An absent atheist's money goes missing

If every great religion has its mysteries, so too now does anti- religion, at least in the United States.

Fifteen months ago, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, head of American Atheists Inc and the country's most famous non- believer, vanished from her home in Austin Texas, along with her younger son and an adopted grand-daughter who lived with her. What happened is a riddle which baffles her followers, the media and the police to this day.

This week the tale grew curiouser still: According to a Texas newspaper, $625,000 disappeared from the accounts of American Atheists and its sister organisation United Secularists of America at almost the precise moment the three went missing. The paper further claimed that the money was "believed to be in the possession" of Jon Murray, the son who vanished with her.

Back in September 1995, everything still seemed relatively straightforward. Aged 77 and chronically ill with diabetes, Ms O'Hair suspected she was not much longer for this earth. She had vanished, it was generally assumed, in order to keep those hated Christians - "Christers" as she called them - and their prayers away from any funeral she might organise.

But as the months passed and no trace was found, other theories began to circulate. Maybe, some murmured, she had suffered the ultimate, never to be admitted humiliation of a deathbed conversion. No more implausibly, perhaps she had been abducted by her Godfearing foes, especially numerous in the Bible Belt where she lived.

After all had not Ms O'Hair, who led the challenge which resulted in the historic Supreme Court ruling of 1962 banning prayer in public in public schools, more recently taken aim at religious broadcasting ? Nowhere is that institution more entrenched than in the American South. Not for nothing did she refer to herself as "the most hated woman in America".

But if her possible demise could be explained, the continuing disappearance of her son and granddaughter could not. Hence increasingly rumours of foul play, motivated by the millions of dollars reputedly controlled by Ms O'Hair and her associates through American Atheists, which claims 40,000 followers, and its affiliates. Now comes news of the missing $625,000, fuelling speculation - denied by most of those who knew them - that the three simply absconded. Mexico is one favoured destination. Tahiti and New Zealand are others.

Belatedly, William Murray, O'Hair's estranged elder son and a Christian activist, has asked for a police investigation. In Texas, if there is no arrest warrant against a missing person, these things can take time: "It's not against the law for an adult to disappear," a police officer says, noting there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Mr Murray though begs to differ. The trio was not the kind which merges into the background, he argues: "They are unusual-looking, unusual-sounding people, they were all obese, they were all foul-mouthed. If they came into your place of business you wouldn't forget them." Something bad, he insists, must have happened.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests