Zinkhan file described cold-blooded killer

By Joe Johnson | Morris News Service
Monday, December 07, 2009

ATHENS, Ga. --- He held a prestigious post at the University of Georgia, but was moody and aloof -- and in the end, a cold-blooded killer.

That's the picture of George M. Zinkhan III that's contained in the pages of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation case file, released seven months after the UGA marketing professor murdered his wife and two men in broad daylight outside the Athens Community Theater.

Investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses to stitch that profile together and try to get inside the 57-year-old killer's mind.

SWAT team officers swarmed downtown that April 25 afternoon and checked his office in UGA's Brooks Hall, his wife's downtown law office and his house.

"People were interviewed all over the state and country," Athens-Clarke police Chief Jack Lumpkin said last week.

Athens-Clarke police quickly assembled a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to help them track down Mr. Zinkhan. "We had the best manhunters in this nation, and we were trying to relieve the fears of the community," Chief Lumpkin said.

According to the GBI case file, which was officially closed last month and therefore available for the first time to the Athens Banner-Herald under the Open Records Act, investigators learned:

Mr. Zinkhan had a strained marriage with Athens attorney Marie Bruce, who grew up in Augusta and graduated from Westside High School. She was a community-theater actress and board member of the local Town & Gown Theater troupe.

A close friend of Ms. Bruce told a GBI investigator that Mr. Zinkhan had fought with Ms. Bruce in front of their two young children. "There are people who never understood why she dated him," she said.

Some of Mr. Zinkhan's students at UGA believed he was having affairs with a female student, Mr. Zinkhan's research assistant told a GBI agent.

In January, Ms. Bruce apparently began a brief affair of her own with fellow Town & Gown member Tom Tanner. After Ms. Bruce broke off her purported affair, she tried marriage counseling with her husband. But Ms. Bruce and Mr. Tanner began talking again not long before Town & Gown's annual reunion luncheon, scheduled for April 25.

That day, Mr. Zinkhan approached a gathering outside the theater's entrance. He shot Mr. Tanner point-blank several times in the back of the head, said a witness. He then shot theater set designer Ben Teague, and finally stuck a new clip in the pistol and murdered his wife.

A witness described Mr. Zinkhan as "detached and businesslike" as he fired the gun.

Officials found Mr. Zinkhan's Jeep five days after the murders. Cadaver dogs found his body on May 9 in a hand-dug grave. He shot himself in the mouth with a revolver, a GBI medical examiner wrote in the autopsy report.

The medical examiner estimated he had been dead between five and 14 days.

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