Investigation Discovery; ABC

Should Fans Of The Missing Maura Murray Podcast Bother With TV-Newsmag Eps About The Case?

20/20 and Disappeared both looked at Murray's disappearance. Should you look at them?

The Brand: The Missing Maura Murray podcast.

The Extension: 20/20's and Disappeared's episodes about Maura Murray.

Is This A Brand Worth Extending? It's more of a pre-extension in the case of the podcast, which only started in the summer of 2015; 20/20's episode on the topic aired in 2006, Disappeared's in 2010. But it's a fascinating case: Murray wrecked her car on a two-lane New Hampshire highway in 2004, walked away from the crash, and was never seen again. Her father's reaction to her disappearance is at best a little weird; she seemed to have a habit of driving while intoxicated, and got kicked out of West Point (possibly?) for shoplifting; she'd nicked a credit card, and she'd cheated on her boyfriend. Godfather of profiling John Douglas has said that not every fact in a case is meaningful, but Murray had a lot of different facts going on and it creates a maddeningly, compellingly incomplete picture of who wrecked that car and why she might have walked into the woods.

Almost every episode of MMM is likely to send listeners down a Google hole, or onto iTunes or Hulu looking for more information, and the disappearance has several hallmarks of a popular crime story (though we don't actually know whether a crime was committed): conflicting accounts, a missing woman who wasn't what she seemed, and so on. 20/20 and Disappeared both package this type of story expertly; a pre-Serial take on a case like this is worth a look.

Is This An Extension Worth The Branding? Yes and no. I watched the entire series run of Disappeared but, as the ep devoted to Murray aired in the early going and was utterly standard for the show -- out-of-focus re-enactments; tiresome repetition even beyond what you can expect from the genre -- I had no memory of it. If you've never heard of the case before, it's an acceptable overview of the events leading up to and away from her disappearance, but the 20/20 episode is superior, despite also focusing on the disappearance of Brooke Wilberger and tying the two missing women together thematically with the objectionably retrograde title "Vanished: Two Coeds, Two Horrifying Mysteries." 20/20's is better produced and manages to get the same amount of information about Murray into her half of that ep than Disappeared does a full one.

But neither of them gets as into the darker bits of Murray's past -- the "decision to leave" West Point; the affair with the track coach; the drunk driving -- as the podcast does, and the human complexity variables are what make the case "sticky."

And both point up what I've really started noticing lately about true-crime programming like Disappeared, Dateline, et al., to wit: most of them would work much better as podcasts. There's so much filler and photo repetition in the TV-show coverage of murder cases in order to round out 42 minutes, the genre as a whole is beginning to feel better suited to a half-hour audio presentation a la Frontline's auxiliary podcasts.

If a tingly Disappeared about a track star going missing is what you want, try the Season 6 episode about Amy Wroe Bechtel. As for the Murray shows, the 20/20 is superior; neither is essential.


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