News Articles

Son of missing atheist believes investigators have solved mystery

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP)–The born-again son of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair said he’s relieved that federal agents apparently have solved the five-year-old riddle of his estranged mother’s disappearance.

“I’m glad to see there is resolution for all concerned — for family and everyone else. It’s just time for people to move on,” said Bill Murray of Fredericksburg, Va., who renounced his mother’s anti-religious views two decades ago.

Murray told the Houston Chronicle Jan. 29 that mutilated human remains unearthed over the weekend on a ranch in Real County, Texas, were surely those of his mother; his daughter, Robin Murray O’Hair; and his brother, Jon Garth Murray. They vanished in September 1995.

Murray said he’s convinced his three relatives were kidnapped in Austin and slain in an extortion plot led by state inmate David Roland Waters.

Waters, a former O’Hair aide, agreed to lead investigators to the burial site about 100 miles west of San Antonio. The cooperation was part of a plea-bargain agreement that was made public Jan. 29, the day his trial was to begin.

For his belated help, federal prosecutors dropped five kidnapping and extortion charges against Waters. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and extortion.

Already serving a 60-year state prison term for bilking O’Hair’s American Atheists organization out of $54,000, Waters now faces an additional 20-year federal prison term. Sentencing is set for March 30 in Austin.

Twice in 1999, federal and state agents searched the same south Texas ranch without success — but without Waters’ assistance. Waters apparently picked the remote burial site near Camp Wood after meeting a ranch hand in an Austin bar.

On Jan. 27, soon after FBI agents started digging under Waters’ gaze, bone fragments were found. By late Sunday, authorities had enough evidence to declare the search for the missing trio over, though they made no formal declaration identifying the remains.

Investigators ended their digging about noon Monday, an FBI spokesman said, adding that positive identification of the remains could take weeks. One key clue, however, was the discovery Sunday of an artificial hip possibly belonging to O’Hair, who had hip-replacement surgery.

All the remains, including bones showing signs of charring and mutilation, were taken to the anthropology department at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos for laboratory analysis that could lead to positive identification.

In 1960, when Murray was a student at a public school in Baltimore, his mother filed suit in his behalf seeking to end prayer and Bible reading in the son’s classes. Though the suit failed in state court, O’Hair triumphed in a landmark 1963 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared unconstitutional the school’s religious activities.

O’Hair’s only Bible — sent to her in 1968 by a Sunday school class of 12-year-olds from a Tulsa, Okla., Baptist church — sold for $2,000 in a 1995 auction of the famed atheist’s possessions. The inscription of the small white children’s Bible read: “Presented to Mrs. Madelyn [sic] O’Hair by the 12-year-old girls at Winnetka Heights Baptist Church, Tulsa, Okla., Dec. 15, 1968.”

Murray distanced himself from his mother and her unpopular views in 1980 and became a Christian evangelist. He’s chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, which promotes abstinence, adoption “and other socially conservative concepts that we believe strengthen the family,” Murray said.

Pondering the sadistic killings of his atheist relatives, Murray said he hopes “that in their last few tortured days or hours, that they had the opportunity to indeed invite Christ into their lives.”

    About the Author

  • Staff