ATHENS, Ga. -- The story of an Illinois woman who abruptly abandoned her children and disappeared for more than a month before she was arrested for burglarizing offices at the University of Georgia is a tale of lies and deceit.
Linda Fellenbaum, 33, made plans for a sexual liaison with a Chicago man only hours before she disappeared on Oct. 21. They met through an ad she placed on Craigslist, but reportedly got “cold feet” and never had relations with the man, according to police in Joliet, Ill.
She returned that same day to the home of her boyfriend of only two months, where they argued over a gun and a large sum of cash that went missing. During the argument, Fellenbaum ran barefoot from the home in Joliet, Ill., leaving behind her car and cellphone. Authorities were unable to immediately account for her three young children.
Local authorities launched a search when Fellenbaum’s family members reported her missing on Oct. 25.
“We made exhaustive efforts to find her because we were concerned for her well-being and also had concerns about the whereabouts of her children,” Joliet police Investigations Division Commander Brian Benton said.
Authorities later found one of the children was still with family members in Illinois. Fellenbaum left another with relatives in Wisconsin, and placed her 2-year-old son up for adoption.
“It was a very highlighted case in the local media,” Benton said, “It was a unique case in that she left so suddenly, severing all ties with everyone she knew.”
Fellenbaum had no criminal record or a history of substance abuse or mental illness, he said.
“We investigated her history and there was no previous bizarre behavior,” Benton said. “All indications were she was a fairly stable and responsible woman.”
While authorities, family members and friends searched, Fellenbaum eventually made her way to Georgia.
“The case got a little weirder, with all the twists and turns it took,” Benton said. “The life she chose was very different from the life she had, and we can only speculate whether she planned at some point to return to the life she lived.”
Two months before disappearing, Fellenbaum responded to a Craigslist ad placed by a man in Georgia’s Coweta County, looking for a housekeeper. She told the man her name was Catherine Nowak.
The man, a retired truck driver from Sharpsburg who requested that his name be withheld, regularly spoke with Fellenbaum by phone and they became friendly.
“She seemed really nice and highly educated,” the man said. “We got along very well and really seemed to connect, and after talking for a month or two she ended up coming down here to stay with me.”
But Fellenbaum only lived with her new employer for about 10 days. She told him she was leaving to spend a weekend with relatives in Athens and would return.
However, on Nov. 27, Fellenbaum showed up at the Georgia Center, UGA’s hotel and conference center, where she entered offices and stole two iPads, an iPhone and a laptop computer.
After the thefts were reported, UGA police obtained surveillance video footage of the suspect.
“We had reason to believe she was new to the area, so we were talking to a number of hotel clerks, one who recognized (Fellenbaum) from the surveillance photo we showed her,” UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said.
The clerk told police that she last saw the suspect boarding a shuttle bus for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The information was passed along to Atlanta police, and officers took Fellenbaum into custody when the van arrived at the airport on Nov. 28, Williamson said.
Police learned that Fellenbaum’s van ticket had been paid for with the Sharpsburg man’s credit card.
The man was shocked when he learned what his new housekeeper was accused of doing, and even more surprised that she had never told him her real name.
“She was beautiful and very smart, and just didn’t seem like the criminal type,” the man said.
Atlanta police booked her into the Fulton County Jail where, authorities said, Fellenbaum attempted suicide.
On Dec. 10, following her release from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Fellenbaum was booked into the Clarke County Jail on the UGA burglary charge.
Despite Fellenbaum’s recent history of not staying in any one place for very long, a Clarke County Superior Court judge set her bond at only $4,000, meaning she could get out of jail by paying a bail bondsman just 10 percent of that amount, or $400.
Even so, she has yet to come up with bond money, and Fellenbaum’s public defender recently filed a motion to reduce the amount of bond.
The attorney stated in the motion that Fellenbaum “is a resident of the Fulton County area,” and “will return to court as directed and follow all conditions of bond.”
A hearing on the motion had been scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed for reasons that could not be immediately learned.
The Sharpsburg man once considered posting Fellenbaum’s bond, but decided against it as he learned more about her.
However, he said he would like to see her again.
“I’d just like to sit her down and talk to her to get the truth,” he said. “People make mistakes — I’ve made mistakes — but I’d just like to find out why she did what she did.”