A Question I Was Asked:

Shouldn't You Have Something On Your Website About Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the Famous Atheist?

The Question:

Shouldn't you have something on your website about Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the famous atheist?

UK Apologetics Reply:

I suppose we have had nothing on this famous American atheist on the grounds that her story has already been told many times.

For those who don't know, O'Hair (1919 – 1995) was an aggressive and outspoken American atheist, and founder of the organization 'American Atheists,' she was also its president from 1963 to 1986. Rather like Richard Dawkins in modern Britain, Madalyn O' Hair might well be described as an 'apostle of hatred' towards Christianity and Theism, though her approach was more flamboyant and less studied.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair (1919-1995)

O'Hair despised Christians and thought Theology to be a curse, she also wanted an atheistic America; yet she and those she loved most were murdered by a fellow atheist who followed the atheistic teaching that human beings are not made in the image of God and that human life has no intrinsic merit.

She is best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to a landmark US Supreme Court ruling ending government sponsored prayer in American public schools. This single fact made O'Hair greatly despised. She later founded 'American Atheists' and became so controversial that in 1964 Life magazine referred to her as "the most hated woman in America." This was no exaggerration.

In 1995 she was kidnapped and murdered (along with her son, Jon, and granddaughter) by a fellow atheist and a member of her own organization, David Roland Waters.
Initially, on August 27, 1995, O'Hair, Jon, and her granddaughter Robin, had suddenly disappeared when facing huge legal costs and speculation was rife about what may have occurred.

Ultimately, a murder investigation focused on David Roland Waters, who had worked as a typesetter (according to some reports, as an office manager) for 'American Atheists.' Not only did Waters have previous convictions for violent crimes, there were several suspicious burglaries during his tenure, and he pleaded guilty earlier in 1995 to stealing $54,000 from American Atheists. (Bryce, Robert; 1999-06-04. "Preying on Atheists," Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-01).

In the wake of the disappearance, Madalyn Murray O'Hair's estranged son William Murray publicly stated that his mother had a tendency to hire violent atheist criminals because, "She got a sense of power out of having men in her employ who had taken human life." (Murray, William; 1999-03-01. Retrieved 2010-03-10).

Shortly after his theft of the $54,000 was discovered, O'Hair had written a scathing article in the 'Members Only' section of the 'American Atheists' newsletter exposing Waters, the theft and Waters' previous crimes, including a 1977 incident in which Waters allegedly beat up his own mother. Waters' girlfriend later testified that he was enraged by O'Hair's article, and that he fantasized about torturing her in gruesome ways.

For a while, some believed that O'Hair herself was involved in some sort of financial fraud which necessitated her disappearance and only when this went wrong did Waters turn on her (some still believe this), but, ultimately, the police concluded that Waters and his accomplices had kidnapped all three O'Hairs, forced them to withdraw the missing funds, gone on several huge shopping sprees with the O'Hairs' money and credit cards, and then murdered all three people. Danny Fry, an accomplice, was murdered a few days after the O'Hairs, but his remains remained unidentified for three and a half years. Waters eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges and, in 2001, the killer directed police to where he had buried the bodies. One body was positively identified as that of Madalyn O' Hair. Waters died of cancer in 2003.

All sorts of additional claims and ideas have been put forward about this strange case and, very likely, much of what happened will never now be known. It seems as though Waters, or somebody else involved in this matter, had deposited a huge amount of money in a deposit box which - by pure chance - was broken into, with the money being stolen, by opportunist thieves.

One of the most interesting things about all of this is that one of O'Hair's sons, William, came to reject atheism and he became a baptist preacher, being baptized in 1980. Madalyn never forgave her son for this. William Murray later described his mother as "an evil person" although he stated that she did not deserve to die in the manner in which she did (source: Murray, William J; 1999-03-01. "Madalyn Murray O'Hair Murder: Statement of William J. Murray." Religious Freedom Coalition. Retrieved 2007-12-01).

The surprising thing is that despite her notoriety, O'Hair remained - and still remains - virtually unknown outside of the United States. For obvious reasons, British and European atheists did not want to be associated with her and were determined to retain a separation from her group, especially when large-scale financial mis-management was apparently involved.

While nobody can approve of the awful way in which O'Hair and two other family members were murdered, it might be said that this evil woman finally came to see the awful consequences of the atheist's belief that human life has no intrinsic value. Atheist killer Waters certainly did not think so and apparently killed without remorse. Is it just possible that - in her final moments - Madalyn O' Hair came to see that she had been wrong, even possibly throwing herself upon God's mercy? One day we will know.
Robin A. Brace. June 12th 2011.