusive.” The media, police and Wheeler said nothing at the time about Ligia Collins’ death.
Last month, Assistant District Attorney Wheeler told this writer Ryans did offer state police investigators “information in the Maitland case that drew them away from false leads and put them on the right track with things.”
She declined to elaborate on what that meant.
Bruce Maitland said, “That’s fine, that’s good. If he put them on the right track where are they going? It’s been months and nothing seems to be happening. Police are telling me that they are no closer to solving the case then they were months ago.”
The Maitlands, who by the time of Ryans’ sentencing had received numerous tips and information concerning the involvement of Ryans, Jackson and Soto in their daughter’s disappearance, were shocked by the light punishment.
“This guy made a mockery and a joke out of the police and the court system,” said Bruce Maitland. “From what I know, he gave the police nothing. He destroyed countless young lives in Vermont and by sending him back out on to the streets he’ll keep right on doing it.”
The Maitlands were not the only ones angered at the sentence. Vermont State Rep. Norman McAllister, by trade a full-time farmer who is widely known for his no-nonsense style, expressed his own outrage at the sentence and raised questions about the approach to the case by the state police.
On Ryans’ sentence, McAllister said, “This kind of sentence sends all the wrong messages to all the wrong people. Vermont needs to get serious about crime and its rapidly spreading drug problem. We have heroin and cocaine everywhere in this state, and we have dealers pouring into our rural areas to sell drugs because of a lack of law enforcement and the laxity of the courts here. Every young person in the state is at risk. It’s an epidemic. It has to stop.”
McAllister, who had known the Maitlands from the time their daughter could barely walk, said, “My feeling is [the state police] kind of dropped the ball. Brianna’s parents feel like they’ve been left in the dark and short-changed by the system. I don’t feel that the state police are trained properly to handle missing persons cases. They seem hesitant to bring in the FBI and other professionals.”
Echoing McAllister’s sentiments was an editorial aired on local NBC affiliate WPTZ urging the Vermont and New Hampshire state police to stop wasting time “and to pick up the phone … and to call in the FBI.”
Continued the editorial: “Police insist there is no connection between the disappearances because they can’t find a connection between the girls. Well, what if the connection is the killer?”
To date, neither Vermont nor New Hampshire has called upon the FBI for any assistance, other than minor laboratory assistance.
In the last three months of 2005 and early this year, several significant events took place around the Maitland case, all of which police are still investigating.
On Oct. 31, 2005, Bruce and Kellie Maitland were jolted by news that a friend and former neighbor, Tom Patras, had been found murdered in his Montgomery, Vt., home, just a few miles away from where their daughter had disappeared. Patras, 47, was discovered dead along with Valerie Papillo, 36, a friend who had come to his home to have dinner. Patras had been shot in the head and Papillo had been severely beaten before being shot in the face.
For about 48 hours, rumors concerning the murders flew about Franklin County and the state that the killings were related to Maitland’s disappearance, but then the Vermont State Police quickly arrested a couple from Connecticut. James Richitelli, 51, and Elizabeth Gagne, 29, both reported to be heroin addicts, had traveled to Montgomery on Oct. 30 to look for two men Richitelli had worked with years earlier at nearby Jay Peak Resort.
The couple, according to police, were attempting to purchase drugs, and when they went to Patras’ house and he told them he had none, he was murdered. Papillo arrived on the scene only moments later to have dinner with Patras and was murdered when she stumbled on to the crime scene.
“I was shocked,” said Bruce Maitland. “It knocked me off my feet. Tom was a good neighbor. Brianna liked him a lot. She liked that he was so talented and smart. He was a good man.”
A week later, Bruce and Kellie Maitland received a confidential tip concerning a 32-year old Burlington man named Gerald T. Montgomery. The tipster told the Maitlands that Montgomery had been an associate of Ryans and Jackson. The Maitland already were well aware of Montgomery through the newspapers. Earlier, on March 8, 2005, Montgomery had raped, beaten and strangled to death a 31-year old University of Vermont graduate, Laura Winterbottom. The rape-murder, which had taken place in a vehicle on a Burlington street, caused many to rally against sexual violence in that city. After his arrest, it was learned that Montgomery, who worked in a Burlington elementary school, was a convicted sex-offender in New York.
Then last December, the Maitlands received another confidential communication concerning a young St. Albans man their daughter knew and who reportedly had been closely associated with Ryans, Jackson and Soto. The message revealed the young man had “committed suicide” and left behind a handwritten note containing details about Maitland’s disappearance. Kellie and Bruce Maitland were particularly upset to soon learn in their pursuit of this information that the young man in question had died on Oct. 8, the same day as their daughter’s birthday.
Brianna on videotape?
In mid-February, Vermont State Police informed the Maitlands they had obtained a videotape of a woman who “resembled Brianna.” A surveillance camera in Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., had produced the tape. Police requested it from the casino after a Vermont man who had been gambling there reported he had seen “a woman there who looked like Brianna.”
The quality of the tape is poor, the picture grainy and taken from a distance. The woman in question looks older than Maitland’s photos and does not have a nose ring, as she wore. The woman in the video is with a man who appears to be in his early 40s, perhaps older. Bruce and Kellie Maitland can’t positively identify the woman as their daughter and doubt very much it is her.
“But we can’t discount anything. We would really like to know who it is so that we can move on with the investigation,” Bruce Maitland said.
Brianna Maitland’s closest friend Stout said, “Brianna would never go anywhere for two years and not call me or someone else close to her. She just isn’t like that. She was a good friend and she cared a lot about her friends. They were everything to her.”
At the June 2004 joint press conference, Fred Murray and Bruce Maitland met for the second time. After the reporters and cameras had departed, Murray and Maitland urged law enforcement officials to aggressively pursue the possibility their daughters had been the victims of a serial killer or had been abducted for purposes of slavery and forced prostitution.
Bruce Maitland said some law enforcement officers have scoffed at the slavery theory, but a quick examination of recent criminal activities in Vermont reveal that in 1999 and 2000 several young women in Burlington, Vt., were forced into prostitution in New York.
Jose “Ritchie” Rodriguez, 25, a convicted felon who lived between Vermont and New York, eventually was arrested and charged with operating a prostitution ring and statutory rape. He also was a suspect in the death of a 16-year-old girl, Christal Jean Jones, who at the time was a ward of Vermont’s Social and Rehabilitation Services agency.
Jones was found dead in a New York apartment building that police there said was a notorious place of prostitution. New York law enforcement officials say the city has an unknown but suspected high number of such places that offer the services of young girls ranging in age from 13 to 25 years old.
A Burlington Free Press article related to the case said men like Rodriguez come to Vermont to target young women to be forced into prostitution. Such men sell heroin cheaply to the girls so they become addicted and then manipulate them into selling themselves for more heroin.
“The men are exotic, and the girls like that,” the article said. “Some local girls are especially attracted to men with black or brown skin, observers say.”
This month, and last month, marks the two-year anniversaries of the disappearances of Brianna Maitland and Maura Murray. Police seem no closer to solving either case than they did at the very beginning.
A former FBI profiler, who declined to be identified for this article, and who was asked to review the facts contained in this article, said, “Based on the materials I’ve seen, I would not rule out anything, including a serial killer in one or both cases, especially the Murray case. With all the media and Hollywood focus on these type killers they have become all the smarter and devious. … I also wouldn’t rule out that either state could see a reoccurrence of these events sometime soon.”
Maurice Godwin, a nationally recognized expert on serial killers, said last week, “In my expert opinion I believe that a local individual who has killed at least two times previously is responsible for Maura Murray’s abduction and murder. Maura locked her car as if she anticipated on returning to the car once she found help. Her attack and murder was for a sexual assault and the murder was to do away with her as a witness. Yes, I believe a stranger serial killer is responsible for Maura Murray’s disappearance.”
Godwin said the facts so far presented in the Maitland case seemed to point to abduction or foul play committed by someone Brianna Maitland most likely knew.
Vermont State Police Lt. Brian Miller said, “We have taken no theories off the table. We give every lead and tip our most serious attention. This is a tough case, no doubt, but we will solve it.”
A New Hampshire State Police spokesman, who declined to discuss any details of the Maura Murray case, said, “We are doing everything possible to solve [Murray’s] case.”
Fred Murray, who still routinely drives from his home in South Shore, Mass., to New Hampshire to search for his daughter, said, “Nobody knows how much I miss Maura. Nobody can imagine the hurt at not knowing where she is. It’s a hurt I wish upon no one. I will find my daughter.”
Last week, Bruce Maitland said, “You can’t imagine how much we miss and love Brianna. You can’t imagine how dark and empty our days and nights can be with not knowing where she is or what happened to her. No matter how long, or how much it takes, we will find her. We owe her that and so much more.”
Said Kellie Maitland, “Inside I am always screaming in pain at not knowing where Brianna is.”
Anyone with useful information in the case of Brianna Maitland should contact Lt. Brian Miller, Vermont State Police, at (802) 524-5993. On the Maura Murray case, contact Lt. Russ Conte, New Hampshire State Police, at (603) 271-2663. Information about the Brianna Maitland case also can be sent by e-mail to [email protected], and about the Maura Murray case to [email protected] Readers interested in learning more about the cases can go to www.bringbrihome.org, and www.mauramurray.com.