UPDATED: Police suspend search for UGA professor wanted in slayings

Friday, May 1, 2009 8:28 AM
Last updated 10:01 PM
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BOGART — Police suspended for tonight the main search of an area where they found a ditched SUV owned by the University of Georgia professor wanted in a triple-murder.

Authorities found George Zinkhan III’s SUV in a remote ravine on the Clarke-Jackson county line late Thursday and now know that he fled, either on foot or in another vehicle, after he shot and killed three people near downtown Athens last Saturday.

Athens-Clarke police tracked down Mr. Zinkhan’s red Jeep Liberty Thursday night after the U.S. Marshals Service detected a signal emitted by one of Mr. Zinkhan’s cell phones, investigators said.

More than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officers joined an intensive search that began after daylight today in the densely wooded area in Jackson County just over the Clarke County line.

Heavily armed officers walked through the woods, rode trails on all-terrain vehicles and surveyed the area by helicopter. Tracking dogs couldn’t pick up any scent leading from the wrecked Jeep, indicating Mr. Zinkhan probably ditched the SUV days ago, police said.

Authorities did not find the 57-year-old University of Georgia marketing professor and suspended the main search at about 6 p.m. A smaller crew planned to patrol the area overnight, and officers considered flying over the site with a heat-sensing camera.

Police thoroughly searched about 1,100 acres and are confident Mr. Zinkhan is no longer in the area, they said.

“We covered a lot of ground,” said Capt. Clarence Holeman, assistant commander of the Athens-Clarke police Criminal Investigations Division. “I think we know enough now where I can say there’s no indication he’s still here.”

Mr. Zinkhan vanished last Saturday afternoon, after police say he opened fire with two handguns in broad daylight, killing his wife, Marie Bruce, 47, and two men, Tom Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63, at a reunion of the Town & Gown Players theater group off Prince Avenue.

After the shootings, Mr. Zinkhan dropped off his two young children at a neighbor’s. Then he apparently drove to a dirt lane off Fowler Mill Road — a few miles by road from his house on Chesterfield Road north of Georgia Square Mall — and allowed the SUV to roll into a ravine.

“We know for a fact (the Jeep) was placed into drive, and I’m going to say someone pushed it over so no one could find it,” Capt. Holeman said.

Authorities inspected the Jeep at the scene and found no traces of blood to indicate that anyone was inside the vehicle when it wrecked, he said.

The Jeep also held no weapons, capt. Holeman said.

Investigators found other potential leads in the Jeep, said John Bankhead, spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but he declined to elaborate.

Agents took the Jeep on a flatbed truck to the GBI’s office in Athens so crime scene technicians could examine it, Mr. Bankhead said.

Over the past week, authorities have searched across the nation and world for Mr. Zinkhan, who has family ties in several states and had a house in the Netherlands, where he taught part-time.

Tips trickled to a stop by mid-week, though a team of about a dozen FBI agents are assigned to the case, interviewing the fugitive’s friends, relatives and acquaintances in seven states.

Cleveland Road Baptist Church served as a base of operations on Friday as investigators followed up on the break in the case.

Athens-Clarke police and the FBI parked two large mobile command centers there, and Georgia State Patrol helicopters took off and landed throughout the day. Law officers wearing vests and toting automatic weapons shuttled from the church to search locations, and troopers checked car trunks and truck beds at an intersection nearby.

Officers on ATVs zig-zagged across wooded trails in the immediate area and around the Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County, less than a mile north of the property where Zinkhan’s Jeep was found.

The 322-acre tract is owned by ABE Consulting Inc., which plans to develop a housing subdivision there, property manager Abe Abouhamdan said.

“It’s a big piece of property, I can tell you that, with a lot of vegetation in there,” Mr. Abouhamdan said.

People should continue to use caution until authorities locate Zinkhan because he could still be armed, police said.

Police urge people to refrain from dialing 911 unless they actually see Zinkhan or have an emergency.

All other information should be passed along by calling (706) 613-3345.


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TrulyWorried 05/01/09 - 03:54 pm
This man could do a last good

This man could do a last good deed for mankind and commit suicide (he may have already). That would save the familiies a horrendous amount of additional grief during a trial and save the taxpayers unknown sums. Let him answer to the highest authority of all.

DEVGRU 05/01/09 - 07:42 pm
There is no excuse for what

There is no excuse for what this man did, but today's domestic courts are to blame for some of the domestic violence by the way judges attempt to punish one side. The job of a judge in a domestic case should be to administer justice equally to all involved and resolve the issues. I know from experience that it doesn't happen in this area. One of our more affluent judges seems to make decisions based on sexual preference and political connections.

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