Missing Atheist Said Seen in 1997

Thursday, May 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Even though her body has never been found, authorities insist that atheist activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair is dead — a victim of a murder plot to rob her of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the lawyer for the only person charged in her disappearance says she is still alive — and offered a witness to back up his claim.

A Baptist minister testified Wednesday on behalf of Gary Karr and said he saw O'Hair in a Romanian resort town in November 1997 — two years after she and her family disappeared.

``I believe the person I saw was Madalyn Murray O'Hair,'' said William Gordon Jr., an atheism expert who works for the Southern Baptist Convention in Georgia.

O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and her granddaughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, disappeared in 1995 with $600,000 in gold coins, though $100,000 of it was later recovered.

Prosecutors believe the O'Hairs were killed, dismembered with a bow saw and buried. The bodies have not been found.

The prosecution was expected to finish its case today. Gordon testified Wednesday because he was not available today.

Karr, 52, faces life in prison if convicted on charges of extortion and kidnapping relating to the trio's disappearance. Two other suspects in the case have not been charged.

Tom Mills, Karr's attorney, has suggested the atheists fled to escape an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and that federal authorities haven't diligently pursued reported sightings of them in Europe.

With prompting from defense attorney Tom Mills, Gordon testified that in a restaurant in Romania he sat about 10 feet away from an overweight, sickly looking woman in her 70s — a woman he believed to be O'Hair, even though he couldn't be sure.

``I can't say beyond a shadow of a doubt it was her,'' Gordon said.

Gordon, who was teaching in a Romanian Baptist university at the time, testified that he never spoke with the woman.

Gordon said he was familiar with O'Hair, who was involved in successful court battles to remove prayer and Bible reading from public schools, through his work and because his doctoral thesis was on atheism.