Madalyn Murray O'Hair
- Category : 1919-births
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 2/5 - Hermit / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 1
American atheist, activist and author. As the leading spokesperson against God and religion in the USA, O'Hair earned herself the title of "the most hated woman in America" by successfully waging a personal war against prayer in public schools, finally having it outlawed by Supreme Court Hearings in 1963. She is the author of several books including "All About Atheists," "Atheist Epic," "Atheist Heroes and Heroines," "Our Constitution, The Way It Was," and "What on Earth is an Atheist."
O'Hair was the daughter of Lena and John Mayes, a couple who provided their daughter with an ostensibly stable childhood. Her dad was a successful owner-operator of a small construction business that collapsed in the Crash of 1929. When her seamstress mom Lena became pregnant with Madalyn, she threw herself out of the second story window of their home in an attempt to abort the pregnancy. Scrambling to make ends meet, Dad opened a roadhouse which, despite local speculation of it being a sometime brothel, served as a definitive camouflage in his successful rum-running activities during Prohibition. When police raids threatened his arrest, Mayes stationed his brazen and quick-witted daughter Madalyn at the roadhouse entrance to cover for him and to throw the authorities off his trail. Young Madalyn displayed a strong talent for confrontation and her diatribes got results.
After eloping with John Roth at age 22, O'Hair entered the Women's Army Corps, joining her husband in Hawaii where he was stationed as a Marine soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While serving as a WAC in WW II, she received six battle stars. It was in Hawaii that O'Hair fell in love with married Army officer William J. Murray, Jr., a wealthy Roman Catholic. When she found herself pregnant by Murray several months later, he refused to admit paternity alluding to the fact that his devotion to the church would never permit him to divorce his wife. Noting Murray's family wealth, an enraged O'Hair sued for child support and took his name for herself and her illegitimate son.
Returning to the mainland distraught and pregnant, O'Hair divorced Roth and promptly made Roman Catholicism the target of her considerable rage. At the bull's-eye of this target was the Pope himself, personally responsible for preventing her lover from marrying her. Shortly after giving birth to her son, O'Hair assumed the position of a deranged Scarlet O'Hara during a thunderstorm challenging God that, if such a thing as "God" existed, it should strike both her and her child dead with a bolt of lightning." She interpreted their unscathed survival as a sign that "God does not exist, or he would have taken up the challenge....I've proved irrefutably that God does not exist."
Soon after the peak experience of her challenge to God, O'Hair moved to Texas where she attended the South Texas College of Law and worked at a series of jobs to support herself and her son. She earned her B.A. in 1948, and passed the Bar in 1953 (though some reports state that it is unclear whether or not she was ever admitted to the bar). In 1952 she moved with her parents to Baltimore where she had another illegitimate son two years later. A social worker for 15 years, she suffered from heart disease, diabetes and dizziness.
The tide of O'Hair's personal life was to turn forever when she dropped her oldest son off to school late one morning in 1960. While walking with him to his classroom, she noticed children with their heads bowed reciting the Lord's Prayer. Enraged, she turned to her son and said "Why didn't you tell me about this?"
With her zeal against religion rekindled, O'Hair spent the next three years waging war against organized religion, which resulted in Supreme Court hearings which had prayer in public schools outlawed. She became a nationally hated public figure; her life was frequently threatened, her children beaten, her property and finances systematically destroyed. Drumming up aid for the atheist cause, she developed the Free Thought Society, using membership dues along with the sale her grand piano for a cash flow for herself and her two sons. After moving to Austin, Texas, she married local artist Richard Franklin O'Hair on 10/18/1965 and with his financial and moral support, she established the American Atheist Center and The Society of Separationists, an organization devoted to the separation of church and state. Earning the reputation of a dubious fund-raiser and a foul-mouthed tyrant, by 1988 the ever-enterprising O'Hair had created as many as 12 organizations and was laundering millions of dollars among them. Her marriage to Frank O'Hair ended with his death in 1978.
In the early '90s diabetes and heart disease were taking their toll on her health and a steady stream of lawsuits rendered her public position increasingly marginal. As her legal bills escalated, most of her sizable staff was laid off. On 8/28/1995, O'Hair taped a message outside Atheist Headquarters stating that all employees were officially laid off and O'Hair, her son and granddaughter were going on an extended vacation. Left behind were their passports, O'Hair's medications and her beloved terriers. Office scrutiny revealed they had absconded with $500,000 of the organization's funds in gold coins that were purchased in San Antonio. O'Hair maintained sporadic communication with several employees via cell phone for several weeks, but all contact eventually ceased.
After she vanished in 1995 with a son and a granddaughter and a half million dollars in gold coins, a former member of the O'Hair Organization mentioned that "death threats were as regular as rain. " While there were many theories, there were no clues; the three were never found. Speculation ran rife as to their whereabouts, with New Zealand being a strong possibility for the location of their exile, coupled with theories held by the IRS and her oldest son that the trio met with foul play and were murdered.
On 3/24/1999, David Roland Waters, 52, was arrested on weapons charges, under suspicion for being involved in the disappearance. A former office manager for O'Hair, he served time for a murder conviction in 1965 and is presently on probation for skimming $54,000 from the O'Hair organization. Prior to Waters' trial, on 1/28/2001, investigators unearthed the bones of dismembered body parts at a ranch, Cape Wood, Texas, believed to be those of O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and the granddaughter she adopted, Robin Murray O'Hair. On 3/15/2001, the identity of the grisly remains were confirmed. As part of a plea bargain, Waters led authorities to the gravesite.