Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Madalyn Murray O'Hair (1919–1995) was an activist, founder of American Atheists, and famous for her stern opposition to religion, who in 1960 filed and won a lawsuit (Murray v. Curlett) against the Baltimore City Public School System, claiming that it was unconstitutional for her son (William J. Murray III) to study the Bible at school; this lawsuit, combined with another, would reach the Supreme Court and result in the banning of prayer and recitations of Bible verses in American public schools in June, 1963.
"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.
- 1 Life
- 2 Disappearance and Death
- 3 Debate with Dr. Walter Martin
- 4 Madalyn Murray O’Hair on medical equiptment for a hospital vs. filing lawsuits
- 5 American Atheists organization's leadership and excess weight challenges
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
O'Hair was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on April 13, 1919, the daughter of John Irwin and Lena Scholle Mays. She grew up there and in Ohio, graduating high school in Rossford in 1937. Her parents were Presbyterians and attended church regularly, but it was apparently during her teen years that she became an atheist. In 1941 she had her first marriage to John Henry Roths; this marriage was separated due to World War II and the enlistments they made to the Marine Corps and Women's Army Corps. In 1945 she engaged in an affair with a married man while stationed in Italy; the result of which was a son, whom she named William J. Murray III after the father; she had since divorced her husband and had taken up the name "Murray". By 1952 she had earned two degrees: a bachelors from Ashland University in Ohio, and a degree from the South Texas College of Law; she never, however, capitalized on her law degree by going before the Texas bar and becoming a lawyer. A relationship with boyfriend Michael Fiorillo resulted in another son, Jon Garth Murray, being born in 1954.
William would later have a daughter, Robin; after being forced to surrender custody due to drug issues, Robin would be formally adopted by O'Hair.
Her life was filled with pornography. Her house had figures of mating animals, and she would often describe her trips to X-rated theaters, stating with some delight that she was the only female in the building.
As son William (who would later convert to Christianity and become a Baptist pastor) stated later:
When I was a young boy of ten or eleven years old she would come home and brag about spending the day in X-rated movie theaters in downtown Baltimore. She was proud of the fact she was the only woman in the movie house watching this filth. My mother’s whole life circulated around such things. She even wrote articles for Larry Flynt’s pornographic magazine, Hustler. My mother lived in spiritual death as Paul writes: “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” I Timothy 5:6
My mother delighted in hiring unrepentant criminals to work in her atheist office. She particularly enjoyed hiring convicted murderers who had served their time but were unrepentant about what they had done. She got a sense of power out of having men in her employ who had taken human life. It was love of power over people that finally caused not only her death, but the deaths of my brother and my daughter...
She stole huge amounts of money. She misused the trust of people. She cheated children out of their parents’ inheritance. She cheated on her taxes and even stole from her own organizations. She once printed up phony stock certificates on her own printing press to try to take over another atheist publishing company. I could go on but I won’t. 
Disowning of Christian son
William would later convert to Christianity; as a result O'Hair (along with his brother Garth and daughter Robin) would completely cut all ties with him.
"One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. ...He is beyond human forgiveness." - Madalyn Murray O'Hair on her son William's rejection of atheism, conversion to Christianity and calling as an evangelist.
Around the time O'Hair filed her infamous court case which would lead to the removal of mandatory prayer in public schools, she would also start the organization American Atheists. Ultimately she would move the organization to Austin, Texas.
Although Austin is a very liberal city in an otherwise conservative state, over time the relationship between the O'Hairs/American Atheists and both local law enforcement and the district attorney's office (which handles felony prosecutions in Texas) would grow sour, especially in dealings with David Roland Waters, an ex-convict who the O'Hairs hired in 1993. Ultimately Waters would become the office manager; during his tenure a computer and valuable bonds were stolen but the O'Hairs took no action to hold him accountable. When the O'Hairs traveled to California on extended business (to deal with a legal dispute with another atheist organization), Waters took the opportunity to fire the staff, close the office, and empty the bank accounts of $54,000.
When the O'Hairs pressed charges, the actions of the Austin Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney's Office would reveal the extent of the dislike:
- During the investigation, Waters submitted an affidavit claiming that Murray called from San Diego, stating that the trial was going poorly for the organization, and therefore he should steal up to $100,000 by cashing checks sent to the organization, keep $15,000 for himself, and place $40,000 in the office safe. The affidavit was completely absurd on its face -- the California trial was decided in favor of American Atheists -- yet accepted as true by the investigators.
- Waters would execute the affidavit in early May 1994, yet the O'Hairs were never even told about its existence until mid-August.
- Despite the seriousness of the crime and Waters' prior extensive criminal record, over a 10 month period the case was reset no fewer than 14 times -- and in two cases Waters' attorney didn't show for the hearing, yet the case was reset nonetheless.
- Ultimately the case was heard in May 1995; though found guilty Waters received only probation and a restitution order.
In her newsletter O'Hair argued that had the crime been committed against a Christian minister or a church, the wheels of justice would have moved far more swiftly and Waters would have served prison time. She would later expose Waters' extensive criminal record, which included murder. Waters would gain his revenge shortly thereafter.
Disappearance and Death
On August 28, 1995, a note appeared on the office door of American Atheists, stating that the family (Madalyn, Garth, and Robin) had been called out of town on an emergency with no set timetable for their return. Interestingly, Garth had ordered $700,000 in gold coins but took delivery of only $600,000 of them.
Employees of American Atheists received calls from Robin and Jon for the next month; neither explained why they had left or when they would return and their voices appeared strained and disturbed; after September 28 the three were never heard from again. During this time, nobody with the organization bothered to call police to investigate, and would start a series of rumors explaining their disappearance:
- Some members circulated rumors that the O'Hairs left the country with the organization's money (one former employee -- the first to find the note on the office door -- was aware of at least one offshore bank account, and American Atheists had lost the California lawsuit against the other atheist group, which left them both financially and reputationally; however, their office and the organization's bank accounts were still intact, and their home was not ransacked (O'Hair's diabetes medicine and the family's pets were still there when people started looking for her).
- Other members circulated rumors that Madalyn was terminally ill and wanted to die without Christians (or "Christers", as she called them), praying for her healing and salvation.
- Still others circulated rumors that Jon and Robin wanted to start life without Madalyn in the picture (fueled mainly by the later disappearance of the pets, who had been taken to the organization's compound after their discovery).
- Yet others, although they suspected (rightly) foul play, they circulated conspiracy theories that any such deed was the doing of the FBI, the CIA, and/or the Vatican, all of whom had (in their minds) the ability and clout to cover up the deed.
- Others simply didn't care she was gone, now believing that the atheist cause would actually benefit with her out of the picture. Even within her own organization this appeared to be true: close confidant Ellen Johnson would quickly relocate from New Jersey to Austin and -- in a suspicious meeting -- took over as head, another trustee simply moved into O'Hair's house, and nobody bothered to file a missing persons report.
The Austin police never bothered to investigate, they even ignored estranged son William when he asked them a year later to investigate, claiming that "it is not against the law in Texas to be missing", and would do nothing for three and a half years. (His requests led to a running battle between him and American Atheists, the latter falsely claiming his "concern" was merely a fundraising stunt for his religious causes.) Ultimately American Atheists would disclose Garth's withdrawal of the money (for the gold coin purchase) which led to the involvement of the IRS (due to unpaid taxes; O'Hair and the IRS had a running battle over amounts owed), and ultimately to a headless, limbless corpse discovered in Dallas back in 1995. The corpse would be later identified as Danny Fry, a small-time felon who had worked with Waters in the past. The Fry murder would finally get the FBI involved (Austin police were still uninterested) and they would identify another accomplice: Gary Paul Karr. Ultimately it would be discovered that the three of them abducted and murdered the O'Hairs; Waters and Karr would then murder Fry and dump his corpse in Dallas.
Neither Waters nor Karr were ever put on trial for the murders: Karr was sentenced to essentially a life term for extortion and money laundering; Waters took a plea deal and received an additional 20 years added to earlier sentences of 60 and 25 years, as part of the deal in January 2001 Waters told authorities where the O'Hairs were buried and led them to the bodies (officials had to identify the badly decomposed bodies through DNA, dental records, and in the case of Madalyn through the serial number of her artificial hip; they also found the missing hands and feet of Fry at the site).
William, as the only remaining living relative, was granted custody of the bodies (again over objections of American Atheists members, thinking he only wanted them to use in fundraising): at the burial (at an undisclosed location) he stated he did not pray for the deceased, both out of respect for Madalyn's wishes and in accordance with his beliefs that upon death their eternity was set.
As such, the irony of the story is that it would be the O'Hairs adversaries -- estranged son William, the FBI and the IRS -- who would ultimately be responsible for, bringing their murderers to justice, discovering their remains and providing them a proper burial.
Debate with Dr. Walter Martin
Madalyn Murray O'Hair did particularly badly in her debate with Dr. Walter Martin. For example, when she claimed there were supposedly were contradictions in the Bible, Dr. Martin asked her to provide an example of one and Ms. O'Hair did not and could not offer even an alleged example of one. In addition, Ms. O'Hair did a poor job defending against the issue of atheism and mass murder.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair on medical equiptment for a hospital vs. filing lawsuits
American Atheists organization's leadership and excess weight challenges
A few years before O'Hair's murder, she had to have hip replacement surgery (According to the Harvard Medical school, "Losing weight, strengthening muscles, and increasing flexibility may help you stave off joint replacement."). Interestingly, it was her artificial hip that allowed law enforcement authorities to identify her remains. Robin (her granddaughter by birth, but adopted as her daughter) was also so obese she required two seats on an airplane.
In addition, a significant number of the staff members of the American Atheists have had excess weight issues (see: American Atheists and obesity).
- The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair:America's Most Hated Woman. by Lona Manning.
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
- American Atheists Official site.
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair Biography
- The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair:America's Most Hated Woman. by Lona Manning
- Son calls famous atheist Madalyn O’Hair “evil”
- Quoted without citation by Ted Dracos, UnGodly: The Passions, Torments, and Murder of Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair (2003), on her son William's rejection of atheism, conversion to Christianity and calling as an evangelist.
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair, NYTimes
- In an even more bizarre twist to the story, most of the coins were placed in a storage locker, which was itself broken into and the contents stolen by other thieves; only one of the stolen coins was ever recovered.
- Harvard Health Letter, Avoiding knee or hip surgery, Published: June, 2013 by the Harvard Medical Center
- Bone find may solve O'Hair case, Associated Press, Published: January 29, 2001, republished by Deseret News
- Bone find may solve O'Hair case, Associated Press, Published: January 29, 2001, republished by Deseret News