ATHENS, Ga. -- George Zinkhan III may have dug his own grave then killed himself to go down in folklore as the criminal who never was caught.
Or, even though one of the victims - Marie Bruce, of Augusta - was his wife, he might not have wanted his body found in order to spare his children the memory of a father who committed suicide.
Former FBI profilers say those two kinds of thoughts may have compelled Zinkhan to go to extremes to hide his body after he shot and killed Bruce and fellow members of the Town & Gown Players theater troupe, Tom Tanner and Ben Teague, on April 25 in front of Athens Community Theater.
"This whole staging thing he did, with digging the grave and all that, probably was a desperate attempt to establish some sort of mystique," said Gregg McCrary, a retired supervisory special agent with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit.
"It's fair to say he didn't want his body to be found, and he didn't want to look as stupid as he probably does in hindsight, to have done such a rash and impulsive act without any plan - even a devious plan - in place," McCrary said.
Authorities say after Zinkhan shot the three people, he dropped off his two young children at a neighbor's home then drove to a secluded area on the Jackson-Clarke county border and rolled his Jeep Liberty into a ravine.
Authorities speculated that Zinkhan fled from Northeast Georgia - and possibly the country - in the two weeks they spent searching for the 57-year-old University of Georgia marketing professor.
But they later learned that he walked a little more than a mile from his Jeep, to a place where people dumped trash, and found the side of a clothes drier and a wood pallet that he piled with dirt, leaves and sticks, according to officials and a civilian searcher.
After digging a trench 15 to 18 inches deep, Zinkhan lowered his 6-foot, 3-inch body inside, pulled the camouflaging over and shot himself in the head, officials said.
"To put all that stuff on top of himself, he had to do a lot of work," said Steve Barden, a member of Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue, a metro Atlanta volunteer group that used cadaver dogs to find Zinkhan's body May 9.
"He did a great job," Barden said. "He was totally covered."
Authorities decided to re-search the area where the Jeep was found a week earlier, based on the "totality of the situation," which included no reported sightings of Zinkhan or attempts by the professor to contact anyone, according to Jim Fullington, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Athens office.
Alpha Team members began searching May 8. Barden's German shepherd, Circe, briefly caught a scent of something then lost it. Children played about 100 yards away at Cleveland Road Elementary School, Barden said, "So there was too much going on here, but that spot had my interest."
Searchers returned to the same site the next morning, when Madison, an Australian shepherd, gave her handler a "bump alert" and barked over the same spot Barden had stood the day before. The searchers noticed part of a gray sweatshirt sticking out of the ground, and they began removing debris that covered Zinkhan's body.
Officials were puzzled why Zinkhan put so much effort into hiding his body.
"The explanation that makes the most sense I think has to do with protecting his children," said Mark Safarik, who retired as a senior member of the FBI's elite Behavioral Analysis Unit that is showcased on the television show "Criminal Minds."
In addition to the children he had with Bruce, Zinkhan had three adult children from a previous marriage.
"Of course, from the perspective of you and I, it is not sparing them anything, since either way their mother is gone, as is their father, but from his perspective it will always be an unresolved issue about what happened to him," Safarik said. "For him this is better than knowing that his children would know that he killed himself, the easy way out.
"I know it is a convoluted, magical-type of thinking," he said, "but the hiding and burying of your body before killing yourself is extremely unusual as well."