FBI used Maura Murray case to link child pornography to Scott Wahl. Wahl acquitted after destroying computer.
At 5:30 a.m., the morning of September 6, 2012, nineteen federal agents arrived at the home of Scott Wahl, in Virginia, to seize computers and hard drives they believed were used to download and view child pornography. At the time, Wahl was well known to the family of Maura Murray but had yet to take on a more public role (that came later). Wahl had helped Helena Murray (a distant relative of Maura’s family, and spokesperson for the case) set up a computer to become more active online. He was also the admin for a Facebook page dedicated to the missing woman.
The Government’s Proposed Findings of Fact lays out what prompted the raid on Wahl’s home that morning.
According to court documents, on three occasions in May, June, and July 2012, law enforcement observed a computer that was using the Gnutella peer-to-peer to share a large collection of suspected child porn files over the Internet. That specific computer was associated with two IP addresses. Both IP addresses were assigned by Verizon to Scott Wahl.
FBI agent Steve Miller downloaded several suspected child porn files from the computer. The files were submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which confirmed that several of the files depicted sexual abuse against known children.
During the three-hours long raid, FBI agents seized “a number of items containing suspected or known child pornography, including a Dell laptop, Buffalo USB drive, and Fantom USB drive.” Both USB drives were taken from a locked safe that Wahl had to open for the agents. “Agent Miller submitted files from this computer equipment to NCMEC, which confirmed that several of the files on the Buffalo USB drive depicted sexual abuse against known and identified children.”
While the agents were surveying his computer equipment, Wahl said he thought his wireless Internet access was open, suggesting someone else may have used it to access the child pornography. He told them he’d only closed it up in the last few days. Agent Miller knew this to be untrue, as he’d checked the wireless network on multiple occasions and found it to be “locked down.” Wahl would have known better, too, as he worked on advanced computer and surveillance systems as part of his job.
As the agents removed evidence from his house, Wahl did not mention that his primary work laptop was not among the items seized. He’d accidentally left it at a house in Florida during a recent job and it was currently in transit, on a UPS truck.
When the FBI analyzed the evidence they did take, they found more suspicious activity, according to court documents. On the Dell laptop, they found search term histories that included the terms “Lolita” and “13y.” The Internet Explorer history confirmed that someone using the computer had visited websites that contained child pornography and viewed temporary Internet files of child porn. “Child pornography files were also found in unallocated clusters of the Dell laptop, which is where files go once they are ‘permanently’ deleted by the user but not yet overwritten by new files or programs.”
Wahl claimed the person who viewed the child pornography was his juvenile son and not him. And here’s when Maura Murray comes into this mess.
The person using the computer was “undoubtedly” Wahl, the government said, because the person was also accessing information about and photographs of Maura Murray at the same time. “The Defendant is interested in the unsolved disappearance of Maura Murray, a young woman who had a car accident on a New Hampshire highway in February, 2004, and was never seen again. The Defendant claims to have spent time at the accident site in New Hampshire on multiple occasions, recorded a video retracing the route of Ms. Murray’s last drive, and posted the video to YouTube under the moniker ‘Human1666.’ The Defendant also claims to have met with Ms. Murray’s family members in Boston, and has had at least one long telephone call with one of those relatives.”
Forensic analysis of Wahl’s computer showed that on the anniversary of Maura’s disappearance, in 2012, whoever was using the computer had viewed a news report of Maura’s disappearance, then viewed a photo of Maura he had saved in a folder titled “Maura Murray/Pictures of Maura,” then viewed an adult porn file. After viewing the adult pornography, the user clicked on a folder marked “Needs to be sorted” which was on an external hard drive, then viewed a file titled, gangbang of a 13-year-old child. “Forensic analysis indicated that the child pornography was accessed through an external Western Digital My Passport hard drive,” which matched the type of drive that was seized from Wahl’s locked safe. After viewing the child porn, the user then visited this writer’s blog about Maura’s disappearance — MauraMurray.Blogspot.Com, which is no longer active. The current site is MauraMurrayMystery.com.
The Buffalo USB drive was full of “methodically categorized” pornography, arranged in folders by content, such as “scat” and “shemale.” Forensics found child pornography in the root drive and the recycle bin. The child porn files on the root drive were all placed there between October and April, 2007, which made the excuse that it was his kid unbelievable to the agents, since his son would have been seven years old when those files were used.
More child porn was found on the Fantom USB drive, according to the prosecution, in a folder named “Downloads from Limewire.”
The child pornography found on the drives was especially abhorrent, including images of “two prepubescent girls being penetrated digitally and with objects” and “engaging in oral sex.”
And then came the big mistake in the case. The agents left that day with a trove of computers, hard drives, and evidence. But they didn’t follow up on the business laptop that was being mailed to Wahl from Florida — the computer he used most often.
As soon as the agents left, Wahl was on the phone with his friend in Florida who had sent the computer in the mail, asking for tracking numbers. The package arrived a couple hours after the FBI had left. When they asked for it some time later, Wahl turned over what remained, little more than a shell. From their report: “The Defendant methodically disassembled the computer, removed, and disposed of all items of interest to the FBI: the hard drive, which contained files, programs, GUID, and information about Internet searches and browsing; and the RAM, which also contained data and activity information for the device. The Defendant did not stop there, however: he went on to alter the wiring connected to the power supply (and dispose of the existing power supply) to prevent law enforcement from attempting to obtain information from the machine by installing new RAM, a new hard drive, and a new power supply.”
In May of 2013, a Grand Jury issued an indictment and Wahl was charged with receipt and possession of child pornography, both felonies. He was arraigned on July 7, where he entered a plea of not guilty. He was released on a $25,000 bond.
As a condition of his release, Wahl was asked to forfeit all firearms. He was allowed to continue working with computers as a business but he couldn’t have remote access to anyone else’s computer and had to tell them of the charges before entering their homes.
The government then announced its intention to use a US Attorney investigator named John Marsh to testify about the child porn files recovered from Wahl’s computers and hard drives. Marsh had been called to testify at many trials and was considered an expert in his field.
In August that year, Wahl was again indicted. This time they charged him with Obstruction of Justice for destroying his laptop before it could be analyzed.
In November of that year, as the trial approached, Wahl waived his right for a jury trial, preferring to have the judge, Anthony Trenga, decide his fate. Trenga is probably best known for re-incarcerating Chelsea Manning.
On December 4, Judge Trenga dismissed the receipt of child pornography charge following testimony of the FBI’s expert, Marsh. The following day, Wahl was acquitted of the remaining charges. At issue was not whether or not child pornography was present on the USB drives in Wahl’s private, locked safe — but who put them there. To this day, prosecutors on the case maintain Wahl was the one who accessed and downloaded the porn — pointing to the way Maura Murray’s case was mixed in with the actions — but due to Wahl destroying evidence, the chain of custody was always suspect.
“I was 100% exonerated of all charges,” Wahl writes in a public statement. “And as the verdict clearly demonstrates, the prosecution was unable to back up the claims.”
He goes on to write, “The charging papers clearly try to create the impression that I was attempting to conceal the equipment in my safe for sinister reasons. The truth is that the reason the equipment was in the safe was because my wife and I had caught out thirteen-year-old son illegally downloading music and viewing pornography in his room.”
He writes that the testimony of forensic analyst John Marsh was “inaccurate” and most of his testimony was stricken from the record “in a motion that the prosecution did not even bother to object to.” He writes that he was able to demonstrate that he was not within 500 miles of where the government claimed he was when the child porn was accessed on at least one occasion. He writes that he damaged his personal laptop in an attempt to fix it after he started experiencing “blue-screening” before the Florida job (though when investigators questioned the friends in Florida, they said he was on it all the time and didn’t complain about it not working).
Wahl goes on to suggest that one of the detective’s involved in his case may have been targeting his son for sex. He writes that David Abbott, a member of the Washington D.C. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, provided testimony that allowed the feds to obtain the search warrant for his home. In 2015, Abbott, who taught youth hockey in Prince William County, committed suicide after he got caught sexting with an underage boy.
“I feel physically ill when I consider the possibility that this entire ordeal may have been the result of my son, who was thirteen at the time, having been the target of an alleged child predator.”
Since Wahl’s battle in court, he has taken on a larger role with the family of Maura Murray and has represented them at CrimeCon, appeared as a guest host of Erinn Larkin’s podcast, and still helps run the Maura Murray Public Figure Facebook Page. His latest post went up on February 9, the anniversary of Maura’s disappearance.
Julie Murray, Maura’s sister, was made aware of the child pornography charges prior to allowing Wahl to represent the case at CrimeCon in 2019. When the information became known to people in the “community” that surrounds the case, in late 2019, Julie told others that she was “distancing” herself from Wahl. He was removed from his admin role on a Murray family Facebook page at that time. But the family allows him to continue involvement on a separate Facebook page, where people sometimes submit tips about the cold case.
The pornography case was not the first time that Wahl found himself in trouble with the law. In 2000, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, following an incident involving the mother of his child, but charges were dropped under the condition that he surrender the weapon to the state. He was also charged with assault and battery in a domestic case but was acquitted.
In July, 2004, Wahl was charged after he followed someone too closely in his vehicle. There is no information on victim’s sex or age. He was also charged for not having his license plates displayed in what may be a separate incident around that time. He was found guilty on both counts when he didn’t show up for the hearing, according to court documents.
Since then, Wahl has become a public figure, not just in the Maura Murray online community and podcasts, but also as a guest on Spicer & Co, where he appeared on Sean Spicer’s show to discuss the rise in gun sales during COVID (Wahl works as a manager at a gun store in Virginia). On the April 21 broadcast, Spicer interviewed Wahl, who said, “Most Republicans in our area already kind of have their stockpiles… or not stockpiles, but have their firearms.” He was talking about how Democrats were coming into the store, unfamiliar with background checks, and suggested they were “mislead by the media” about the law. He said sales were five-times higher at the start of COVID, a boom to business, better even than after Newtown and Las Vegas.
He seems to pop up in every facet of Maura Murray’s case. A couple summers ago he turned up unexpectedly at a bar where Erinn Larkin was having drinks with the girlfriend of Bill Rausch (who was Maura Murray’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance). The girlfriend thought that Wahl was “creepy” and tried to keep her distance. That woman would go on to file a protection order against Rausch after years of abuse. She believes Larkin was filming her without her permission at the bar, in some sort of reconnaissance mission for Rausch.
Behind the scenes, Wahl tries to maintain an iron grip on the narrative of Maura Murray’s case and many people find his direct messages to be threatening in nature, when someone disagrees with him. Others have claimed he uses fake aliases to comment on and to like his own posts, though he has denied these allegations.
When Maura Murray Missing host Tim Pilleri posted on Twitter about Wahl’s history, Wahl sent a text threatening legal action. He’s done the same to journalist Maggie Freleng, going so far as to have a lawyer issue a warning to her in December, 2019, after she mentioned his charges on Reddit.
And over the years, he has threatened this writer, too, saying that he was ready “to go to war” if need be.
He also said that Erinn Larkin planned to file a frivolous lawsuit against this writer, because “even if she doesn’t win, she understands you will lose tens of thousands of dollars defending yourself.” Here’s a small sample of texts he’s sent to my personal number:
A law enforcement official who worked on Wahl’s case, but who wishes to remain anonymous, had this to say, “I think about Scott Wahl every day. I wake up in the morning and turn on the news to see if he’s on there after having done something terrible.”