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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Case is Solved
FEDERAL AUTHORITIES CONFIRM REMAINS OF MURDERED O'HAIR FAMILY
March 15, 2001
At a press conference this morning in Austin, Texas, investigators announced that they have positively identified remains unearthed at a ranch 120 miles west of San Antonio as those of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and adopted daughter and granddaughter Robin Murray O'Hair.
Roderick Beverley, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio office said that forensic scientists used various medical and dental records to identify the three family members. \This certainly gives us some closure,\ he told reporters.
The remains were found in late January, 2001 after David Roland Waters, 53, reached a plea agreement with authorities and took investigators to the site near Camp Wood. Waters was slated for trial over his involvement in a scheme to kidnap, defraud and murder the O'Hairs. A close associate, Gary Karr was convicted last June on four counts in connection with the case, and received a life sentence. Another man, \Chico\ Osborne, was found guilty of using a fraudulent social security number in order to rent a storage locker where, say investigators, the O'Hair's bodies were dismembered and placed in plastic drums, and then transported to the burial site.
Two years ago, authorities had searched portions of the 5,000 acre Cooksey ranch using sophisticated ground imaging equipment, earth movers and specially trained dogs, but no remains were found. Waters identified the 15' x 15' area, though, where the bodies were buried, stacked on top of each other.
The head and hands of a fourth person were also discovered. Investigators say that these are likely remains of Danny Fry, whose headless and handless corpse was found in 1995 on a Dallas County river bank. It is believed that Fry, a small-time con man from Florida who came to Texas at the behest of Waters, was killed for fear that he might talk about the plot.
The remains from the grave site were turned over to two experts from University of Texas Health Science Center at the San Antonio Dental School.
The official cause of death for the O'Hairs was listed as \indeterminate,\ but important forensic clues suggest possible circumstances for how the family members may have died. Mrs. O'Hair's remains were identified in part from a metal artificial hip replacement from 1988 and various dental records. Age, stature, ancestry and other information was used to confirm the identities of the bodies as well.
In the case of Jon Garth Murray, forensics investigators listed the possible cause of death as \Suffocation/Blunt Trauma.\ An entry on the autopsy report added: \During excavation of individual #3 (identified as Jon Murray) it was noted that a plastic bag had been placed over the victim's head prior to burial, suggesting the possibility of suffocation as cause of death. In addition, a fragment of a plastic ligature was found in association with the hands of this individual.\
\Small fractures\ were also identified on head bones, and were \consistent with blunt force trauma and may possibly be related to the cause of death.\
AANEWS has learned that sources close to both the investigation and autopsy were unable to confirm or deny whether members of the family were tortured. During the trial of Gary Karr, a former girlfriend of David Waters reported that he fantasized about torturing O'Hair and cutting off her toes. Dr. David Glassman of the Center for Education and Research in Forensics in San Antonio reported that the toes had not been severed or crushed. Prior to the trial of Gary Karr, sources close to the probe spoke of torture and rape following the initial abduction of the family. Investigators added that they were unable to identify what sort of instrument had been used to dismember the bodies.
The autopsies also revealed that the condition of the remains was \relatively good,\ and that \Several hand and foot bones, and fragments of other bones were recovered during the grave excavation but due to co-mingling or recovering during the screening process, they were not assigned to a particular individual.\
The bodies had been dismembered at the mid-thigh level.
Full details of the plea agreement involving Waters, and what other information he may have provided to federal investigators, remains sealed by court order. It is known, though, that part of the deal is that Waters will serve any prison sentence in a federal facility. He faces sentencing as part of the agreement at the end of this month.
Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, issued a statement to reporters saying that today's confirmation \brings closure to a painful and unfortunate tragedy.\
\Madalyn O'Hair played a pivotal role in the history of state-church separation in America, thanks in part to the historic MURRAY v. CURLETT (1963) Supreme court case which helped to end coercive prayer and Bible verse recitation in the public schools.
\Jon Murray and Robin Murray both continued this legacy by fighting for civil rights for Atheists, and First Amendment freedoms.\
Johnson added that today's revelations \refute and discredit the irresponsible charges that the O'Hairs had absconded with funds from this organization, and had fled the country.\ She noted that the investigation into their fate began as a money laundering inquiry, but quickly turned into a murder investigation.
\For us as an organization, this is final closure,\ Johnson said.
Statement To News Media from the steps of the Courthouse
Friday, March 30, 2001
\My name is Ellen Johnson, and I am the President of American Atheists. I succeeded Jon Murray as president in 1995 after his disappearance. Our organization was founded by Madalyn O'Hair in 1965. We are a civil rights organization defending the liberties of Atheists, and the separation of state and church.
\We consider today's sentencing to be the final chapter in a tragedy which has claimed the lives of our friends and colleagues Madalyn O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and her adopted daughter and granddaughter, Robin Murray-O'Hair.
\We extend our deepest sympathies to all who have also been touched by this horrible crime.
\On behalf of the officers and board of directors of American Atheists we want to thank everyone involved who helped to bring this to a conclusion in particular, Gerald Carruth of the United States Attorney's Office, Judge Sam Sparks for his fair and impartial administration of justice, the FBI, the Dallas Sheriff's Department, John MacCormack and, in particular, Ed Martin of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations Division. I have been working with him for several years and he has always treated us with the utmost respect. He has always been professional and it has been my honor to work with him.
\I want to say a few words about how the O'Hairs have been depicted over the last several years, beginning with their disappearance in the fall of 1995. This case argues strongly for all of us -- private citizens and news media alike -- to remind ourselves of the importance of basing our opinions on facts, not speculations. It is regrettable that in a number of cases, individuals made a 'rush to judgment' in pronouncing or treating the members of the Murray O'Hair family like criminals when, in fact, they were the victims. And when, in fact, nothing in their past could have possibly lent itself to the assumption that they would have committed a crime, except for prejudice against Atheists.
\Not liking someone, or perhaps disagreeing with someone's philosophical opinions or personal style, does not relieve any of us of the ethical responsibility of speaking the truth, or at least trying to convey facts, or knowing when we don't have 'all of the facts' at our disposal.
\Over the last several years, I have heard and read numerous reports and accounts pertaining to this case. Some tried to be fair and objective; others have emphasized only one side of the story, namely, the one reflecting opinions of those with a personal ax to grind against the Murray O'Hairs. Along with everything that has been written, I would again remind you that these were three people passionately engaged in the business of living, trying as best they could to make a positive difference in the world, and standing by their principles. They could not be all things to all people; nor were they perfect. But like every one of us here today, along their faults, they also had strengths, virtues, hopes, and aspirations.
\These crimes were committed because a malicious individual spread rumors about the Murray-O'Hairs allegedly hiding millions of dollars of assets in foreign countries. Waters heard this and thought it was true. He wanted that money. That is why the Murray-O'Hairs are dead. So we need to be very careful and accept nothing less than the truth and maintaining the highest of ethical standards, just like the Murray-O'Hairs did all their lives.
\I would ask that when you write about Madalyn O'Hair, you try, as best as you can, to convey all sides of this complex person and the story of her life. If you call her 'the most hated woman in America,' also try to remember that she was passionately engaged in the issues of her time, as an Atheist, as a social activist, and as a woman. It wasn't easy fighting the legal battles she fought for nearly four decades.
\She was also one of the most loved women - by Atheists in America and around the world. This is the woman who took $225 a month out of her only source of income - her social security check, to pay for an employee's child to go to school in Austin
\If you write about Robin Murray O'Hair, at least remember that she was a young woman who, like her grandmother, stood by her principles. In 1987, she went to jail here in Austin, Texas, rather than swear a religious oath just for the privilege of serving on a jury.
\When you write about Jon Murray, remember that he too stood by his principles, in court cases, in his writing, in testifying before the United States Congress, and in so much more.
\When you write about these people, remember that you are writing about people and they were like family to me and many others.
\If you care to know about the love and regard that so many people had for them and the tremendous accomplishments they had over their entire lives, I invite you to attend the memorial tribute we will be holding on April 12 in Orlando, Florida.
\I personally have been affected by this case, not just as the president of this organization, but as a private person. I'm more aware of what the families and friends of other crime victims experience. When I hear or read of something similar -- a family who's child is missing, the horror of violence and murder committed against others -- I'm more sensitive to that loss.
\We will always remember these three people who contributed so much, defended the Constitution of the United States, worked passionately for the rights of so many Americans, and met a senseless and tragic death.
ELLEN JOHNSON, President