Fugitive pilot caught after apparent suicide bid
Wednesday 14 January 2009
With his world crumbling around him, investment adviser Marcus Schrenker opted for a bailout. However, his plan to escape personal turmoil was short-lived.
In a feat reminiscent of a James Bond movie, the 38-year-old businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his death in a plane crash, secretly parachuting to the ground and speeding away on a motorcycle he had stashed away in the pine barrens of central Alabama.
But the captivating three-day saga came to an end when authorities finally caught up with Schrenker at a North Florida campground where he had apparently tried to take his own life, said Alabama-based US Marshals spokesman Michael Richards.
Schrenker was taken into custody after officers from the US Marshal's office in Tallahassee, Florida, found him inside a tent at a campground in nearby Quincy, Richards said.
"He had cut one of his wrists, but he is still alive," Mr Richards said.
The missing pilot was tracked down after investigators developed leads that he might be in Florida and forwarded them to the US Marshals officers there, Mr Richards said.
Schrenker was on the run not only from the law but from divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.
"We've learned over time that he's a pathological liar - you don't believe a single word that comes out of his mouth," said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker pocketed at least 135,000 US dollars of his parents' retirement fund.
The events of the past few days appeared to be a last, desperate gambit by a man who had fallen from great heights and was about to hit bottom.
On Sunday - two days after burying his beloved stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day - Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he radioed from 2,000 feet that he was in trouble. He told the tower the windshield had imploded, and that his face was plastered with blood.
Then his radio went silent.
Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The pilots followed until the aircraft crashed in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes. There was no sign of Schrenker's body. They now know they should never have expected to find one.
More than 220 miles to the north, at a convenience store in Childersburg, Alabama, police picked up a man using Schrenker's Indiana driver's license and carrying a pair of what appeared to be pilot's goggles. The man, who was wet from the knees down, told the officers he'd been in a canoe accident.
After officers gave him a lift to a nearby motel, Schrenker apparently made his way to a storage unit he had rented just the day before his flight. He climbed aboard a red racing motorcycle with full saddlebags, and sped off into the countryside.
At 38, Schrenker was at the head of an impressive slate of businesses. Through his Heritage Wealth Management Inc, Heritage Insurance Services Inc and Icon Wealth Management, he was responsible for providing financial advice and managing portfolios worth millions.
On December 31, officers searched Schrenker's home, seizing the Schrenkers' passports, 6,036 dollars in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker's name, as well as six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.
In the supporting affidavit, investigators suggested Schrenker might have access to at least 665,000 in the offshore accounts of a client.
But it wasn't just his finances that were in turmoil.
Just a day before, Michelle Schrenker had filed for divorce. She told the people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair and had moved into a condominium a week earlier.
Schrenker's mother is just happy to know that he is alive. She hopes whoever finds him will treat him well and give him a chance to explain what he did and why.
"Sometimes we just all have too many problems," Marcia Galoozis said at her home outside Gary, Indiana. "And I don't know what all his problems are, but sometimes we just don't think straight, get our heads twisted on wrong."
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