As an activist for atheism, Madalyn Murray O'Hair was such a controversial figure that in 1964 Life magazine called her "the most hated woman in America." O'Hair was one of the litigants in the case of Murray vs. Curlett, which led the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1963 decision, to ban organized prayer in public schools. The decision made O'Hair the country's most famous atheist. She founded the group American Atheists in 1963 and remained its leading spokesperson until 1995, when she and two of her adult children vanished after leaving a note saying they would be away temporarily. The trio appeared to have taken with them at least $500,000 in American Atheist funds; one private investigator concluded that they had fled to New Zealand. Eventually suspicion turned to David Roland Waters, an ex-convict who had worked at the American Atheist offices. Police concluded that he and accomplices had kidnapped the O'Hairs, forced them to withdraw the missing funds, and then murdered them. Waters eventually pled guilty to reduced charges and in January 2001 he led police to three bodies buried on a remote Texas ranch, which proved to be Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her children.
The children who disappeared with Madalyn Murray O'Hair were Jon Garth Murray, her son, and Robin Murray O'Hair, her granddaughter by another son, William. O'Hair also had adopted Robin Murray, making her both her daughter and her grandchild... O'Hair's son William announced his conversion to Christianity on Mother's Day in 1980 and became an outspoken evangelist for his new faith... A wild rumor continues to circulate online that the FCC is planning to ban religious broadcasting based on a petition by O'Hair; that rumor is not true.
One of the litigants in the case Murray v. Curlett which led to the 1963 US Supreme Court decision to ban organized prayer in public schools.
Was called "the most hated woman in America" by Life Magazine in 1964.
On 27 August 1995, she disappeared along with her son, Jon Garth Murray, and her granddaughter, Robin Murray-O'Hair. Several years later, David Roland Waters revealed the location of the missing Murray-O'Hairs as part of a plea bargain. They were found in a shallow grave on a ranch near the town of Camp Wood, Texas, in January 2001.
B.A. from Ashland College, and law degree from South Texas College of Law (though she never practiced law).
Children William (b. 1945) and Jon Garth (b. 1954). Both were born out of wedlock.
She was separated from her second husband, Richard, at the time of his death in 1978.