Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mysterious Disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

American Atheists Inc.

It wasn't long before Madalyn was living the life of comfort that she always wanted. People from across America were sending her cash donations for the atheist cause. She founded American Atheists, Inc. and moved to Austin, Texas. Madalyn married again, taking the last name O'Hair.

The O'Hair family life, however, caused Bill anguish. He became a drug addict, an alcoholic and the unwed father of a girl, Robin. Unable to care for the child, Bill left her with his mother, who adopted Robin as her own daughter. Robin, Jon and Madalyn would become the driving force of American Atheists, Inc.

Jon and Robin
Jon and Robin

In the late 1970s, Bill entered a rehab program and was exposed to evangelical Christianity. He renounced atheism and on Mother's Day 1980 became a born-again Christian. Thus began the second stage of Bill's life, that of a Christian evangelist seeking to undo what his mother had done.

"I view what we did as wrong...we took the authority of God out of the schools," Bill said. "We attempted to replace it with the logic of man." Bill distanced himself from his family, and they never spoke again.

"The family I come from is the mother of dysfunctional families," he said.

Jon and Robin
Jon and Robin

Madalyn enjoyed infamy, various court battles, and the growing membership of her organization well into the 1980s. But Ronald Reagan's reelection to the White House signaled a cultural shift to a more conservative America that again embraced tradition and Christianity. Her support began to dwindle. The IRS sued Jon and Robin for using organizational assets for their personal use, and Madalyn was sued by a rival, for-profit organization when she tried to take over the company by claiming ownership of its stock. By the mid-1990s it seemed that the glory days were over.

Those who knew her well intimated that she was making preparations to leave for New Zealand, where it was thought she had a cache of money squirreled away.


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