Less than a week ago, Erika Murray walked cheerfully into a relative’s home, where everyone was anticipating the birth of a new child. As a family member recalled, Murray did not look like a devastated woman whose children had been taken away and whose dark secrets were about to become public, nor did she seem on the verge of being arrested in connection with neglected and dead children.
That day, this relative recalled, the 31-year-old graduate of Northbridge High School appeared as she normally did: a woman who wears baggy, but clean clothes, and speaks with devotion about her life as a mother. On that day, she looked around a bedroom that was being converted into a nursery, with its freshly painted white walls and newly installed gray carpeting, and raved about the bright room where a crib would soon be assembled, according to a relative who was present that day.
It was just one recent example of Murray’s apparent ability to hide horrific secrets.
As police combed through the debris in Murray’s small home in Blackstone, where the remains of three dead infants were discovered this week, much remained uncertain about just how the three babies died and how family life functioned in this vermin-infested, trash-filled 1,150-square-foot home. Over the past year, the mother happily posted photos of two healthy-looking children — a 13-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy — on her Facebook page. These two children attended local schools.
Meanwhile, Murray hid from neighbors and relatives the fact that she also had a 3-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old baby girl, both of whom, investigators say they suspect, she profoundly ignored. Murray told investigators that she gave birth to the two younger children at home and that they have not seen doctors. A search of public records failed to turn up a birth certificate for either of those two children.
According to the relative, who asked not to be identified, Murray’s own parents, who live in Northbridge, only learned about the existence of the two younger children on Thursday night, as the public did. Those disclosures came with reports that their daughter’s house was infested with vermin, flies, and bugs and filled with piles of dirty diapers.
This relative said Murray’s parents and other family members were never invited inside the Blackstone house, so they never saw the conditions.
“How could there be two kids so perfectly raised and then they find out there are two more grandchildren . . . and maybe three more kids?” said this relative.
Murray told the man she lived with that she was baby-
sitting the two younger children and that they belonged to a woman named Michelle. She also created a Facebook page with Michelle’s name, as well as a photo of herself in a wig and glasses, as a way of proving that such a woman existed, according to a state investigator who has been briefed on the case.
Murray grew up as one of three children in a middle-class home, according to this relative and a close high school friend. Her father was a diesel mechanic and her mother was a homemaker. She has two brothers.
A close high school friend, who also asked not to be named, said Murray faced a crisis when she became pregnant at age 18 and almost did not want to take part in her high school graduation ceremony because of her swelling size.
“She was afraid to walk on the stage while pregnant; she was embarrassed,” said the friend who graduated with her in the class of 2001.
Ultimately, the friend said, she persuaded Murray to take part in the ceremonies, realizing “she needs to get her diploma.”
Up until two weeks ago, Murray had kept up a facade that she enjoyed a pleasant domestic life in a home occupied only by a man identified by neighbors and friends as Ramon Rivera III and their two school-age children. The Globe’s efforts to reach Rivera Friday were unsuccessful.
Murray’s Facebook postings are full of photos of home-cooked meals, Halloween costumes for the two children, and references to sales at a crafts store. At Ginny’s Place in Whitinsville, where she sold knicknacks such as Halloween signs and candleholders, most of her creations sold for $30 or less.
“She built some pretty crafty things,” said Susan Guilbault, who works part time at the small shop.
Murray’s creations apparently were popular. The store has only been open six weeks and all the crafts Murray made have already sold.
But this radiant image of family life collapsed Aug. 28 when police came to her home, responding to a complaint of a child crying in the house. They found the home’s deplorable conditions, as well as a total of four children, all of whom were removed and placed in the state’s foster-care system. The two younger children also showed signs of severe neglect: The 3-year-old has poor muscle tone and does not walk; while the baby reacts as if she rarely has seen sunlight, according to the state investigator.
When questioned by authorities, Murray allegedly said she was the mother of the four children, but that she never told Rivera that he was the father of two additional children, according to the state investigator. She said she hid those pregnancies by wearing loose-fitting clothes.
After her children were taken away to foster care, Murray apparently moved in over the past two weeks with her parents in Northbridge, making up a story about the man she was living with being busted by the police for a marijuana business run from the home, according to the relative who saw her during the nursery visit. Murray also allegedly told her parents that the state had to temporarily take her two children, and she did not say anything about the two other younger children, said her relative.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, police reentered the Blackstone home with a search warrant and discovered the remains of an infant. The remains of the other two infants were discovered Thursday. It is unclear just when they were born.
Police say they believe they are all Murray’s biological children, though they have yet to scientifically confirm that.
Even when police went to Murray’s parents’ home on Thursday night, the relative said, the young mother who posted photos on Facebook of her older children’s new hair styles and clothes acted as if the law enforcement visit had nothing to do with her.
Maria Cramer and Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Patricia Wen can be reached at email@example.com.