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Madalyn Murray O’Hair mystery continues despite federal trial, Baptist’s sighting

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–A federal trial centered on the disappearance of the nation’s most outspoken atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and her family ended June 2, with the conviction of O’Hair’s self-described bodyguard on four charges of extorting money from the O’Hair family in 1995.

The trial included testimony from a Southern Baptist North American Mission Board staff member, Bill Gordon Jr., that he may have seen O’Hair alive in 1997 in Romania.

After four days of deliberation, jurors found Gary Paul Karr, 52, guilty of extortion. Karr, an ex-convict, was acquitted of federal kidnapping conspiracy charges despite testimony from prison inmates who said Karr told them he was involved in the slayings of O’Hair, 76, her son Jon Garth Murray, 40, and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair, 30.

Federal agents presented documentation of hundreds of telephone calls, car rentals, airplane trips and other financial transactions they said implicated Karr and showed he extorted money from the O’Hairs, according to the Associated Press.

Karr faces life in prison under the federal three-strikes law because of prior convictions. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 4.

Prosecutors suggested the O’Hair trio was kidnapped, robbed of $600,000, killed and their bodies dismembered. To date, no bodies have been found.

During the trial, two defense witnesses testified they saw O’Hair alive during the time prosecutors allege she was kidnapped or killed.

Gordon, an associate with the NAMB’s interfaith evangelism team who did his doctoral work in atheism, testified May 25 that he believed he saw O’Hair in a restaurant in Romania where he was dining in November 1997. “I believe that it was her, but as I testified in court I can’t say with 100 percent certainty it was her,” Gordon told Baptist Press.

Gordon, who had been lecturing at a Baptist school in Romania, said he was dining with his translator when they noticed a woman who looked like O’Hair sitting at a table bout 10 feet away eating alone. Gordon, who described the woman as looking “sickly,” said they were the only people eating in the restaurant at the time. He said he observed the woman for about 20 minutes before leaving the restaurant.

The following night, Gordon said, he returned to the restaurant with a camera in hopes of taking a photograph of O’Hair but did not see her. He said he reported the sighting to the Austin City Police Department in 1998. A private investigator called Gordon the morning the trial began, asking him to testify in court as an atheism expert.

Another defense witness testified seeing O’Hair in a San Antonio bar during the summer or fall of 1995.

O’Hair, a plaintiff in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case that banned prayer in public schools, was founder and financial czar of American Atheists, Inc. Suffering from diabetes and heart disease, O’Hair was America’s most infamous unbeliever when she, her son and granddaughter vanished in August 1995. A year later, O’Hair was reported missing by her estranged son, William Murray.

Gordon said the findings presented during the federal trial have not swayed his opinion.

“Until they can find a body I’m going to believe that the woman I saw was Madalyn Murray O’Hair,” he said.

Much of the evidence presented in the trial involved another suspect who has not been charged. David Waters, the O’Hairs’ former office manager, is already in prison on federal weapons charges. Waters, a convicted murder, is suspected to be the mastermind behind the O’Hairs’ disappearance.

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  • Lee Weeks