Updated Sept 23, 2003
Madalyn Murray O'Hair
When atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son, and granddaughter mysteriously disappeared from their Austin, Tex., home in 1995, the police didn't lift a finger to find the family that had taken God out of America. Five years went by before a determined reporter would unravel the mystery of her disappearance.
by Lona Manning
"There is no God. There's no heaven. There's no hell. There are no angels. When you die, you go in the ground, the worms eat you."
-- Madalyn Murray O'Hair
When David Travis arrived for work on Aug. 28, 1995 at the headquarters of American Atheists in Austin, Tex., he knew something was wrong: The door was locked and a note was posted on it: "The Murray-O'Hair family has been called out of town on an emergency basis. We do not know how long we will be gone at the time of the writing of this memo."
As Travis, a 50-ish former Army sergeant, stood there reading the note, he felt the anger welling up. He couldn't say he was surprised that his employers were gone, and by the looks of things, so was his job as a proofreader. He'd been suspicious that the Murray-O'Hairs were up to something ever since he had opened a letter from New Zealand last spring and discovered a bank statement for an account he had never heard of, for almost a million dollars. And this was when Madalyn Murray O'Hair, his cantankerous boss, was always crying the blues about money and warning him that she might not be able to meet payroll.
O'Hair was always extremely secretive about the financial affairs of American Atheists, which she had founded in 1963 and dominated ever since. All financial records were kept locked up in a little room away from prying eyes. Recently, a seven- foot chain linked fence, topped with cyclone wire, had been built around the property, a fitting emblem of O'Hair's siege mentality. According to her, the world was a hostile place, particularly toward atheists. She and her family had been persecuted for 35 years for their courageous stand for the separation of church and state. But lately, as her health declined, and with it her energy and combative spirit, O'Hair had been known to talk about getting away from it all.