Wanted Ga. prof's vehicle found wrecked

May 1, 2009 4:56:54 PM PDT
Law enforcement officers swarmed a heavily wooded area in northeast Georgia on Friday, searching for a former university professor suspected of killing his wife and two other people, but the only sign of the missing academic was his red Jeep wrecked in a ravine. Authorities think George Zinkhan's Jeep had been there for several days, and could have crashed or been stashed there soon after the shootings last Saturday. The professor, an avid hiker, hasn't been seen since he dropped off his two children with a neighbor after the shootings.

More than 200 law enforcement officers searched the dense woods Friday, some cramming into the back of pickup trucks that rumbled down a few dirt roads crisscrossing the forest. Helicopters searched from above.

Investigators said Zinkhan, 57, knows his way around the wilderness, and federal parks officials warned Appalachian Trail hikers earlier this week to watch for Zinkhan.

Yet authorities said there was little indication he is still in the area near the ravine. Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman said authorities believe the vehicle had been there for several days - and may have been left the day of the shootings.

Zinkhan also had a plane ticket to Amsterdam, and authorities in Europe and throughout the U.S. have been on the lookout.

"He's not the typical type of fugitive police have to deal with," said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

FBI Agent Greg Jones said a signal from one of Zinkhan's cell phones helped lead police to the Jeep in Bogart, a rural town about 60 miles east of Atlanta. Bogart is about 10 miles west of Athens, where the professor lived and taught marketing courses at the University of Georgia.

Zinkhan's is accused of killing three people, including his wife Marie Bruce, in front of a theater in Athens.

Also killed were two members of her community theater group, Ben Teague, 63, and Tom Tanner, 40, as they gathered for a reunion picnic.

Police hadn't previously revealed a motive, but Jones said Friday that interviews with friends and family indicate Bruce may have been preparing to file for divorce and the shooting likely stemmed from a domestic dispute between the couple.

Scott Foshee, who lived three doors down from Zinkhan, said police also descended on his suburban neighborhood Friday morning as neighbors were taking their children to school.

"Things were OK for a while. The police had told us there was very little chance he was still around so we all started to relax," said Foshee. "And then this morning, it started all over again."

Federal agents revealed in court documents this week that Zinkhan had a flight on Saturday to Amsterdam. He has taught part-time at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in the Netherlands since April 2007.

Zinkhan's brother has said relatives have been working to help Athens-Clarke County police and the FBI find him.

Before joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, Zinkhan held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh. He has a doctorate from the University of Michigan and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1974.

The shooting victims were members of Town & Gown Players, which was staging a performance of "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure" at the theater. Two others were hurt by bullet fragments.

Zinkhan's wife, had been serving as Town & Gown's president after years of volunteering with the group. Tanner was a Clemson University economist who taught at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs in Clemson, S.C. Teague was one of Town & Gown's longest-serving volunteers and was married to a University of Georgia English professor.

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Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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