Bill Murray Believes

No one has been as affected by the disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon G. Murray, and Robin Murray-O'Hair as William J. "Bill" Murray III. And it's also safe to say that no one else has felt as much conflict about what to do. The son, brother, and father, respectively, of the missing people, Murray finds himself in a quandary. The only one able to file a missing persons report on the trio, Murray, 49, says he hasn't done so because he doesn't want the media attention. "There's a lot of money involved. It would cause me a tremendous amount of bad publicity if I filed a missing persons report," he said, adding that if he did so, "I'd be seen as a money-grubbing grave-robber. I wasn't interested in that image."

Since 1980, when Murray walked down the aisle of the Gateway Baptist Church in northeast Dallas to be baptized, his interest has focused on the image of God. The former atheist has become a favorite speaker for conservative Christian churches and organizations, and he espouses views his mother finds abhorrent. He favors prayer in school, and has worked with an organization called Citizens to Restore Voluntary Prayer. Like his mother's American Atheists, Inc., Murray runs a small publishing business. His newsletter, the William J. Murray Report, which reports on issues like prayer in schools, has a circulation of 12,000. He also sells Christian videos. His political action committee, called Government is Not God, gives money to conservative candidates, and has a page on the World Wide Web (www.govnotgod.org/) that contains a picture of Murray shaking hands with U.S. Senator Phil Gramm. The caption reads "Murray meets with important leaders to ensure the rights of American Christians are not compromised."

In an extended phone interview with the Chronicle, Murray said his break with his mother was not over religion, but about control. He said O'Hair wanted to control everyone around her. "My brother's 41 years old and he has never moved out of her house," said Murray, who has not spoken to his mother or brother since he left Austin in October, 1977. "My daughter has never moved out. They eat, work, and go on vacations together. My being was such that I couldn't handle that level of control. I could not deal with the dysfunctionality of it any longer. Fortunately what I found better was Jesus Christ."

Murray has thought a lot about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, and says he is most puzzled by the fact that the trio left their dogs. Speaking of his mother, Murray said "The last time she fled the country, in 1964, she made sure to take the dogs."

While he won't guess what happened to his mother, he assumes the trio had been moving money to offshore banks for some time.

The born-again Christian said that the atheists who followed his mother are believers as much any Buddhist, Jew, or Hindu. "I've never doubted that atheists were believers in a faith," he said. "It takes much more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian or a Jew or whatever. Your faith has to be absolute and total, because if you are wrong you are going to go to hell."

Murray has kept close tabs on any new information regarding his missing family members. For instance, he knew that someone had paid the property taxes on the house in West Austin. And while he discusses the facts of the disappearance calmly and with little emotion, he admits to a certain amount of sadness over the chaos surrounding it. He no longer grieves for his mother, or the breakdown in their relationship, but he thinks often about Jon and Robin. "I had hoped for them to see the truth about themselves, their family, and society. My brother and my oldest daughter are missing and even though I haven't talked to her in a decade, it doesn't mean I'm not interested in them, I don't love them and I don't want to know what's happening to them."

But unless he finds some evidence of foul play, Murray said he won't file a missing persons report, which is the only way to get the police involved. "I don't want to search for people that don't want to be found," he said.

If his mother is dead, does he have any desire to pray over her corpse? "I pray for her every day," he said. "I don't need a body to pray for somebody." - R.B.