Nicole Murray loved Wawa and David Bowie and taking selfies – that much one can discern from her Facebook page.
She didn’t attempt to hide that she was also dealing with deep pain. Someone asked, when she updated her profile photo for the sixth time in a year, why she always looked so sad. She replied simply: “I am.”
But what happened over the final days of Murray’s life – after she was last seen in Kensington in late December 2017, and before her body was found on Friday near a vacant trailer in rural Tunkhannock Township, about 30 miles east of Wilkes-Barre – remains a mystery.
Murray, 24, of Northeast Philadelphia, had studied at Community College of Philadelphia and had recently been accepted into a nursing program, according to her aunt Diane Scully.
“She was so sweet, so beautiful, so smart, so kind,” said Scully, of Holland, Bucks County. “A tiny little person with a squeaky voice, but a big heart.”
But, according to Facebook posts by friends and family, Murray had numbed the grief of losing her father to cancer five years ago with drugs, a coping mechanism that blossomed into addiction.
She became a familiar face to some of Kensington’s homeless heroin users. Sometime after Christmas, one of them saw her get into a car with a man who was also well-known to that community and drive off.
Murray was last heard from via text message on Jan. 3, Scully said.
On Jan. 8, a Facebook post purportedly from Murray’s mother reported that the man had called her from Murray’s phone, and told her Murray had left three days earlier, leaving her possessions behind.
The trail went cold until Friday, when a Tunkhannock resident called in a tip to the police. But answers are still scarce. The property where Murray was found was not the location where she was believed to have been staying.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner said in a statement. “An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.”
After that, a toxicology report could take four to six weeks, according to Kevin Ryan, a missing-persons investigator retained by Murray’s family.
While Murray’s death has been labeled suspicious, Ryan said, “from what I understand, I don’t suspect it was a homicide at this point, but I can’t say for sure. Nothing is ruled out. All possible causes of death are still on the table.”
Scully is adamant that Murray was clean at the time she disappeared.
She does not know why Murray went to the Poconos. “We think she just went up there for a week and she was looking to come home. She had reached out to one of her friends to come home, and that was the last anybody ever heard from her,” Scully said.
The man who reportedly drove Murray there had previously invited other women to his rural home – and had been spotted near a homeless encampment under the Frankford Avenue bridge in Kensington as recently as Saturday.
Kaelyn Bragger, 28, said she had gone upstate with the same man just last year. She was high on Xanax at the time. She described him as a meth and crack user, and a regular patron of prostitutes.
“I might’ve dodged a bullet,” she said upon learning of Murray’s death.
“I remember telling the cops, if she was with him and he took her up there, good luck finding her,” she said. “If you offered me a million dollars to get back to that cabin, I couldn’t find it.”
David Levinson, 55, who knew Murray from Kensington, said he had been concerned since he watched the man pick her up in his white Chrysler convertible. “He preys on women in addiction,” Levinson said.
He said he had been staying at the encampment along Emerald Street at the time, but is now clean. Murray, too, had been working to leave Kensington behind, he said.
“She was cutting back on her opiate use, cutting back on everything,” he said. “But for whatever reason, she always kept running back.”
Murray’s family, though, said that claims from people in Kensington had only clouded the investigation with misinformation and bad tips.
“We don’t think heroin played a part in any of this,” Scully said. “We just think she went with the wrong person.”