JOHNSON CITY, Texas (KXAN) — If you had a loved one who died under questionable circumstances, you’d probably do everything you could to get answers.
Courtney Murray’s 2012 death was ruled a suicide, but her family doesn’t believe she took her own life — and they don’t think law enforcement did enough digging.
The family started their own investigation, and their efforts led KXAN to look further into Courtney’s death. Now, a local police chief says he’s reexamining the case.
Courtney, 28, died Aug. 19, 2012, in a trailer in Johnson City. Police say her ex-boyfriend, Aaron Mayberry, called Johnson City police around 4 p.m. The medical examiner classified her death a suicide by hanging. The case remained stagnant, but Johnson City Police Chief Randy Holland says he never closed the case.
From the start, Courtney’s family and friends say they had a hard time believing Mayberry’s story.
Courtney’s dad, Jim Murray, is a private investigator with 25 years experience.
“It’s been a part of my everyday life,” he said. “In a lot of ways, I work it harder because it’s personal.”
“There are a lot of suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Courtney Murray,” Holland said.
He says Mayberry made several inconsistent statements to investigators.
“Just a lot of deception, a lot of deception,” Holland added. “A lot of stories that don’t even matter … he’s changed his stories to those.”
Holland responded to the suicide call himself, and he says Mayberry had injuries on him that he could not explain.
“He had a knot on his left forehead and scratches on his right hand.”
For more than a year, Murray and his team of investigators compiled evidence, interviewed witnesses, and put together a case they say doesn’t point to suicide.
The family provided every piece of evidence gathered to the Johnson City police, but still they wonder why the case hasn’t moved forward. So they asked KXAN to look at the case.
Johnson City police initially responded to KXAN via email stating, “At this time, there is no evidence a crime was committed.”
“It was like he had already made up his mind,” said Rebecca Hendriks, Courtney’s best friend. She feels Holland made up his mind about Courtney’s death being a suicide too early. “He said he was keeping the case open out of respect to the family.”
Hendriks does not believe Courtney killed herself.
“Not in a million years,” said Hendriks. “She wrote so much, and was so passionate about it … if she has committed suicide, she would have left a note. Of that, I am certain.”
The day before her death, family and friends say Courtney seemed upbeat when she told friends she was moving to a new home by herself. She said she and Mayberry had broken up and that he had left the state. Friends say she was excited about the new chapter in her life, finishing her novel, and spending more time with her three children.
But somehow on the night before her death, Courtney and Mayberry ended up at the Expose Strip Club in Austin. Dancers who were working at the club that night told KXAN the two had a loud argument, and Mayberry left her at the club alone. They also said Courtney told them she was afraid of Mayberry and that he had been physically violent in the past.
Murray says Courtney called him and asked him to pay for a cab with a credit card so she could get back to Dripping Springs, where she had left her van parked. Murray gave his credit card number to the cab driver and paid for the cab ride. The cab driver told investigators that when they arrived at the Dripping Springs location Mayberry was there and confronted her, yelling at her until she left alone in her own vehicle, heading to Johnson City.
A little before 4 p.m. the next day, Mayberry called police from the Johnson City trailer and told them Courtney had hanged herself. Detectives say upon arrival Courtney’s body was lying on the ground with a belt around her neck. Records show the height of closet rod Mayberry said Courtney hanged herself from was three inches shorter — 5 feet 6 inhces — than Courtney stood — 5 feet 9 inches.
When Murray arrived a day later, he says he noticed what appeared to be blood on the wall and bleach on the carpet. Murray says that’s not the kind of evidence normally found at a suicide scene.
Friends also say on the night of her death, someone posted on Courtney’s Facebook page, “Well, this just got interesting.” Two days later, the post was removed. Family and friends say they do not have access to Courtney’s account. Courtney’s cell phone and journal were also missing.
“I find it incredibly odd that it’s missing, and I think it’s another red flag that something is amiss,” said Hendriks.
KXAN also checked with Courtney’s bank, which confirms someone tried unsuccessfully to access the account four days after her death.
After three months of questions from KXAN, Johnson City police entered into a joint investigation with Murray’s team of investigators. Once classified a suicide, Courtney’s death is now being investigated as a suspicious death.
Mayberry no longer lives in Texas. But on March 4, 2014, Mayberry voluntarily handed over DNA samples to investigators in Missouri. Holland says those samples will be compared to evidence found at the scene of Courtney’s death.
“In every investigation you have to approach it because somebody’s looking for closure, and in this case, it just happened to be me,” says Murray.
Investigators now say this case is far from over.