Texas Police Probe Disappearance
of Famed Atheist

October 3. 1996

AUSTIN, Texas, (Reuter) -- Texas police have opened an investigation into the disappearance of famed American atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, but have few leads, her son said on Thursday. 

William Murray, a Christian advocate who has been estranged from his mother for more than a decade, said he filed a missing persons report with police on Sept. 24. 

O'Hair has not been heard from since leaving Austin in August 1995 after telling associates she was headed to New York to picket the visit of Pope John Paul II. A younger son, Jon Murray, 44, and a 31-year-old granddaughter, Robin Murray-O'Hair, disappeared at the same time. 

O'Hair gained national prominence when she won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1963 outlawing school prayer. She later founded American Atheists, a national organisation which fought to keep religion out of government activities. 

Murray said police told him earlier this week they had found his daughter Robin's car, a 1985 Porsche, parked in a long-term parking lot at the Austin airport. 

"The car has been processed and there is nothing suspicious," Austin police spokesman Mike Burgess said, adding the car had been at the airport for several months. "There is no indication of foul play." 

If O'Hair is found and asks police not to disclose her whereabouts, Burgess said police will quietly close the investigation. "It is not against the law in Texas to be missing," Burgess said. 

The day O'Hair disappeared, Murray said a typewritten note was left on the door of the American Atheists' headquarters instructing the staff they had been laid off. The family's dogs also were dropped off at a boarding kennel with instructions they would be picked up later, he said. 

But the atheist group continues to occupy a "million dollar office complex" and a "quarter-million dollar home" that belonged to his mother, Murray said. 

Murray said he filed the missing persons report to end a "withering fire" of media interest, particularly from tabloid newspapers. "I am hoping the police ... can bring about some kind of closure," he said. 

Spike Tyson, a spokesman for the group, said Murray is less concerned about finding his mother than getting hold of her assets. "Why is he doing this now? Publicity. He needs money for his organisation," Tyson said. "He hated his mother with a passion." 

Murray heads an organisation called Government is Not God (GNG), a political action committee based in Washington, D.C. 

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