Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mysterious Disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Missing — Or Is She?

Madalyn won the fraud lawsuit, but the plaintiffs vowed to appeal. If the appeal were successful, it would wipe out her organization. She then liquidated most of her assets, an attorney told The Washington Post in 2002. One of Madalyn's former employees told the newspaper that he saw bank statement from New Zealand Guardian Trust that showed an account with a balance in excess of $1 million.

Shortly thereafter, on Aug. 28, 1995, employees of American Atheists found a note taped to the front door of the office when they arrived for work. It stated that the O'Hair family had left town for an emergency and didn't know how long they would be gone. The note was signed by Jon Murray. This seemed especially strange to one employee, who went to Madalyn's home and found her three dogs and diabetes medicine still there.

Jon and Madalyn
Jon and Madalyn

Unusual as this was, the remaining leaders of the organization put on a brave front and told supporters that she'd be back. The group continued to operate in her absence. "I just talked with Madalyn herself moments ago," her spokesman Spike Tyson told The Associated Press on Sept. 29.

"I can tell you categorically that Madalyn is alive," a supporter echoed. "I can't tell you exactly what is happening. She's safe and that's all I can tell you."

When she didn't show up for a planned picket of the October visit by the Pope to the U.S., people were either concerned or pleasantly surprised, depending on their religious affiliation. However, no one filed a missing persons report, and the local police didn't seem too worried.

"In the state of Texas, it's not against the law to become missing," said Austin police Sgt. Steve Baker.