The Murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the founder and president of American Atheists and the organization’s president from 1963 to 1986. She was also a party to the case or cases that banded mandatory pray in US public schools.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair led a tumultuous life. She was married twice and divorced once and separated once. During World War Two she had an affair with one of her superior officers, a William J. Murray, Jr. He was a Roman Catholic and refused to divorce his wife, even after Madalyn changed her last name to Murray, divorced her first husband and bore him a son whom she named William J. Murray. In 1954 she had a second son named Jon Garth Murray by her then boyfriend, Michael Fiorillo. In 1965 she married her second husband Richard O’Hair and although they were soon legally separated the couple was legally married until O’Hair’s death in 1978. At one point in 1960 she tried to defect to the Soviet Union but was denied entry by Russian officials.

By the early 1990’s Murray O’Hair was living in her house in Austin Texas with her son; Jon Murray and her granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair. Robin was the daughter of William Murray, who was totally estranged from his mother and brother. Robin had been adopted by Madalyn.

On 27 August 1995 a note signed by Jon was found on the locked door of the American Atheists office. The note said: “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.”

The police entered the O’Hair home and found breakfast uneaten on the kitchen table and Madalyn’s diabetes medication. Further no arrangements had been made for the care of the family pets. A few days later, in a phone call the missing O’Hairs claimed they were traveling on business to San Antonio Texas. A few days after that phone call, Jon ordered $600,000 dollars American in gold coins but only took $500,000 dollars worth. From then until 27 September 1995 American Atheists and family friends received many calls from Robin or Jon but not Madalyn. After that none of the three were heard from again.

Speculation was rampant about the O’Hair’s disappearance. Many people though the O’Hairs had absconded with embezzled money of the American Atheists. One report stated, based on interviews that the three had fled to New Zealand.

Exactly one year later William Murray finally filed a Missing Persons Report. Stating he didn’t want to “search for people that didn’t want to be found.” Soon the missing family was declared dead and their assets sold to pay their extensive debts.

An ongoing murder investigation soon focused on David Roland Waters, a violent felony that had worked for O’Hair. The investigators concluded that that Waters and some accomplices had abducted all three O’Hairs, forcing them to withdraw money from various accounts, order and collect the gold coins and then had brutally murdered all three.

In 2001, Waters, in prison on another charge, finally told the police were the O’Hairs were buried and then led them to the bodies. The bodies had been dismembered and were severely decomposed. Identification was finally made by dental records, a serial number on Madalyn’s hip replacement and DNA testing.

Waters was ultimately found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and murder of the three O’Hairs and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He died in prison in 2003.


David Van Biema, TIME. Feb 10, 1997. “Where’s Madalyn?” at,9171,985893-1,00.html

Lona Manning, Crime Magazine Sept 29, 2003. “The Murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair: America’s Most Hated Woman” at

Frank R. Zindler “Madalyn Murray O’Hair” In Icons of unbelief : Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists. Edited by S. T. Joshi. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press


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