Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mysterious Disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

A Dysfunctional Family

Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Madalyn was born Madalyn Mays in 1919 to a lower-middle class Pittsburgh family. The Mays family was Presbyterian, and Madalyn was forced to read the Bible, a book she thought was filled with violence and a mean God. At age 22 she married her first husband, enlisted in the Women's Army Corps (WACs) at the outbreak of World War II, but then had a wartime affair with a well-to-do Army officer. She became pregnant and divorced her husband in hopes of marrying him, but he was Catholic, married and ultimately unwilling to leave his wife.

Madalyn with son Jon and granddaughter Robin
Madalyn with son Jon and granddaughter Robin

She had a second child, Jon Garth Murray, by another father. As the family struggled to make ends meet, Madalyn would rail against the Catholic Church for preventing her marriage to the wealthy Murray.

The family settled in Baltimore, which forever changed their fate. One day while Madalyn was enrolling her son Bill, 14, in school, she heard students reciting the Lord's Prayer in class. This was done at the beginning of each day, before the Pledge of Allegiance. Murray by now was well-entrenched in her dislike of organized religion and did not believe God existed. An angry Madalyn sued the school district to abolish this practice and the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four years later, in 1963, the Court handed down a ruling outlawing school prayer. She rejoiced, along with the atheist children she had raised.

Robin and Madalyn
Robin and Madalyn

The court victory made her a media sensation and launched her on a national crusade against organized religion. Life magazine gave Madalyn her famous "most hated" moniker in its 1964 story covering her campaign. She did the television talk show circuit and gave interviews to the nation's newspapers.

Life quoted her as saying: "We find the Bible to be nauseating, historically in accurate and replete with the ravings of madmen. We find God to be sadistic, brutal and a representation of hatred."

 

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