A triple murder, followed by endless questions

CHELSEA COOK

Years from now, the name George Zinkhan will only be of vague importance to students settling in Athens.

Perhaps those who seek marketing majors will hear rumors about the professor who shot his wife and two others in broad daylight before digging a grave and killing himself.

Or maybe theater majors will visit the Athens Community Theater and see the framed photos of the victims - Marie Bruce, Tom Tanner and Ben Teague.

But the events of April 25, 2009 and the 14 days until cadaver dogs found Zinkhan's body will live on in the minds of the families, friends, students and faculty who lived through the drama. It was unlike anything the University had experienced before, and, hopefully, unlike anything it will experience again.

The University sent out a UGAAlert of texts, e-mails and voice mails to its listserv at 1:55 p.m., approximately an hour and a half after Zinkhan fired what a witness estimated to be eight shots.

According to Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports officially closed last month, Zinkhan took two guns from a backpack, shot Tanner multiple times in the back of the head, then shot Teague, a set designer for Town & Gown, who tried to intervene and calm down the gunman.

After running out of bullets, Zinkhan replaced the clip of his pistol and shot his wife outside the theater's front entrance. What happened next remains blurry to the GBI and local and state police. After releasing descriptions of Zinkhan and his vehicle, police received multiple misleading tips about the vehicle and perpetrator's whereabouts.

Sketches of Zinkhan - one as he was April 25 and one shaven - were released and nationally syndicated, only to yield even more phony tips. In an April 27 press conference, University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson and President Michael Adams said they were confident Zinkhan was no longer local.

"Our campus is very safe," Williamson said at the conference.

Three days later, Zinkhan's red Jeep Liberty was found in a large wooded area in northwestern Athens. In the vehicle, police found Zinkhan's passport and printed-out MapQuest directions to the home of Barbara Carroll, a Terry professor with whom Zinkhan had a long history of disagreements. A Red & Black open records request over the summer provided hundreds of pages documenting complaints and harassment about Zinkhan from Carroll.

Nine days later, on Saturday, May 9, Zinkhan's body was found buried in the same woods under a self-dug shallow grave, approximately two miles from the site of the murders.

"A person not accustomed to the woods would not have found it," Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jack Lumpkin said during a news conference that day. "The body was beneath the earth. The body was purposely concealed in a manner not to be discovered."

GBI documents still estimate Zinkhan's body had been deceased for five to 14 days.

Soon after, Zinkhan's body was cremated and the University removed his nameplate from his office door. This nightmare had come to an end for the University.

But several questions arose, and some still remain.

GBI documents confirmed rumors of a troubled and abusive marriage with Bruce and her rumored affair with Tanner. Sealed documents about a sexual harassment case surfaced from his previous employer, the University of Houston, which involved two female co-workers. Students and co-workers came forward with stories of strange and inappropriate behavior from the Coca-Cola Co. Chair of Marketing so many called a "genius."

Zinkhan's replacement has yet to be hired in Terry.

The University encourages students to utilize one of two Behavioral Assessment and Response Council committees if they experience any peculiar or threatening behavior from their peers or superiors, but no measures have been taken to ensure an April 25 won't happen again.

"I think you can expand it to any person," said Tom Jackson, the University's vice president for public affairs, in a July 7 interview. "But how do you know who is going to be the next person who is going to suddenly go off like this?"

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