Were police in the Saturn the night of Maura’s disappearance? | Not Without Peril

I found this article and it appears they would have the right to search if they suspected a crime took place and that crime could be DUI.
This is incredibly interesting! I wonder ... I mean could this explain the changing stories about whether or not she seemed intoxicated? Maybe CS felt he needed to say that to justify the search - although yes I realize he denied the search. He used the term “in plain sight” in the police report which seemed ... coached or overly legalistic.
Thanks JWB! There is some good background information on the link you provided, which is very helpful for our discussion!
I don't know why the cops would have to lie about searching her car.In NH,if cops decide to impound a car,it's within the law for them to search it.
A second question is, was the tow lawful.
And I know people might think that I'm posing a ridiculous question here. But, I believe that it is lawful to park a car on the side of the road on rt. 112. And two sources suggest that that's exactly what Maura did.
This is from
This is from
Now, by searching the car after Fred arrived, and had given consent, the legality of the tow would no longer be a potential issue.
Let me put it this way: if it is legal to park where Maura parked, and considering the fact that she told Butch Atwood that she didn't need police assistance, what gave the police a right to tow Maura's car? If their right to tow the car was in question, then their right to do an inventory search was absolutely in question.
Yes, but, at least in Massachusetts, an inventory search can only be carried out in certain locations (depending on the police guidelines of the municipality). In those instances where it can't be searched at the scene, the car has to be towed before it can be searched.
EDIT: I don't know whether it could legally have been searched at the crash site as part of an inventory search. But perhaps someone who has knowledge of or access to the applicable guidelines could shed some light on the issue.
“In order to conduct a warrantless search of a non-impounded motor vehicle in New Hampshire, both probable cause and exigent circumstances must be present. . . . When exigent circumstances justify a warrantless search of a motor vehicle, the search should be conducted immediately.”
“Community Caretaking” Or “Emergency Aid” Exception
The ‘emergency aid’ exception recognizes that police officers regularly engage in ‘community caretaking function[s] ... such as helping stranded motorists, returning lost children to anxious parents, and assisting and protecting citizens in need,’ that are unrelated to the ‘detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”’In the course of performing those duties, it may be necessary, for example, for an officer to seize a person’s property to safeguard it against theft or destruction, or to enter a person’s property to respond to a reported emergency situation.”
“Although the ‘emergency aid’ exception applies to community caretaking functions, it may apply even in situations where the police are also conducting a criminal investigation.”
Inventory Searches Of Automobiles
“When the police impound a motor vehicle, they are permitted to conduct a warrantless inventory search of the vehicle.”
Clear as day.
So we know that the police COULD NOT HAVE searched the car onsite without both exigent circumstances and probable cause. A fairly high standard. I see where your mind is going with potential exigencies, but I think I need some time to think about it before responding.
When I buy some Reddit coins, I'm giving your comment an award (if I can do that).
If they did get into her car, it was from the passengers side instead of the drivers side. In the
From the Witness B account, she saw the door wide open. It was also reported that they had damaged the hood trying to gain access to the engine. I'm unsure of the parameters regarding what it entails to conduct a search and seizure of an abandoned vehicle. Either way, police felt they had probable cause to search it and find out what exactly happened. I would imagine from the contents of alcohol, they may have suspected a typical drunk driving incident with the owner fleeing the scene trying to relinquish any ties to it. The mystery itself is quite puzzling.
Yes, good point about the passenger door. I think my point was initially that I think they opened it/searched it and claimed they didn't. If they had said "we had probable cause to open the vehicle and in doing so found an identification on a text book or medical form (I'm speculating) that allowed us to send out an accurate BOL ..." then that would solve several uncertainties here. But instead they asserted that the vehicle was locked and not searched until they obtained a search warrant the next day. Now, they explicitly asked Fred for permission, so it does seem that they perceived that they required his permission.
in NH (and most states), police can do what's called an "inventory search" on any confiscated vehicle. They have to do it pursuant to a department policy. There's a lot of case law on this, but basically, if the department policy is to inventory everything in an impounded vehicle, they should do it every time. If they have no policy (rare), then the search starts to look investigatory and not just for inventory purposes, and could be tossed out as a 4th amendment violation.
I have looked for a while to find Haverhills department policies from 2004, with no success.
I suspect that an inventory search was conducted though before the car was towed away. It makes no sense for a department to not do inventory searches -- it protects them and impound lots / tow truck drivers from accusations of theft, it allows them to ensure that there is nothing dangerous in the vehicle (like uncapped needles) that could be an issue, and it allows them to find evidence of a crime.
I emailed the police department about this last week (there is an "ask the chief" program posted on their website with an email address to promote community policing). Hopefully they will respond soon.
Where I am from if the police find a car "abandoned" on the side of the road they have to check the inside of the vehicle including the boot/trunk. Is there a law like that in that state?
I imagine that there is. I don't see how Maura abandoned the Saturn.
Under the common law, property is "abandoned" when it is "left by an owner who intentionally relinquishes all rights to its control. " (emphasis added). That's not what happened here. Maura was not permenantly giving up her right to the car; she locked the door, for starters, which is evidence that she planned to return to the car at a future time. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that Maura wanted to "get rid of" the car. Therefore, she did not abandon it in the common law sense. Now, New Hampshire or Haverhill might have a legal definition of "abandoned" which differs from the common law. If so, perhaps someone could reference it?
As I said above, I believe you can park on the side of the road. Having been to the crash site myself, I parked roughly where Maura's crash occured (a little further up towards OPR), and in Helena's photobucket, her car is parked on the side of the road, as well (though further up, towards the Marrottes' -- as is Atwood's bus;
I am hoping someone with knowledge of the applicable law will comment here. Perhaps the person from the Facebook group quoted in the post? It would be very helpful.
question: Can someone pinpoint me to info that mentions Cecil going over to the Westmans and also to BA House? TY
JWB, both are mentioned in the Maribeth Conway article,
Hi fulkstop I've enjoyed reading your post and everyone's thoughts. In regards to the question if the Saturn was illegally towed, I prompted me to do a lot of research and reading on New Hampshire laws, from abandoned vehicles to parking regulations. Police can tow any vehicle if it is parked in a way they believe could cause a hazard to other drivers. We know her car was parked facing the wrong way, and I think it is more than likely that it was at the very least partially in the road itself, whether by an inch or a foot, which is also illegal. I looked at one of the original news report videos from when the days after she went missing- the snowbanks are decently high and it looks like there would only be one area that has a *little* room to park (though the car would probably still be partially in the road), and the snow in that spot was probably more worn down than it was the night she crashed from police and investigators pulling up to the scene. Pics:
Thanks I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you to fulkstop for posting it here and the excellent discussion. I’m catching up and it’s fascinating.
Thank you, and sorry I didn't see this before. Very good research!
In agreement on this. An accident waiting to happen having her car the wrong way into oncoming traffic. At night at the sharp curve needless to say. Shouldn't be any question about it being towed. Maybe who and where it was towed, but we don't know the "whys" behind that. As for searchin inside the car, we're still at odds on knowing if that happened.
I think if you follow the evidence, you should conclude that police did not break into maura's car that night. -- but that is just my opinion
Police handled the minor car accident like they handle most minor car accidents where the driver is nowhere to be found. They got the information (whether from VIN or license plate) that would lead them to the car's owner, they did a quick investigation around the accident location, checked in briefly with the neighbors and with the nearby hospital - and they sent the car off to a secured location and they followed up on the car, specifically whom owned the car the next day. (all very standard stuff)
They weren't treating anything like the crime of the century. There was no "missing person investigation" underway.
Around 5:30 p.m. on Feb 10, is when their minor car accident with a possible dui flee became something much bigger and it was at that time, that an official investigation got underway.
On another note: All accounts I have heard do state that part of Maura's car was sticking out in the road, so that (the car) would need to be moved and would not be allowed to stay there if that info is correct
Hey, glad you're commenting.
Since I strongly disagree with one point you made, I will go after that first, lol.
"All accounts I have heard do state that part of Maura's car was sticking out in the road, so that (the car) would need to be moved and would not be allowed to stay there if that info is correct."
Neither of the official reports, Smiths or Monaghans, state or even suggest that any part of Maura's car was in the road. See Smith's report,
Instead, Smith's narrative states that the car "c[a]me to rest ... in the eastbound lane," and that when Cecil Smith arrived, the car was "parked." This suggests that Maura "parked" her car (probably because of the airbags, being shaken, etc.). At that point, she probably realized she was stuck in the waterfilled ditch (see Erinn's podcast), and couldn't drive the car. And she fled.
Monaghan's report does not mentioned the position of the car in anyway.
In fact, I can't find a singe account which states that Maura's car was sticking in the road.
There was actually never a statement that the police didn't search Maura's car that night. Maggie only asked Smith whether HE was able to get it open. I am not sure why she didn't ask him if the car was opened by ANYONE. But she did not. As a police officer, who has probably been trained how to testify in court cases, he would understand the importance of such distinctions. And now, we will never know, as he has passed away.
On the other side of it, three witnesses have said that they saw Maura's car door open. So I have no choice, when following the evidence, but to conclude that they searched her car.
Thanks for commenting; you always bring a lot to the discussion.
Excellent, excellent post!
" ​In conclusion, I think they opened her car, searched it, and then later said they didn’t. "
I completely agree.
One thing. I know you say that "[t]he issue here is not whether or not they had the legal ability to open or search the vehicle," but personally I would like to understand that point. So if someone who knows the law in this area could respond with a brief explanation (even just the source of the legal authority), or PM me, I would greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I will do a bit of research on it, and report back.
I haven't read all the comments here - but I can guess and summarize them in a couple of paragraphs:
2) No, the cops are honest and telling the truth about not being in the car. Why on earth would they lie or hide or cover up something like that? They found it locked, had no idea where the "hidden key" was and towed it get it out of the way of traffic / snow plows.
Those two statements which are polar opposites, about sum up the 40 + comments below.
Oh, btw - on any state road, the state has the right to tow a parked vehicle if they feel it is causing a danger to other motorists or maintenance crews.
Also, whether the car was locked, unlocked, cops in it, cops not in - has ZERO to do with finding her or her abductor / killer. Just saying... but carry on with your time wasting.
You posted this week asking whether any one cares about this case. Then you come on here, insult the excellent post by finn, and the series of thoughtful comments that followed, and acknowledge that you didn't even read them before you mischaracterized them. Well, to answer your question about "who cares," pretty clearly not you. If you had bothered to read the comments, not a single one accuses the police of having any involvement in Maura's disappearance. As to the rest of your comment, I didn't bother to read it.
I wrote the blog post so thanks for criticizing something you didn’t even read. I’m not looking for a conspiracy I’m just chasing down anomalies in the evidence. I figure the closer we can get to an evidence-based approach the better — and in doing so we may actually reduce the chatter that deals with red herrings and theories based on misinformation.
I would imagine this has been discussed, but since I don't remember seeing it anywhere, look at what
So Smith mentioned the Coke bottle to Monaghan when the car was still at the scene. Yet
Although Monaghan has not always been entirely credible when it comes to the timing of events, I find this detail credible, because to my knowledge, he was not at the scene when the car was towed off. Plus, he says that Smith told him about the Coke bottle when he first pulled up.
Now, if Smith found the Coke bottle in the car, why would he lie about finding it under the car? Wouldn't it have been easier if he had simply left it in the car and said that he could see it through the window (like the wine)?
There are two scenarios that I haven't seen discussed here, although one of them, I am stealing from a Topix discussion I recently saw:
Scenario two is the one that I have stolen from Topix. On Topix, one of the posters represents that Smith made some reference to missing liquor bottles the night of the crash. I have been unable to find the source of Smith's alleged statement. But such a statement, if true, suggests that Smith either searched the car at the scene and saw the receipt (thus explaining his knowledge of the missing liquor bottles) or (and this was the theory from Topix) Maura grabbed the liquor bottles while Smith was at Atwoods' and locked the car with her Fob.
I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.
good catch. Yes, I know I've discussed this with various people probably more email and messenger.
I do have one question though: are we sure that the bottle in evidence is the one found under the car? Because the bottle in evidence is I believe Diet Cherry and the reference I have seen to the one found after the car was towed has always just been Coke. I do assume they are the same but am not 100% sure.
Plus ... Cecil keeps commenting on the smell upon arrival. We've talked about this - how could he smell anything?
The idea of the door left open is an interesting one. Alternately it could have just been unlocked ... or he just popped it open. But he definitely knew about the Coke bottle before the car was towed.
Finally, I think I emailed this ... but in White's 2008 article Williams mentions they put into evidence a Coke bottle with an odor of alcohol. Why doesn't it say "that was confirmed to contain alcohol" - I mean it's 2008 and surely it's been tested. Should we think maybe it didn't actually have alcohol? Or did they just not tell White what they found?
(As an aside, in her journal entries Sharon mentions that she was asked a lot about the licorice, so my guess is that there was licorice found in a bottle but just a guess).