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Diaries of famed atheist O'Hair to be offered for sale at auction Lawyer to sell documents to cover taxes on estate


AUSTIN, Texas -- The deepest secrets and innermost thoughts of America's most famous atheist are for sale.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who founded the nation's leading atheist group, American Atheists Inc., in the 1960s and vanished in 1995, left behind a stack of diaries that will be sold next month to satisfy a claim against her estate brought by the Internal Revenue Service.

The handwritten diaries, more than a thousand pages long, begin in 1953 and end abruptly seven weeks before O'Hair disappeared with her son, Jon Garth Murray, and granddaughter, Robin Murray-O'Hair. The three have not been heard from since Sept. 29, 1995. Despite a worldwide search, no substantive clues to their whereabouts have been found.

Ronald Ingalls, a lawyer and bankruptcy trustee who was appointed to oversee the liquidation of O'Hair's estate, said he had "no idea" of the worth of the diaries and other personal documents offered for sale, which include O'Hair's birth certificate, military service record and marriage license.

But he said he hoped to get enough money to pay a $250,000 claim the IRS has lodged against the estate.

Ingalls, who is storing the 2-foot-high stack of diaries at a downtown Austin bank, has not set a date for the auction.

A quick survey of the diaries reveals a woman very much concerned with money, power and her waistline. On Jan. 6, 1973, O'Hair wrote her goals for the new year: "Begin a Bible chair at U. of Texas. Get a mink coat and a Cadillac car. Humiliate Billy Graham, for money." There are several entries about her weight. On April 23, 1976, she wrote: "I am gaining weight like mad. I don't feel well from it at all. Drastic, Madalyn, Drastic."

From a historical perspective, the diaries may be disappointing, because there are no entries from 1959 to 1972, a period that was perhaps the most intriguing one in O'Hair's life.

In 1960, she filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school system in an effort to remove prayer from public schools. In 1963, she was a secondary plaintiff in a case heard by the Supreme Court that resulted in a ban on prayer in public schools. That year, O'Hair fled to Mexico to evade charges of assaulting Baltimore policemen.

However, the diaries contain several interesting historical passages, including several about Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. In 1984, when Flynt was sent to prison for contempt of court, O'Hair persuaded him to sign a power of attorney that gave her control over all his assets, including Hustler. But her gambit was thwarted by Flynt's brother.

On March 16, 1984, O'Hair wrote in her diary: "I can't believe the perfidy over the Larry Flynt deal. The whole gawd-dam world is made up of liars, cheats & swindlers whose single driving force is greed. Everyone sells out. Everyone can be bought."

Gregory Shaw, the vice president in charge of books and manuscripts at Butterfield & Butterfield, a Los Angeles auction house, said that putting a value on the diaries was difficult because no other historical figures could be compared to O'Hair. But he said he thought the diaries would not be worth more than $100,000.

Although the diaries may contain clues regarding the disappearance of the three atheists, the final entries are rather pedestrian. On Aug. 1, 1995, while on vacation in Virginia with her son and granddaughter, O'Hair complained about the cost of travel.

More than anything, the diaries may reveal O'Hair's passion for discord. "What is the matter with hating?" she wrote on Oct. 9, 1956. "It is treated as a leper among the emotions. Why should we go exuding sweetness & light?"

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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