LATEST: Authorities confirm body is that of Zinkhan

Click here to see video from the press conference.


ATHENS, Ga. – Cadaver dogs today found the remains of former University of Georgia professor George Zinkhan III, partially buried in a shallow pit in a large, densely wooded area between Cleveland Road Elementary School and Bear Creek Reservoir.

The dogs nosed out the body shortly before 10 a.m. near the Jackson County line and Big Bear Road, a little more than a mile away from the ravine where Mr. Zinkhan ditched his SUV sometime after he allegedly shot three people outside Athens Community Theater on April 25.

Mr. Zinkhan apparently dug a shallow depression, then dragged brush and dirt on his body before killing himself. Police found two weapons with the body, a .22 caliber pistol and a .38 caliber handgun, Athens-Clarke Police Chief Jack Lumpkin said in an afternoon press conference.

The body may never have been found without the help of dogs, Chief Lumpkin said.

“A person moving in those woods would not leave a path,” he said.

The body was “well concealed,” Chief Lumpkin said. “It was purposely concealed in a manner that was designed not be found for a significant amount of time, if not ever.”

Investigators do not believe Mr. Zinkhan had any help.

“Right now, there’s no indication that anyone is involved with the death of this body,” said Jim Fullington, special agent in charge of the Athens office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

When police found Mr. Zinkhan’s car May 1, authorities said they thought he ditched it immediately after the April 25 murders.

But, though the body was decomposing, Chief Lumpkin does not believe it has been in the woods for the entire two weeks, he said.

Investigators did not search the body for any writings such as suicide notes or identification — that search would be carried out at the GBI lab, Lumpkin said. Technicians also are running ballistic tests on the guns to see if they are the same weapons used two weeks ago to kill Zinkhan’s wife, Marie Bruce, 47, and two men, Tom Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63.

Cadaver dogs searching the area Friday may have picked up the scent that day, said dog handler Steve Barden of Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue, a metro Atlanta volunteer organization that works with police agencies to find bodies and missing people.

One of the dogs began to indicate he’d caught a scent about mid-day Friday, but the dogs had already been searching for hours, so the handlers decided to return Saturday morning when the dogs were fresh, he said.

“Sometimes they don’t quite get it,” Mr. Barden said of the dogs — Circe, a 5-year-old German shepherd, and Madison, the 7-year-old Australian shepherd that actually found the body at about 9:50 a.m.

Saturday’s search took only about 10 minutes, said Mr. Barden and fellow Alpha Team dog handler Paula Chambers.

Authorities have been searching the woods each day near where police found Zinkhan’s Jeep, Chief Lumpkin said. But investigators decided to expand the search area Friday, he said.

The triple shooting happened at a reunion lunch for Athens’ Town & Gown Players theater troupe, a long-standing company that gathers once a year to let current and former members catch up and meet each other’s families.

Mr. Zinkhan arrived at the lunch around noon and argued with Ms. Bruce. He took their children to the car, returned with two handguns and shot Ms. Bruce and two other members of the troupe, Mr. Teague and Mr. Tanner.

As emergency responders sped to the theater and police began to search for Mr. Zinkhan, he returned to his own neighborhood and left the children, ages 10 and 8, with a neighbor.

For two weeks, authorities investigated whether he was hiding in the wilderness, in another state or even abroad. They found his Jeep Liberty a week ago Friday, purposely crashed into a ravine, where it was hidden by topography.

Today, the dogs found his body about 1.3 miles from the SUV in about 1,000 acres of dense woods, according to Agent Fullington.

The area is off Cleveland Road in extreme western Clarke County, 600 or 700 yards from Cleveland Road Elementary School and not far from Big Bear Road and the Bear Creek Reservoir, just on the border between Jackson and Clarke counties.

Some investigators already speculated that Mr. Zinkhan had killed himself, but as time passed, more began to think he might be on the run somewhere.

Retired FBI profiler Mark Safarik offered a possible explanation for Zinkhan’s suicide, and why he may not have committed suicide right away.

“Many spouses in this situation committed suicide,” Safarik said last week, before the dogs found the body. “This did not happen immediately after the (Athens) killings, but it certainly could happen as he has time to contemplate the end of his career, reputation and life as he knew and lived it.”

Morris News Service reporter Joe Johnson contributed to this report.



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