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Atheists Murder Atheists Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Madalyn Murray O'Hair (née Mays; April 13, 1919 – September 29, 1995),[1] was an American activist, founder of American Atheists, and the organization's president from 1963 to 1986. She created the first issues of American Atheist Magazine. O'Hair is best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963. That case came just one year after the Supreme Court prohibited officially sponsored prayer in schools in Engel v. Vitale.

In 1995, O'Hair, her son Jon, and her granddaughter Robin disappeared from Austin, Texas. They were later found to have been kidnappedmurdered and mutilated by David Roland Waters, a convicted felon on parole, and fellow career criminal Gary Karr, and a third man, Danny Fry.

Madalyn Mays was born in the Beechview neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 1919, the daughter of Lena Christina (née Scholle) and John Irwin Mays.[2] She had an older brother, John Irwin Jr. (known as "Irv").[3] The siblings had Irish ancestry on their father's side and German ancestry on their mother's side. At the age of four, Madalyn was baptized into her father's Presbyterianchurch; her mother was a Lutheran.[4] In 1936, she graduated from Rossford High School in Rossford, Ohio.[5]
In 1941, she married John Henry Roths. They separated when they both enlisted for World War II service, he in the United States Marine Corps, she in the Women's Army Corps. In April 1945, while posted to a cryptography position in Italy, she began a relationship with an officer, William J. Murray, Jr., a married Roman Catholic who refused to divorce his wife. Mays divorced Roths, adopted the name Madalyn Murray, and gave birth to a boy, William J. Murray III (nicknamed "Bill").[4]
In 1949, Murray completed a bachelor's degree from Ashland University.[6] On November 16, 1954, she gave birth to her second son, Jon Garth Murray, fathered by her boyfriend Michael Fiorillo.[7] It was rumored that she sought to defect to the Soviet Union at their embassy in Paris,[8] but that the Soviets denied her entry.[9] Murray and her sons returned to the Loch Raven section of Baltimore, Maryland in 1960 to live with her mother and brother.[10]
Murray left Maryland in 1963 and fled to Honolulu, after allegedly assaulting five Baltimore police officers who tried to retrieve a runaway girl, Bill's girlfriend Susan (who would later be granddaughter Robin's mother).[11] In 1965, she married U.S. Marine and government informant Richard O'Hair.[6] Although they were separated, she remained married to him until his death in 1978.
On August 27, 1995, O'Hair, her son Jon, and granddaughter Robin disappeared.[17] The door to the office of American Atheists was locked with a typewritten note attached (apparently with Jon's signature), stating, "The Murray O'Hair family has been called out of town on an emergency basis. We do not know how long we will be gone at the time of the writing of this memo." When O'Hair's home was entered, breakfast dishes were sitting on the table;[17] her diabetes medication was on the kitchen counter, and her dogs had been left behind without a caregiver.[11] In phone calls a few days later, the trio claimed that they were on "business" in San Antonio, Texas.[17] A few days later, Jon ordered US$600,000 worth of gold coins from a San Antonio jeweler, but took delivery of only $500,000 worth of coins.[26]
Until September 27, American Atheists employees received several phone calls from Robin and Jon, but neither would explain why they left or when they would return; while they said nothing was amiss, their voices sounded strained and disturbed.[17] After September 28, no further communication came from any of the O'Hairs.

Investigation and arrests[edit]

Ultimately, the investigation focused on David Roland Waters, who had worked as a typesetter and later office manager for American Atheists. Not only did Waters have previous convictions for violent crimes, there were also several suspicious burglaries at the organization during his tenure, and he had pled guilty earlier that year to stealing $54,000 from American Atheists.[27] Shortly after his theft of the $54,000 was discovered, O'Hair had written a scathing article in the "Members Only" section of the American Atheists newsletter exposing Waters, the theft and Waters' previous crimes, including a 1977 incident in which Waters allegedly beat and urinated upon his mother.[11] O'Hair also reported on his murder of another teenager at the age of 17, meaning that Waters was already a convicted felon. This, in conjunction with his public use of firearms, was enough to sentence Waters to prison for eight years before he could kill again.[11][27]
Waters' girlfriend later testified that he was enraged by O'Hair's article, and that he fantasized about torturing her in gruesome ways and snipping off her toes.[27] Federal agents for the FBI and the IRS, along with the police, concluded that Waters and his accomplices had kidnapped all three O'Hairs, forced them to withdraw the missing funds, gone on several huge shopping sprees with the O'Hairs' money and credit cards, and then murdered and dismembered all three people.[28] Waters' accomplices were Gary Paul Karr and Danny Fry.[28] A few days after the O'Hairs were killed, Fry was murdered by Waters and Karr. What turned out to be Fry's body was found on a riverbed with the head and hands missing, and remained unidentified for three and a half years.[28]
A search warrant was executed on the apartment of David Waters and his girlfriend. The apartment was across the street from the Headquarters of the Department of Public Safety. The search produced various calibers of ammunition. Waters, a convicted felon, was arrested, and the contents of his apartment were examined and seized. At the same time, Gary Karr was contacted in Walled Lake, Michigan, and interviewed. As a hardened criminal who had spent the last 30 years in prison for the kidnapping of the daughter of a judge, Karr would not talk. After being read his rights, Karr was asked to listen to the information being discussed. Karr decided to talk and implicate David Waters in the death of the O'Hairs. Karr went so far as to sign an affidavit and to draw a map of where their bodies could be found. Karr was arrested for possession of two firearms and taken to jail. He lingered in Detroit, awaiting trial. The weapon seizure was dismissed, and Karr was transferred to the custody of the United States Marshals in Austin to stand trial for the death of the O'Hairs.
After a three-week trial, Karr was found guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion, traveling interstate to commit violent acts, money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property charges related to the O'Hair case. However, he was acquitted of kidnapping conspiracy, since the bodies of the O'Hairs were not found at the time.[28] Karr was sentenced to two life sentences in prison in August 2000 by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks.[29] Waters was arrested and found guilty of kidnapping, robbery, and murder in the O'Hair case, and sentenced to 80 years in prison;[30] he was also ordered to pay back a total of $543,665 to the United Secularists of America and to the estates of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin Murray O'Hair. It is unlikely that these debts were paid, because Waters had no ability to earn money while in prison. Waters died of lung cancer at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, on January 27, 2003.[11]
In January 2001, after his conviction and imprisonment, Waters informed the federal agents that the O'Hairs were buried on a Texas ranch, and subsequently led them to the bodies.[11][26] When law enforcement excavated there, they discovered that the O'Hairs' bodies had had their legs dismembered with a saw. The remains exhibited such extensive mutilation and decomposition that identification had to be made through dental recordsDNA testing and, in Madalyn O'Hair's case, records of a prosthetic hip from Brackenridge Hospital in Austin (the product number identified her body).[31] The head and hands of Danny Fry were also found at the site.
The gold coins extorted from the O'Hairs were put in an unsecured storage locker rented by Waters' girlfriend, which was locked with a cheap Master padlock.[11] Waters had taken out a small number of coins and proceeded to party with his girlfriend for a few days with Gary Karr and his former wife but, upon his return to the locker, he discovered that the remaining gold coins (American eaglesMaple Leafs and Krugerrands) had been stolen. A group of thieves from San Antonio operating in that area had a master key to the type of lock that the girlfriend purchased to secure the locker. In the course of their activities, the thieves had come across the locker, used the master key to open it, and found a suitcase full of gold coins. They returned to San Antonio, and with the help of friends converted the gold coins to cash. For the efforts of the friends, they were taken to Las Vegas for a weekend. The money was eventually all spent but for one coin that was given as a pendant gift to an aunt. The coin was recovered by the FBI after a Memorial Day 1999 public appeal.[11]
There was some criticism of the Austin Police Department's apparent apathy about the disappearance. Austin reporter Robert Bryce wrote:[27]
Despite pleas from O'Hair's son, William J. Murray, several briefings from federal agents, and solid leads developed by members of the press, the Austin Police Department (APD) sat on the sidelines of the O'Hair investigation ... Meanwhile, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Dallas County Sheriff's Office are working together on the case ... a federal agent was asked to discuss APD's actions in the O'Hair case. His only response was to roll his eyes in amazement.

Brett Keane
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