- Disclaimer – The views within this post do not reflect those of myself unless specifically stated, the information shared is the view of the subject, Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
When I first learned of this case and who Madalyn Murray O’Hair was, I was rather disgusted by her. She came across as a big mouth, ignorant woman who felt she was self-righteous enough to disregard other people’s beliefs and ideals. She was so small minded that she would even leave interviews and sit in the women’s bathroom until the conversation was back onto something she preferred to discuss. I can’t say I was sad to learn of her death but saddened by the loss of life. Nobody deserves to be murdered, and this is why I am discussing her today.
Madalyn Mays was born in Pittsburgh, PA, April 13, 1919. She had an older brother John Irwin Jr, known as Irv. At the age of four she was baptized in the Presbyterian church of her father. She would graduate high school in 1936 in Rossford, Ohio.
In 1941, Madalyn married John Henry Roths, but they separated when they both enlisted into WWII military service, he the Marines, she the Women’s Army Corps. In 1945, while posted in Italy, Madalyn began a relationship with a married officer William J Murray, who was married. Madalyn divorced John Roths and took the name Madalyn Murray. She would give birth, in Ohio, to her son, William J. Murray III, whom she would call Bill.
Eventually she moved with Bill to Baltimore, MD, and would give birth again in 1954 to her second and last child, Jon Garth Murray, fathered by her boyfriend Michael Fiorillo.
Her son, Bill, stated that Madalyn was a socialist who was sympathetic towards the Soviet Union. She hosted Socialist Labor Party meetings, and had her son attend to “learn the truth about capitalism.” Madalyn attempted to defect to Russia twice, once in 1959 through the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC and again in 1960 through the Soviet Embassy in Paris. Both times they were denied entry. They returned to Baltimore and stayed with Madalyn’s family.
Enrolling her son into freshman classes Madalyn was unhappy to see the students engaging in prayer after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. She told her son to keep a log of all religious exercises and references to religion for the next two weeks and was quoted “Well if they’ll keep us from going to Russia where there is some freedom, we’ll just have to change America.”
Two weeks later Madalyn requested that Bill be allowed to leave class during prayer times and was denied. She them removed him from the school and filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bill. She said this was unconstitutional and the US Supreme Court agreed with her in 1963.
Madalyn’s family was faced with hostility, so she moved them as far away as possible and ended up in Honolulu, Hawaii. But before she left, she had allegedly assaulted 5 police officers who tried to retrieve a minor, Susan, Bill’s girlfriend, from their home. Susan would eventually give birth to Robin, whom Madalyn would later adopt.
Madalyn married again in 1965 to a U.S. Marine named Richard O’Hair. Their relationship was “textbook codependent”, and they would eventually separate, but would remain legally married until his death in 1978.
Madalyn would go on to become infamous for filing lawsuits against any and every person she could if they did anything she didn’t agree with in her own beliefs. For a person who felt her beliefs should be accepted didn’t accept other people’s beliefs too easily, or at all.
Some of her cases include:
- Murray v. Curlett (1960) – Against the Baltimore City Public School System. She challenged that requiring students to participate in Bible readings at a public school was unconstitutional.
- O’Hair v. Paine (1971) Challenged open readings from the Bible by U.S. astronauts (who are Federal employees) during their spaceflights, spurred by a reading from the book of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8.
- O’Hair v. Blumenthal (1978) Challenged the inclusion of the phrase “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.
- O’Hair v. Andrus (1979) Challenged the use of National Park facilities for the Pope to hold a Roman Catholic mass on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
- O’Hair v. Clements (1980) This case tried to remove the nativity scene displayed in the rotunda of the capitol building in Austin, Texas.
In 1980, she publicly rejected her estranged son Bill, when he announced that he had converted to Christianity. Madalyn had this to say about her eldest son, “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of the mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times … he is beyond human forgiveness.” Mother of the year she would never be.
More of her poisonous personality was shown on The Phil Donahue Show, and Phil Donahue himself stated that she was an unpleasant person and mocked him off-camera because he was Catholic. She appeared on the show several times.
While living in Texas, Madalyn founded the American Atheists in 1963. It claims to be “a nationwide movement which defends the civil rights of non-believers, works for the separation of church and state and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.” She was the CEO and President of the group and even after her son took over, she still retained most of the power and decision making.
Madalyn founded an atheist radio program, where she criticized religion and theism, and also hosted a television show, American Atheist Forum which was aired on more than 140 cable channels. The one thing that was consistent in her beliefs, was intolerance and the fact that she despised anyone who believed in a religion or system that disagreed with hers.
Madalyn, Jon Garth, and Robin all lived in Madalyn’s large home, worked together, and vacationed together. In my opinion, there weren’t people who wanted to associate or befriend them, as the venomous tongue of Madalyn would surely make anyone question her sanity.
Madalyn had strong beliefs and opinions on everything, from religion, to women’s rights and feminism, to the holocaust and the state of Israel. For a woman who had served in World War II, and in Europe, she herself should have chosen her words wiser when discussing the concentration camps and those that perished during that time.
In August of 1989, Madalyn was quoted as saying: “Although it is not generally reported, Auschwitz was simply, first and foremost, a slave labor camp – and the labor provided was much needed by Farben, Krupp, et al. for the war effort.”
In the same article she has stated as well that the established number of Jewish victims was between 1 and 1.5 million and that it is a far cry from the alleged 6 million. She elaborated by saying: “Over and over again in the analysis of the situation, one compelling fact becomes clear. The Germans had nowhere near the train capacity to haul 6 million people to concentration camp points. Had the Germans attempted to house, clothe, and feed 6 million Jews plus millions of others, the activity would have paralyzed their military operations.”
She concluded: “The good news for the Jews of the world is that they did not lose as many of “the clan” as they had thought they lost. Central Europe was, substantially, cleared of Jews, but that was primarily through emigration. The high death rate, from starvation, in the camps during the last months of the war was due largely to the “Allied extermination policies.” Perhaps that is why the United States continues to send Israel $6 billion a year as a gift; guilt has its obligation.”
I am utterly stunned when people deny the holocaust happened, and this is not only ignorance, but makes one think how she could even justify her opinion when spewing these words.
It took us a little while to get here but we now come to the part we are all here for, the true crime. In 1995, Madalyn, Jon Garth, and Robin all disappeared. A typewritten note was on the locked office door stating that they had been called out of town on an emergency and didn’t know when they would be gone. When police entered the house, it looked as if they had left suddenly. Employees at American Atheists received phone calls from both John and Robin but neither explained why they left or when they would return. After September 28, there was no further communication and the organization faced serious financial troubles as Jon had withdrawn over $600,000 from the account. Rumors began.
Eventually the investigation into the missing O’Hair’s lead to David Roland Waters. He is an ex-felon who worked for American Atheists and had plead guilty to embezzling from the organization. And Madalyn not being one to let things lie peacefully, chose to publish an article in the newsletter in which she exposed David’s theft and his previous crimes. She stated that David had killed another teenager when he was 17 and served 8 years in prison.
The investigation into the disappearance of the O’Hair’s was led by the FBI, the IRS, and the local police. They concluded that David Waters and his accomplices Gary Paul Karr and Danny Fry, kidnapped the O’Hair family and forced them to withdraw the money. With that they went on a shopping spree and then killed and dismembered all three of the O’Hair’s. Shortly after their death, Danny Fry was also killed by David and Gary.
A search warrant was executed, and David Waters was arrested as there was ammunition is his apartment. During this same time, Gary Karr was interviewed in Michigan. He initially wouldn’t talk but listened to the information the police had. He then decided to talk and implicated David Waters in the deaths of the O’Hair’s. Gary signed an affidavit and drew a map to locate the bodies.
Gary Karr was tried and found guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion, traveling interstate in order to commit violent acts, money laundering, and interstate transportation of stolen property. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison.
David Waters was arrested and agreed to a plea agreement on the charge of conspiracy. He led authorities to the bodies that were dismembered, burned and buried. He was sentenced to serve 20 years in federal prison as per his request. He did not go on trial for the kidnapping and murder of the O’Hair’s. He was also ordered to pay back over $500,000 to the American Atheists, and the estates of the O’Hair’s. David Waters died in prison in 2003 from lung cancer.
In 2012, a memorial brick for Murray, her son Jon, and her granddaughter Robin was placed at Lou Neff Point in Zilker Park in Austin, Texas.