Collier mom searches for answers in son’s disappearance

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NAPLES, Fla. Paula Murray-Lhota isn’t giving up hope for her son, but she knows the odds are against him.

Paul Murray went missing in June 2016, two years after moving from Southwest Florida to the Florida Keys, where he lived on a boat on the 800 block of 35th Street Ocean in Boot Key Harbor.

“Do I think my son’s alive? To be perfectly honest with you, I think mothers have feelings and no, I don’t, I don’t think my son is alive,” Murray-Lhota said.

Murray’s last withdrawal activity for an unknown amount of money was on June 9, 2016 at Dion’s Quik Market on 1415 Overseas Highway in Marathon, an investigation by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office determined.

He was last seen June 10, 2016, when he got on a bus in Marathon to go to Stock Island, according to a police report.

Murray sold a boat to a man named Donnie Vanaria, the police report said. Vanaria asked Murray to help him sail the boat to the marina.

People who knew Vanaria described him as “violent and “unpredictable,” the report said. Deputies were never able to make contact with Vanaria after Murray’s disappearance.

An empty boat belonging to Vanaria was found June 10, 2016 on its side, around the corner from its departure point at Robbie’s Marina on 7281 Shrimp Road, the report said. It’s unclear when or who was on the boat at the time of departure.

A witness told authorities he saw Vanaria return to the marina on a dinghy, the report said, but the witness has since denied making the statement.

“Somebody knows something, and if they can share that bit of information with the police, it may help us find him,” Murray’s brother, Chris said.

Surveillance video at the marina gets overwritten every 48 hours, deputies said, so there’s no footage from the time Vanaria’s boat left. A dive team didn’t search the area until nearly two months after Murray went missing.

All leads on the case were exhausted in November 2016, deputies said, just five months after the investigation began.

Vanaria, who continues to be a person of interest in Murray’s disappearance, is believed to be in New York City, deputies said.

He’s the last person who could have seen Murray and have the information needed to bring closure to the Murray family.

“I miss you Paul,” said Wes Vachon, Murray’s friend. “I hope we find him alive.”

Anyone with information about the case should contact Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).

“I cannot think of my son without seeing that big huge smile,” Murray’s mother, Paula Murray-Lhota said.

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