- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A college professor suspected in the shooting deaths of his wife and two men outside a community theater hasn’t used his cell phone or credit card, leaving few traces as authorities searched for him Sunday.

George Zinkhan, a 57-year-old marketing professor at the University of Georgia, last was seen Saturday afternoon shortly after the shooting when he dropped his two young children off at his neighbor’s house, police said.

Authorities initially described one of the victims, Marie Bruce, as Mr. Zinkhan’s ex-wife, although police later said the couple still was married.

Investigators have received no tips about Mr. Zinkhan’s whereabouts and urged people to call police if they see his 2005 red Jeep Liberty with Georgia license plate AIX1376.

State and federal authorities are assisting in the search. Investigators were monitoring airports in case Mr. Zinkhan tried to head to Amsterdam, where he owns a home, and speaking with law enforcement agencies in Austin, Texas, where he has relatives. But officials hope that Mr. Zinkhan will surface, said Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman.

“Criminals make mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Ph.D., an M.D. or whatever,” Capt. Holeman said.

Meanwhile, friends of the victims dropped off flowers and lit candles Sunday morning in front of the Athens Community Theater. The victims — Ms. Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63 — were members of Town & Gown Players, a local theater group that was staging a performance of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” this weekend at the theater. Two others were hurt by shrapnel.

LaBau Bryan, a member of Town & Gown Players since 1988, said Ms. Bruce cast her in her first role with the group, in the “The Mikado.” On her way to church, Ms. Bryan dropped off a small vase containing an English dogwood, azalea and iris — one for each of the victims.

“It’s a personal loss,” Ms. Bryan said, crying. “It’s a terrible, terrible blow to the theater.”

It was midday Saturday when a few dozen members of the theater group were gathered at the Athens Community Theater a short distance from campus. Some described it as a reunion, a homecoming for current and former group members. Most were inside the theater, while a small group was gathered around a few benches outside.

Capt. Holeman said an argument erupted between Mr. Zinkhan and Ms. Bruce. Capt. Holeman said police believe Mr. Zinkhan walked away briefly before returning with two handguns.

Each victim was shot multiple times, according to the county coroner.

Capt. Holeman also said Mr. Zinkhan had his son and daughter with him when he went to the theater but left them in the Jeep when the shooting occurred.

None of the 20 witnesses interviewed by police overheard the argument and couldn’t say what prompted the shooting, Capt. Holeman said, though he described the slayings as “a crime of passion.”

SWAT members, guns drawn, later swarmed Mr. Zinkhan’s tidy middle-class suburb about seven miles from the campus and searched his two-story colonial house. They also searched his office at the university, which had issued a campus-wide alert immediately following the shooting as a precaution.

When Mr. Zinkhan dropped his children off, he told his neighbor, Robert Covington, that he needed someone to watch them for about an hour because of an emergency. The children are around the ages of 8 and 10.

Mr. Covington said when he asked Mr. Zinkhan’s daughter about the emergency, “all she would relate to me was there was something about a firecracker.”

Mr. Zinkhan, who has a doctorate from the University of Michigan, is a professor at the university’s Terry College of Business and had no disciplinary problems, university spokesman Pete Konenkamp said. Before joining the school in the 1990s, he held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh.

Ms. Bruce, a family law attorney who specialized in divorce cases, had been a member of Town & Gown Players for several years and currently served as the group’s president. She was a graduate of the University of Georgia’s law school.

Mr. Tanner was set to play Dr. John Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” play, which was canceled. Mr. Teague, whose wife, Fran Teague, was a longtime professor at the university, also had been a devoted member of the group, describing himself on his Web site as “a confirmed theater bum.”

Attorney Hue Henry, who was also a member of the theater group and knew all the victims well, worked with Ms. Bruce and said his colleague was private about her personal life and didn’t say much about Mr. Zinkhan.

“She loved to talk about her children but never talked about her husband or their relationship,” Mr. Henry said in a telephone interview from Italy. “It never seemed like a very close relationship, but I never saw anything that indicated she might be in danger, nothing to make me worry about her.”

Associated Press writers Harry R. Weber, Kate Brumback, Bernard McGhee and Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide