1. Archive

Atheist O'Hair saved Bible

Amid the hundreds of books on such subjects as blasphemy, sorcery, the evils of organized religion, gardening, weight loss and the history of Christianity, one small white volume stood alone.

It was a child's illustrated Bible, given to America's most famous atheist years ago.

The simple inscription read: "Presented to Mrs. Madelyn (sic) O'Hair by the 12 year old girls class at Winnetka Heights Baptist Church, Tulsa, Ok. Dec. 15, 1968."

Why Madalyn Murray O'Hair _ who hated all those she called Christers and mocked their holy book _ saved the Bible will likely never be known.

"It was the only Bible we found," said Lynn Smith, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service.

The Bible and the rest of the belongings of O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and her adopted daughter Robin Murray O'Hair will go on the auction block today to satisfy an enormous tax lien.

They will be auctioned by the Sheehan & Gaston Auctioneers in this town about 20 miles northeast of Austin.

Surveying a vast expanse of ordinary looking tables, easy chairs, lamps and boxes upon boxes of books, clothes and records, auctioneer Bob Sheehan offered a quick appraisal of the O'Hair family goods.

"There aren't any antiques, and there is only one piece of art. If it was yours or mine, you'd be looking at about $10,000 worth of Middle America used furniture," Sheehan said.

"What makes it interesting is the notoriety, the name association with the items we're selling. The sale could just be crazy and bring $25,000 or it might not," he said.

The three O'Hairs disappeared in late August 1995, leaving behind unending speculation about their fate and unresolved tax cases with the IRS dating back to 1980.

Last month, IRS agents seized the family's five-bedroom home in Austin and all its contents to satisfy a $270,000 bill.

Sometime in May, the house will be put up for sale, according to IRS case agent Richard Lee, who said only a few personal items are being held back.

"We have several diaries of Madalyn's that will be sold at a later date," Lee said.

O'Hair became an instant and enduring American icon more than three decades ago when she joined the legal battle to remove prayer from public schools.

One of the items to be sold Saturday is a June 18, 1963, front page of the Long Branch Daily Record bearing the banner headline "Court Outlaws Bible Reading in School."

Beneath the headline is a photo of Madalyn Murray and her son William Murray III, wearing a fedora, as they posed in front of the Supreme Court.

But such intriguing items are almost lost in the ocean of domestic detritus accumulated over the last several decades by O'Hair.

There are more than 60 boxes of books, containing volumes ranging from Blasphemy, Verbal Offenses Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie to Southern Living Annual Recipes, 1984.

And boxes of records, containing works of Barry Manilow, Lawrence Welk, Crosby Stills and Nash, and even Jethro Tull.